VJ XTRM Shoe Review – VJ Sport

Last year I finally got my hands on a pair of VJ Sport IRock 2 (HERE). I was blown away by pretty much everything about the shoes. The upper, the way they held one’s foot, the durability of the materials used, and the outsole was just incredible – the most amazing grip. The only reservation that I had, was how long I could run in these shoes… They are pretty minimal and although cushioned, the cushioning for me would probably only take me to 3-4 hours of running.

OCR World Champion and Skyrunner World Series Champion, Jonathan Albon, agreed. In some of the longer races, Trofeo Kima for example where the terrain is hard, rocky, muddy, has snow, maybe the odd glacier thrown in and when the male winning time is over 6-hours, although the IRock 2 was perfect on grip, the cushioning made a really long run like this tiring for the feet.

With Jon’s feedback, VJ Sport went back to the drawing board, took all the best elements of the IRock 2 and created a new shoe:

VJ XTRM.

The king is dead, long live the king!

Let me just say in simple terms everything that was brilliant in the IRock 2 has been transferred to the new VJ XTRM and what VJ Sport have done, in my opinion, they have created the most perfect mountain running shoe for when the trails are demanding, rocky and throwing all sorts of variables at the runner.

So, what is new in the VJ XTRM.

  • Two new cushioning units have been added to the front and rear.
  • A full-length RockPlate.
  • A medium last.
  • A little extra room in the toe box.
  • New Fitlock.

As I mentioned, much of the IRock 2 crosses over. For example, the outsole is the amazing Butyl Rubber which for me offers the best grip I have encountered on any mountain shoe. The outsole studs are 6mm which offers a good compromise between grip on muddy/ wet trails and excellent grip on smooth and easy single-track.

At 250g for a standard UK8, the shoe is light and 4mm drop sits in a comfortable middle ground for the zero drop fanatics and those who like a more comfortable and relaxed 8mm drop.

Kevlar and Polyester make the upper and the IRock 2 has been the most durable shoe I have ever used, so, I don’t anticipate the VJ XTRM to be any different. There is also Fiberclass stability control.

THE SHOE

Slipping one’s foot into the VJ XTRM one immediately feels the snug and precision fit. However, the slightly wider toe box is noticeable. Don’t get me wrong here, this is not a wide and spacious toe box, so, if that is what you personally need, this may well be not the shoe for you. Please remember though that this is a specific mountain/ skyrunning shoe that will be used on technical mountainous terrain, so, a shoe for this type of running should be precision.

Pulling the laces tight, the FITLOCK takes hold and provides the most secure and comfortable hold of my foot. It is the best I have tried, no question. The laces are excellent, they pull tight and stay tight.

The upper is a mix of materials and is extremely durable. Although it is too early to comment on longevity of the VJ XTRM upper, the materials and comparisons with the IRock 2 are very close. My IRock 2 have been through everything and are still going strong. The heel box has minimal padding but holds the foot secure and is extremely comfortable. The toe box is well protected and ideal for mountain terrain.

The colours of the upper are a little bright. They wouldn’t be my choice, I certainly loved the red & black combo of the IRock 2, but colours are just colours and after a good muddy run, the colours soon become muted.

Like the IRock 2, the VJ XTRM looks heavy, pick them up and you realise they are not, they are super-light!

The bottom of the shoe is what helps VJ Sport stand out amongst the competition and why they have such a following. The Butyl Rubber they use is the best outsole I have ever tested and on rock terrain, dry or wet, they are the most reassuring footwear ever! The 6mm studs are the same as on the IRock 2 and this is significant, the IRock 2 provided the best grip ever, so, to see this transferred over to the XTRM is superb.

IN USE

The IRock 2 last-year was the best mountain shoe I have ever used. This has now been replaced by the VJ XTRM and for me, moving forward, I would always purchase the VJ XTRM and not the IRock 2. For me, VJ Sport may well have killed the IRock 2 because the VJ XTRM is so good.

 sport

WHY?

To all intents and purposes, the IRock 2 and VJ XTRM are very similar shoes. One difference is 6mm drop for the IRock 2 and 4mm drop for the VJ XTRM, this may be a decision maker for some? However, the new additions to the VJ XTRM just make it a much more versatile shoe without compromising what made the IRock 2 great, no, superb!

  1. The added cushioning doesn’t compromise feel for the ground, control, stability for faster shorter mountain running but what it does allow is more cushioning and comfort for longer runs.
  2. The RockPlate is a no brainier, it is added protection and added comfort for little to no additional weight.
  3. The new Fitlock holds the foot as well, if not better than the Fitlock on the IRock 2.
  4. The toe box has been widened to allow for a little more room and toe splay when running longer but not at the compromise of precision and feel.
  5. The upper is as the IRock 2 with Kevlar and outstanding durability.
  6. The outsole is the same, 6mm studs in the amazing Butyl Rubber.

The additions make the VJ XTRM the perfect all-round mountain shoe be that for short or long outings. Whereas, the IRock 2 was a shoe that I personally would not want to be out in for much longer than 4-hours.

SUMMARY

This is the best mountain running shoe I have ever used. For skyrunning, it is THE perfect shoe and for me, all other shoes that I test for that intended use will be compared to the VJ XTRM. Jonathan Albon’s influence can be felt in this shoe and I am sure his feedback with VJ Sport has been paramount in retaining all that was brilliant in the IRock 2 and then tweaking it to add what Jonathan and many other runners wanted; more cushioning, a RockPlate and a slightly wider toe box.

I personally am unable to find any negatives.

Obviously, the Butyl Rubber outsole works so well because it is soft and grippy, so, if you start running on roads and pavements, be aware, the outsole won’t last.

But the VJ XTRM is a formula 1 shoe and not a Ford Escort or similar. Maybe the VJ XTRM should make an appearance for those special runs or races?

However, if you are like me, I think the shoes are so awesome that if I am going to run anything technical, wet or dry, I want these shoes on my feet.

VJ SPORT website

Follow on:

Instagram – @iancorlessphotography

Twitter – @talkultra

facebook.com/iancorlessphotography

Web – www.iancorless.com

Web – www.iancorlessphotography.com

Image sales –www.iancorless.photoshelter.com

inov-8 PARKCLAW 275 GTX REVIEW

I have to be honest, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to using inov-8’s new shoe offering, the PARKCLAW 275 (I tested the GTX – Gore Tex). Why? Well, inov-8 have always impressed by producing shoes that are specific to a runner’s need – typically, getting a grip in muddy trail. Over recent years though, many new inov-8 shoes have appeared that have merged that ‘specificity’ and in all honesty, I have always been impressed by what has been on offer.

