by Alan Dixon | 2005-08-12 03:00:00-06
Remember when the controversial topic was switching from leather hiking boots to trail runners? Now there is a trend to go even lighter. This time from “heavier” padded trail runners to lighter and more flexible shoes - some weighing as little as 9.5 oz (270 g). The claim is that the lighter and more flexible shoe is less fatiguing by allowing the foot’s normal biomechanical action. These shoes are the logical progression from a trend to go to lighter packs, faster hiking speeds and longer distances. Going under ten pounds for a base pack weight used to be a big deal. Now, a number of people are using sub-5 pound packs for cold trips on challenging terrain.
This August, Andrew “Trail Dog” Thompson broke the speed record on the 2,174 mile Appalachian Trail. He shaved almost a day off the old record by completing the AT in 48 days 10 hours 11 minutes. He did it using Inov-8 Flyroc 310 and Terroc 330 shoes weighing 10.9 oz and 11.6 oz respectively.
Inov-8, founded in 2003, is a British manufacturer of extremely light trail running (fell running in the UK) shoes. They’ve taken competitive trail running, ultra-running, adventure racing, and orienteering by storm. They have a number of prestigious race wins.
The Mudroc 280 was the 2004 Fell Race British & English Championship winning shoe. This shoe is stripped down to its essential elements. Inov-8 calls it a “Lightweight Mountain/Fell racing [shoe] with a minimal upper construction, precise fit, and more sensitive underfoot. The 280 has a new softer sticky sole compound exclusively developed by the Inov-8 team using climbing rubber technology.”
“Minimal upper construction… more sensitive underfoot” are the key phrases here. When you put on a pair of Inov-8 shoes you notice an immediate difference. They are lighter and significantly more flexible than even light conventional trail runners. They feel more like slippers than shoes. The soles are so flexible you feel ground imperfections under your feet.
One would think that shoes like this would lead to foot soreness but they don’t (as long as you give your body time to adapt). The shoes work for ultra-runners and Trail Dog who subject their feet to more punishment than you and I ever will. Maybe it works for an average hiker. The basic premise of these shoes, according to Inov-8 founder Wayne Edy, is to allow the foot and ankle their natural biomechanical motion without interference from the shoe – “The foot controls the shoe. The shoe does not control the foot.” Inov-8 shoes provide some protection and a sole for traction but do not interfere with the foot’s natural motion. That is, the closer you get to running barefoot the better your efficiency and stability, and the less your risk of injury.
Using a shoe like this does take some time to adapt. It’s critical that you take the time to incrementally condition and strengthen your body to running or hiking in the new shoes. Sore calves are a common symptom of adapting to more flexible shoes. Strange but true.
I started off running around 3 to 4 miles in my Inov-8 (less than my usual mileage) and slowly worked up to 12 to 14 mile hilly trail runs over a few months. Initially a number of muscles in my calves, ankles and feet were sore. This was my body adapting to my normal stride and strengthening muscles. Three months later I am running farther and with less fatigue than with the old padded and controlling trail shoes I thought necessary for shock absorption and foot protection – even on rocky trails. My eyes and feet are better coordinated, another skill needed to step in the right places and miss the wrong places on the trail.
Readers, I am not a gifted runner. I’m by far a light runner. But I don’t think I’m going back to my old shoes anytime soon. In fact, I’m graduating myself from 310 gram Flyrocs to lighter 280 gram Mudrocs. I haven’t enjoyed trail running this much in years!
Inov-8 Flyroc 310 shoes: Trail Dog used them on the AT and I first adapted to lighter shoes with the Flyroc 310s. I used them for 14 mile trail runs and long training hikes for the last three months. I’m graduating myself to the lighter Mudroc 280s in preparation for some very long distance hiking this Fall.
"Inov-8 Mudroc 280 Trail Running Shoes (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2005)," by Alan Dixon. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/Inov-8_MudRoc_280_trail_running_shoes_ORSM05.html, 2005-08-12 03:00:00-06.