Shoes and Minimalism

This is my story about shoes.

My approach to shoes has always been indicative of my approach to running. In the past that meant that the shoe didn’t really matter; all I wanted to do was run in the mountains. But as I became more proficient in mountain running, and more aware of the mountain running scene (i.e., I read Born to Run), I began to learn about the different types of running shoes and the trends among runners. I happened to enter the sport at the beginning of the minimalist frenzy, and from the beginning I regarded it with skepticism. I was aware of how certain runners were known for cutting all the padding out of their shoes and running extremely long distances, and I heard about the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico running ultras in sandals, and I saw in those stories the same romanticism I saw in Born to Run. The public loves the idyllic stories about dedicated athletes just getting by and doing what they love: the crazy party girl who can still win 100-mile races; the dirtbag runners hitchhiking around the country setting records; the forgotten sandal-wearing distance-runner Indians living much the same as their ancestors in a mysterious mountain range. These images are romantic, but are they the truth? I didn’t think so. It seemed like too pretty a picture to be true.

Because of that I was prone to take more stuff on runs, rather than less. I figured the tried-and-true methods of the past were more difficult and less sexy, so they must be the right way. That’s how the adult world works, I was learning: if something is time-consuming, difficult and slow to show progress, it must be correct. Thus, I turned away from the example of the other young guys going too far on too little, thinking it shortsighted, and began going on runs with a backpack filled with things like sandwiches, space blankets, iodine tablets, a compass, a bivy sack, books, etc. To put it another way, I overcompensated to the extreme.

Over time, my views changed almost subconsciously. The more I ran, the more I understood what I did and did not need. The greater experience I gained, the better I grasped the fundamental principles behind long-distance mountain running. Namely, that by running we forgo traditional comforts and safety nets in lieu of confidence in our ability to return safely because we can move quickly. I gradually learned that I shouldn’t be taking a bivy sack on a mountain run; instead, I should be running only where I am good enough not to need a bivy sack. Barring disaster, I should be able to get myself out of bad situations by virtue of my ability to move quickly, rather than having to rely on artificial protection that hinders my speed, or I shouldn’t go to those places at all. With this knowledge I began to leave out items from my pack until after a while I no longer needed a pack. With adequate preparation and understanding of the terrain, summer mountain running in Colorado can be done safely and comfortably with a water bottle, several gels and/or bars, and a jacket. With enough experience, more than that seems unnecessary.

That said, shoes may be a different matter. I have learned to reconcile my skepticism of Born to Run in the following way: it is a book designed to entertain first, and give information second. The book is absolutely right that many trail running shoes of the past were astoundingly overbuilt, however, I have yet to see anybody win a competitive trail ultra while running barefoot, or wearing sandals, or FiveFingers, or some other iteration of the barefoot scene. While barefoot running is totally valid as a way to be strong and healthy, the science seems to indicate that the vast majority of people need some underfoot protection when running long distances. As for the young guys who were cutting all the padding out of their shoes and running super long distances, I can think of two in particular, one of whom races infrequently, at best, due to injuries and the other is now a farmer and hasn’t raced in years. Perhaps those are exceptional cases not to be considered in the overall pool, but their testimony seems compelling to me, so I have included it. Draw your own conclusions.

I drew my conclusions, and decided that minimalism is a very good thing to a certain point, beyond which the risks become too high. I started searching for lighter shoes, realizing that the extra weight in my old shoes was largely unnecessary. With lighter shoes I was a more precise runner, taking more care of each step, and this allowed me to become a better runner because I was more efficient. But lightness is not the only factor that matters – durability is crucial, as well. Especially in the mountains far from backup, shoes have to be able to withstand uneven, wet, loose and rocky terrain for hours at a time, or else the person wearing the shoes will be a sad sack, indeed. That’s why many road running shoes don’t work for mountain running – they lack the durability to survive the mountains for more than a few runs. I found that Montrail’s Rogue Racers worked particularly well for me, and I have worn many pairs since first trying them in 2010. Although they are by no means a barefoot running shoe, they are much lighter than I would have chosen just a few years ago. Despite my skepticism of the minimal movement, I gradually began to see its merit.

