Saturday 17 November 2012

Shoe Review: Inov-8 F-Lite(tm) 230s - the new marathon road shoe?

On January 1st, 2012, I entered the Snowdonia Marathon.  A few weeks later, I bought a pair of Inov-8 Road-X(tm) 233s, with the intention of easing down another 3mm of heel drop in my road shoes.  With a spring full of trail racing, the 233s lasted longer than expected, with only around 400 miles on them as summer came to an end.  And then I looked at the course and the location again, and realised that I would never be able to blast down a wet, grassy, slippery, rainy trail in a shoe with virtually no traction on wet grass.  They would be great for 24.5 miles of the race, but the 1.5 miles where I intended to recover nearly all of the time I would lose on the final climb, so I needed to be certain of my footing.  What to do?

After searching for a low profile shoe with a bit of grip in a brand I could slip straight into, I opted to run my annual road marathon in trail shoes.  After all, I'd run almost all of my long runs during the year in trail shoes, so why not? That brings me to the F-Lite(tm) 230s.  The 230s are listed on Inov-8's website as a fitness shoe that's also designed for hard-pack trails and tarmac.  Oddly, though, they aren't listed among the Inov-8 road shoe range.  So, I checked with SouthLakesGuy on Twitter (he knows a bit about Inov-8s), and he confirmed they are great all-rounders.  I only had two concerns before they arrived - the outsole and the upper.

Comfy, close fit across the toes - no problems with the fit!
The F-Lite 230s are, strangely, heavier than the Road-X 233s which are half a size larger (249g size 9 vs 240g size 9.5).  Admittedly, the Road-X has had a bit more wear and is losing bits of fluff out of the heel padding, and the F-Lite is now holding a little bit of dirt in its tread, but the difference is a bit of a surprise, given Inov-8s numbering system.

The F-Lite sole is incredibly flexible, to the point where it felt like they would bend any direction my foot wanted to go.  When I wore them on a 21 mile practice run, it was like going out in my slippers - I could feel every bit of road.  To me, that's a good thing. It has a little bit of tread, in Inov-8's sticky rubber compound, but nothing overly agressive. So, the outsole passed the initial test.

Recently, the uppers on my Roclite(tm) 285 trail shoes have shown a bit of weakness against the strain across the forefoot, tearing away from the toe reinforcement on my right foot.  The 230 upper, with a less rigid reinforcement, molds better to my foot and fits much more like the Road-X, so has not had the same problem.  My worry that the upper wouldn't survive the training proved unfounded, thankfully.
 Update Jan 24, 2013: Amazingly, with less than 400mi on the clock, the upper has separated from the lower.  It's so disappointing, because these have been great on the slushy pavements and snow.  Yes, they're getting on a bit, but I'd rather hoped the upper would last as long as the sole, since I have been almost exclusively on the road with these.  This seems to be an undesired and recurring issue.
F-Lite upper & lower separation.

So, the shoes seemed fine and dandy, but how did they do on the day?  First, having very little weight on my feet over the course of 3.5 hours was great.  The less my legs had to pick up, the better.  Relative to the 233s, it's not much difference, but the alternatives I'd been looking at were in the region of 30% heavier, which starts to count after a while.

I have tested the 230s on wet grass and mud, and they are more effective than the Road-X, but I wouldn't advise taking them on a long muddy run, as they really have only as much grip as any standard road shoe would in the conditions.

The F-Lite(tm) heel held onto wet blossom really well, but see how the forefoot stayed clean.
Comfort-wise, I caught a sharp rock at about 5 miles and briefly wished for a shoe with a rock plate as I continued racing down the rocky path.  The pain dissipated once the route took us back onto the road, but the rocky track wasn't very nice.  I like to feel the ground when I run, but if you're going to spend more than a mile or two on rocky trails, I would advise something a bit more rugged.  For pure road, the extra little bit of cushion under the balls of the feet you get in the Road-X is a nice change.

In terms of fit, of my 3 pairs of Inov-8s, the F-Lite fits best.  There are no pinch points like I experienced with the 285, and the heel cup fits much better than the 233.  There have been no hotspots or blisters with any of them, so that's not really an issue.

Overall, I would say I've got a new go-to road shoe for the winter. I hardly ever manage to stay entirely off the grass on a run, and the combination of fit, comfort, and traction put the F-Lite ahead of the Road-X in my book.

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