Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Innovation: La Sportiva "MountainLite"

Inspired by fellow Wasatch Speed Goat Steve Pero's recent modification of his La Sportiva CrossLites (he removed the lace "corset" to allow easier access to the laces), I decided to experiment and make a few modifications of my own to correct some of the shortcomings I had with this shoe. 

Before I go any further, let me say that the CrossLite is an excellent shoe; it is a great transitional shoe for those desiring to go more minimalist and are used to a more beefy, heavy and cushioned trail running shoe.  The CrossLite scores high on being a more streamlined, lighter and more lower profile shoe.  However, since I had already made the transition to very minimalist trail and road running shoes over the past 3 years (Inov-8 Roclite and Nike Lunaracer/ Free 5.0 respectively), the CrossLite simply is not minimalist enough.  A true mark of a minimalist trail running shoe, IMHO, is a shoe that is extremely flexible and thus very responsive on any trail surface encountered.  I want to be able to "feel" the trail to a certain extent.  The CrossLite's flexibility is extremely compromised by the torsional stability shank embedded in the shoe.  So I thought why not experiment with them to see if I can make them more minimal by removing this shank and in the process perhaps help develop a shoe that La Sportiva might consider marketing in the future?  Thus, the "MountainLite" experiment.

So, armed with a razor blade and a box cutter I went to work.  First, with the razor blade, I removed the lace corset as I prefer to see my shoe laces, and this would give me more room to work on the bed of the shoe.

With the corset removed, I removed the laces and folded back the shoe tongue.  I knew from a cut-away view of the CrossLite that the nylon-plastic shank shouldn't be too far below the surface of the foot bed.  The first shoe was a bit of trial and error, hacking away with the box cutter, but soon I found the edges of the shank and then a corner and after that it was pretty easy to pry under it and pull the whole shank out.  Not too difficult really, my main obstacle was the dull box cutter I was using!  The second shoe went much easier as I now knew the boundaries of the nylon-plastic shank.

First Impressions:

Having completed surgery on the first shoe I was able to compare the pair of CrossLites side by side.  The pre-surgery shoe was very stiff and difficult to flex; the post-surgery shoe flexed very easily, like any of the Inov-8 line of shoes.  Nice!

Laced to my feet they were indeed like slippers, much more flexible and responsive just walking around the house.  They are also a bit lighter and slightly lower profile now that I removed the corsets and several grams worth of nylon-plastic shank and a couple millimeters of foot bed.

First Runs:

For the first few tests runs, I took what I call the "MountainLite" shoes for a few 7 Mile wet/muddy trail runs then for the grand test finally, I ran a 25 mile cross-country route that involved just about every terrain imaginable; dry trails to wet, muddy boggy messes; 100% off trail bushwacking, gravel roads and pavement; powerlines and drainage ditches...  All I can say is wow what a different shoe!  Much more responsive and flexible.  I could run much more naturally now that the shoe can more or less flex right along with my foot.  Traction in the mud, dirt was pretty good, not much difference there.  On the slick rocks, everybody I was running with was slipping, but I do think I was slipping less than before as the shoe seemed to be able to make better contact with the irregular surfaces.  Without the nylon-plastic shank, the shoe seemed to be able to twist and deform onto these irregular surfaces a bit better which meant more traction.  If more sticky rubber compound could be placed on the sole of the shoe, perhaps in the midfoot area that would help enormously with wet surface traction.  At the end of it all I must say these shoes performed flawlessly and were very effective on all these surfaces encountered.  The only short coming had to do with the mesh uppers beginning to really fray right at the metatarsal flex point (a typical shoe upper wear area), despite very few total miles run.


I really like what I've done with the CrossLite and plan to train some more in this modified version.  I believe some Inov-8 fans would really like this modified version.  To me it is very much like the Inov-8 Roclite shoe line without the sticky rubber compound and with significantly more toe and overall foot protection (slightly beefier).  All around the "MountainLite" is a much more minimalist, highly responsive and flexible shoe now; La Sportiva would gain a lot by having at least one really minimalist trail running shoe in their arsenal.