inov-8 TRAILFLY ULTRA G300 MAX – First Look

inov-8 introduce the TRAILFLY ULTRA G300 MAX, the first ever shoe to feature Graphene enhanced foam. Coupled with other new technologies, inov-8 say, “the TRAILFLY ULTRA G300 MAX will be truly unique in the marketplace.”

Let’s deep dive into a first look and appreciation of what on first looks, may look like a Terraultra G270 on steroids.

Quite simply, the TRAILFLY ULTRA G 300 MAX is the most cushioned shoe ever produced by inov-8 and that alone is a huge departure for the brand who have a reputation for grip and a ‘feel for the ground’ approach to run shoes. I will say immediately, this is going to be a ‘Marmite’ shoe for the brand, with many loving it, and equally, many hating it!

Having pioneered the use of Graphene for many years in outsoles, inov-8 now extend this technology to the foam, and based on research, this can provide up to 25% greater energy return, “Featuring the world’s first Graphene-enhanced foam, called G-FLY”. 

As inov-8 say, “Forged in the fells and mountains of the Lake District in 2003, we are a footwear, clothing and equipment brand for committed trail and off-road runners, adventure-seeking hikers and fitness athletes who push boundaries and stretch limits.”

In recent years, that forged in the fells has been developed and rightly so. inov-8 now offer a variety of shoes that encompass a multitude of sports, distances and surfaces. In summary, fell, mountain, trail, park, OCR, orienteering, road, swim run and yes, even CrossFit, training, weightlifting and hiking. The recent success of the Terraultra G260 and now G270 has no doubt allowed inov-8 to look farther afield and this, I am sure, fueled by customers asking for, “…a more cushioned shoe with sweet-spot drop to facilitate comfort over longer running,” has resulted in the TRAILFLY ULTRA G 300 MAX.

Cushioning will immediately divide an audience and I could debate and debate the pros and cons all day if cushioning is a benefit or not. To clarify, Hoka One One was created in 2009 and up until 2012 I was pretty much using Hoka for all my runs, I had the original Mafate, and Bondi B and I was the first person to bring them in to the UK and sell them… So, I have history with cushioning and I still use cushioned shoes, occasionally. However, in 2012, with chronic knee pain and issues, I defected, stripped myself back to minimal and learnt to run again. Cushioning, or too much cushioning, was not good for me and particularly all the time. I wrote an article HERE that still resonates. 

 ” People actually land softer when they have less cushioning,” says Irene S. Davis, Ph.D., PT, a professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School and director of the Spaulding National Running Center. “Cushioning actually lulls you into thinking you can slam your foot into the ground.”

With the growth of ‘cushioned’ brands, more and more research has been done and I can find documentation that provides 50/50 information on the benefits and lack of benefits of cushioning. In summary, I feel the following (for me) rings true: A more minimal shoe allows me to feel the ground, react with it and adjust my forces and trajectory based on real time feedback. When in a cushioned shoe, I struggled for that feedback and therefore hit the ground harder to get the information I need. On technical terrain, cushioning and stack height causes problems for me, I am less stable and have reduced and impaired information.

“Since recent research has shown that running in maximalist shoes alleviates pressure from the feet, these shoes can be incredibly helpful to runners who struggle with foot injuries such as metatarsal stress fracturesplantar fasciitis, or heel pad atrophy. But runners with knee issues might want to avoid maximalist shoes, as knee loads might be higher… On the opposite end of the spectrum, minimalist shoes increase loads on the 4th and 5th metatarsals, plantar fascia, and Achilles tendon, but they reduce loads on the knee.” – Richard Willy, Ph.D

What works for one, does not work for another and let’s face it, max cushioned shoes are selling in high numbers all over the world. If cushioning works for you, great! inov-8 have addressed this issue and maybe, just maybe, they will bring new eyes and a new approach to the ‘max’ debate.

“Maximizing innovation, underfoot agility & flex this new shoe from inov-8 is packed with energy return zip and also boasts Graphene-Grip rubber and the ADAPTER-FIT upper. Designed specifically for ultra and long-distance running over trails, including technical terrain.”

inov-8

THE SHOE

I said Terraultra G270 on steroids and that is pretty much what the TRAILFLY ULTRA G 300 MAX looks like. If you don’t see them from the side, you could easily be fooled in to thinking it was the G270 – there are differences in the look and overlays, but in principle they look similar. However, that side profile makes the jaw drop a little… There is A LOT of cushioning and that is exasperated with the hexagonal shapes and at the rear, a green ‘G’ boldly emphasizes the use of Graphene. 