What Born to Run did for ultrarunning has been extremely positive. It put the sport into the mainstream consciousness and did a lot to show the public that ultrarunners aren’t crazy after all. Furthermore, the effect it has had on the shoe industry has been profound. Every company I know about is focusing on lightweight, low-drop shoes that provide protection without being heavy or bulky. Rather than the hiking boots that trail running shoes used to be, they now seem to take their inspiration from road running shoes, just adding more support and grip. Obviously those are generalizations, but nobody can deny that the trail running world has been consumed by the concept of minimalism, and nobody has remained untouched.

This is a good thing, because despite the fear-mongering about shoe companies conspiring to hurt their customers in order to get them to buy more shoes, designers have begun to focus on the natural structure of the foot and how that plays into the individual movements involved in running. Runners aren’t just looking for padding to protect us from rocks; we’re looking for a tool that will allow us to connect with the environments through which we run. Muddy trails need big lugs, rocky trails need sticky rubber, loose trails need stiffness and smooth trails need very little of anything. The trail shoes on the market today are designed to maximize the experience of trail running, rather than the trail shoes of the past, which were designed to minimize the damage done by the trails. It’s a subtle shift, but a profound one nonetheless.

This brings me to the latest stage in my evolution of running shoes. First, I wore whatever they gave me, but as I became better at running I began to seek out lighter shoes that wouldn’t fall apart. Now, I am interested in specificity to a degree I have not needed in the past. No longer am I interested in just running; I want to be climbing and adventuring, too. Normal shoes can only do so much. To truly move to the next level of mountain running, specific shoes are required.

 

That’s why I have recently tried out Salomon’s Fellcross and La Sportiva’s Anakonda. They are both suited to specific terrain that eludes the range of most other shoes. The Fellcross is designed for mud in places like the UK (“Fellcross” being derived from “fell running”), but also works very well for places like the San Juans which feature steep grass, loose scree- and boulder-fields, and snow of all consistencies. The Anakonda’s value comes in the vertical world. They have sticky rubber, which means they are good for rock climbing. Those interested in the progression of mountain running will know that one major direction of the sport is into steep and technical mountains. And the Anakondas are suited to the task.

For most runs I still stick to my trusty Montrails (and this is a secret, but I trust you – Montrail and I are working on some pretty cool products along this idea of specificity right now). When the terrain requires something more specific, I like to test the value of specific shoes. The sport today is becoming so popular that companies can afford to invest in new technologies that will make shoes more minimal without sacrificing quality. That is the real benefit of the minimalist trend: it is placing the industry’s focus on creating high-performance tools for athletes, which will allow more people the opportunity to be their best. I wouldn’t pretend to know the best way to be a mountain runner, because for everybody it is different. The above is what I have learned from my experiences running long distances, and it is helping me move into the future more prepared to achieve my goals. I know I will continue to change my opinions on these matters as I learn and grow, but that’s the best part – it’s always a learning process, and nobody has the right answer. We’re all just doing our best to be our best. Besides experience, the best way to learn is from others.

So I ask all of you reading this:

  • How do you choose shoes, and why?
  • What makes you like certain things and dislike others?
  • What would you like to see in running shoes?
  • What would your perfect shoe look like?

The interplay of opinions is a powerful force. Tell us what you think. People might take notice.

There are 219 comments

  1. Jeff

    I just want a pair of shoes that will let me run road, dirt, and relatively technical trail all on the same run with a relative sense of comfort and confidence . . .

    1. Adam

      No, Trailrocs have a different geometry, not just more or less cusioning. The drop varies from 0-6mm. Also, the models below 245 lack a rock plate.

      Another idea that seems practical to me is making a lighter less durable version of a shoe for racing, and a heavier, more durable version for training, but without altering the level of protection between the training and racing version. As Ben Nephew suggests, training maximal and racing minimal is quite dangerous, especially for ultrarunners, who routinely race at distances that they never do in training. Whether it's a Hoka or a Hurache, your feet are going to adapt to the level of punishment it receives during training, and suddenly subjecting them to more punishment on race day seems like a recipe for surefire injury. On the other hand, shoes cost money, and the lighter shoe is invariably going to be less durable, as well as less protective. Moreover, if your trainer weighed more and lasted for more miles, but was no more protective than your racer, you'd build leg strength from lifting the extra few ounces, and have a physical and psychological edge when you put on your lighter, yet no less protective, racer.

