inov-8 release their first ever ultra running shoe and we were lucky enough to get hold of a test pair 3-months ago, albeit in a UK8. That ruled myself out of any run testing but Niandi Carmont stepped up to the mark and gave the new Race Ultra™ 290’s a beating in the build up to Comrades. Here are her thoughts.
The Race Ultra™ 290’s is a first for UK shoe manufacturer, inov-8 but definitely not the last based on my testing of them. I picked up these shoes in the middle of March, so, I have had them for exactly 3-months; a perfect test period for any shoe!
In preparation for the 2014 Comrades I was reluctant to do all my training on road. Funny really, I used to be a ‘roadie.’ However, like so many others, after finding trail I have been reluctant to go back to the hard stuff… Road running was going to require a lot of motivation so I decided to alternate between trail and road just to get the miles in and to keep my motivation going. The Race Ultra™ 290’s proved to be the perfect shoe when mixing things up.
Usually it takes me a while to get used to new shoe models never mind new brands. I was a little anxious this time as this was my first experience of inov-8 footwear. I was pleasantly surprised – I required no adaptation or transition. The shoe has a slipper-like feel and is a perfect compromise in terms of cushioning and weight (290g/UK8). The gusseted tongue is padded, holds the foot firm and the thin laces pull tight, stay tight and provide reassuring security to my foot irrespective of the conditions. The toe box is wide, spacious and certainly has room for swelling feet should the need arise from multiple hours of running. Toe protection comes from a reinforced area that actually extends all the way around the shoe.
Prone to foot injuries I need cushioning but usually find it hard to get a trail shoe that is able to offer:
- Good grip.
The Race Ultra™ 290 ticks all these boxes. Yes I know you can get lighter shoes. Yes I know you can get more cushioning and yes I know I can get a shoe with more grip. The secret of the Race Ultra™ 290 is that it has averaged all these elements and comes up with a great all round package. So much so, that I would say if you were looking for one shoe to do all things, you wouldn’t go wrong with a pair of these!
Injected with EVA, the footbed is 6mm with 10mm at the front and 18mm at the rear offering a heel to toe drop of 8mm. Inov-8 as a brand have pioneered the transition to a lower drop shoes for 11-years and the Race Ultra™ 290 may well provide ultra-runners seeking to transition say from 12/13mm drop shoes towards a more minimalist drop a perfect opportunity. Equally, if you run in 6/4/3 or zero drop shoes, the 8mm may well provide you with a more ‘relaxed’ day on the trails. After all, this is the purpose of the Race Ultra™ 290. It’s all about making hours on trail and/ or road more pleasurable and less tiresome but this depends on your own run style and preferences. For me 8mm sits very well for longer runs. The flatter outsole ensures a stable ride without the loss of proprioception and as the hour’s pass and fatigue sets in, the 8mm drop and added cushioning are welcome.
Transitioning from road to trail is not an issue as obviously this shoe has been designed specifically for this purpose. It’s without doubt an all round shoe that excels on hard pack trail events that may include road and rocky sections. Tested on dry sun baked French trail that incorporated a mixture of hard clay, stones and rocks the Ultra 290 excelled, in softer / grassy sections the ‘Tri Endurance’ compound provided confidence. Should the trail become very boggy and/or muddy, grip is compromised. This is to be expected in a shoe that is trying to be all things in one package. However, if these sections are short and provide a very small percentage of your run (say 10-20%) this is a compromise worth making for the comfort and security the shoe will provide for the remainder of your run.
On UK trail it proved to be a good all-weather shoe offering good grip for a multitude of conditions. Door-to-Trail is a term that is being used quite considerably at the moment and I do feel that the Race Ultra™ 290 fits well in this bracket.
A nice little non-negligible feature for the runner with smelly feet is the patented X-STATIC® foot bed, ensuring that the bacteria feeding on sweat will be kept at bay! I’ve had these shoes for a while, they have been through mud, wet and grass and I guarantee they are completely odourless!
The shoe also has the option to take custom Race Ultra™ Gaiters (available separately). They clip onto inov-8’s unique on-the-shoe attachment system. This is very cool. The shoe has attachment points built in and thus allows the gaiter to be added or removed as required with minimum fuss. I don’t use gaiters very often, however, having tried these I think I will use them more. They stopped mud and stones entering the shoe from the top and to be honest, once on, I didn’t even know I was using them. I can see this feature being added to more shoes in the inov-8 range. Should you wish to use the gaiter with other shoes, a fastener is supplied to make this possible.
A feature I would have liked is a more trail-friendly lacing system that offers a place to secure or store excess lace when the shoes are tied. It’s a minor quibble and may very well have been an omission as this would be redundant if the gaiter was worn.
In conclusion, inov-8’s new Race Ultra™ 290 shoe will be a hit. I am sure of it. If you are already an inov-8 user this may well be your new ‘go to’ shoe for your daily runs when an ‘all rounder’ is just what you need. If you are new to ultra running and only want one shoe, this will be perfect place to start. I really can’t find any negatives about this shoe other than the obvious…. If it’s really muddy you won’t have enough grip but that isn’t a criticism of the shoe, it’s more about having the wrong shoe for the job.
Check out inov-8 HERE
Shoe will be available from July 2014
Niandi Carmont – Niandi is South African born, a former resident of Paris, she now lives in the UK. A runner for over 20-years; Niandi has completed Comrades Marathon 13-times, Washie 100 2-times and has finished well over 100 marathons and ultras all over the world. Currently residing in the UK, Niandi splits her work life between the UK and France.
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