For perspective, the zero drop G270 has 12mm/ 12mm front and rear cushioning, the Trailroc G280 12/20 and the Trail Talon 290 v2 11/19. The latter two shoes with an 8mm drop. The TRAILFLY ULTRA G 300 MAX has a 6mm drop and 24mm/ 30mm front/rear cushioning – that is huge! Especially if you add the 6mm ‘Boomerang’ insole making the overall cushioned package 30/36mm. Wow! 

New for this shoe, the cushioning has been enhanced with Graphene, inov-8 say, “Graphene-enhanced G-FLY cushioned foam is more resistant to wear. It retains its thickness and optimum levels of snappy energy return for longer, helping runners feel faster and fresher over greater distances. Incredible energy return AND increased durability, no compromise.” The Powerflow Max used in the G270 has been developed once again and now, in this shoe with G-FLY, apparently gives 10-25% more energy return…

Turning the shoe over the outsole is considerably and notably different. The 4mm Graphene Grip lugs, of which there are 35, look pretty standard, particularly in comparison to the G270 but are well spaced to reduce debris hold. The Graphene grip is excellent and has received praise. However, two notable things stand out. No ‘Meta-Flex’ at the front and in the latter third of the shoe there is a cutaway, splitting the outsole, this is called ‘Adapter-Flex.’

I have to say, I was initially perplexed with the lack of Meta-Flex but then on inspection of the outsole I noticed that there are 4 cutaways that run vertically. Equally, the cutaway had me holding my chin and a ‘?’ hanging over my head. However, when I held the shoe and twisted it, all became clear. These two features are designed to re-think how a cushioned shoe works, and, in my opinion, they are designed to compensate for the stack height and add more flex (left to right) when running on uneven terrain. Quite simply, if you can visualize, as the foot hits the ground, say landing on a rock, the rear of the foot could hold still and secure, the flex allowing the front to go right or left. This in principle, should help make a more cushioned/ higher stack shoe adaptable for technical terrain?

A Boomerang insole adds to the cushioning with 6mm depth and gives, “40% greater energy rebound,” according to inov-8. In principle, the foam structure retains more energy than ever before with TPU beads compressing and then springing back to release energy to help propel you forward.

The upper, as mentioned, carries much of the G270 but it is not the same. The toe box is different, and the overlays start farther back on the shoe leaving the toe area on the TRAILFLY ULTRA G 300 MAX open. It’s a lightweight upper and breathable.

The lacing system is rock-solid and holds the foot perfectly particularly (Adapter-Fit) on the instep and navicular bone. It’s not a sock-like fit but the tongue is attached to the upper by elastic. The toe box is wide, listed as 5 on the inov-8 scale which is the widest that they do. On a personal note, the G270 is also a 5 fit but for me, they feel just a little wider than the TRAILFLY ULTRA G 300 MAX. There is the gaiter attachment on the rear of the shoe, always a nice touch from inov-8.

Fit is true to size, my EU44/ UK9.5 is certainly in line and comparable with all other inov-8 shoes and other brands.

Weight unfortunately for me is disappointing. The shoe is called a G300, ‘300’ referring the weight, but this is an ‘average’ weight and for perspective, a UK7 weighs 318g and my UK9.5 382g. Compare this to the new cushioned ULTRA shoe from VJ Sport which are 100g per shoe lighter… I really don’t understand how inov-8 think this weight is ok?

IN USE

The Boomerang insole immediately gives a nice feel when you slide your foot in the shoe, you can feel compression just by adding body weight. I had anticipated a ‘bounce’ feel from the midsole but that was less obvious. The stack height was immediately noticeable, and I have to say, it felt weird.

Lacing the shoes up feels great and the combination of elasticated tongue, lace placement and fit really does hold the instep in a very secure and confident way. There are additional eyelets for lock-lacing or similar if required.

The heel box is well padded and shaped and does exactly what you would want and expect – holds firm and comfortable, especially when going uphill.

The toe box is wide and for me allows toe splay. A 5 fit on the inov-8 scale they do feel just a little narrower than a G270, but it is marginal.

For me, there feels a little arch support, it is really minor, but there does feel just a little more support over other inov-8 models. On closer inspection, the support does coincide with the cutaway from the ‘Adapter-Flex’, and this is maybe what I feel?

They feel big! And they are.

They feel heavy! And they are.