      1. Ben Nephew

        In terms of the trailrocs have different geometries, I think most runners can tolerate the difference between 255 and 245 in training and racing, for example. Going from 235 to a 255, or 6mm or more increase in differential is harder to tolerate without a good deal of acclimation.

        I'm not sure it has to be all that complicated for ultrarunning, at least once you get beyond 50k. I never wear lighter shoes than I train in for 50 mile; I actually usually wear the exact shoes I've been training in for that particular race. Even for 50k I don't put on a lighter shoe on race day, but I might train for the 50k in a lighter shoe. I basically run 50k's in 2 arrow shoes, and 50 milers in 3 arrow shoes.

        My logic is that you have to be healthy to do the consistently hard training necessary to improve, which makes me relatively conservative in my training shoe selection. There is a fine line between adapting to a level of punishment from a very light shoe and getting injured, and I've never seen the advantage to walking that line. Most runners can't feel the beginning stages of stress fractures, tendonitis, etc. As Adam pointed out, you might not want less protection on race day, and my race experiences consistently lead to the conclusion the advantages of a little more protection and/or cushioning in the second half of a 50 miler outweigh the costs in grams.

    2. JP

      Right! As pointed out below, its not quite there, but its close and I'm happy that you brought it up. Thinking about it some more, a lot of inov8s lines are like this, but they invariably add a bit more of some other thing as they get heavier. roclite, xtalon, f-lite, theyre all v similar within series.

      Sidenote:

      As a 110 wearer, i dont mind trailroc 245s. Roomier toe box, but not enough rock protection for me and the grip isnt as good. Comfy, though.

      1. Adam

        Exactly. I too train and race in the exact same shoe (usually Merrell Mix Masters, I wish my toes could adjust to Inov8s!). I've become quite cynical about the whole concept of a "rotation," which seems to be cultivated by bloggers who get free shoes. Of course, it takes some time to find the right shoe, and the right shoe for a 100 mile trail race isn't necessarily the right shoe for a 50k skyrunning-style event, but generally I think it's best to settle on the one shoe that is optimal for most of the training and racing you do, and wear it for everything. That way, you can focus on getting stronger and faster, rather than on wearing a new pair of shoes every time you go out the door. Ideally, the shoe becomes an extension of your foot, and when you do run into a problem, assuming you've done many hundreds of injury free training miles in the shoe, you can isolate the cause as something related to overtraining, and not to your particular footwear choice.

        1. Ben Nephew

          I should mention that while inov-8 is a growing company, there is still basically one guy that designs the trail shoes. They keep him locked up in tower surrounded by crossfit guys for protection. The trail guys wouldn't be very useful in that area. The point is, thanks for the feedback, I'll make sure he sees these comments. It's very possible that comments like these will be used to update current models and/or in the design of new models. I can tell you that some of the comments are similar to wear tester reports.

          JP, where do you run?

          1. Adam

            I'll add that the thing that blew me away about the 245s was how well they protected my feet from rocks despite being so agile and low to the ground. I've never experienced anything like that in a shoe with such a low stack height and virtually no cushioning. Maybe I just need to put in some miles adapting to narrower toe boxes. The point about the increased sure-footedness and less blistering that comes with a tighter upper is a good one.

          2. JP

            Ben, I am in Canberra, Australia.

            Trails here are usually dry and hard, sometimes with loose gravel on top and sharp rocks half buried a lot of the time. There just isnt a lot of top soil here. Compared to a lot of pics I see from around the place (here), the trails I run are less groomed and more rocky.

            Its the half buried rocks that are sometimes hard to see at speed that poke into the 245s a little more than the 110s. The grip is a bit better on 110s as new shoes, and i think the 110s grip holds together longer (stays sharper edged?) than the 245 lugs do over time.

            I have very limited experience in the 245s, and I'm sure others will have other opinions!

  2. Max

    Give me a light, flexible, luggy shoe any day. Then give me it's mellower cousin with a rock plate and a bit less lugs for 100's.

