Seeing as this is largely a running blog, what better place to start than with a review of a pair of running shoes? Please be aware, if you’re looking for a technical review of the last and design, you’ve come to the wrong place. I like to tell stories.
My father was a runner, racking up some 300+ miles a month (even before he lost a lot of weight!) which was a figure I thought would never be possible for me. I had no idea how he did it and for most of my youth had no intention of finding out. He swore by a pair of relatively cheap trainers called Silver Shadows made by Hi-Tec and shunned any kind of carb loading, warming up, drinking liquids during marathons or using weird gels.
I think his best advice was ‘find a pair of trainers that fit you, run as much as you can and don’t try to run fast - you will improve if you just keep running’ which I scoffed at when I was young, but have come to live by.
I’ve been a runner for about 9 years on and off (I was a late starter) and most of which was on road. My first pair of running trainers were a pair of yellow and green suede pumas (most probably fakes, as they cost about 30 pence in Thailand), which were little more than a plimsoll; they’d probably be called a barefoot running shoe now. I loved running in them but everyone told me that I’d do myself a mischief as they didn’t have any cushioning.
Following the advice of the time, I worked my way through a series of running shoes with clever gadgetry to support my mild pro-nation picked up by a highly trained scientist (sorry if you are one, I don’t mean to be nasty) in a chain running shop. All of these shoes gave me blisters, I found running very hard work, shin splints were common. I had some luck with some New Balance trainers that I can do a maximum of 10k in (I still have these as a backup) but I had to modify them by cutting bits out and using gaffer tape to prevent rubbing in the arch of my right foot.
After buying our house near to Epping Forest and taking up trail running, I decided to invest in a new pair of trainers that would not only work for me as trail running and mud racing shoes, but also actually fit for once.
Trail Running Magazine, of which I’m a huge fan, covered reviews of trainers and the Inov8 X-Talon 212s won hands down. I liked how they looked, they were an English brand (I’m no flag waving patriot, but I prefer to buy English as and when I can) and they had really aggressive cleats. They also were a big advocate of close to barefoot running shoes, which I had started to take an interest in again, after reading the fantastic ‘Born to Run’ - by Christopher McDougall. I’m not a fanatic, but a lot of what was in there made sense to me and reminded me of my old Pumas.
I did a tonne of research into different trail running shoes, but I kept coming back to Inov8 - it was a toss up between the Mudclaw 300s and the X-Talon 212s. The Mudclaws had the most aggressive cleats and were the ultimate mud run design (plus looked and sounded a tiny bit cooler) but the X-Talons seemed to be winning running competitions (well, helping the runners to win) all over the world, whilst having a slightly smaller cleat profile making road running also an option. They both had a quite small 6mm drop, sitting somewhere between a barefoot running shoe and an ordinary trainer. The Mudclaw 300 is in yellow with the X-Talon 212s in yellow, grey and black.
I decided to try them on and went to a running store near St. Paul’s cathedral called London City Runner, a fantastic little store with extremely helpful and likable staff. They only had Inov8 Roclite 285s in stock which were an ok fit but I wasn’t keen on, so I tried a range of other trainers from Mizuno through to Salomon. None of them felt quite right for my weird feet (I’ve always had trouble with shoes) so I found a shop that had the above two and went to try them on.
When I finally got to try them out, the X-Talons were a slightly better fit. Remembering my dads advice not to go for the ones with the coolest name, I finally bought the X-Talons. They were ridiculously light and felt great - from a functional perspective, there was also very little cushioning or material on them and as I do a lot of running through streams, rivers, big puddles and water in general, drainage was important for me. They fit like a glove, which made me wary.
Expecting to have my feet ripped to shreds as with all new running shoes I hadn’t worn in, I set off in Epping Forest.
The run felt amazing and I did 13 miles from my house to Chingford in rain with soaking wet feet. I only decided to stop as I had pulled a muscle in my groin. Bearing in mind that with my previous running shoes, anything over 10k became uncomfortable, I was blown away by these fantastic foot gloves.
Running in them is an absolute joy and to this day (I’ve had them for a year and a half) they are still as good as new. They were invaluable during Tough Mudder London West, where I clearly had a lot more grip than many of my friends (and other entrants) on the steep muddy patches whilst still being extremely comfortable and drying out quickly.
Despite the extremely thin sole, I have yet to notice any sharp rocks through the soles thanks to the deep set cleats and that is after having done a good few miles through the English countryside, a (rather rocky) mud race and some running in Cape Town South Africa, including Table Mountain.
I apologise for the glowing review, but I didn’t set out to be technical - these are simply a great piece of kit and have changed my running considerably for the better. I’m interested to try out some other brands (I’m quite keen on the look of the Salomon Speedcross) to see how they compare now but they have turned me into a bit of an Inov8 fanboy.
Here they are below, giving me a great sprinting start at Tough Mudder West London 2014.
If I was to raise a single minor concern; I found Everest at the Tough Mudder event extremely difficult to get grip on when running up the wall. That could be down to me not being fit enough, or it could be the size of the cleats offering less traction. I’d say it was most likely my fault, but I’d prefer to blame the kit wherever possible, so this could be my only negative.
To summarise from a fastpacking perspective, these trainers are extremely light with an insane amount of grip in both mud and rock, making them highly versatile. Their light weight is paramount, as always when planning a fastpacking trip, but their resistance to holding moisture is another string to their bow. The design of the cleats and the thin, extremely flexible sole really do help shed trapped mud; something many trainers I’ve used fail to do.
As a conclusion, you’ve probably guessed that I’d recommend the Inov8 X-Talons as a trail running and obstacle racing shoe. You can’t go far wrong with these beauties. Still you might not want to listen to me, like my dad, I now shun warming up, trainers with any kind of pro-nation control or focusing on running fast.
Please note, that a newer model has come out since mine, which I hear has improvements for the better - I have no idea how. The full specs for my model are on the link below;