Photography Daniel Varga . Reaching the summit of Mt Snowdon in my Scarpa Protons.
The world of ultra running is exploding and with it, an amazing selection of kit designed for taking you over the distance in a comfortable and practical manner. As runners push the boundaries, the demands placed on trail shoes also increase. When I did my first ultra distance a good few years ago now, I opted for my faithful Asics road shoes (crazy I know). I knew they would cushion me and feel comfortable, so to me that was more important than a pair of trail shoes that gave me good grip but no support or comfort (it was also dry trails so I could get away with it). Although my faithful steeds led me to an awesome course record on the Exmoor coastal trails (thank you old friends), I knew if I was to continue to push the distance and terrain I needed to find the equivalent of my comfortable road shoes with a trail running grip. Choosing the right shoe is tricky and confusing. To be honest. until we have run mountains and crossed dales over many miles and challenged them to the max, we don't know if a shoe is really right for us. Therefore, all my reviews are based on that criteria and not just from a few jogs around my local park. I hope my review of the Scarpa Proton trail shoe will give you an honest opinion and help you decide if you want to try them for your next event.
Key features of the Proton
As Scarpa state, these are shoes for the ultra runner and specifically for "alpine"type terrain, as they are durable and good for high mileage. They claim to be light enough for trail running but sturdy enough for hiking. A good start for ultra trial running! They boast dual density EVA midsole with a 10mm drop that will provide you with the cushioning you need. They have a supportive heel cage as a bonus for extra stability and the all important toe protection box which is a god send for those rocky trails (we've all had those agonising moments of kicking a rock resulting in damaged toes!). To explain the jargon, EVA stands for ethylene-vinyl acetate, a polymer that has excellent stress and impact resistance properties. Secondly, the "drop" of a shoe has developed from the recent explosion in minimalist running (you may hear terms "minimal drop" "4mm drop" for example). The "drop" is the gradient from heel height to the forefoot (or toe) height. 10mm is the drop of the majority of running shoes and the protons fit into this category. I have no rationale or reason behind why 10mm drop is most common but one must assume it is most likely the gradient that most runners are happy at. These shoes are not and no where near minimal drop!
The vibram outsole feels tough and hard wearing and makes it a shoe that should withstand prolonged use on the trails. The lugs aren't huge and are quite spaced out but make it a good overall shoe and particularly good for the harder trails or rocky surfaces. They have a handy lace pocket which was a life saver in the marsh land and long grasses (no more grass loosening your shoes). I do feel the laces aren't there best feature. They feel thin and have potential to create pressure points if you don't get the lacing right. On the plus point, this is an easy thing to change if you don't like them.
How did they test?
I over pronate badly, therefore to be running for hours on end I need a supportive shoe with great cushioning but is responsive for the terrain at the same time. I've always been a creature of habit when it comes to trainers so approach new ones with caution. My Scarpas sat lonesome in their box for a month before I eventually decided to give them a go. A gentle 5 miles on the trails. No pinching, discomfort and felt surprisingly light on my feet. Encouraged, I then decided to throw them into the deep end and do my next 20 mile training run in them. Running around the Chiltern hills isn't the most challenging of terrain (certainly not after running for 10 hours across Snowdonia!) but it gave them a good opportunity to shine. Amazing success, they were so comfortable with a grip that gave me confidence downhill and again not a hot spot or pinch in sight. I was feeling brave and quite confident so set them up for their next challenge .....75km and 9000ft across Snowdonia. My protons did not disappoint. This Ultra gave the shoe every possible terrain to perform on. Road.....bogs......wet moorland....trail.....scrambling .....mountain running...! Despite the fact I had trained in these shoes, when my feet became soaked within 10 minutes of starting a long day racing, I was slightly nervous of what it might mean for blisters and rubbing later on. Amazingly, the shoes gave me not one pinch or blister. They performed wonderfully. They got me up Snowdon in 80 minutes, including a steep scramble at the top. I would say their worst performance (and mine) were the boggy moorlands. I slipped quite a bit on the downhills and they did little to keep me steady in the deep mud and water logged downhills. However, every runner was falling at these points. I think no shoe apart from maybe the mud claw (or wellington boots) would help on that terrain. Traversing across the sides of hills kept my feet generally snug in place. There wasn't a huge amount of movement that may have caused friction from wet socks, something that my fellow racers were complaining off.
Will I run in them again?
My answer is yes! For me to to finish a race with no blisters is unheard of. I knew that once I had found the shoe that enabled me to run all day and not hurt, the door would finally open to pushing my distance even further. Shoe reviews are always tricky to write as one shoe that is right for one runner will be disaster for the other. However, Scarpa aren't as well known for their trail running shoes, more for their hiking boots, therefore they might not be a brand runners would initially consider. The Protons would not be your shoe if want speed and dexterity, but they are perfectly durable. long distance shoes that provide, grip, comfort and protection to get you through those trails. My 75km across Snowdonia featured almost all the terrains a runner could encounter, so they were the perfect trainer. If you are looking for a general but comfortable,robust trail shoe and you don't have the luxury to have multiple pairs of trainers to suit varying conditions, these ones are for you.