Monday, February 28, 2011

Gear: La Sportiva Raptor Shoe

Part of my tremendous winnings (?) at the Moab Red Hot 33k was the pair of La Sportiva running shoes of my choice. The only one I could find that was anywhere close to wide enough were the Raptor, which also happened to be the most expensive (non Gore-Tex shoe), so I was sold (so to speak).

The service was incredible - I sent the certificate on Tuesday and the shoes were in my hands on Friday. Shipping was fast because they came from Boulder. Wait a minute - isn't La Sportiva an Italian brand? Like didn't Cesare Maestre use La Sportiva boots on the Compressor route? Indeed, there is La Sportiva NA (Boulder, and La Sportiva Spa (Italy).

Why is this important? Because La Sportiva running shoes in Italy come in awesome Euro colors like florescent purple and green!!! Plus they have better models, like the Quantum, which is so ridiculously advanced that it's not even allowed to be sold in the U.S. yet (and also transcends the bounds of "regular" Newtonian running physics).

Anyway, the Raptor is a fine shoe. I divide trail running shoes into two general categories: (1) a big slab, usually wide, with a basic upper that holds the slab to my (hoof-like and flat) feet, and (2) a too-narrow (at least for me) fitted shoe with aggressive tread that would allow me to practically dance on the trail (if it actually fit). The old Montrail Leona Divide was my favorite of the former variety (plus I achieved my highest pinnacle of trail/ultra running at the Leona Divide, which was to be mistaken [briefly] for Scott Jurek - once the guy figured out who I was, he walked away), and pretty much any Adidas trail shoe fits into the latter. Of course there are other unique shoes, like the extremely interesting Hoka shoe. And the old Montrail Hardrock, which was extremely durable and yet weighed less than most road-running shoes.

Aside: Can't we all agree that something horrible happened to Montrail shoes at some point, maybe circa 2003-4? I went to the Wasatch Crest in 2002, and I won a pair of random Montrail shoes at the pre-race raffle. I immediately decided that I would run the race in them, and did so - it rained for probably 16 hours, but the shoes were perfect. Now when I try on any pair of Montrail shoes, they feel like someone's first attempt at making a trail shoe, but if that company was actually imitating version the once-great shoes made by Montrail.

End of aside.

The Raptor is in the (2) category of shoe, but it's wide enough for me, and La Sportiva does something interesting where they have an extra "plus" size between U.S. sizes. So theres and 11, an 11.5, and an 11.5+, and then a 12. None of which matters because I took a 12, but it shows that they want the shoes to fit well.

More importantly, the shoe feels incredibly durable. I pretty much assume this shoe will last 800 miles or more, which is especially nice because I won these things by beating a bunch of old men in Moab - I'm going to need to train a lot in order to beat the younger guys in the 55k.

Some of the awesome Italian styling definitely carried over to the Boulder "NA" La Sportiva company. Much of that styling consists of printing random cool English words on the shoe.

Here is the shoe:

Here is an awesome stylistic touch, which is printing that looks like carbon fiber reinforcement. It isn't real carbon fiber, because of course real carbon fiber would result in shoes that cost $500 rather than $110, but it looks super cool. Embossed in the printing that looks like carbon fiber is the word "STABILIZER." Because carbon fiber, if it were real, would be super stable:

Here is a part of the shoe that says "IMPACT BRAKE SYSTEM":

Here is a part of the shoe that says "FRIXION," which isn't a real English word, but is still cool:

Wait, there are more words. "TRAIL BITE HEEL:"

Here's the "Fit-thotic" system:

And here's another shout out to the "IMPACT BRAKE SYSTEM:"

And here are the shoes with a bottle of Bridgeport Cafe Negro Coffee Infused Porter for scale:


The Bridgeport coffee porter may be the single most disappointing beer I've ever tried. Not the worst, but the most disappointing. I like Bridgeport IPA, and I like their Hop Czar as well. And I saw the porter and thought, Coffee-infused beers are all the rage - Bridgeport IPA has been a standby since college, this will be great! And it was watery, weird, and completely covered up by overpowering instant coffee smell.

End of aside.

One interesting part about these shoes (aside from all the English words) is the super-grippy/sticky sole. This looks great for the slickrock, but will it hold up? I'll try to get out there and put in my 800 miles to find out.

Before ending the gear discussion, I'll take this opportunity to bash REI once again. I didn't know what size to request from La Sportiva, and so I thought, hey, I live mere blocks away from the big Denver REI superstore - I'll just run over there and try on a few pairs. And of course it was absolutely mobbed, as always. You can go to the wilderness area of your choice in Colorado, and maybe on the Fourth of July you might see ten people, but at REI you can hardly get in the door. And I struggled mightily to get even one pair of shoes to try on. I finally planted myself outside the exit of the shoe storage area and simply kept repeating my demands to whatever green-vested person came past. I managed to try on one 11.5+ size shoe, which was too small, indicating I most likely needed a size 12. And I retreated quickly from the store, but not before buying some patches to fix the sleeping bag I idiotically burned a hole in.

At this point, I've run/hiked 30-years, and I know pretty much exactly what I need (those wide/slabby shoes, see above). But I have no idea how the average neophyte would ever find a shoe at REI. They have so many shoes, and such a horde of people, and the sales people don't seem to be telling anyone anything useful at all. Sure, those low-profile foot shoes are cool for building up your foot muscles while running in Wash Park - my cross-country coach made us run barefoot all the time - but you can't/shouldn't really use those for racing or backpacking. Not that REI cares - all through the recession, the place has been packed to the gills with people buying foot shoes, super-expensive non-waterproof/non-breathable jackets, and lame bikes. It's somehow part of the Denver Cow Town experience. Even I go, and I don't want to go. But now I don't have to because I have my winnings - I know so because of FLEXION (and other cool English words.

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