Initial walking around made me feel very stable with a big wide (and high) base beneath me. I most certainly could feel the cushioning beneath me, but I wouldn’t say I felt ‘cushioned?’ Difficult to explain, but the shoe was much firmer than I anticipated and that, I have to say, was a disappointment.

ROAD

My first run was intentionally on road, 21km. I wanted to get a true feeling of the cushioning, the ride and how the TRAILFLY ULTRA G 300 MAX handled a consistent and hard terrain. The first 3-5km was all about just getting a ‘feel’ for the shoe and the changes such a high stack brings in comparison to my day-to-day shoes. The 6mm drop and an ideal middle ground, particularly for a shoe designed for longer distances.

With the initial adapting/ adjusting phase done I settled and just tried to run as normal. I have to say, I always felt conscious of the shoe, its size did bother me. 

I am a mid-foot runner and the TRAILFLY ULTRA G 300 MAX kept pulling me towards heel striking, it felt as though the heel was too large/ heavy and therefore getting in the way. Somehow it was adjusting my run technique. Over the 21km I tried hard to keep good form but if I drifted off concentration, I found the heel.

Cushioning was far firmer than I expected, and I found the propulsive phase missing with flex behind the toes a little compromised. I felt flat. As I made contact with the ground, no matter how I tried to roll forward and get the propulsion, I found that I was fighting the shoe. It felt at all times I was really having to work hard to get a return – the shoe was giving me nothing for free! The Graphene may enhance durability and reduce compression with repeated foot strikes, but does it also make for a less responsive and bouncy feel?

Downhill was super, a big wide cushioned heel made for Tigger like happiness.

In the latter stages of the first run, I was feeling over tired and without doubt, the 382g of each shoe was contributing to the fatigue. This wasn’t a fake feeling or the mind playing tricks, the route and my feel on the route is a constant for shoe testing so that I can really notice differences in shoes and their feel. For perspective, a recent shoe test of another cushioned shoe, albeit not as cushioned as the TRAILFLY ULTRA G 300 MAX had each shoe at over 100g lighter. To clarify, my cadence in the inov-8 was 164 avg, in the other shoe, 179 avg. That is huge and I felt it. I say it again, this shoe is way too heavy!

Comfort and stability were very good though. The shoes felt solid, reassured, bulletproof and I had no doubt that they would get the job done and last and last. Ideal for an ultra? The Graphene grip worked great on road and the 4mm lugs caused no hinderance.

TRAIL

Currently my home trails are a mix of snow, ice, rock, single-track and tree routes, so, a perfect place for the TRAILFLY ULTRA G 300 MAX. Gladly, mud is at a relative minimum and what is around, is perfectly manageable for the 4mm G lugs.

In contrast to the road, feel was very similar, particularly on hard single-track. Where a difference could be felt was the interaction with the front of the shoe moving almost independently of the rear when required. This was actually very cool and a great plus of the TRAILFLY ULTRA G 300 MAX. 

The rotational flexibility, vertical grooves and the independent heel via Adapter-Flex was noticeable and without doubt, in contrast to some max cushioned shoes, allowed for more control and adaption to the terrain. A huge problem with max cushioned shoes has been the ease and ability to roll an ankle due to the stack height, this is not removed in the TRAILFLY ULTRA G 300 MAX, but it is to a percentage compensated for. Ultimately though, the stack height, for me, has me too far away from the ground.

The shoes size and cushioning in one way could help you bulldoze through terrain, but it didn’t provide any confidence or comfort for me. ‘Dancing’ on technical terrain is difficult in the TRAILFLY ULTRA G 300 MAX due to their size. They are not nimble or light. As an example, when going through a rocky boulder section, the stack height just had me flexing and rotating, my ankles and more importantly knees, where making the compensation for the height off the ground. Of course, flexibility in the ankle and knee is required for all trail running, irrespective of the shoe, but additional stack height and cushioning only exaggerates this.

On snow, the stack height and wider last was great.

Going uphill, foot hold was very good both at the front and the rear, but toe flex was less than desirable almost making me climb with a flatter foot.

Downhill is great, this is when the cushioning and the large heel comes into its own allowing for plenty of protection and a wide base on which to land.

When cruising along on easy trails, the TRAILFLY ULTRA G 300 MAX does allow you to switch off and get on with the job but you are often reminded of the shoes size and weight beneath you and again, I rarely felt that the shoe was giving me anything back… I was working for every mile. Lifeless.

The Graphene grip as we have learnt with the G270 is superb, wet or dry terrain, the only compromise coming in mud – they are not aggressive enough.

