Shoes for Obstacle Racing and Training

I’m not a shoe guy.  I’m really not.  Until a year ago, I would have 2 pairs of sneakers, tennis shoes, gym shoes, athletic shoes or whatever term you call them in your part of the world.  My “good pair” was the shoes that I would wear for a year or more until they became just too embarrassing to wear in public.  I would wear them for basketball, running (what little I actually did), to the store, around the house, with jeans, with athletic shorts, to get the mail, on airplanes…..actually anywhere that I didn’t wear dress shoes.  My second pair was the previous “good pair”,now relegated to lawn mowing and any other type of dirty, outdoor labor.  They would stay in this role until the sole detached or literally just disintegrated on my feet while wearing them.  So, you see…I’m not a shoe guy.

At least I wasn’t a shoe guy, until I entered my mid-life crisis stage and latched on to the sport of obstacle racing.  Now I have all kinds of athletic shoes.  It wasn’t by design and I didn’t realize it until a couple of months ago.  I’m not going to list all the shoes that I have because it is a little embarrassing.  However, they all do serve a specific purpose and that is the point of this post.  I get asked a lot about the types and brands of shoes needed for this sport.  Like I’ve said in earlier posts regarding training for obstacle racing, there isn’t a single best answer.  I will tell you though, what I have found that works for me.  It’s not a review of the all the shoes on the market.  I’ll leave that to the people who REALLY have too many shoes.  I have one pair of shoes each for 4 unique needs/categories.  One note about my shoe selections: I’m transitioning to more of a minimalist shoe.  Not those ugly/creepy toe shoes, but shoes with minimal padding and a reduced heel to toe drop.  The reason for this is explained here and I’m quickly becoming a proponent of the theory that the padded/support shoes contribute to all sorts of leg, ankle, and foot injuries.  I’m trying to avoid that by going more natural and strengthening my feet and acocompanying muscles, tendons, and ligaments.  So, here are the shoes that I use for training and racing.

Strength, core, and plyometric training

shoes for plyometricsI used to wear a cross-trainer shoe, but switched several months ago to the Inov-8 F-Lite 230.  This shoe is incredibly light and the proprioception with these shoes are incredible.  My balance has improved greatly since I started training with these and I can now do stuff on one leg like nobody’s business.  That was not possible for me 6 months ago because my feet were so padded and protected that they never felt the ground and hence weren’t allowed to strengthen.  I wear my F-lites for all my workouts and occasionally when running hill sprints on the asphalt.  There isn’t a lot of material to these shoes so I try to limit their time on asphalt because I don’t want them all chewed up.

Running on packed surfaces and trails

obstacle course training shoesMy newest pair of shoes. These are my training shoes for hard packed surfaces –streets (yuck) and trails.  To condition my feet and ankles for the same type of shoe that I race in, I wanted a shoe with similar heel-toe drop, but one that could withstand the pavement, rocks, etc…  I only wear my racing shoes for racing and on soft surfaces.  I don’t want the lugs worn down by hard surfaces.  Not only are the Terrafly 303s a cool-looking shoe, but they are a great transition running shoe.  They are slightly heavier and offer a little more protection than the F-Lites and X-Talons, but they are still really comfortable.  I almost look forward to the long runs just so that I can put them on.

Road Running (yuck!)

No picture here because these are just the plain old Saucony running shoes that I’ve had for awhile.  I keep them around as I slowly transition to the minimalist shoes.  I’m alternating between the Terraflys and these shoes for a few weeks until I’m sure that my tendons, ligaments, muscles, and bones are ready to withstand the full transition.  There is nothing special about these.  They’re just shoes that I run with on pavement.  Have I said that I hate running on pavement?

Obstacle Course Racing

obstacle course racing shoesHere are my beloved X-Talon 212s!  I’ve expressed my adoration for these shoes before, but I’m going to do it again.  I can’t say that these are the best obstacle racing shoes of all because I’ve only worn 2 different types.  I can say that there is nothing about these shoes that I don’t like.  They are light.  They shed water and mud quickly.  They are grippy.  They are comfortable.  They offer just enough protection for my feet while still providing a pretty good amount of propioception.  When these are worn out, I’ll probably buy an identical pair.  I treat my shoes now like I treat restaurant food.  When I find something on a menu that I like, I tend to order it every single time.  I know when I like something and I love these shoes.

UPDATE: Since writing this post in 2012, I have tried many different pairs of shoes.  As of March 2014, I now prefer the Reebok OCR shoe.


Other shoe reviews

These are just the shoes that I wear.  Others may have different opinions and that’s okay.  Here are a couple of posts by others that talk about the shoes they race and train in.  I recommend reading them.

Best shoes for obstacle racing by Hobie Call

A shoe that fits by Dirt in Your Skirt



  1. Jeff:

    Thank you for the great article. I’m not sure if you recall, but I asked you some questions about shoes in the past and your response was very helpful. I now own the F-lite 230s and have been doing all of my gym work and sprinting in them. I see above that you use the Terraflys for distance running. Is the bottom any different from 230s? Additionally, I’ve had some challenges (i.e., really painful calves and achillies tendons) after sprinting with the 230s. This has caused some concern that about the transition to minimalist shoes. Is there traditional running style trail shoe that you recommend? I’d love to find something that has the quality of the X-Talon 212 (which I presently plan on buying for race day) in terms of being lightweight, tread capability, and sheding water and mud, but with the cushion of a traditional running shoe. Any suggestions would be most welcome.

    By the way, I am fully engaged in training for the 8/25 Super Spartan and have dropped the thought that I could complete it in under one hour… that was serious wishful thinking.

    Take care and thanks again for the great post.


  2. Chris, thanks for reading and glad to hear that you’re gearing up for the Mid-Atlantic Super. Unfortunately, I may not be able to race in that one now due to an overseas speaking opportunity. I don’t have the shoes in front of me to investigate more closely, but yes the bottoms of the Terraflys are thicker and a little more rugged than the F-Lites. They have the same drop, but more ‘shoe’. The issues you have sound like you may have transitioned to the minimalists a little too quickly. Those are common symptoms. I started out running very little in my Inov-8s and gradually increased over time. In fact, I’m still transitioning. I wish I could recommend a “regular” trail running shoe for you, but I’ve only owned 2 pairs of trail runners and I wouldn’t recommend the other pair.

    • Jeff, sorry to read that you may not make the 8/25 Super because I was looking forward to meeting in person, but it sounds like you have a great opportunity I hope it goes well. As always, thank you for the great insight. Take care.

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