Friday, 25 January 2013

Let’s Talk Shoes, specifically Inov-8 Bare X 180 and X-Talon 190

It seems that between blogs I’ve become something of a shoe whore.  I’m not going to post a photo of my growing athletic shoe collection, that would be embarrassing, but since my last shoe review of the Altra Samsons (still loving those by the way) I’ve bought a pair of Inov-8 X-Talon 190s and also a pair of Bare-X 180s. 

The Bare-X 180s were slightly planned, in that I entered an online competition that gave every entrant a 20% off voucher for a limited range of Inov-8s, and as I’d been looking at them prior to getting my Altras I thought “why the heck not, they can always sit in the cupboard until I need them”. 
Looking at the various reviews, the Bare-X 180s seemed to meet my needs most.  They have a very light construction, zero drop and a removable insole.  Lightweight flexible sole with a pattern meant for the road (and maybe dry light trails at a stretch) with plenty of grip, and a very low weight overall at 180g per shoe.

Unfortunately I didn’t take any fresh out of the box photos of them, so what you see below is after a reasonable bit of use towards the back end of 2012, all on the roads either at home or on my travels.  The keen eyed amongst you would have also noticed that I have lock laces on them, or in this case half a pair of lock laces as that’s all that was needed.

Let’s start with the fit; basically once you’ve got them on and got the laces adjusted they feel like a pair of slippers, soft, flexible, snuggly (that’s the first time I’ve said that about a pair of shoes) and generally pretty form fitting.  Ground feel is good for a minimalist shoe, probably on par with the Altras or Merrell Trail Gloves. 
So what about performance?  Since I bought them, the ALtras have really been my go-to road shoe.  Not a lot of obvious grip, flat soles with a few almost cartoon anatomical trad pieces, but where they really work well is with a hard-ish rubber and all those razor-siped cuts which give great grip on the tarmac whether wet or dry and on dry trails.  The Inov-8 is not billed as a trail shoe, which is a good thing, cos it aint. It would handle a dry hard trail but not much more, I think a touch of moisture even on grass would leave you flat on your arse.  On the road, in the dry they are as good as the Altra but in the wet, they underperform.  The sticky rubber just doesn’t grip anywhere near as well as the hard, razor-siped sole, and in the wet you just feel that the feet are not far from slipping under you every time you push off, particularly around my home where the farmers leave a lot of mud on the road.  The lack of grip dictated my choice for a recent 10k race, going for the Altras in preference to these, just necasue I wanted to be sure that I wasn't going to fall flat on my face.

In the dry, you can see the wear on the sole with every run, not quite what I’d expect from a shoe designed for the road.  The Altra by comparison has probably ten times the mileage on it  and no visible wear. 

Running comfort is great and on a par with both the Merrel Trail glove and the Altras.  I’ve not tried them without socks yet but they have always felt light and airy and well ventilated with my feet definitely not overheating.  In the wet, they don’t seem to hold a lot of moisture which is great.
Overall verdict, not bad.  Probably a 7 out of ten.  By comparison the Altra would be a 9 (losing one point for lack of direct sales in Europe).  A good shoe, but the grip performance and wear let it down in my opinion, so the Altra will still be my go-to shoe for the road, but the Inov-8 Bare-X 180 will be up there for the dry. 

So now onto the X-Talon 190.  Not my intended purchase, I was looking for the Bare Grip, but couldn’t get it in my size.  Apologies again, but no out of the box photos, just a few taken after today’s run in the snow.  The mud on the left is from when I put my foot down on what looked solid, but was a light covering of snow on top of half an inch of ice and a muddy puddle.  The SealSkinz socks saved my feet today.

Now this purchase came about in November; I’d signed up for an off-road duathlon of 5km run, 18km MTB and another 3.5km run all in Sherwood Forest.  That’s another entry but it was a great race and a great day.  Anyway, with the weather we’d been having, and my Grim Reaper experience, I didn’t think the Trail Gloves or NB Minimus would cut it, so I went out looking for a serious off-road shoe.  First I tried my old astroturf and hard grass shoes that I used to used for refereeing rugby, but I found them too heavy, too small (feet have grown) and having a negative affect on my gait. 
Having already bought the Bare-X 180s, I was impressed by the fit of the Inov-8’s and their off-road pedigree.  Having not been able to find the Bare Grips in my soze, when I looked at the range, with light weight and zero or 3mm drop being absolute criteria, the X-Talon 190 jumped out, and the Aberdeen branch of Run-4-it had them in stock, reserved by a very helpful assistant called Freya.
Again the fit was very good, snug, even lacing and lice and light.  Ground feel is reduced with these, but if you look at the lugs on the tread are you really surprised?

