If the shoe fits! Hear from Champion Canicrosser and running footwear expert Georgie Lambert

Posted by Gail Walker, 29th October 2021

When we talk about Canicross, we tend to focus on three main pieces of equipment – our belt, the dog’s harness and the line – but what’s often overlooked is what you should be wearing on your feet. We’ve all gone out to buy a pair of trainers that we think will do the job. Then, when it gets really muddy and wet, we wish we’d gone for something with better traction. Especially when you’ve got a dog pulling out in front of you, or worse still, you start to pick up injuries.

So, when it comes to which trainers you should be wearing, especially for off-road running, it can be a complete minefield. There are so many brands out there, all claiming to do different things. What should we be looking for when buying our trail shoes, aside from whether they come in our favourite colour?

Elite Canicrosser and co-owner of Alton Sports running shop, Georgie Lambert is on hand to talk about all things related to trainers and running shoes, meaning that our feet are in very good hands!

Canicross Athlete Georgie Lambert

Please could you give us a bit of background about yourself, your Canicross experience and, of course, your passion for running.

I’ve been Canicrossing now for around five or six years and I’ve been in the sporting industry for almost 15, which makes me sound really old! I started Canicrossing when I rehomed our dog, Benson. I was already a runner before that. I have been a track runner, a road runner and have always had a passion for trail and cross country too. When I discovered Canicross, my two passions of running and dogs met and I have loved it ever since. My dogs and I now represent Great Britain in Canicrossing, and last time we were able to compete in a season we were third in Europe.

Tell us a bit about the dogs you run with.

Benson is a collie cross spaniel. He is nine now. We also have Bee who is a Scandinavian hound. Her full name is Queen Bee. She is the dog I managed to get the European bronze with and is three now. She is purpose-bred for speed as a pointer cross greyhound. She’s brilliant. She weighs around 21kg, so she is quite small for the breed but perfect for me. We have a great partnership and lots to enjoy in the years to come.

You are also an expert in running shoes, which is handy when Canicrossing at such a high level. How important is it when people are coming to you for the first time to make sure they get the right footwear from the start?

Since l’ve been Canicrossing and got to know the community, it’s been amazing to learn so much about footwear and how different it is for Canicross compared to what I call solo running, so without the dog attached. People who come to us in our store for advice generally come in for gait analysis. This is where we look at the movements that occur while they run, which are completely different from when they walk. We do this for both road shoes and trail shoes.

There’s obviously a difference between road shoes and trail shoes. But is there also a difference in shoes for off-road solo running and Canicrossing?

Yes, there is. Your gait, your stance and your running stride change a lot from when you Canicross and when you solo run off-road. So you ideally need two different types of footwear for that. Then, you have road running, where you need a separate pair of solo running shoes. So, you could end up with quite a lot of shoes! There may also be Canicrossers who are looking to move up to the next level in the sport who will need another kind of shoe for competitions.

I understand why it can be such a minefield! Going back to scratch, however, what are some of the fundamental differences and things you should be looking for if you are comparing shoes?

It you compare a trail shoe and a road running shoe, the trail shoe is going to have a more durable upper part to protect your foot and make the shoe last longer. It will also have a better grip on the sole to help with the terrain you are running on. On the other hand, you will get a lot more flexion on a road running shoe.

If someone is buying their first pair of trail shoes, do they really need to go to a specialist running shop like yours or can they buy online?

It’s super important to go to a running shoe specialist near you, so you can ask for knowledgeable advice. Experts will be able to look at your feet, talk to you and ask you questions about where and when you are running. This will give them a really good idea about the two or three models that would be best suited to you. It’s all down to you as the wearer to make the final decision, but the bottom line for any trail shoe must be comfort. That’s something you can’t buy online because you don’t know if shoes are going to be comfortable or not until you try them on. It’s so important to go into a store.

The trail shoe category is now huge. Experienced road runners already have a huge choice of brands there are out there, and know how many different shoes there are in each brand. This is almost being mirrored now for the off-road shoes. The category is growing massively and the UK clearly loves trail running!

I remember when I started out in road running and then discovered Canicross, there were just two main brands of shoes that people tended to run in. Today, I don’t run in either of them because I have so much more choice. Moving on, then, to running on firmer terrain, for example in springtime, some people might argue that it’s fine to wear a road shoe because you don’t need the extra support of a trail shoe when the weather is dry. Do you have a view on that?

It’s always down to personal preference. So, if you can get away with a decent road shoe, then that’s brilliant. I say “get away with that” because, in my many years of fitting shoes for Canicrossers, I’ve learnt a lot about blistering. I’ve learnt that blistering occurs the most in Canicrossing when we strike the ground, but the dogs are still moving forward. So our foot inside the shoe also carries on moving.

