By BRYON POWELL
Earlier this year, I did something that an experienced trail runner should know better than to do: On a Friday afternoon, the day before a race, I bought a trail shoe made by a company whose shoes I’d never worn, and then I raced the 40-mile Mount Mitchell Challenge in it the following day.
I couldn’t have been more pleased with my venture in throwing caution to the wind. The shoes, La Sportiva’s Fireblade model, performed well on all of the highly variable footing conditions found on the course. The course included pavement that ranged from flat to steep, nice dirt single-track, gravel fire roads, boggy stretches, and rocky trail — as well as the challenges of wet rock faces, ice (both obvious and hidden), and wet roots and stairs.
Overall, the Fireblade ($95, www.sportiva.com) is a lightweight, nimble trail shoe that’s more along the lines of a trail version of a road-racing shoe than one out of the fell running school. As you would expect, some foot protection appears to have been sacrificed to lighten the shoe to its 11.9-ounce weight. However, I found the increased nimbleness of the shoe more than makes up for the lesser protection on all but the nastiest of trails and even then the trade off for a lighter shoe is worth considering.
La Sportiva Fireblade Trail Running Shoe
Much to my surprise, given the lightweight and minimalist design of the Fireblade, it protected my foot remarkably well. I did feel the rocks more than I would in a bomb-proof shoe like the Montrail Hardrock, but the rocks never produced any pain. This could be a benefit for some runners, as the combination of sensing the rocks underfoot and the shoe’s low profile may reduce the chance of rolling an ankle.
For a low-profile shoe with moderate tread, the Fireblade provided solid traction. The only times I slipped during the race were once on some brown ice and once when cornering too fast on dirt. But I doubt anything short of spikes would have saved me on those spills. (That said, although the Fireblade has more than adequate traction for most trail conditions, it would not be the shoe to wear in extremely muddy or icy conditions.)
The Fireblade was surprisingly smooth during the road miles of the Mount Mitchell Challenge. Unlike some trail shoes, it didn’t leave me slapping pavement when I bolted down a long, steep section of asphalt.
In short, the Fireblade — which was true to size and comfortable right out of the box — is a great trail shoe that can handle a wide variety of terrain and conditions.
—Contributor Bryon Powell is an ultramarathon coach. He publishes iRunFar.com, a website for trail runners and ultramarathoners.