    I want a shoe that's snug and secure over the foot yet isn't constricting, like those pretty new roclites I got on. I'd also like a shoe this minimal and aggressive that can also last more than 100 miles on steep, rugged scree slopes.

  3. brian

    I like adidas kanida TR4's because they cost less than 50.00, i get 500 miles on them, and they protect my old basketball turf toe. I would like to try some nicer shoes though, when the budget permits.

  4. Anonymous

    Know what I like, no, I adore? Dakota's fresh way of laying it all out there. Even though he is sponsored by Montrail, this article was not a veiled advertisement as it could have been. Also, not only did he poke a pointy stick into the widely popular minimalism bubble, but he also called out the frequent injuries of a famous runner, whom I believe is a friend of his. I like a guy with flat out honesty, especially if he cracks me up!

  5. a pace

    Thanks very much Ben– I run the 190 & love everything about it but for the toe bumper, being a clumsy sort, apparently. Lugs are perfect for me, since I have 8 months of winter & a good deal of scree on the mountains. Been thinking about the trailroc 245 & about the roclite, so I appreciate the suggestions.

  6. Ejch

    I remember the first pair of Montrails I had were won at an Adventure Race in NC in 02"I fell in love and was crushed to hear they sold out to Columbia and discontinued a great shoe that could take a beating and lasted forever. When I called the company a rep said that the shoe was too good and they weren't selling enough of them because they never wore out. Now I read this story and I doubt they'll have anything good enough for hard cores who rack up the mileage and like to tear through hills and streams. There more recent stuff has been crap. I just don't trust the brand anymore. Same with the Brookes trail runner. It's so hard to find a decent trail runner out there. Give me a good shoe and you have a customer for life.

    .

  7. Trygve

    One thing that puzzles me wherever I read shoe reviews or discussions about trail shoes, is how usually the one complaint people seem to have about nearly any shoe is that the toebox is too narrow. I have yet so see someone praising a shoe for having a snug and narrow fit around the toes. I agree that it feels nice to be able to wriggle my toes, especially on longer runs, but the benefits of a narrow toebox are greater in my opinion. My foot doesn't slide around in the shoe, I don't get blisters on my toes, my footing is better in technical terrain. In steep technical downhills the snug and narrow shoe is the best.

    1. dogrunner

      I agree that a shoe that lets your foot squirm around inside is not good, but the reason I ask for a wide toebox is because I have a wide forefoot. Regular running shoes are already snug, narrow is painful. Why the heck would I want to run in bound feet? I don't, neither do you (I bet). So wide enough for me means a wide size. Then my foot will fit securely, without the flesh being tightly compressed and bones jammed together!

      1. Trygve

        Of course. The shoes shouldn't squeeze the toes, but I like it when they are tight. I've noticed people talking about how shoes should allow the toes to splay. I don't see why that should be an advantage.

        1. dogrunner

          For me, splay refers to the natural spreading that the metatarsals and toes do when body weight is applied (this is probably most relevant for forefoot/midfoot footstrikers and maybe less so for heel strikers). It feels to me like that is a necessary part of the kinetic, reflexive feedback loop that signals leg muscles to contract for support/stability at the right time and lets my legs relax otherwise. If my feet stay squeezed it seems to interfere with neuromuscular signaling. I have experimented a lot with this using barefoot, VFFs, wide shoes, tighter shoes, etc and it just feels right with a wider toebox, with just enough cushion so my feet don't get beat up, low/zero drop and completely neutral shoe. The midfoot and heel should be snug so the foot does not squirm around inside the shoe and any sort of lateral extension (stabilizing "features") on the outsole messes me up too. My epiphany came years ago when it dawned on me that my balance was a lot better barefoot than in shoes. I don't run barefoot, but I have tried a lot of shoes to find what works best (for me).

          1. Ben Nephew

            The key to trygve's point is technical terrain. I can run much faster on difficult terrain in a stiff, very tight shoe, than something that has a relaxed fit with a lots of flexiblity. It's the difference between playing soccer in tight leather cleats vs. road running shoes. This is of course much easier to tolerate in shorter trail races, but I still prefer a relatively tight fit for 50k's and 50 miles. Even with a good fit, a flexible shoe may induce more friction between your toes and between the shoe and your foot than something that fits well but is less flexible.