The PARKCLAW though just didn’t entice me.

I have to say, I was a little silly. It turns out that the PARKCALAW 275 is a great shoe and in all honesty, it’s a shoe that will appeal to so many.

Many runners want a shoe that does more than just one thing. The PARKCLAW is going to be that shoe. Good on the road, good on dry trails, good on rocks, cushioned, wide toe box, 8mm drop and great feel.

Inov-8 have produced a real surprise!

THE SHOE

Maybe the ‘PARK’ in the name signifies the ever-growing parkrun community that every weekend assemble all over the world and bang out a 5k amongst friends. Let’s face facts, it’s a huge community and if you can get a slice of that pie, it’s a great thing for any brand. But many of those runners may want to mix things up with a little road-to-trail or easy trail runs. This is where the PARKCLAW can step in!

I need to clarify here that the PARKCLAW is a shoe that works for any runner. I have been using it on my road loops of 5, 8 and 12km and they have been great. Equally, they have been excellent on my local canal tow path and forest trails.

The shoe has an ‘in-between’ outsole that provides grip for trail but not too much grip for road. The lugs at 4mm are semi-aggressive but importantly are close together so road running feels good. META-FLEX at the front allows the shoes to bend near the metatarsals and at the rear is a Dynamic Fascia Band. Three different lug colours are present which show how the different compounds ensure grip on different surfaces.

Drop is 8mm which is now pretty much standard, gone are the days of 12mm drop and higher. 8mm drop is a perfect starting point for most runners and particularly nice if running longer.

Fit is neutral and true to size. I always use a UK9.5 and these are perfect.

Toe box is wide – 5 on inov-8’s fit scale (here) so all you Hobbits should have a huge smile.

Cushioning is 12mm at the front and 20mm at the rear which provides a plush feel and not at the compromise of losing a feel for the ground. The Cushioned ride comes from Powerflow+ which does a great job at protecting but not at the loss of energy return. Combined with META-FLEX the Powerflow+ makes the propulsive phase a pleasure.

The upper is classic inov-8, breathable and lightweight. It has support on either side of the lacing section which pulls in to hold the foot firm once laces are adjusted accordingly. Importantly there are double eyelets at the top, so you can lock-lace should you wish. The heel area is plush as always with inov-8 and there is additional support to hold the foot firm and help with gait. The tongue is padded and gusseted. Toe box is reinforced and protected.

IN USE

This is a very comfy shoe. Slipper like in feel and it was easy to pull them on and run with no bedding in. I was amazed at how comfortable they are. The Cushioning is unlike any other inov-8 shoe I have used. Maybe similar to a TRAIL TALON.

The key thing for many will be the wide toe box. Hobbits you will love them! I am fortunate that I can use precision shoes and then enjoy and benefit of a wide toe box when I want to be more relaxed and allow my foot to splay. The PARKCLAW is really comfy.

Gusseted tongue is padded and a real winner. Keep saying it, all shoes should have a gusseted tongue just makes sense!

The lacing is standard and it’s possible to adjust and get a great fit and feel. I used the additional eyelet at the top to ‘lock-lace’ but found I didn’t need it, the shoe fitted so well.

Running on the road is a real pleasure with excellent comfort, great feel and great energy return. At no point did I feel I was in a trail shoe. Transition to hard trail was seamless. The PARCLAW is a great all-rounder and one-stop shop for those who need something that can do a little of everything.

The 4mm lugs handled grass, rock and trail both in wet and dry but when the trails became muddy, grip was compromised. The lugs are too close together and not long enough to get the required purchase. This is not a criticism, it’s just a fact! Quite simply, if you are needing a shoe with greater off-road grip, you need another model of inov-8. The PARKCLAW is not intended for this job!

SUMMARY

The PARKCLAW  275 is a real surprise. It’s a shoe that you can use day in and day out when you are mixing terrain. A great example would be say living in London and going for a long run when you mix road with sections of trail in Regents Park, Hyde Park and so on. The shoe though equally sits as a road shoe or dry trail shoe. I had no issue using the PARKCLAW 275 for either purpose.

The toe box is wide, and this may well be a real deciding factor for many. I know so many runners who need or prefer a wide fit – look no further.

The PARKCLAW would actually make a great shoe for a race like Marathon des Sables when an out-and-out trail shoe is not required but when cushioning and wide toe box is welcome. It is definitely a contender.

The PARKCLAW 275 will never be great on muddy technical terrain. The outsole is not aggressive enough and the wide ‘5’ fit would make the shoe feel sloppy and lacking precision.

Ultimately, I think inov-8 created this shoe as an ‘introduction’ shoe. A way of enticing roadies to trail. In doing so, they have created a stand-alone shoe which I have been using daily, and yes, it’s equally great as a walking shoe.

A jack of all trades is never brilliant at any one thing but the PARKCLAW 275 does a great job at making the mix and transition.

Finally, I tested the GTX version, so, should you wish, you can also keep your feet warm and dry by letting no water in. Of course, GTX doesn’t let water out too, so, if the water comes in over the top of the shoe, your feet will stay wet. Always with considering! However, over the winter months I could feel the benefit of the Gore Tex on cold days.

PARKCLAW 275 on inov-8 HERE

 

IROCK2 by VJ Sport – Shoe Review

Imagine a scene:

A man enters an elevator, he pulls the cage metal door across and as it clicks into place, his right hand reaches for the buttons to his left. ‘Lower Basement’ is pressed.

As the lift moves, music starts in the background; a lone guitar.

dundedun dun dun dun dundedun dun dun dun dundedun dun dun dun dundedun dun dun dun deDON Do do do
Badap ba daa ba da daa ba daa da deda daa Badap ba daa ba da daa ba daa da deda daa

The lift stops, the gate is pulled open and the man walks into a grey room illuminated by dappled spotlights. Ahead, a man in a white jacket, is crooked over a table with his back turned.