As it happened, it turned out that the run course in Sherwood was pretty sandy, well draining trails, so rather than being very heavy and slippy underfoot like the claye soil where I live, it was dry but loose underfoot.  Performance of the shoe was excellent on the run. I kept them on for the bike leg as well as I have open cage pedals on the MTB, and they performed well there holding well onto the pedals. 

I’ve used them since then for a few runs in the snow and ice and stick mud around home over the last few weeks as well and I can’t fault them for grip in those conditions either, a view that was seconded by someone from my cycling club who said they’re good on anything but ice.  Basically those big lugs just lock into any irregularities or soft bits and hold on for all they’re worth, and they also clear the mud off well as well.  I’ve not had to dig any mud out of the treads yet.
So, grip excellent, weight excellent, groundfeel good for the tread pattern, colour a bit on the garish side, but I did need them in a hurry. 

The only drawback for me, and this is no fault if the shoe is that they are extremely single minded and do that one thing very well, but as result I can foresee that the soft, sticky rubber tread will not last on the road at all, so pick your approach route to your trails carefully if you want to preserve them.

Overall a good 9.5 out of ten from me. 

Great value for money as well for both of these shoes, if you are prepared to do a little work you can find them at decent discount if you are prepared to accept last year’s models.  I’d go as far as to say that value for money, these may be the best shoes I’ve ever bought ( I can’t include the Altras in that comparison as someone managed to get me a promotional pair of those).
So here’s where I’ve worn them recently

An offroad run

And a Sunday club run on the MTBs (too cold and snowy for road bikes)

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Ely Runners New Year’s Eve 10k

Might as well start the new year as I, hopefully, intend to go on with a prompt race report. 

Monday saw me take the start line for the Ely Runners New Year’s Eve 10k for the 5th time in a row.  Given the weather conditions of 35km/h winds and the roughly triangular course layout there were headwinds on 50-60% of the course, I would have been thinking twice about just going out for a run, maybe do a turbo session instead.  But as this is my “home race” with the start line around half a mile from my house that kind of excuse was never going to come into play.

Coming into this, specific training had been a bit patchy, but good, suggesting that I was in condition for a reasonable PB, maybe something between 42 and 43 minutes.  The real question was how much of an effect the wind would have.

When I picked up my race number it seemed a little less crowded than usual, and the lack of queues at the toilet bore that out as well.  Then a quick warm up, feel the wind and have a look at the last 100 yards or so to the finish in a field.  That was already getting churned up just with dog walkers and the race being set up but I was expecting the ground to be so soft that nothing other than fell running shoes would give you good traction. I was wearing my Altra Samsons which are very good for wet tarmac and to some extent you would be sinking deep enough into the mud at each step to give a bit of solidity. 

Another 5 minutes hanging around getting nervous, then time to shuffle off to the start line.  Got myself about a third of the way back, behind the really fast runners.  Approximate plan was hard first 2k, then settle into a maintainable pace.  Normally I start to push from about 5.5km in this race, then really go for it from about 1.5-2km to go, but this time I really had no idea.  The first turn into the wind comes at about 2.5km, that would be the real test and set the pattern for the rest of the race I think.

30 seconds, 5-4-3-2-1-go!  First km downhill, quick pace, then try and slow it to a sustainable pace. First 2km up by the GPS in 8:28, on target but oddly came up before the marker.  Turn into the wind, and almost stop in effective race pace, from 4:14 for the first 2km to 4:25 for the next 4km with wind not quite head on, but a strong cross-headwind from the left, then another left hand turn around 5.5km into a full headwind for another 2.5-3km.  The pace here came down to 4:49 for kms 7 and 8. At this point I started picking a few people off, but one woman decided to use me to hide from the wind and I just could not shake her off down that back straight.  At around 8km, there’s a short “hill” regaining what was lost at the start, this is also where you turn back again with the wind finally in your favour and I finally managed to shake my shadow.  Normally I blast past a lot of people up the hill with a fast finish, but this year the wind had taken all the spring out my legs and I struggled to kick down to a 4:19/km pace for the last two km.  Last year it was 4:15/km pace for the last mile and then accelerated into the last quarter.  Not this year.

My Garmin gave me 44:34, official time 44:37, 108th of 539 overall, 93rd male of 340

2011 official time 44:15 (my PB), 148th overall out of 579, 125th male out of 345,

Winning times 2012 - 32:33.0, 2011- 30:40.0

Talking to people afterwards, the consensus was that the race was around 2-3min slower, as per the winning time, so for me to be within 20 secs of a PB was a pretty decent effort, and probably on par for a 42-42:30 on a good day as per the training efforts.  Let’s hope for better conditions next year.
About 500m after the start
About 2km to go