The Elusive Unicorn Running Shoes

Over all the years I have been blogging about running, I write an awful lot about the quest I have been on to find my mythological Unicorn running shoe. 
So, as I go through this new blog’s first week, it is fitting to describe what my Unicorn running shoe would be like.

This quest is now about the needs of an old guy in his sixties, who has been running regularly since 1971. However, both running shoe technology and I have changed considerably over the ensuing years. Running shoe technology has only gotten better — much better. While I’ve gotten older, slower, and accumulated more than a few more aches or pains as the years have passed.
That mythological Unicorn running shoe that I am looking for in today’s world is definitely not the running shoe that I chased as a spry youngster or even what I wanted ten years ago. 
So what does my Unicorn shoe look like on paper, well at least when reading about it?
My Unicorn shoe would be is a light-weight daily trainer that is fun and comfortable enough to run a potential marathon while not being totally beaten up after, but able to act as “go-faster” shoes at shorter distances if I want. 
Light-weight – under 10 oz, sub 9.0 oz is even better, and sub 8.0 ideal. With the advances in midsole technology, the weight to cushion ratio is getting better each year. Weight in a shoe makes a huge difference in how I feel when I am running and I prefer lighter shoes that I can train any distance in. I don’t care how much others claim that the shoes run lighter than they feel, once they get over 10 oz, they still feel heavy to me and they likely will go away before their time or become walking shoes.
Midsole – Well-cushioned and more stack height than I used to like. More to smooth out the road for all my accumulated aches and pains than anything else. One of those new super foam mixtures that give back more energy than good old EVA. They seem to have a bit more bounce to them, but retain a great cushioned feel, but not be a marshmallow either – a goldilocks midsole. Firmly cushioned is one thing, harsh is another and I can tell the difference. When it gets cold (not that it ever gets cold up heah in Maine), the midsole material can’t firm up to where it feels like you are running on 2×4’s (been there done that).
Narrow heel cup – The upper part of the heel counter should be notched and lightly padded, not rounded up or if it is shouldn’t rub the heel/Achilles raw. I wouldn’t even mind if it had the elf heel point where the heel counter fades away from the Achilles. If there is no padding in the heel cup or ankle well, it can’t have a stiff band around that big hole in the top of the shoe as a stiffener. Those that use this feature, cut into my tender flesh way too often.
Wide enough forefoot – I need a more rounded toe box, with enough height, to let the toes wiggle a little. I have Hobbit feet and a Tailor’s bunionette that just do not work with narrow tapered shoes. 
Lower ankle wells/sidewalls – I hate blisters on the bottoms of my ankle bones. Historically this has been a huge problem for me with two brands in particular and why I don’t bother with their shoes for the most part.
Drop – I don’t care what some people think, drop matters, zero or really low drop does not help my Achilles problems and sets me up to have problems sooner than later. Traditional high heels (err high drop shoes of 11mm or more) do not feel efficient and usually end up causing a two-stage landing (heel drag then slap down the forefoot) for me. So my personal sweet spot for drop usually lies between 6 to 10mm. Although I keep trying those sweet 4mm to 6mm models that do feel so smooth, but not on a daily basis.
Outsole – I primarily run on roads, but I don’t want an outsole that collects pebbles or rocks like a magnet. While still being able to handle wet roads, groomed trails, light snow, and dirt roads with aplomb. 
Bottom of the shoe – A rockered or geometry that facilitates a smooth/fast forefoot transition and a heel bevel works better for me than a true flat or more traditional type of shoe bottom design. No big flare on the heels please — clipping my other leg with my odd gait cycle gets rather painful.
Motion Control –  I run well in firmer neutral shoes that don’t have any stability elements added in. But like most runners, some light motion control features are nice for a longer run, as long as they don’t interfere with my gait or bother my feet. 
Upper – Mostly free of overlays, soft enough to mold to my feet. However, there still needs to be enough structure to ensure that the shoe moves in harmony with my foot, without it sliding around on the inside. The tongue needs to have some padding to avoid the top of the foot lace bite. While the inner bootie or straps connected to the tongue are not necessary, since I tend to take a pair of scissors to them most of the time because they bother my Tailor’s Bunionette.
Looks – Yes, looks do matter, a fugly, boring running shoe will not make it to the rotation or get me to spend my hard-earned money most of the time. Then again my idea of a great-looking running shoe is probably vastly different from many other runners – bright, gaudy, and fluorescent colors are not a bad thing. Orange, yellow, lime green, red, blue with various color highlights and laces that are not the same color as the shoes. A nice bright blue/yellow or blue/orange combination always gets my attention.
Durable – I would like my running shoes to last at least 400-500 miles, without the outsoles wearing down prematurely, the upper torn to shreds, or the midsole feeling like I am running in wooden clogs.
Technology – No gimmicky technology, I prefer the K.I.S.S. Principle when it comes to my running shoes. Just a shoe that is durable, and I can put them on, and go run.
Brand – I really do not care which brand makes my Unicorn running shoe. Ideally, it would be one of the specialty running brands that focus on making only running shoes, running accessories, and not some giant multinational corporation for whom running shoes are another line item.
Price – Not too expensive is always good. A reasonable price-point in today’s world would be nice but is not likely considering all of the things I want in my Unicorn shoes.

Looking ahead

Maybe I am tilting at windmills, and yes, I know that I expect a lot from my Unicorn running shoes and that is as it should be. 
However, my Unicorn running shoes are the ideal that I will judge potential rotation running shoes against. 
While I haven’t found the Unicorn during the past ten years. Though I have come close a few times with the Skechers GoRun Ride 2’s, Pearl Izumi N1 Road v1, Reebok Run Fast v1, or even the Nike Zoom Fly SP. Though I at present might have a hot prospect or two in the house, both of which seem to be checking off an awful lot of those Unicorn running shoe checkboxes for me. 
Time will tell, but I am ever hopeful.
Here is to those mythological Unicorn running shoes that we all seek.
  • How about you have you found your Unicorn shoe yet?
  • Has your idea of a Unicorn shoe changed over the years?

Come with me now — the best is yet to be.

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