“Argh, 007 you are here, finally! Now listen up. This is the new IROCK2 by VJ Sport. It has Fitlock that ensures a sure and precise fit around the arch and instep of the foot for secure constant changes of direction. The outsole is made of Butyl rubber with an aggressive pattern, it will grip anything in the wet and dry!”

“And the upper Q?” Our man asks.

“007, let me do the talking… The upper is made of Kevlar, it’s stronger than steel, lightweight and extremely durable. Toe box and the heel box is plush, secure and protects from the toughest terrain. Cushioning is provided by KvamO and Duotech. These shoes are designed for fast, light and agile mountain running on any terrain – any questions?”

“When can I use them Q?”

“Have you not been listening Bond? You can use them on the gnarliest, muddiest, wettest, driest, most technical terrain imaginable and they will give you the advantage over the competition… Now go run!”

If James Bond was a mountain runner, he’d be using the IROCK2 by VJ Sport

*****

This review comes in two versions:

Version 1.

The IROCK2 by VJ Sport is the best mountain running shoe for any terrain with superior grip in the wet and dry on the rockiest, gnarliest, muddiest terrain imaginable in a moderately cushioned, 6mm drop, lightweight neutral shoe. It’s the best shoe ever – go buy it!

Version 2.

Read on.

VJ was found in 1981 and has been the secret weapon of Orienteers for many, many years. Ask anyone in the know, affiliated with a brand or not, out of choice, if they could, they would use IROCK when the need for grip on wet and dry surfaces is essential.

I was first introduced to the brand several years ago whilst working on the Tromso SkyRace. I saw the ‘locals’ using them and when out on the trails, mountains that had a mix of rocks, snow and ice, I continually noticed they had more grip than myself. This was confirmed when Jon Albon won Tromso race using IROCK ahead of the ‘almost’ unbeatable Luis Alberto Hernando.

I took note!

The shoe range can be viewed HERE and over the year’s VJ Sport have added and tweaked the line of shoes to 12 models, varying from a very specific Orienteering shoe with metal spikes (midstud) to a kid’s shoe!

Key Features of the IROCK2:

FITLOCK ensures that the fit is snug and holds the foot in place, essential when running on technical and challenging trails when a change of direction happens in a fraction of second. You don’t want a sloppy shoe. FITLOCK supports the arch of the foot and protects from the terrain.
SUPERIOR CONTACT OUTSOLE is made from sticky butyl rubber with an aggressive grip. It has superior grip in wet and dry conditions and lugs are aggressive to gain traction in mud. They are also spaced out to help release mud from the sole so that you don’t get clogged up and lose traction.
Schoeller® – Keprotec® KEVLAR upper is bullet proof and stronger than steel. It is pretty much tear resistant with comfort. The chances of the uppers failing is almost non-existent. The upper also has reinforced sections, the toe box and heel cup protect the foot from the most demanding terrain and to keep the foot secure.
KvamO offers cushioning, torsion support and a shaped insole.
DUOTECH is used on the inner side of the shoe, contrasting against the KvamO. The Duotech is higher density foam which makes for a more durable shoe.

6mm drop
Narrow width
Neutral

IROCK2 was Jon Albon’s shoe of choice for the 2017 season – He is a multiple OCR World Champion and two-time Skyrunner World Series Champion for the Extreme classification.

OUT OF THE BOX

Red and black, always works for shoe colours and I feel and I am instantly attracted to the IROCK2. However, they don’t look like run shoes… almost a cross between a football boot and a shoe for MTB. They look heavy!

I lift one up. They are not heavy… It almost comes as a surprise. Immediate first impression is how robust the shoe looks. The heel box is reinforced, the Fitlock looks aggressive and secure, the Kevlar material looks like it is interwoven with strands of steel and the toe box reinforced with a bumper. Turning the shoe over, soft black butyl rubber covers the outsole and a mass of aggressive studs immediately confirm that the IROCK2 means business as far as grip is concerned.

Lacing is very secure and the tongue is reinforced and made of a very durable flexible but hard material. I am surprised to find that the IROCK2 does not have a gusseted tongue or sock liner fit. I feel disappointed! It’s no secret if you read my shoe reviews that this is by far my favourite method of shoe fit. The toe box looks really narrow – I expected narrow as this is a precision shoe, however, they look narrower than expected.

All-in-all, I am impressed. Great looks, solid build, aggressive outsole but I have concerns on the toe box and lack of sock liner/ gusseted tongue.

IN USE

It’s important to remember here that the IROCK2 is not a jack of all trades, it’s not a trail shoe, it’s not hybrid shoe, it’s not a shoe for the road – it is an out-and-out specific fell/ mountain running shoe and as such, you should and must keep this in mind if considering if the shoe is for you!

The easiest way to explain this is by looking at say, Formula 1. You wouldn’t go to Monaco Grand Prix and race in a MPV car, a saloon car or a bus, you’d have a very specific vehicle, low to the ground with incredible speed and awesome agility with incredible grip. The IROCK2 is the Formula 1 for fell and mountain running.

I loosen the laces and slide my foot in. I am immediately surprised that the toe box is deceptively more spacious than anticipated. Almost Tardis like. Don’t get me wrong here, they are not spacious that would allow ones toes to splay. The fit is secure but not overly narrow, however, if you have Hobbit like feet, the IROCK2 is not going to be for you! It is normal in fell/ mountain running shoes that a ‘precision’ fit is required as this provides security and precision when running, exactly what you need when on demanding and challenging terrain.

As I pull the laces tight, I am immediately surprised how well the tongue fits to my foot and the lack of a sock liner or gusseted tongue soon becomes no issue. The Fitlock steps in and I have to say that this is one of THE secret weapons of the shoe. You immediately feel the support and security this system brings as I tighten and adjust the laces.

The reinforced heel box adds to this security and once laced up and adjusted I soon realize that the IROCK2 has incredible fit and security – and I haven’t even run in them yet!

As I walk around my apartment, the wooden floor provides a solid surface, I feel the grip of the Butyl outsole take hold and with each lift of my foot, the shoes make a sound a little like when separating two strips of Velcro. These shoes seriously grip.

