Following on from the initial review of the F-Lite, here’s another look, in particular how they behaved when they were taken for a short (10-mile) trip up and down a Welsh mountain. Then, subsequently a less rigorous outing of the Glyders.
This was quite a stern test, and very revealing. I thought quite hard before selecting the F-Lite 230 for the Snowdon Mountain Race. Previously, I’ve run this race before wearing Salomon XA Pro, Inov-8 Terroc, and Inov-8 Roclite 315; the Roclites being the personal preference so far. The F-Lites are quite different to all of those shoes though: much lighter in weight, more flexible, and with comparatively little protection, both on the uppers and in view of the thickness of the sole — the latter was my main concern.
The race up Snowdon follows the Llanberis Path which is one of the ‘kinder’ routes and simply 5 miles up and then 5 miles back down. Nevertheless, it offers plenty of variety and challenge. After a short grassy start there follows nearly a mile of road, most of which is very steep up; over 400ft in about half a mile. Then it’s on to the rough stuff all the way to the top at 3500ft. This rough stuff is a mix of some flat rock steps, hard-packed trail, some rocky grass, scree and everything in between. There is plenty of sharp slate on the route, both loose and firmly embedded in the ground.
Unlike last year’s race, when it was cold and very wet, this year the weather was superb. Maybe a bit warm for racing, but absolutely fantastic for producing a real feeling of running in the mountains. Unfortunately, this heightens another difficulty with this race, one of congestion. Not only are there runners crossing (some still going up whilst other are coming back down), but there are also many people who just happened to be on the mountain on a clear sunny day and — in some cases — have little awareness of what’s going on around them. Consider that the guys at the front are descending at very nearly 4 min/mile pace, and that the people going up are pretty much exhausted — it is a recipe for some exciting racing! For the runners descending, it means keeping a very strong focus on the ground beneath their feet and also an awareness of what is further ahead.
So, all runners need to have great confidence in their own footwear, and you will see all kinds utilised. Most of the front runners will be in racing flats or very lightweight fell shoes. The confidence I had in my choice was not great for two reasons:
- Mine feel just a little longer than most of my other shoes (more on this later).
- The F-Lites are maybe a little too thin in the sole to deal with the sharp, fixed stones and small rocks on this type of terrain.
So why did I choose the F-lites? Well, as mentioned in the other review, they are extremely comfortable and this is a major consideration given the steep, prolonged descent off of the mountain. And, the grip. The F-lite has the excellent sticky rubber outsole, which is very secure over rock and even holds up on damp and wet rock; something that most shoes just cannot cope with. Also, the tread pattern is not very agressive because they are not aimed at mud running, this might sound like a minor factor, but it’s not. Any protrusion from the sole can catch even a small fixed rock and send a runner tumbling on the descent with potentially disastrous consequences. So, from a tripping point of view, the flatter the sole the better.
How did the F-lite 230 perform?
This year, due to some strange fitness affliction (I will discuss separately), I was much slower to the top than normal. However, even at this reduced speed, I still managed to trip on the way up — this is unusual. I know exactly what I did, I simply hit the toe of the shoe on a rock. This seems to be related to what I mentioned earlier: the F-Lites are quite a narrow shoe, and I think mine are half a size too big so that my wide foot can be accommodated. In normal use this is not a problem. However, I think we have an extremely accurate unconscious awareness of where the end of our feet are, and even half an inch can make a huge difference on very uneven ground— at least, that’s the way it felt as was was occasionally just clipping stones and rocks on the way up.
Anyway, to the top without further drama, albeit slower than normal. Then, the scary half! I must admit that I, like many others I speak to about this race, have a love/hate relationship with it. It’s a fantastic event, especially in such conditions. It’s exciting, challenging, exhilarating, rewarding by the bucket load. But, it is scary. Any runner who wants to run fast down, is just one trip away from catastrophe. If lucky, this might be just a bloody knee and/or elbow, but it could very easily be something much more serious.
For a soft southerner, I think I descend pretty well. My placing at the top is normally much lower than my final placing. This year, after my slow ascent I was keen to make up as many places as possible going down. By halfway, this mission was being accomplished, I was feeling more confident than ever coming down. Yes, the soles of the feet were getting a little battered, but I was going pretty well and possibly I even felt a little nimble (that doesn’t often happen). I guess it was therefore inevitable: one second I was up, then next i was down. I still don’t know why. I guess I kicked a rock, there was no ankle twisting or stumbling involved, just a crash into the slate and rocky surface. I was up pretty quick, but after a few ineffective recovery steps I just had to stop and sit for a moment or two whilst my head stopped spinning. The mountain rescue chappy was soon attending and testing my coherence. Fortunately, I passed his tests and after a moment or two more I was back on my way — rather tentatively I should add.
Back to the finish, thankfully without further mishap, but with some typical Snowdon souvenirs: bloody knee, elbow, hip, and a nicely bruised shoulder.
And what of the shoes? Well, of course I cannot blame my fall on them. The soles of my feet did feel a bit bruised and this was undoubtedly a result of breakthrough of the thin sole. Certainly, if the shoes were more worn then this would have been a more significant problem, but I would prefer slightly more protection underneath on this particular terrain. I also have a slight issue with the length because I was clipping the toes more than usual, and I would probably not wear this particular size again for the Snowdon race— it remains to be seen if a smaller size would accommodate my wide foot.
The next day I spent about 5 hours walking in them over the very rocky and testing terrain of the Glyders and Y Garn. I was pleased to remove them after the walk but that would have been true in any shoe, and I could not have expected anything more of them with regards to comfort.
My view is still that this is a great shoe; it’s fast (on some feet), light, very comfy and provides amazing grip over the terrain it was designed for.
And most amazing of all, beneath the slightly dusty exterior, they are still bright blue!