Much of my focus this fall season was the marathon. Long runs, pool running, core strength routines… they took up much of my time. But I did manage to squeeze in a few other activities including some orienteering events. I also became an Icebug Orienteering Ambassador. I picked up a pair of Icebug Zeal OLX shoes for a discounted price and was excited to try a very different shoe from any of those found in my road shoe collection.
Right now all of you road runners might be wondering what Icebugs are. You are not going to find them at many of your local running stores. Icebug is a Swedish shoe company that makes running shoes as well as boots specifically for slippery conditions. This is a shoe company that focuses on traction and the proof is in the shoe. The OLX’s are clearly made with orienteering and obstacle course racing in mind.
When I first tried my Icebugs I was in the midst of choosing marathon shoes. I was used to feeling some cushioning and a certain glove like feel around my foot. I’m going to be honest, when I put on the Icebugs my immediate reaction was a fear that I would not like them. They felt so different from any of my road shoes. The uppers felt a little stiffer, there wasn’t that soft feeling of the shoes I was wearing on the road. These shoes also let you feel the ground beneath your feet, so there was not the airy, cushioned feel that I had grown accustomed to on my long runs. But they were remarkably light, and I love a light shoe.
Next step was to try them around my rural property. These are not shoes you can break in while walking around the house unless you don’t mind perforating your floors. There is a reason the OLX’s have traction – check out the metal studs:
If metal studs are a bit more than you need, there are plenty of Icebug shoes with serious lugs to get you through tricky terrain.
As soon as I started moving in the shoes I knew that I would in fact love wearing them. To start with, they are incredibly light for a trail shoe. For me, the ultimate test in a shoe is will I forget about them once I start running. In my opinion, if my mind goes to my shoes – whether running trails or roads – there is a problem. Shoes should be your quiet workhorse partner, getting their job done without interfering in your quest to finish. As soon as I was running I was virtually unaware of the Zeals. The 6mm drop falls right in my comfort zone and the uppers felt snug without being tight.
As I ran around the rough, uneven ground of our open pasture any of my initial concerns disappeared. I then tested them on our rough gravel driveway and was quite pleased to discover that the studs were not uncomfortable on the harder surface. And, on a purely vain note, I admit I loved that they actually made my feet look small. When you are 5’8 and wear a 10 1/2 shoe, you can’t help but be pleased by a shoe that doesn’t make you feet look even bigger! These shoes kind of have the look of a comfy sneaker. Don’t let them fool you though, they have plenty of protection at the toe and around the sole for rough terrain.
The next test was trying them in an orienteering event. The first thing I enjoyed was the traction I felt when stepping on top of slippery logs. Remember when orienteering you are often not on a beaten (or even semi-beaten) path. I usually try to go over old, wet logs in order to avoid slipping, but with the 16 carbide tip steel studs I had no worries digging into the wood. As well, these shoes give you a real feel for the ground and nice flexibility. Unfortunately for me, with all my road running this past fall I was suffering from a mild case of metatarsalgia (pain at the ball of my toes) and found that I sometimes needed a little more cushioning, depending on the day. Without that issue however, I really enjoy feeling the terrain.
It was at this first event with the shoes that I discovered the main problem with the Zeals. To be honest it is a bit of a bizarre one, though luckily a very easy fix. For some reason, the laces that come with the shoes will not stay tied, even when double tied. I double tie all my running shoes. It is such a habit that even when trying on shoes in a store I double tie. I have never, ever, had my laces come undone during a run. So I was a little surprised that within the first 20 minutes of my orienteering event I discovered that both shoes were untied. This is frustrating enough when running on the road, but when orienteering it adds extra challenges. Firstly, if you are orienteering in Eastern Ontario, there is a very good chance you are running through poison ivy. About the last thing I really want to do is tie up laces that may have been dragged through poison ivy oil. Secondly, when orienteering, you are carrying a map, a compass and an S.I. on your finger that looks like this:
Photo from http://ol-wiki.de/index.php?title=Bild:SPORTident_Chip_6.jpg
This is the piece of technology you need to “punch” each control to prove you completed the course. In order to tie shoes, you need to put all of this gear on the ground (poison ivy alert again!). The third time my shoes came undone, I only picked up two of the three things I needed. It wasn’t until I reached the next control that I realized I did not have my S.I. chip. I did try to retrace my steps but lets face it, finding one of those in an autumn forest carpeted in leaves is much like looking for a needle in a haystack. At that point my event was done and I was out an S.I. With no chip, there was no way for me to officially continue and I had to take a DNF. It is possible a few swear words were used. Now, I am going to admit that I was not having a good course. That could be translated to I was completely lost for a period of time. O.K. possibly a long period of time. I was not going to be winning this class (not that I win any class)! But I would have liked to finish.
I did contact the company and discovered that they too had experienced difficulties with the laces. My husband also had the same problems with his pair. They sent me a link showing a better way to tie laces and my husband has had some success with this method. I, on the other hand, have decided that I am too old to relearn how to tie shoelaces. Some things are just too engrained to change. Instead I simply changed the laces and the problem is solved. My current laces don’t exactly match the colour scheme, but they make them unique!
Once the lace issue was solved, the shoes worked well for several other orienteering events. But what I was really waiting for was the chance to try them in some truly slippery conditions, whether it be snow or ice. This unusually mild and dry fall and winter didn’t help on that front, but this week I finally got the chance to try them in less than ideal footing. My husband and I headed out around our rural area in our matching Zeals – his minus the pink laces! The first test was our slippery rural road. I have run that road many times with a bit of snow, slush and ice and I can tell you my feet usually slip out behind me. Definitely not a problem in the Zeals. Then we ran up a long, steep trail. The unfortunate part is that the Zeals give you no excuses. Normally I could just say, “Oh, I’d better take this slow, wouldn’t want to slip!” Sorry, that excuse is gone with these shoes – you are not going to slip.
I was a little worried about what they would be like in the colder temperatures. This was my first run in them with the temperature hovering around 0C. The snow was covering the huge puddles from the previous days’ rain. I ended up ankle-deep a couple of times but the water drained quickly and I had no problem with my feet getting cold. Wool socks of course helped too. We also tested some downhill muddy trails topped with wet snow, again no issues.
I’m still waiting to try these on ice. I have little doubt they will be amazing. What I really want to do is what you see in this advertisement for Icebug shoes:
Hey, if a pair of shoes can get me up a hill of ice and leave a bunch of guys in the
dust snow, I’m all for them!
In short, if you are going to be on rough or slippery terrain, particularly orienteering or obstacle course racing, these are comfortable, high traction shoes that simply need better laces. My biggest recommendation is to get out and run in them – don’t just base your opinion on how they feel the moment you put them on. Try them on for a run and you should be pleasantly surprised.
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As an Icebug Ambassador I purchased my Zeals for a reduced price. All opinions are my own.