Orienteering, fell and outright mountain shoes rarely have a great deal of cushioning as the need to be low and feel the ground is essential. The IROCK2 has cushioning and it is noticeable without compromising feel, importantly there is also a rock plate for protection. Therefore, this shoe certainly provides an option for longer races, be that in distance or time. How long or how far depends on the runner, but I would certainly consider this shoe for 6-8 hour mountain jaunts. You also must remember that if running on soft and muddy ground, much of the cushioning actually comes from the ground beneath ones feet. Rocky and hard trails are a different story.

ON THE TRAILS

I always start my test runs with a section of road and the IROCK2 keeps me honest wanting to land fore to mid foot. I can hear and feel the grip on the road and I am surprised at the level of comfort and cushioning for such an aggressive shoe. I set my mind at ease knowing that the IROCK2 can handle road sections should they crop up in a race or training. Note though, the outsole won’t thank you for this and one can expect it to wear quicker if you throw too much tarmac at them.

6mm drop works well and although 8mm is normally preferable (for me) it is appropriate that a shoe of this nature has a lower drop keeping you connected to the ground. The fit is neutral but Fitlock really does provide support (in a good way) to ones arch. Fit is true to size.

Back on the tail, a 3-mile section of single track flies by as the shoes happily eat up the miles switching between hard and dry sections and soft, wet, muddy sections don’t compromise the grip.

Off track and the IROCK2 start to feel seriously at home. I am now on open fell that is rutted. I am constantly changing direction and this is when I feel the Fitlock and heel box working together. For me, it’s the best feel and most secure of any mountain running shoe I have used. No question!

The outsole is gripping everything.

On a vertical wall of grass and mud, I am on my toes and the shoes just dig in and keep me going forward with no wasted energy through slipping.

I hit an extremely muddy section. It’s like a brown river. Constant rain has made it into a brown lake and as I run through it, the height passes my ankle. Once again, I feel the shoes pushing through the soft upper layers to find traction below. Grip is found and I am able to move on with more security than any other shoe used. The closest comparison coming with an inov-8 Mudclaw.

It’s on rocks, wet or dry, that the IROCK2 becomes outstanding. I have had mountain shoes in the past that have handled the mud only to find that rock, and in particular, wet rock grip is compromised. The IROCK2 stand out as the best in its class with unmatched grip and control.

The run continues on and as the terrain constantly changes I am finding that the IROCK2’s are handling everything but it is the overall package of the shoe that is impressing me and no one stand out feature.

It is the combination of durability, fit, cushioning, precision and unmatched grip that is making me realize that the IROCK2 is the best fell/ mountain shoe I have used.

LONG TERM

Mud, rock, fell in wet or dry conditions, the IROCK2 is the best I have used. I have now put just under 200-miles on them on a whole multitude of scenarios and without doubt, this shoe stands out. It’s the overall package as mentioned above that make them so special and in comparison to other brands, the Kevlar uppers show no sign of use.

It’s easy to get carried away when writing about a shoe like this but so often I have had a mountain shoe that does one thing really well only to find that it is compromised in another use. Not so with the IROCK2.

It is the most complete mountain shoe I have used for its specific use.

SUMMARY

VJ Sport was created in 1981 and although I first became aware of these shoes in 2014, I have to say that I really have a feel of ‘FOMO!’ – Fear Of Missing Out.

Orienteers and obstacle racers will be reading this review and saying – ‘Yep, yep and yep!’

They will be asking the question, ‘What took you so long?’

They are correct, what did take me so long?

VJ Sport have been making secret weapons for the orienteering world for so many years but now the secret is out!

I have already heard many a Skyrunner talking about the original IROCK and now the IROCK2 moves things up a notch and quite simply:

This is the best fell/ mountain running shoe I have ever used.

CONCLUSION

It’s a glowing review, no doubt.

There are so many PROS to the shoe that I feel I must try and reign myself in and find some CONS, so, here goes:

I have been trying to get a pair of IROCK’s for sometime, it took me 18-months to finally get a pair. They are not easy to come across! However, see at the bottom of this review as we have an offer.
The IROCK2 is a fine tuned piece of kit designed to excel with a very specific use. This is not an everyday shoe (unless you are always on fells/ mountains) that you use on road and smooth trail.
In reference to point 2, you will need other run shoes for those ‘normal’ runs when the IROCK’s are not required.
The IROCK2 has cushioning but it is NOT a ‘cushioned’ shoe and it shouldn’t be. Some cushioning is good but anymore and this shoe would lose the feel and control that makes it so great.
The fit is precision, again, as it should be for a shoe with such specific use. Worth keeping in mind for the Hobbits out there!

FINALLY

Skyrunning? Fell running? Mountain running? Running in the wet, mud, on dry rocks and wet rocks?

Need a 6mm drop, neutral and moderately cushioned shoe?

Look no further than the IROCK2 by VJ Sport.

OFFER

*Please note, I have no affiliation or working relationship with the following, this is purely an offer to help those who may be interested in the IROCK2 to purchase a pair.

 

 

inov-8 X-CLAW 275 Shoe Review

©iancorless.com_inov8_XClaw275-06454

The inov-8 Mudclaw 300 has long been a favorite shoe of mine when I need a shoe with grip and secure feel. It’s a ‘go-to’ shoe for a couple of hours on muddy trails. (Review Here). However, the precision fit (which I love) and less cushioning has often left me wanting a shoe with a little more cushioning, a more relaxed drop and maybe a little more room in the toes for my feet to splay. Step in (pun intended) the X-CLAW 275.

In the past 12-months, inov-8 as a brand has looked at its shoe range and started to streamline the shoes on offer. For some, that may well be a bad thing, for me, it’s a positive! I seem to remember a couple of years back that the brand had over 90 shoes on offer.

The company that pioneered the arrow system to define drop, has stuck with its heritage and now 1 arrow (4mm drop) and 2 arrow (8mm drop) are the norm. The purists may well complain but 4mm and 8mm drop are for sure the most popular.

©iancorless.com_inov8_XClaw275-06457

For me, I switch between the two drops constantly, happily running shorter and faster sessions in the lower 4mm drop but when I go longer, I prefer the relaxed and more forgiving drop of 8mm. The X-CLAW 275 has been a long time coming, but now it has arrived, I have a big smile on my face:

8mm drop

Standard fit

Cushioning

Grip

In brief, the shoe is a winner.

