We did one of the most stupid things you can do when running a 50 miler. We decided to run The North Face GORE-TEX® 50 mile Endurance Challenge California with new shoes out of the box. Meaghan had never worn her Ultra Endurance Trail shoes while I had worn them walking around the day before the race. Neither of us had run in them. We run in so many shoes that we can get an initial vibe to make a call on how a shoe will perform for our tastes, but 50 miles on your feet made this a risky decision.
Thomas: The design team at The North Face (TNF) made a really good looking trail shoe. These aren’t just a pretty shoe, they functioned well for me over the 50 miles of fire road, loose gravel, single track, technical trails, steep inclines, bombing downhills, and pretty much everything that the Marin Headlands could throw at them. The Vibram® Megagrip is a durable, tenacious outsole with 5mm lugs. They gripped and ripped the course with an efficiency that didn’t get in the way on the tamer parts of the run. I always felt like I had sure footing the entire course. The “Snakeplate” rock plate provided enough protection that my feet never felt the sting of a rogue rock.
The Ultra Endurance has plenty of cushion in the 8mm drop injection molded EVA midsole and some added comfort from the Ortholite breathable, moisture transport, shock absorbing, anti-microbial foot beds. My feet were tired after the 50 miles, but they came out of the shoes feeling pretty good considering the workout.
The Ultra Endurance protects your toes with a substantial toe-cap made from TPU. Considering the scars the bumper had after the race, I am guessing that it saved my toes a few times and that I need to lift my feet more on the trails. The upper fits well and the Geocage™ overlays secure the midfoot. The heel counter was not noticeable, which is a good sign.
Meaghan: Let me start by saying that I am not a trail runner. My knowledge of trail shoes is limited and my experience out on the trails is even smaller. The North Face Ultra Endurance initially won me over in looks, followed by comfort and fit. TNF makes quality products, there is no denying it. I decided to wear these shoes for the 50 Miler for two reasons: 1) They feel sturdy and secure and 2) why not wear a shoe brand who also designed the course? They must know what they’re doing. The Ultra Endurance is comfortable right out of the box. The upper is breathable and the Geocage™ provides support where you need it. I also like the flat laces. The outsole is designed with 5mm lugs that are super grippy. They were perfect for the several terrains we encountered over 50 miles.
Thomas: The biggest issue I have with the Ultra Endurance combines a design flaw with a flaw in my stride. The heel crash pad (back of the shoe) of the midsole and outsole flare out behind the heel was a real issue for me. By the end of the race, I had drawn blood from the shoe hitting my inside left ankle. Every time the shoe hit, it was like getting stung by a bee. This only happens to me with shoes that jut out behind the heel. The North Face Ultra Endurance comes in weighing 12.2 oz. for a size 10.5. If TNF could shave off another ounce it would make a big difference in the shoes.
Meaghan: This isn’t a light shoe. My W7.5 came in at 9.75 oz. Like Thomas, I also came home with battle scars. I didn’t realize until after, but the outsole of the shoes were scraping against the inside of my ankles.
Thomas: I don’t typically consider The North Face when thinking about trail shoes. The Ultra Endurance changed my opinion. This is a really well-designed shoe that performs. You really can’t argue with the outcome of our initial run in them. We got lucky that the shoes functioned and did not keep us from reaching the finish. The course of the TNF ECS California was a mixture of road, fire road, single track, gravel, and conditions were dry. If you haven’t considered TNF trail shoes, give the Ultra Endurance a try.
Meaghan: These shoes seemed to work better for Thomas. I have flat, wide feet with a tendency for posterior tibial tendonitis (PTT). My ankle flared up in these shoes after a few miles. Needless to say, it made for a long 50 miles. It’s not a knock on the shoes at all. As I mentioned earlier, they are quality. It’s a great looking shoe, fits well and has incredible traction for all terrains. It’s not them, it’s me.
Click on images below.
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Below, Carie Platto, Director of Product Footwear gives us an overview of The North Face Ultra Endurance GTX. It is the same shoe with GORE-TEX® added for breathable waterproof protection.