  8. Andy B

    Having run meaningful distance from barefoot on up through the cushion/protection range, I'm currently using Stinson Evo's, as well as a pair of PureDrifts. Apart from the drop being the same, couldn't get farther apart in terms of cushioning (but surprisingly not so far apart in terms of road/trail feel). I flip back and forth between 'em, somewhat dictacted by terrain but mostly by two factors: what I'm feeling like when I'm heading out the door, and what the next day's run looks like. I've found that I love the feel of both for somewhat different reasons, but the Hoka's save my legs for the following day, without a doubt. Was a benefit explained to my by the good people at Boulder Running Company, and they were right. Trust those guys if you have the chance to work with them.

    I think at the end of the day, it's just a great time to be an ultradistance runnner. We've got an embarassment of riches in terms of product designed to keep us happy and safe in the hills, and that's a pretty good thing no matter what.

    1. MS

      I think you are right … I run in Hoka Stinsons and Brooks Cascadias on the trails and Hoka Bondis and Brooks GTS on the road … Its as if you recover faster if you change things up every run … That's the one thing the trails afford that the road cannot … Variety … The spice of life

  9. Mark MW

    I'm in a sort of different segment of the "less is more" camp in that I start with a sort of thick shoe and make it more minimal through lots of mileage in the shoe. Currently I run in a four year old Mizuno. The shoe fit me well so I bought three pairs of the identical shoes four years ago($29 on clearance!). Up until recently I was rotating two of the pairs (6500 miles over 3 1/2 years between two pairs of shoes). I just rotated in the third pair that I will only be wearing on dirt because the tread is almost gone on the other two pairs. My experience is that I've had fewer injuries as I've added miles to my shoes. I haven't had to take a day off due to injury in over a year. Approximately 70% of my miles are trail miles by Breckenridge. The other 30% are treadmill (for days like today when we get 15 inches of snow overnight….). I'm nearly 40 and I've never felt as good as I do now. The consistent training is helping me to my personal best race results yet. I've decided, for me, that having a reasonably thick sole to protect my foot on rocky terrain in a well fitting shoe is all I need and then run the shoe until it literally falls apart. The other side-bonus is that I haven't gotten a significant blister in almost two years!

  10. Astroyam

    Hi Ben, seems that the new 232s and 252s are an answer to the same feel as the 195s but with more cush and protection, whereas the 245s feel different imo. Have you tried them and do they seem to work well?

    I

  11. Ben Nephew

    Astroyam,

    You are correct about the 232 and 252's. They are also wider in the forefoot, so if you have narrow feet and like a tight fit you might prefer 230's or 240's. I've raced a lot in the 230 in the past. I'm wear testing 252's right now. I can say that the 245's are just as fast on singletrack as the f-lites, but I set my road 50 PR in f-lites, which probably wouldn't work in 245's. If you do a mix of road and trails and don't run into much loose or wet terrain, the 233 is a very fast shoe on most trails with great protection that you might want to consider.

  12. Ben Nephew

    If anyone is still following this, I've been asked by the guy who makes the shoes at inov-8 what my idea of an ideal ultra shoe is. I'll be giving him my personal opinion, but I think it would be useful to get others opinions as well. He's been directed to this dicussion. The most useful comments would probably be those that are related to a current inov-8 model.

    Thanks,

    Ben

    1. dogrunner

      Ben,

      I'd love to hear the discussion on this, but I wonder how different opinions will be from the preceding discussion? In other words, if someone prefers low drop, modest but not soft cushion, light weight, adequately wide toebox, good traction, light weight, why would any of that change? I am glad that Inov8 is interested, though, bc I have always liked the inov8s that fit me (which is not the majority because they tend to be too narrow and tapered up front).

      1. David

        Inov8 seems to have done quite a bit to fill out and fine tune their line up. As a minimalist runner on trails, I'll take the Roclite 243 up to a marathon (wish it was cut a little wider), trailroc 245 for a 50M and trailroc 255 or Roclite 295 for a hundo. The mudclaw 265 looks awesome for winter action.

