All year long, Reid Coolsaet has been running races, coaching runners, and reviewing shoes for iRun. In addition to being a two-time Olympian and the second fastest male Canadian marathon runner for years, Coolsaet is also a dedicated student and expert historian of the sport. Here Coolsaet, coach @Coolsaetgo, looks back on a year of running and sneakers and tells you what you should buy yourself this holiday season.
iRun: First of all, let’s say I want to new sneakers. How many pairs do I need?
Reid Coolsaet: My normal arsenal, since I’m doing trail and road stuff, is a trail shoe, an everyday shoe, a shoe where I can run fast and something for the winter slop.
iRun: So a runner really needs four pairs.
RC: Some people who don’t run trails can disregard those, and if you run on the treadmill, you can disregard the shoe for slop and if you’re not racing, disregard the race shoe.
iRun: Let’s get into it. Say I want to buy myself the best shoes out right now, for racing.
RC: The Next Percent or the Alpha Fly, by Nike. That’s best if you’re running really fast. I think the Saucony Endorphin Pro is more versatile and accommodates more speeds, and that’s something I’ve heard other people say, too.
iRun: The Nikes don’t work if you’re not Kipchoge?
RC: Sometimes when I go and run, I don’t like warming up or cooling down with my Next Percent, but the Saucony Pro still feels OK at 4:15-per-kilometre.
iRun: So if you can’t sustain 4:15-per-kilometre, should you not bother with the Nike?
RC: It has to do with mechanics. I think someone trying to run fast would be happy with that shoe. It helps.
iRun: But if I buy them now, can I wear them to the Vancouver Marathon in spring?
RC: They wouldn’t last until spring. You’d want a relatively new pair for race day. I think if getting a super shoe is worthwhile to you, you’re going to want to do it properly, which is racing with a pair before you put 100K on it.
iRun: Wow, that won’t last a marathon runner until Valentine’s Day.
RC: Not true. Those shoes will still be useful for training. Even when I got the Next Percent for free I’d still train in them with 500K on them and they still felt good. But when it comes to racing, I want them to feel great.
iRun: So what’s your approach to race shoes?
RC: I would get pair A, and race important races in them before 100K. After that, I get pair B, and I might wear them once for training to wear them in a little bit, but they don’t need much wearing in, then use pair A for my workouts and pair B for racing, until 150K. It doesn’t cost you more because you’re going to keep running. Those shoes are good for five or six hundred kilometres. You use the shoe up, but buy it early to maximize the benefits.
iRun: You called the Next Percent a super shoe. What’s that mean exactly?
RC: High stack height, responsive foam, carbon plate.
iRun: What even is “high stack height”?
RC: The amount of midsole underneath your foot. They range, legally, from 30-40 millimetres, but adidas makes one at 50 millimetres, which isn’t legal for setting records, but you could probably qualify for Boston in them and I don’t think anyone is going to care.
iRun: So Nike makes super shoes. Who else?
RC: adidas makes a super shoe, Nike had the first one, and then adidas, New Balance. Brooks has a good one. Hoka has a couple options. Saucony, the Endorphin Pro. ASICS has a really good one—the Metaspeed Sky.
iRun: Who’s the super shoe for?
RC: Anybody for who shaving two to four minutes off the marathon would make a difference.
iRun: Only marathoners?
RC: Not only marathoners. But if you’re looking for BQ and worried about it, they’re for you. If you’re trying to compete at a local race and know your competitors will be wearing them, they’re for you, but also they help you recover faster, and not only at the elite level.
iRun: So the super shoe is for—
RC: Anybody that wants to run a bit faster and feel a bit better when they’re done.
iRun: You can also probably run a bit faster and feel a bit better if you eat a little less cheese.
RC: Whatever you’re doing training-wise, health-wise, leading up to a race, that’s a given. But after all that, the super shoes will make you faster. You still need to train hard and perform, but super shoes will make you faster.
iRun: How many shoes did you try this year?
RC: On Strava, I record all the shoes I run in and this year, I tried out 21.
RC: It’s a bells and whistles shoe. An innovative shoe with the newest technology. It’s a bit more expensive than their regular shoe, it has more cushioning and support, but in the road running category—it’s second to none.
iRun: Running in 21 shoes, what did you learn?
RC: The uppers on almost every shoe is good now. That wasn’t the case 15 years ago. There were overlays and stitching, the materials weren’t as good, the heel cups were hard and you had to wear the shoes in for them to feel good. Now it’s almost redundant to say the upper is comfortable. Across the board, they’re comfortable. The technology is so good—if your upper’s not good, you failed.
iRun: Let’s just pretend I didn’t know what an upper was.
RC: It’s what holds your foot to the midsole and the outsole. The material on top.
iRun: OK, so I get the super shoe for Christmas, or whatever excuse folks need to be nice to themselves. What else should I get to round out my collection?
RC: The New Balance 860 is my workhorse of choice. It’s more affordable than the GEL-KAYANO and offers protection and it’s just a solid shoe that’s going to last.
iRun: One real indulgence I like is winter shoes.
RC: I always have a Gore-Tex shoe—but they last three years because I don’t wear them that much. The ASICS GEL-KAYANO is a good one. They have a bigger, thicker outsole that provides more traction and the upper is Gore-Tex, it’s stiffer, and I wouldn’t use it on a normal day, but on the days you need it, it’s a much better option than your feet getting cold and wet.
iRun: Which is hell.
RC: Exactly, and remember: most of the super shoes don’t have good traction, so when buying yourself shoes for Christmas, remember—if you get a super shoe, you’ll be slipping all over the place and risking injury.
iRun: Gotcha. So maybe it’s best to use the treadmill?
RC: Comes down to the person.
iRun: Sami Jabril one time told me on the MGT that running in the winter outside makes Canadian runners tougher than folks you guys compete against.
RC: I think there’s something to that, but the treadmill allows for a way more specific pace. Some people can do 25K on the treadmill and hit all their paces versus outside, when the wind and crappy footing might make that impossible.
iRun: What about you?
RC: 25K on the treadmill? I hate it. I get to 10K and I’m sick of it, but a 25K loop, I’ll do that. I think it comes down to what you enjoy more but, if you train exclusively on the treadmill than try road racing, your legs won’t be weathered because the treadmill is soft.
iRun: And your pick for trail shoes?
RC: North Face Vectiv is a great trail shoe and it also works on the road. It’s a good mix of stability and cushion.
iRun: What new shoe are you itching to try?
RC: Solomon is coming out with a road shoe, a super road shoe, and I liked the HOKA Zinal. That’s a trail shoe that runs like a road shoe but has slightly bigger lugs for better grip on the bottom and another good one I’ve been running in is the Solomon Glide and Norda, out of Montreal. It really feels good, but it’s a trail shoe that’s $285.
iRun: Eh, all this talk about sneakers. Can we give any love to socks?
RC: Honestly what I wear now are these $7 socks from Decathlon. It might even be $7 for two pairs.