©iancorless.com_inov8_XClaw275-06454

The X-CLAW 275 has the usual distinctive inov-8 styling and colours, I keep saying it but the brand always (nearly always) make good looking shoes with great colours. The lacing is standard and secure, the heel box is plush, holds firm and is comfortable. The tongue is secured into the upper on the left and right sides (thank goodness) and holds the foot firm, secure and in comfort. The toe box has standard fit and therefore there is more room for toes to splay and move around a little. The toe box also has great protection with some good rubber on the front of the shoe to protect against rock impact. The shoe is cushioned for longer runs and has protection from underfoot obstacles but without loosing a feel for the ground. Lastly, the grip is as one would expect, claw like.

©iancorless.com_inov8_XClaw275-06465

The X-CLAW has been put through its paces on a multitude of terrain and in all scenarios it has been a winner. Several recent outings in the Mourne Mountains in Ireland really did provide an all-in-one mixed terrain circuit allowing for: road, stone steps, loose rock, gravel, scree, bog, water crossings, fell, fire trail and all with a mix of wet and dry weather. The X-CLAW just performed never causing me to question of grip would be compromised at any time. I had wondered if the standard fit would leave me feeling less secure and precise on technical trail – no so! I was able to compensate by pulling my laces a little tighter and the addition of the gusseted tongue held my foot secure and firm giving me 100% confidence. On a 3.5hr run, we finished off with a 5km stretch of stony fire trail that zig-zagged 600m downhill. It was the type of terrain in the past where I would have been wishing for a shoe with a little more comfort and protection… not so with the X-CLAW.

©iancorless.com_inov8_XClaw275-06462

The cushioning was superb allowing me to run with protection while still feeling the ground beneath. The outsole handled the mixed terrain so well and I am always amazed how shoes with so much grip can feel so good on the road. Obviously, the Dual-C compound used will have less life if too much road is run on, but that is not the point, the combination of elements that are packaged in the X-CLAW 275 make it a real winner. Finally, despite running through wet ground, mud and small water crossings my foot actually only got wet in the final couple of miles of my run when I placed my foot in a puddle that was ankle deep, prior to that the water repellant upper had done a great job keeping my feet dry.

©iancorless.com_inov8_XClaw275-06465

As the UK heads into winter, the trails will become muddier, the rocks wetter and I am convinced that the X-CLAW 275 is going to be one of my ‘go-to’ shoes – It delivers outstanding grip, comfort and protection while still remaining lightweight, flexible with great energy return from the Powerflow midsole technology that really does keep you on your toes with better shock protection. The toe bumper and full rand are also great additions that make the shoe really feel as though it’s up for some hard and challenging terrain.

©iancorless.com_inov8_XClaw275-06471

The shoe fit as ‘true,’ I regularly use a size 9.5 and my X-TALON is a 9.5. However, if you are used to a tighter toe box (precision) you may well feel that the standard fit of this shoe makes it feel a little larger? My advice would be to lace up the shoe correctly and tighten the laces so your foot feels secure. Remember, the toe box is designed to allow for some movement and splay.

In summary, the X-CLAW is an excellent shoe for those who need a little more comfort, a relaxed drop and a roomier toe box. The shoes perform exceptionally well on all terrain (even road) and if you are out for longer days on the hills, mountains or fells, the 8mm drop and cushioning will make your legs and feet happier.

©iancorless.com_inov8_XTalon225-06432

Finally, for all you precision fit, less-cushioning and lower drop fans (4mm) don’t worry… the X-TALON is available in a 225 version. Review to follow.

What inov-8 say:

For all extreme terrain running, including off-trail conditions encountered on mountains and fells.

Phenomenal grip: New X-CLAW outsole features DUAL-C compound (a mix of medium and hard sticky rubbers) for improved durability and stability. Refined claw cleat stud configuration ensures quick release of mud and debris.

Increased comfort on long runs: Unique POWERFLOW midsole technology delivers 10% better shock absorption and 15% better energy return than standard midsoles. Wider to box allows toes to splay.

Enjoy more protection: Super-durable, yet lightweight, upper material, full rand, toe bumper and internal gusset offer protection on descents and from debris. Water repelled by durable water resistant coating.

Does it all: Equally adaptable to training or faster running. Cutaways on the outsole increase flexibility and reduce weight. Dynamic Fascia Band delivers kick of energy with every stride.

  • Colour: BLACK/BLUE/RED
  • Weight: 275g / 9.7oz
  • Fit: Standard Fit
  • Gender: MENS
  • Footbed: 6mm
  • Midsole: POWER FLOW
  • Drop: 8mm

TRAIL TALON 250 and TRAIL TALON 275 by inov-8 – SHOE REVIEW

©iancorless.com_inov8_TrailTalon250-06494

The Race Ultra when first released by inov-8 turned heads. It was certainly a departure for the brand who had built a history and reputation for out-and-out fell running shoes. For the brand to release a shoe that appealed specifically to the ‘ultra’ market was an interesting move.

I have to say, the first incarnation of the shoe was pleasing to look at and although it gained rave reviews, I didn’t like it. It felt sloppy, lacked feel and in all honesty, it was a shoe I didn’t want to use.

The second incarnation was a huge improvement and it has become a regular shoe for me when running long on flat, relatively un-technical and non-muddy trail. It was a shoe that proved hugely popular at races such as Marathon des Sables for example and the combination of two options, 4mm and 8mm drop; the Race Ultra suddenly became a really popular shoe.

I was therefore somewhat surprised when inov-8 told me that the Race Ultra 270 (4mm drop) and 290 (8mm drop) are no longer in the range as of AW16. Really?

I have had many emails from runners in the community expressing a concern about this. Yes, the Race Ultra really has become ‘that’ popular and as such, many are asking, but what shoe an I know going to wear?

Take a breath, take out your credit card and go and order yourself a pair of TRAIL TALON 275 (8mm drop) or TRAIL TALON 250 (4mm drop).

©iancorless.com_inov8_TrailTalon275-06476

©iancorless.com_inov8_TrailTalon250-06497

Yes, folks, stop worrying, the new TRAIL TALON is all that the Race Ultra was and so much more.

I could actually stop the review there as I have very little negatives to say about the shoes. Yes, both really are that good. But I know you have a need for more information so here goes.