        1. Ben Nephew

          David, where do you run? I'm feeling left out with the 243's. Terrafly 313's might be something to consider for a 100, don't be put off by the grams until you compare with the trailroc 255's or the 295's. In the winter, I really like having Goretex. The Orocs are great for both the winter and transitional trail conditions in the spring.

      2. Ben Nephew

        Comments similar to David's can be very useful, and it also helps when runners identify specific shortcomings relative to other brands. "I'd wear inov-8's if they made a…."

        It's true that some of that has already been discussed in the extensive comments, but much of it was very general. What you described above could be the trailrocs, but some are not satisfied with particular features.

        On the topic of specificity, wide to some is not wide to others. Which models have you found to be too narrow?

        1. David

          I run in Colorado, either on Boulder trails (Bear, Green Mtn) or higher up when the snow isn't too bad. I have the roclite 243 and trailroc 245. The 243 is really great but feel it doesn't have the cushion or protection for an ultra on rugged trails, and is cut fairly narrow. The 245 is solid as well, but honestly the shank in that shoe feels clunky (once the shoe broken in) and wish it was a smoother ride. I assume the 255 would have more cushion for going past 50 miles. Happy to give feedback here but also feel that shoes are such a subjective thing, surely others have a different take on these models.

  13. Ben Nephew

    Thanks, you would be surprised at how similar comments can be on a single shoe model. I think it is hard to make a 1 arrow work for a rugged ultra. I agree that the 245 is best on technical singletrack vs. smooth trails. The 255 is going to have more cushioning a similar ride as teh 245. I prefer the 313 to the 255 for 50's. If you are looking for a smooth ride with decent protection in a lighter shoe, try a 2 arrow f-lite model. The traction is great in most conditions, and I know Peter Maksimow and Alex Nichols have had good success with them out there. The f-lites also have wider forefoot options.

  14. dogrunner

    Sorry for the long post —

    On the topic of width – I think shape is really the issue. When Merrell made a wide version of the TG, they made the overall fit wider thoughout the length of the shoe, which made for a really sloppy fit. The wider forefoot was great! The wider midfoot and heel was awful :( Can't please some people!

    When NB makes wider shoes, which they do more than any shoe company, they still taper it too much. IOW, the toe still ends up being pointy, because they draw a straight line from the lateral midfoot to the big toe, so leaving enough room at the 5th metatarsel head and then cutting off all the lateral toe tips. Sigh. I must have weird shaped feet ;)

    The shoe shape that fits me best in the toes is the Altra Superior, but the rest of the shoe is sloppy wide. The shoe shape that fits best overall is the Skechers GoBionic, which is my main pavement or easy trail shoe, but that shoe picks up rocks like a vacuum cleaner on most trails and would not be protective enough on technical or rocky trails, or have enough traction on slopes.

    So, in Inov8, what fits? My primary treadmill / stairmill shoe this winter (I run indoors when the temp < -10F with constant high winds and icy or otherwise unrunnable ground conditions… what a wimp!) has been the Bare-X 180. Obviously don't need a lot of cushion on a decent treadmill (these are Woodways with the thicker rubber mat), I strongly prefer 0-drop, and the BareX anatomic last fits… as long as I size up a full size. I get a good snug fit, heel locked down, midfoot snugged in, toes are NOT squeezed towards the middle of the shoe, BUT I have about 1.5 inches of space in front of my big toes. Way too long, to the point where I have to really be careful not to run the front of the shoe into the stairs or catch them under things. Rest of the shoe fits great though. I suspect the Trail Rocs would also fit laterally if I sized up, but I hate having that much empty shoe in front of my feet on technical trails.

    I wore Roclite 295 for years and always had rubbing on both the corner of my big toe and whole length of my little toes. Same for F-lite 195. Liked them otherwise. I could not even get my feet into the Roclite 285. Outer toes get forced very uncomfortably towards the centerline. I have worn the Xtalon 212 and 190 (like the 190 better for lower drop) when I run X-country type terrain (grassy trails), love the traction, don't love the toe squeezin'. Sized up in those too so too much length and only tolerable width because the upper is soft.

