Some have theorized that there is a perfect trail running shoe. Is this possible? They would be nimble yet sturdy, soft and grippy in the mud but stiff enough to protect from the assaults of sharp rocks.
It would be a miracle to find all this in one shoe, and that is probably why I keep several in rotation.
I have kept a pair of the Wave Riders on hand for the past year or so, but I was unfamiliar with what Mizuno has to offer for the trails. I was recently offered a free pair of Mizuno shoes through their Mezamashii Project, so I decided to try something I hadn’t run in before—like the Wave Ascend 7.
The first thing I noticed when pulling them out of the box was the way the sole was curved, with the toe noticeably turned upward. They are also fairly brightly colored—not the most garish of running shoes, but you will certainly get comments.
At a svelte 11.4 oz (323 g), Mizuno’s Wave Ascend 7 is a reasonably light weight trail shoe, but not quite part of the “minimalist” trend. Although the heel to toe drop is reported to be 12 mm , and the sole looks reasonably beefy, the shoe rides more like what you’d expect from a low profile shoe.
Putting them on and jogging around the neighborhood, I noticed they were comfortable and fairly cushy feeling. I’m always interested in how my trail shoes will feel on the road, because so many trail races include a few road miles. These performed reasonably well on the asphalt. I don’t know if I’d want to run a marathon in them, but they feel about like what you’d expect from a pair of sturdy trainers. I couldn’t wait to take them out for a spin on the trail!
On a very hot day, I met up with a group of fast runners at Beals Point, on Folsom Lake. We were going to run a portion of the American River trail, which is famously part of the American River 50.
It was a dry and dusty day on the trails and it was difficult to focus on how the shoes felt while I was so preoccupied with getting through the run and back to my car without gacking on all the dust I was breathing.
The shoes performed well and I have no complaints. The toe box is roomy enough for my wide forefeet and the lacing held my feet securely, without binding or pinching, so my toes weren’t swimming around and banging into the front on the downhills.
The tread doesn’t look super aggressive, but seemed grippy enough on soft trails and rocks. I haven’t had the chance to run in mud or water, so I cannot speak to that.
As a mid-foot striker, some of the bigger, thicker heeled trail shoes can play havoc with my stride mechanics—particularly while running downhill. On this run, I was able to stride comfortably and naturally, even while running the hilly and technical parts of these trails.
After an 18 mile, 3-hour run, I was ready to keep them. But how would they feel on something longer?
A few weeks later, on another hot day (Forecast high of 107!), I met up with some fast friends at the Auburn Dam Overlook for an out and back run over the last 10 miles of the course of the American River 50.
On the way out, it’s all downhill for the first four miles. Despite our early start we were all perspiring heavily by the time we made it to the river. This time, I paid attention to the shoes and again found them allowing me to stride naturally, forefoot striking, as we worked our way down this long hill. I worried a little about how hot it was going to be on our return trip—this time four miles uphill!
This end of the trail has more rolling hills, with long ups and downs, and fewer technical sections. For the most part, you can open up the throttle and run as fast as your legs will carry you.
Our group ran at a casual pace and the miles were clicking off until we arrived at our turn-around at Rattlesnake Bar. We chatted a moment and fueled up for the return trip.
Once again, the Wave Ascend felt comfortable on my feet. I could feel the rocks underfoot, but the soles were firm enough to protect me from their abuse. I thought about the difficulty I was having with putting words to the experience of these shoes and decided that was a good thing. You shouldn’t be noticing the shoes.
If your shoes are drawing your attention, it is invariably a bad thing. Your run should be about running and the thousands of sensations that go with running on a trail. You should be thinking about finding the line of your descent, or noticing the smell of pine duff in the air rather than how your foot feels inside your shoe.
Somewhere during this run, around 15 miles into it, I realized I’d found the zone and my running had become effortless. After months of coming back after an injury, I’ve worked my way through endless training runs. They’ve gotten easier over time but until this run, I had forgotten about this happy place.
During many runs, at least the good ones, there is a place that you may settle into. If your fitness permits, and the day is fine, you can find yourself slotted into a sweet groove where you remember the pure simplicity of moving and being. The trail becomes your partner in the run as you dance over its hooks and berms. Sometimes it’s there and gone in a flash. Sometimes you’ll find yourself nestled into this happy place for hours. And then you’ll remember why you keep coming back.
Can your shoes deliver you to this place of transcendence? No they cannot—but if they are annoying you at all they can keep you from getting there.
After 22.5 miles (36.2 kilometers) of brisk trail running, my review boils down to this: sure footed, good mechanics and comfort. Does what is needed but shouldn’t get in the way of you finding your groove. This one’s a keeper!
(Full Disclosure: As mentioned earlier in the story, these shoes were a gift from Mizuno through their Mezamashii Project.)