In brief, the TRAIL TALON offering in either 275 or 250 versions directly relates to the 270 or 290 versions of the RACE ULTRA. So first off, think about if you need or prefer 4mm or 8mm drop shoes (or both). The plus side from the off, is the two new TRAIL TALONS are offering weight savings over the previous models: 15g +/- for the 8mm drop and 20g +/- for the 4mm drop. For reference, inov-8 always refers to the weight of the shoe in the name, so, a TRAIL TALON 250 will weight 250g+/- in a standard UK8.

©iancorless.com_inov8_TrailTalon250-06499

©iancorless.com_inov8_TrailTalon275-06491

Both the TRAIL TALON 275 and 250 shoes use the same standard fit last as the RACE ULTRA but they both offer improved grip with deeper cleats and better cleat configuration. It’s a marginal improvement and don’t start to think that the new shoe will now handle more mud – they won’t. The TRAIL TALON is very much a dry trail/ mountain shoe that can handle a little sloppy stuff if required.

©iancorless.com_inov8_TrailTalon250-06504

©iancorless.com_inov8_TrailTalon275-06483

Tthe TRAIL TALON has a wide ‘standard fit’ toe boxbut I don’t think it is as wide as the RACE ULTRA?. Don’t get me wrong, it has plenty of room and it allows the toes to move and splay just as in the previous model. When running long your toes have room to move and should you be prone to swelling, they have room to expand. This ‘standard fit’ is something that inov-8 have worked on and by contrast, some shoes in the inov-8 range can be purchased in ‘precision’ fit which offers a tighter and narrower toe box. For me, this can be where some compromise comes in with the TRAIL TALON, when running on long, flat and consistent terrain the shoes excel but if the terrain becomes technical and inconsistent, I find my foot moves a little within the shoe due to the wider fit. This is not a criticism of the shoe, what I am saying is (as I always say) is that it is rare that one shoe can do all things well. For technical running I prefer a precision fit.

©iancorless.com_inov8_TrailTalon250-06501

©iancorless.com_inov8_TrailTalon275-06479

A notable difference is the new POWERFLOW midsole for a more cushioned ride. Both the 250 and 275 feel more cushioned. In particular, the 275 feels super cushioned, almost a little ‘too’ cushioned at times and I think this is where the most notable difference will come for RACE ULTRA fans. You will either prefer the additional cushioning or not. On my first runs in the 275 I noticed the cushioning over the RACE ULTRA. To confirm my thoughts, I went back out for a run in the RACE ULTRA and yes, the new shoe has more cushioning and it feels that way too. This only adds to the thoughts of inov-8 that the TRAIL TALON is a long distance shoe. Of course it’s all relative, the 4mm drop 250 has less cushioning than the 8mm drop 275. For many of you this will not be an issue as you will either run in 4mm or 8mm drop shoes. This is not the case for me, I often and regularly switch between 4mm and 8mm drop shoes. If I am running for 30mins, 60mins or even 2-3 hours I can happily run in 4mm drop and still retain good form. However, if I am going out for a long session or a day in the mountains, I will always go 8mm drop. The higher drop allows more leeway and flexibility and I must add that the TRAIL TALON is a superb shoe to walk in. This is really important for those who are running long or doing multi-day races. Often, shoes are tested just running with no consideration of how the shoe transitions to a change of gait when walking. For me, the TRAIL TALON 275 is one of the best run shoes I have used when walking, the transition is seamless and comfortable no doubt attributable to the ADAPTERFIT met-cradle for better mid-foot comfort.

I am always wary of buzz words like ‘Powerflow’ and ‘Adapterfit’ as in real terms they can mean nothing. Breaking the words down, the TRAIL TALON has more cushioning and better mid-foot comfort.

When running, the feel of the shoe and the comfort level is high. In the 275 I had less ‘feel’ for the ground due to the additional cushioning but this proved a real bonus for longer sessions and when the ground became more irregular. The 250 version with lower drop and less cushioning in comparison to the 8mm drop version felt really sweet on all runs.

Both shoes, 4mm or 8mm drop definitely provided more feel, better cushioning and more ‘return’ when running than the RACE ULTRA.

Like the 290 and 270 RACE ULTRA’s the TRAIL TALON will also incorporate the unique on-the-shoe gaiter attachment so that should you require a Gaiter you can purchase the item separately and attach/ de-attach with ease.

RACEULTRAGAITER

Two huge improvements for me come with the lacing system on the 275 and a gusseted tongue on both the 250 and 275. I have been saying this for ages, but a gusseted tongue just makes sense. I don’t know why it isn’t standard on all run shoes. It helps hold the foot in place, it stops the tongue moving and sliding to the left or right as you run and maybe most importantly it adds an additional protection to stop debris entering the shoe.

©iancorless.com_inov8_TrailTalon275-06486

The lacing on the TRAIL TALON is added ‘on to’ the shoe by what effectively is a folded plastic layer. This works so well as it allows the shoes to be laced tightly or loosely as required but it also allows the font to swell within the shoe. In the past, I have had issues with inov-8 lacing and I have had to use a ‘lock lacing’ technique to feel secure in the shoe. Not know, this lacing method works.

Toe protection on the shoe is good but not ridiculous. Keeping in mind the intended use of the shoe, it’s fit for purpose. The heel box is snug, cushioned, holds the foot well and caused no rubbing on long sessions, even when walking.

©iancorless.com_inov8_TrailTalon250-06499

Grip is compromised on any muddy trails but then again, the TRAIL TALON is not intended for this type of terrain. The 4mm deep studs work great on all dry trail, rocks and yes road. When wet, the grip is also good. Ultimately, the TRAIL TALON would be a great ‘all-rounder’ for most runs. If you are heading to the fells, a muddy trail run, or mountains with mixed/wet trail then choose a different shoe.

Finally, RACE ULTRA fans are going to be really happy with the TRAIL TALON. I have found it difficult to really find any negatives. The only negative (and it’s not really a negative) is that some of you may find the new incarnation a little ‘too’ cushioned. Sizing is true to size and relates directly to the Race Ultra.

As per usual, inov-8 have created two ‘visually’ appealing shoes with great colours and styling.

©iancorless.com_inov8_TrailTalon250-06497

©iancorless.com_inov8_TrailTalon275-06476

Drop is personal and for me, 8mm drop is the sweet spot in run shoes and is my ‘go to’ drop for any run. If you prefer a lower drop, then you will be happy with the 250 and 4mm version. If you can afford two pairs of shoes, I really recommend the 250 for shorter and/ or faster runs.