    I really want to like the Trail Rocs, but need a wider and not tapered toebox (leaving the rest of the shoe its current shape).

    Also, it is really frustrating that Inov8 and many other shoe companies link drop to cushion and underfoot protection. I prefer 0 drop, even over 3-4 mm, yet when I see 0 drop, I am stuck also with no cushion at all and usually no underfoot protection (rock barrier). I want a little of both, combined with 0 drop!

    Thanks for listening, if you made it this far.

    1. Kim Neill

      I agree with dogrunner about the shape. The perfect shoe would have an ample toe box with a more fitted midfoot and a narrower heel, to hold the foot in place but allow for toe spread. I personally find the fit of the New Balance Minimus series close to ideal (although the 1010 is a bit wrinkly around the toe box, at least it can be laced tight enough to hold well). One thing I have done to add more cushion with 0 drop shoes is to use the inexpensive insoles–the flat ones that don't add any heel drop but provide thin cushioning (Dr. Scholl's).

  15. Trygve

    The best trail runnig shoes I've ever owned are the x-talon 212's. When it comes to inov8 shoes, I've only tried the BareGrip200's and the Mudclaw300's in addition to the x-talon's. I find sole of the BareGrip to be too soft. The tall lugs are excellent for grip, but they hurt my feet when stepping on rocks and other uneven surfaces. The Mudclaw has superb grip and the sole is stiff enough to give a lot of confidence. The problem with this shoe is the heel cap. I can't run in them without blistering my heels, unless I tape them up. The lugs are also too tall for longer runs. The lugs have almost caused me to stumble.

    The x-talon212 seems like the perfect compromise. They are light-weight, they have excellent grip and they are low to the ground. The sticky rubber wears down rather quickly though. I want to try the x-talon190, but being so satisfied with the 212's, I'm reluctant to buy them. How different is the 190 from the 212? In long runs (4hours+) I would have liked the sole to have a bit more rock protection than the 212 gives me.

  16. Adam

    I absolutely second the opinion that the linking of drop to cushion/protection seems quite absurd at this point. Of course, high drop shoes obviously still work great for some people, including some elites, but there seems to me to be no rational reason why a person who does not enjoy the "groundfeel" of having the bottom of their foot poked with rocks, or who likes some cushioning while running downhill with 30 miles behind them, would also necessarily want their heel 9 mm above their forefoot. The "barefoot" movement taught a very valuable lesson- that for many runners high heels in athletic shoes are worse than useless- and a very stupid one- that if you don't enjoy running hundreds of miles fast with nothing but a few mm of rubber between yourself and the ground, there's something wrong with your "form." Looking at many other forms of athletic footwear (track spikes, basketball sneakers, football cleats, boxing boots) you see shoes that are not remotely "barefoot" and represent a clear technological augmentation of the human foot, yet have little to no heel elevation.

    There are a bunch of cushioned zero drop road shoes now, but still very few in trail (although plenty in the 3-6 mm class). I would love to see Inov-8 make a "battleship" shoe with zero drop, like a 255 perhaps. Of course, it remains to be seen whether sub-10 mm heel elevations don't actually benefit most endurance runners more than zero drop, but given the success of so many protective zero drop road shoes, it seems like a risk worth taking. At the moment, all Inov-8's 0 drop options are quite thin (the new Road X-Treme 138) and lack the metatarsal rock plate (235). Perhaps I'm just being picky, and there's no meaningful difference between a 3-6 mm drop and a 0, but it seems like an option worth exploring.

  17. David

    Well said, I'd love to see a zero drop trail shoe from Inov8 that has good "long haul" cushion and protection!

  18. dogrunner

    My knees tell me, in no uncertain terms, that there IS a meaningful difference between 9 and even 3-4 mm drop. It matters… to me, at least, even if people used to higher drop (or anyone else) can't tell the difference.

    To Trygve: I don't think the XT190 has more underfoot protection than the XT212. I could be wrong and I don't have the 212s anymore to doublecheck, but the main differences I remember are that the 190 has a slightly more forgiving upper (stretches better to accommodate my toewidth) and they are 3mm drop (I think).

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