My ‘blades: A Love Story

Gear Review

We’ve all been in that kind of relationship. In fact, I had been in several of them, successively. Where nothing’s wrong, exactly. But maybe the excitement has dwindled, or maybe it was never really there in the first place. The neither-here-nor-there apathy of the union precludes any real strife, but also robs you of the excitement of reconciliation.

Day-to-day, things seem to work, but suddenly a year (or more) has gone by and yet, deep down, you know this isn’t the balance-altering, passion-inspiring rightness that you always thought you’d end up with. The one. Who feels made for you. Or in my case, the two. (I know. I’m so Bay Area.)

I didn’t hide the fact that I was looking. And a couple years of mediocrity had done nothing to quash my idealism. Everyone says not to make a list. I had a list. Here’s what I was looking for: a snug, supportive heel; a cavernously wide toe-box; and a grippy sole that wouldn’t interfere with my perception of the trail.

Yes, shoes. Trail running shoes. I was looking for love and I found it, and now, like Tom Cruise on Oprah’s couch, I want (maybe even need) to tell the world: “I love these shoes!” Until I get that invitation from Oprah, I’ll start with the readers here at Trail Run Times. You’re probably more my target audience anyway.

I’d heard about La Sportiva Fireblades weeks before I laid eyes on them. A good friend vouched for them. And they sounded perfect, but you never can tell. Still, I was optimistic enough that I made a detour to Zombie Runner in Palo Alto one weekend on my way to Woodside.

A brief aside: It was my first trip to the store and I almost lost track of my mission, it was so cool. I just wanted to hang out, drink coffee, and look at pretty Moeben sleeves (which now come in kids’ sizes, making “a toddler in Moebens” second only to “yellow lab puppy” in terms of sheer cuteness).

Anyway…I did remember why I was there, and asked to see the ’blades. They weren’t even out on display yet, so you had to know about them, and ask for them by name. Yes, of course this made them cooler.

When I saw them, I was a bit smitten based on looks alone. Then, as soon as I slipped my foot in: “Yes! This is the shoe I have been searching for.” It was my glass slipper moment. Move over, Prince Charming, you’ve got nothing on the Zombies.

The Fireblades were everything I wanted and more. The heel cupped my foot, snugly, securely. Then the mid-foot. Oh, the mid-foot. A wide band of stretchy fabric wraps the foot beneath the laces, providing a level of stability I had never dared to dream of. But the really great thing, the tour de force, enabled by that mid-foot stretchy bit, is the toe-box. More like a toe cave, really. A spacious compartment, where your toes can ride, without ever touching the walls of the shoe.

As though all that weren’t enough, they are also really, really ridiculously good looking. Yellow for the ladies and orange for the guys, these shoes will sass up any trail ensemble with their sporty and stylish design. Or they’ll blend in and look utilitarian if that’s more your style.

At just under 12 ounces, the ’blades are a lightweight trail option. Unlike so many trail runners out there, they won’t give the impression of being a pared-down hiking boot. In fact, they feel trimmer and more dynamic than my road shoes. Racy, even. La Sportiva is an Italian company with a long history in rock climbing shoes, and that attention to traction and sensitivity shows in the Fireblades. With La Sportiva’s FriXion technology (sticky rubber to us laypeople), Fireblades grab uneven surfaces and stay put, without the need for a heavy, deep lug. What this means to me is that I won’t slip, and I’ll feel the nuances of the trail beneath my feet. (Yes, punishingly sharp rocks and ankle-rolling roots are “nuances.”) That’s not to say the Fireblade isn’t protective. It absolutely is. But it won’t distance you from the trail. I feel those rocks; I’m not injured by them.

I know that part of my love for my ’blades is irrational. I fell for them, hard. They make me want to run more and they make me want to run better. I can’t promise you’ll feel the same spark. The spark is famously hard to predict. But I’ve yet to meet anyone who tried them and didn’t immediately make them their primary shoes, or at least part of the regular rotation. So give them a try, and if you are that person, immune to the Fireblades’ charm, I’d love to meet you. You are legendary and possibly nonexistent. Much like Sasquatch. Say hello if you see me on the trails.

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