This TRAIL TALON is a winner and is now one of three shoes that I choose on a daily basis, the other two shoes for comparison are The North Face Ultra Endurance and the Scott Kinabalu Supertrac.

Specs from inov-8

DFB

The patented Dynamic Fascia Band™ (DFB) mimics the ‘Windlass Effect’ delivering a kick of energy with each step, helping the athlete to move faster and more efficiently

STANDARD FIT 

Our standard fit offers a close-fitting heel that locks the shoe in position, while a wider toe box allows the toes to splay when running naturally or lifting weights. Standard fit suits those with wider feet and athletes using the product for long sessions.

ARROW 

Arrows refer to drop, 1 arrow = 4mm, 2 arrow – 8mm

Big Red Run 2016 – Stage 5 Marathon 1 “Mohan Marathon” Marathon 2 “Roseberth Marathon” – 84.39km

©iancorless.com_BigRedRun2016_RaceDay5-0526

Elisabet Barnes nailed it today, no question, no doubts, she showed the boys how to run a multi-stage race and she also showed them how to pace and judge an 84km stage. Elisabet is the Queen of the Simpson Desert.

©iancorless.com_BigRedRun2016_RaceDay5-9692

An 0430 wake up call really did have everyone walking around a little goggle eyed this morning, particular with the very low temperatures and biting wind. It was 2 degrees but it felt below freezing standing around waiting for the 0600 start.

A roaring fire is a key element of the Big Red Run, irrespective of the time of the day, this morning was no different. A huddle of runners crowded the fire, arms outstretched, I am sure they think, if I can get my hands warm, the rest of my body will follow.

Trackers were attached to packs, compulsory reflective vests were handed out (for the dark hours) and just after 0600, the runners departed for an 84km double marathon over the Simpson Desert.

A hour of darkness soon had holes of sunlight punched through it as sunrise came, it was an incredible start to the day and it was a wonderful sign that a full day of clear skies was ahead. The chilly wind continued to blow, some would say, they were perfect running conditions.

Andy Dubois lying in 3rd overall gave it everything today, it was an all or nothing scenario and one that I love to see and applaud. He could have rested and be satisfied with his podium place but no, he tried his best to take 2nd from Jamie Hildage and lets face it, had he had a good day and Elisabet Barnes a bad day, overall victory may well have been a possibility?

Andy pushed and lead over the first marathon but Elisabet kept him in sight, gaining no more than a few minutes, he tested those behind and Elisabet summed it up on the line, ‘The pace early on today was fast, right from the gun Andy went hard and he wanted to test himself and us. I held on not wanting to ket him out of sight, you may think my time margin is a good buffer going into a long day but it can soon go!’

Jamie Hildage echoed Elisabet’s comments, ‘I had a 20min margin over Andy and he wanted to take it back. I had to keep an eye on him but in all honesty, the early pace was far faster than I would have preferred to go for an 84km day.’

Andy pushed but the wheels started to come off and he paid for the early pace, Elisabet and Jamie passed him just as the first marathon concluded and then Elisabet made a move and slowly pulled away from Jamie. Once Elisabet had the lead, she does what she does best, put her head down and knock out a metronomic pace to take not only her 3rd stage victory out of 4 but the overall 2016 Big Red Run victory.

This terrain, the desert, multi-stage days and relatively flat terrain are Elisabet’s domain and she really did dominate this event, ‘So it’s been a good week in the office! Today was the final competitive stage of the Big Red Run, the long stage of approx 84km and it was TOUGH! Some of the boys decided to race very hard from the start and despite my lead going into the stage it was a case of holding on and hoping for the best. Luckily their wheels fell off and not mine so all ended well. I am really chuffed to have won the race outright!’

©iancorless.com_BigRedRun2016_RaceDay5-0882

Jamie held on for 2nd place arriving 30 minutes after Elisabet. A previous Big Red Run competitor, Jamie had improved his time considerably after his last effort and he was very happy. Andy crossed the line 3rd and looked equally ecstatic, he raised his arms, cheered and well truly embraced the tape. ‘I had to risk all today and hope that I could possibly break Jamie and take back his time advantage. In reality, I had nothing to loose as 4th place was well behind me and I would have had to well and truly explode to loose my 3rd place. My strategy was to go hard over the first marathon and see what happened. I did what I could and I am happy with 3rd place.’

Braddon DB Johnson has run well all week, always around the top 4 and today was no different, he finished the day with a huge smile content with his Simpson Desert experience. Equally, Helen Durand has been an extremely consistent 2nd lady, she too crossed the line looking incredibly happy and surprisingly fresh with her days running.

At the time of writing this, the runners have been out on course for just under 13 hours (1900 hours) and they have till 0400 on Saturday to complete the distance. With darkness, the temperatures are dropping and the pitch black sky is coming to life with an amazing display of stars.

It’s going to be a long night, wish everyone well and we will post results and times tomorrow. Now let the slide shows begin, let the fire roar and lets cheer the runners in!

©iancorless.com_BigRedRun2016_RaceDay5-0980

BigRedRunLogo

Social Media Logos

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/iancorlessphotography/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/iancorlessphotography/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/Talkultra

Big Red Run 2016 – Stage 3 ‘Arpilindika Marathon’ – 42.195km (Cancelled)

©iancorless.com_BigRedRun2016_RaceDay3-8660

‘Arpilindika Marathon’ – 42.195km – cancelled

Adversity brings out the best in people, it’s the ‘Dunkirk’ spirit where everyone rallies around to make individual hardships a group hardship and with a little commitment, dedication and tenacity, woes and problems are taken away.

This is very much the spirit this morning on day 3 of the 2016 Big Red Run.

Race day has been cancelled due to out of the extraordinary weather during the night of day 1 and throughout day 2. In summary, the rain came in during the night and turned the Simpson Desert into a mud bath of some of the most sticky clay I have ever witnessed or in certain places, flooding!

Yes, the desert has become something akin to a UK Lakeland fell or Yorkshire moor.

They are freak conditions that have left the race team and runners in somewhat of a dilemma.