If we were solo running without a dog attached, our foot would not move in the same way. It would strike the ground and come off again straight away using with our own body weight. I talk to customers a lot about the volume inside the trainer and the importance of choosing the right socks to help with the cushioning.

Conversely, when tackling wet or muddy terrain, is there a link between the cushioning inside the shoe and the lugs on the bottom of the sole? Should you choose different shoes depending on how deep the mud is you are running in?

Yes, this is a big issue. Unfortunately, it tends to be that the deeper the lugs on the outer sole of a trail shoe are, the less cushioning you end up getting inside. You usually have to have one or the other. There are a couple of models out there that I would say give you both but that’s not going to suit everyone.

The deeper the lug, the better the shoe is for mud; however, mud in the UK does tend to be quite deep, so no depth of tractor tread will completely save you from it. Tackling mud should be more about working on your running technique and how you move across the ground. Trying not to overthink the tread, is probably my advice on that one.

You mentioned the importance of comfort earlier. If you go for a deeper lug at the expense of a bit of cushioning, the counter side of that is that you could get some discomfort and maybe risk injury because your technique isn’t right.

Exactly. That’s why comfort is always king. Without it, your technique will be ruined and you will get injured, either superficially through blistering or more seriously later on by not having the right stride as you run. If you feel confident that you’re getting a good grip with your feet, that will help you become a better Canicrosser and more in tune with your dog.

For someone who wants to invest in just one pair of off-road trail trainers, is there a good middle ground?

Yes, there are loads in that category. That’s where the category has grown so much in shoes that have a good tread – not an über deep lug – but a decent tread with great cushioning and a brilliant upper. There is a good choice of widths out there too to ensure a really snug fit. Different brands will have different standard widths too, which is why it is so important to go into a specialist shop where the staff can see your foot and know which brand will be best for you.

Is there a difference between men’s and women’s trainers?

Aside from the colouring, it is mainly about the standard width; the men’s are generally wider and the women’s more narrow. It’s all to do with the fact that females can be pregnant and have a wider forefoot and a narrower heel counter so the weight distribution can hold them up. Men are the other way round. This is quite generalised though, and things have changed so much. If a woman comes into a shop and a man’s trainer fits her better, it doesn’t matter, It’s all about what suits you best.

You mentioned earlier that there are a lot more brands out there now than there used to be. How many different brands do you sell in your store?

We sell 14 brands right now, but this is increasing all the time. I used to work for a shoe company before moving over to retail, so I have seen both sides and gained insights into how a brand comes up with its shoes and makes new models or categories. It’s made me a lot more open-minded about the brands I work with now. It’s fascinating to see how brands grow and to discover new ones. This year alone, we’ve been approached by at least four brand new footwear companies. You’d think the industry is already saturated, but there’s still room for more.

How much would someone expect to pay for a good, mid-range pair of trail trainers for Canicross?

This is where some people can get a bit scared about the cost and I hate that idea. We will always range to our customers’ price point. In general, £120 is the average price point for a good pair of trainers. However, if you talk to your specialist about the amount of money you have to spend, they will always be happy to discuss your options. Having shoes that won’t cause you injuries and will last you a long time is always a good investment.

What trail trainers do you personally use?

I actually achieved a personal best time running with Bee just before this summer using a brand new pair of shoes that I had never worn before. I was quite shocked by that! They didn’t work for me in the long term though, as I did end up with a few blisters. Everyone makes mistakes! For my solo running, I tend to stick to paths or roads and I do like Nike shoes for this. I also wear Pegasus quite a lot, as well as On, which is a Swiss brand that sells well for us in store.

For any shoe geeks out there, I have started looking more closely at the drops inside my shoes. I call this the stiletto drop and it’s all about going from the heel to the forefoot and working out what that drop is, or how high your “stiletto” lifts you up. Generally, for longer running or larger mileage shoes, the drop should be around eight to 12 mm as I would say that feels really comfortable and offers plenty of cushioning.

Then, for my racing shoes, I’ve noticed that the drop is around four to six mm and I think that is because I prefer a more aggressive outer sole. This lowers the drop because cushioning inside is reduced. That’s not my favourite approach, by the way, but it’s great for racing and getting the job done. Then, there is a new model on the market that has literally just come out called Saucony Endorphin. It’s a trail shoe that’s really firm, has loads of cushioning but is still a 4mm drop. It’s a bit of an anomaly.

It’s really good for people to realise just how much choice there is out there and that you really do need to go in and try stuff on for yourself. What works for one person might not work for another and what works for your solo running right not work for your Canicross.

