First things first — the colour. Normally, I can’t wait to run through muddy puddles in new shoes, but for some reason with these I’ve been a little reluctant to initiate them in the usual way. They look bright in the picture, but that’s nothing to how they look fresh out of the box; you just know you’ll have to be running faster in them.
Anyway on to more serious aspects. Despite being an Inov-8 user for some years (Roclite, Terroc, Mudclaw), I’d been put off the F-Lite 230s because I didn’t think my wide foot would fit well into this seemingly narrow shoe. After speaking to Inov-8’s helpful sales staff and subsequently Leon Bond at Faster Feet I was reassured that they would be ok. Leon was extremely helpful and had plenty of time to chat about running and shoes; he’s very knowledgeable about Inov-8. Needless to say, I had no need to worry, on the contrary, slipping these shoes on is like putting on your favourite slippers — they are really that comfy.
Another thing that is very obvious on first inspection is the weight, similar to the slippers again. This is not the lightest shoe in Inov-8’s vast range, but nevertheless it is still much lighter than many runners will be used to.
The next thing that struck me was how low in the heel they felt. Users of more conventional shoes, will also notice this immediately I’m sure. For those who either forefoot strike or are planning to transition this is very welcome; there’s not much heel to get in the way. This is very much part of Inov-8’s philosophy on running shoes: encourgage (or more accurately, let) the feet and legs work the way they are supposed to do. A word of caution though, one of the first times I used these was for a speed session involving short fast efforts (about 400m). By the time I got back I felt a twinge in my calf muscle, by the evening it was very sore, and the outcome was a week off running. But, of course, this warning goes out to anyone doing speed work in shoes that are lower in the heel than maybe they are used to.
Back to the shoes. So they are colourful, light, low, comfortable, flexible and they certainly encourage a forefoot landing. I guess these are all things that Inov-8 had in mind when they designed them.
What about long distance comfort? I’ve not worn them for more than 10 miles, but there’s no reason why not. A friend of mine wears his for distances of marathon and more and another friend does the same in the even lighter F-Lite 195.
They are sold predominantly as an off-road shoe, but I wear them on the road and they feel great. Don’t come here looking for cushioning though, they are not feet pillows. And if your podiatrist has sold you orthotics they’d not recommend you put them in these. Nor would I for that matter, the shoe would be so obviously compromised (leave the orthotics in the cupboard). What about grip? The F-Lite 230 has a similar tread pattern to the Roclite 315 that I’ve used very extensively, but the outsole is not the same. Take these out on a damp road or over some wet rocks and the difference will be obvious. Without a doubt these are the securest shoes I’ve ever worn on such surfaces. I’ve also worn them on a frosty running track where other runners were complaining about the slippery surface; I didn’t notice any slip at all. There is a trade-off though, because the soles are made of a stickier, softer compound a higher degree of breakthrough can be felt when running over sharper stones, such as the chalk and flint of the South Downs. This has not yet been a problem; the real test will come next month.
Very much a first impression review — I’ve not run more than 100 miles in these yet. But, they will almost certainly be my shoe of choice for the Snowdon Mountain Race in July. You’ll be able to spot me — I’ll be the one wearing bright blue shoes wrapped in cling film.