Saturday, July 11, 2009

First impression - Helly Hansen Trail Lizards

I've patiently waited all week for the opportunity to try my new Helly Hansen Trail Lizard running/hiking shoes so I put them to the test this morning. We will be posting a full review in the coming weeks on Runner's Tech Review but I'll give some first impressions here.

Today's run was at Stillwell Woods Preserve that has many different trail conditions and surfaces. I started with a run across grass from where I parked my car to the trail head and noted that although I'd requested size 10.5 shoes they seemed very roomy in the toe box and at the heel compared with my Brooks, New Balance and Asics shoes that are also in that size. The generous toe box didn't concern me. I'd rather error on the side of it being too large versus being too tight. The heel was a concern because of stability and slippage that could lead to blisters. It wasn't pronounced and I had good socks so that didn't prove to be a problem.

I followed the paths I knew but quickly found myself in unfamiliar territory. I skirted some big muddy sections then came upon some steep inclines with large rocks and I put the shoes to the test. The challenge was well met, no issues with traction. I would have liked more support and snugness around the back but the shoes themselves felt more stable than I'd expected. I can also see using these shoes for straight trail hiking. I dodged a number of bikers along the way and encountered some very rough terrain with pronounced inclines and declines, the surface often consisting of rough sand and rock. I had no trouble with that but the shoes really felt good when I found a trail of hard packed dirt. The running there was a pleasure and I think these shoes compared favorably to the New Balance 460's in that respect.

I had a very small compass (the face was smaller than a dime) so I needed to stop a few times to get a read. I spent some time getting lost and with the hills I got very tired and took a couple of short rest breaks. At one point I crossed paths with a mountain biker who was also a bit lost so I looked at the compass and sent him toward the difficult trails that he wanted and headed off to complete my run. As I exited the trails I ran on grass but then cut over to the pavement to get a feel for running on the street. Here I saw a big difference between these shoes and the NB's as the Helly Hansens are clearly made for softer surfaces. I ended up running 5.2 miles, much of it up steep trails, and the Trail Lizards handled it all competently. The big test was how I felt after the run and I was happy to note there was no foot or leg pain and my biggest current concern, a slight groin pull, felt much better at mile 5 than it did at mile zero. Trail running is clearly kinder to my body than street running but I love them both. I'll be writing more about the Trail Lizards, my next test will be to face them off against the NB 460's over similarly rough terrain.

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