For someone who wants to buy a pair of shoes for Canicrossing and to talk to someone in a shop, can this be a challenge if the person they are seeking advice from hasn’t heard much about the sport before?

I think an awful lot of specialists do know about Canicross now and we get a fair few enquiries about it from the general public too. We’re taking over the world! However, it is always going to be a process of elimination when choosing the right pair of shoes for Canicross, which is a shame for the bank balance. You won’t ever get naff trainers from a proper specialist. They will always be good if you choose carefully and listen to proper advice. However, there is always room for improvement and for your next model, you can always see if you are able to tweak a couple of things to make your running even better.

There are many ways to personalise your shoes as well. After all, they are mass produced – a size 5 is produced for everyone out there who wears that size – but people’s feet are not the same. You can look at things like volume and choosing the right socks. Different socks work with different shoes. It’s crazy! You have got to get the right combination for you. Don’t listen to other people because there’s no way their feet will be exactly the same shape as yours.

There’s a whole area around laces too – different types and ways you can tie your shoes. Do you give advice on that in your shop as well?

Yes. All specialists will do that. It can seem a bit silly, but the way that you do your lacing is really important. Look at your trainers and how much space the laces take up on them. It’s fundamentally the last source of support you’re giving your foot inside the shoe – how securely it is going to stay on. There are a million different ways of doing up your shoes and we have a few videos on YouTube showing various lacing methods. Lacing can also change the volumes of your shoes and is especially important to get right if you have got bunions or heel spurs to protect.

It’s not overly complicated. It’s like harness fitting for dogs. You just have to make sure you have got the right way sorted out for you and make sure that you’re comfortable all the time you are wearing the shoes. Try out a few options and you will find the way that works for you.

If someone is fairly new to Canicross and realises that they are not using the right shoe, what would you say, as a retailer and a Canicrosser yourself, are the three of four priorities when looking for a trail shoe for Canicrossing?

Start by looking at the terrain you are running on. If you are only going to go down a horrifically muddy trail ten percent of the time, then think more about what you are doing for 90% of the time instead. Is a lot of the ground hard packed? If so, you will have to look more at cushioning. Canicrossing loads force, i.e. you have a lot more force going through each stride, which is why cushioning is so important.

Next, get the size right. The only way you’re going to do that is by going to see someone and try some shoes on. Don’t just pick up the same shoes as your mate is wearing. That’s my biggest issue with people who come in with problems with shoe sizing. They say that they have got a certain brand at home that they paid a lot for online, for example, but the shoes have been completely wrong for them. Blisters can take a long time to heal. So it’s in everyone’s interests to get it right first (or second) time.

I run in the next shoes size up because my foot moves forward as I run. That works for me as I can have a bit more room. Do you do that?

Yes, I do. I have my “fashion” shoe size and then my running size. I go up a whole size and a half for both my running and my Canicrossing shoes. The last thing you want is for the shoe to be too short and crunch your toes up. That is going to affect your plantar inside your foot because you’re going to be all cramped up. Then it’s going to hurt your Achilles, your calf and could go all the way up your body. Going too big doesn’t cause as much risk from injury as going too short. It’s not a good move. Don’t worry about the number written on the side of the box. Go with what fits in the store.

I’m sure lots of people would prefer me to just tell them what brand and model to go for, but that isn’t how it should be done. There are so many brands out there. Pop into your local specialist shop and have a chat. If they don’t know much about Canicrossing, tell that that it’s all about the force and pull from the dog that you get every time you strike the ground. I’m sure they will be able to point you in the right direction.

It’s fascinating to learn that not only are there differences between the shoes you use for running along the road and on off-road trail, but there’s also the dimension of having a dog pull in front of you as well to consider. Thank you for speaking to us. We have learned a lot from your wealth of knowledge. I bet you are looking forward to getting back to competing now, aren’t you? Do you have anything particular lined up?

I’m really excited because we’re looking at doing a stage race for the first time in France called the TSB (Trophée Sud Bourgogne) at the end of October. I’m going to have to do some research into suitable footwear, as it involves racing every single day for seven days on the trot. I’m super excited to go away and learn more and hopefully help other runners as well.

Good luck Georgie and thank you for a fascinating discussion!

If you live in the area we highly recommend you visit one of Georgie’s Alton Sports stores. Alternatively find a good retailer near you who will be able to help you find the best running shoe for your needs. For help with your Canicross kit, we have a useful harness consultation form that takes the hassle out of choosing the best one for your dog. Our DogFit Canicross Starter Kit gives you everything you need to get started in Canicross!

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