A night of reflection gave Lucas and Greg (race directors) an opportunity to look at options and an early departure from camp to recce the surrounding area confirmed several things:

  1. Racing would not happen on day 3.
  2. Camp would not be able to be moved due to excessive flooding, boggy ground and unpredictable roads that would potentially leave numerous vehicles bogged down.
  3. Day 4 will have to be a ‘new’ route to avoid some of the worst conditions and to ensure that vehicle access is possible at certain sections of the course for safety and checkpoints.
  4. Day 5 will hopefully still remain a long day of 80+ km but due to camp not moving, it will have to be re-worked to allow for the new start and end locations.
  5. Day 6, the final day is yet to be confirmed.

Greg confirmed at his early morning update that all of the above could change as they work through plans to make things happen. However, the sun has come out, the skies are blue and the conditions are already starting to dry out.

In camp, the Dunkirk spirit is at it’s best with groups of runners grabbing spades and clearing walkways to help alleviate everyone from the muddy mess. Clothes are being dried on make-shift washing lines and bushes, feet are being warmed by a fire and in an amongst all this there is a great deal of laughter as music fills the camp. The only real downside is that the flies have returned…

Today, the Simpson Desert and the Big Red Run is turning into a scene of ‘Survivor’ and on reflection, although everyone would have preferred a full racing day, the experience will be one to remember.

Greg and his team are now working flat out to make things happen and in the last 5-minutes I have had an update on plans for the coming days.

  • Tomorrow, stage 4 will be approximately the same distance as planned with a re-working of the route to miss the most affected areas and allow vehicle staff for crew access and safety. Overnight camp will remain in the same place.
  • Stage 5 will be a long stage of 80+ km (tbc) and the route will have slight modifications but it will finish at the original camp site as planned. This will allow Greg and his team to move the whole camp from it’s current location to the originally planned location while the runners are out on course.
  • Stage 6 will be as originally planned, a short un-timed run into the town of Birdsville.
  • The Big Red Bash – an open air concert originally planned to take place next to the Big Red Dunes has now been moved to the town of Birdsville. With over 7000 people travelling to the concert, the risk of vehicles getting stuck in the outback was far too high.

All-in-all, Greg and has team have done a remarkable job to pull all this together at such short notice. As I said, the 2016 Big Red Run will be one to remember!

BigRedRunLogo

©iancorless.com_BigRedRun2016_RaceDay3-0272

Big Red Run 2016 – Stage 2 ‘Adria Downs Marathon’ – 42.195km

©iancorless.com_BigRedRun2016_RaceDay2-7428

Mud, mud, glorious mud, nothing quite like it for cooling the blood… follow me follow, down to the hollow and let us wallow in mud glorious mud!

Oh yes, the 2016 Big Red Run had mud and then some today. The overnight pit patter of rain unfortunately increased heavier and heavier and as morning came, the camp site, located on a lower ground clay bed, became a ‘claggy’ mud bath. Within four walking strides, shoes, doubled, trebled and then quadrupled in not only size and weight. It was brutal – really brutal.

The 0630 call for breakfast was a mix of laughter and very worried looks. The rain was still pouring and it was not forecast to dry out until after darkness. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that it was going to be a tough day; not only for runners but all those working on the race.

©iancorless.com_BigRedRun2016_RaceDay2-7168

Maximum mandatory kit was requested by the race director, needless to say, a waterproof jacket was going to be essential and for once, not something that remained in the pack as a ‘just-in-case’ but something that should be worn from the gun! Thermal layers for the top and bottom were added to packs as a back-up scenario should an enforced rest, injury or stop should occur. It was a good call, conditions were tough.

©iancorless.com_BigRedRun2016_RaceDay2-7212

Leaving camp, the course was one that would loop on itself several times and finally return back to the same camp for the end of day 2, a classic marathon distance stage of 42.195km.

Early running was hard as the soft clay ground just stuck to the runners shoes making not only the size but more importantly the weight of the shoes considerably challenging. Add to this all grip being removed due to the volume of wet, sticky clay that built up in the soles. Watching the runners almost required a classic 1920’s silent movie soundtrack, you know the ones I mean, fast, comical and high-paced. Off course, the runners were the opposite – slow, cumbersome and with a high potential to fall at any minute.

©iancorless.com_BigRedRun2016_RaceDay2-7302

In the early stages many of the day four protagonists ran together, Braddan DB Johnson, Jamie Hildage, Andy Dubois and race leader, Elisabet Barnes. The foursome forged ahead at an excellent pace despite the conditions.

©iancorless.com_BigRedRun2016_RaceDay2-7792

After the halfway mark, Elisabet Barnes made a move and accelerated away from her running buddies and gave another excellent performance to win the stage outright in 4:17. To run this time in these conditions was extremely impressive, something that Elisabet acknowledged:

“I am amazed at the time. Today was ridiculous in places, my shoes were four times the normal size and weight. It was like running with ankle weights. I was running with my iPod and I just kept saying to myself, one song at a time and one foot at a time!”

©iancorless.com_BigRedRun2016_RaceDay2-7859

Jamie Hildage (4:26) lives in Australia but he’s a Brit born and bred – he’s used to these conditions and actually revelled in them, so much so he finished 2nd on the day ahead of stage 1 2nd place, Andy Dubois (4:44) and Braddan DB Johnson (4:53) taking the 3rd male place and 4th overall. Interesting statistic when one looks at the results, 3 of the top 4 were born or live in the UK – surely an advantage for the testing conditions.

©iancorless.com_BigRedRun2016_RaceDay2-7912

©iancorless.com_BigRedRun2016_RaceDay2-7986

Helen Durand (5:16) continued to run strong on day 2 and replicated her 2nd place on the ladies podium and Karla Johnson (5:50) moved up from 6th on day 1 to 3rd on day 2. Amon Sheddon who had placed 3rd on day 1 had a tough day and finished down the field.

©iancorless.com_BigRedRun2016_RaceDay2-8076

Camp this evening full of stories of mud, sweat and tears. It’s funny how adversity brings out laughter… however, it has been a tough day for Greg Donovan and his team. Greg has had to take the very tough condition of cancelling any racing on day 3. It’s a call that no RD wants to make but currently the camp is bogged down in some of the worst mud I have seen.

 “To break camp down and move it to a new location while racing was underway would stretch the whole logistics and potentially compromise safety. I will update on this tomorrow during the rest day,”

– Greg Donovan

BigRedRunLogo