SUMMARY

This is a first look at the TRAILFLY ULTRA G 300 MAX and a huge thanks to inov-8 for the opportunity and a personalized shoe with my name on. I have mixed road and trail miles to get an initial feel. I can’t comment on resilience or longevity, that will come in two or three months.

As I said at the beginning, I think this inov-8 shoe will be a Marmite offering. As someone who doesn’t like Marmite, you may well think I was destined not to like the TRAILFLY ULTRA G 300 MAX. That is not the case, I had a really open perspective and I do feel that inov-8 have made some interesting advances and used some unique thought processes in developing the max concept to a new and interesting level. Particularly with the Adapter-Flex. The upper, lacing and foot hold is excellent and arguably a highlight of the shoe.

The argument of what cushioning and drop will rage and quite simply, a little of everything is a good thing. It’s one of the reasons I will happily move from say a G270 with zero drop and 12/12 cushioning and then run in a Trail Talon with 8mm drop and 11/19 cushioning. If going to mud, then a Mudclaw with minimal cushioning, 4.5/8.5 and lower drop is ideal. 

Ultimately, I choose the correct shoe for the terrain and for how long I am running. Without doubt, if I am running longer, I will choose a shoe with more cushioning and a higher drop. 

So, when is too much cushioning, too much? That comes down to the individual. If you have been running in and are used to max cushioned shoes with no injuries, this new shoe from inov-8 may well be just what you have been waiting for. It will have all those trusted features from other max shoes, plus some great new additions and the respected and trusted Graphene grip. And for clarity, I do have two shoes in my regular run rotation of 23/29mm cushioning and 18/26mm cushioning and both of these feel lively, flexible and exciting to use, particularly the 18/26 which seems a wonderful middle ground.

For me though, the TRAILFLY ULTRA G 300 MAX is too much cushioning (too much stack height) and unfortunately, they are too heavy. The expected bounce and flexibility I had hoped for is missing, and I wanted that! Normally I would say that the more one runs, the softer and more flexible a shoe will become… But, the Graphene in the midsole is added to stop this and therefore in 2/3/400 miles, the cushioning should be like day one? By contrast, the Terraultra G270 is full of life, flexible, has a great upper and while not ‘the’ most cushioned shoe out there, it has more than enough cushioning for me. I had hope that the TRAILFLY ULTRA G 300 MAX would be more like the G270… Like a Trail Talon with all the Terraultra G270 features and a 6 or 8mm drop and yes, maybe, just a little more cushioning, say 18/24mm.

Ironically, the TRAILFLY ULTRA G 300 MAX did not ‘feel’ as cushioned as I expected? There are plus points – Graphene outsole, good foot hold but they are horrendously heavy, inflexible and lack any bouncy life. They are lifeless. While it is too early to say, there does seem to be plenty of life in this shoe and the addition of Graphene will only enhance that. This shoe is designed for long days on the trail but I have to say, that for me, the TRAILFLY ULTRA G 300 MAX felt tiring to use and that comes from the weight, the size of the shoe and lack of any life.

Update May 2021:

I have tried and tried but the Trailfly, IMO, is probably the worst shoe inov-8 have made… I keeping reading quotes on inov-8 channels about ‘how great this shoe is’ and I really don’t understand it? I question what shoes were these people running in before ! The Trailfly is heavy, lifeless, dull and I could go on… They bring no joy to running and are actually harder to run in. The plus side is, every other shoe I own now feels light and fast. Hoka have been doing the ‘max’ thing for a long time. Ultimately stick to what you know. The Terraultra G270 by inov is a great shoe, despite the longevity of the upper. I struggle to see how a G270 developed in to a G300 which is not a G300, in my case, it’s a G380 and for those with EU45 or bigger, it is a G400+

But, inov-8 are excited by this new offering and rightly so, they have gone a long way to develop the max cushioned format, tweak it and adapt it to bring something new. The early Hoka days of 2009 seem a long time ago and for inov-8 to join the party in 2021 signifies how demand has influenced the need to produce a new shoe. While much of the talk in the cushioned world has been about carbon plates, inov-8 have developed Adapter-Flex, Vertical Grooves and the use of Graphene. For that they should be applauded. The TRAILFLY ULTRA G 300 MAX for sure will turn heads but for me, it’s not a good shoe I am afraid. One can only hope V2 is considerably lighter, has more life and is flexible. At £170 they are also very expensive.

As per all my shoe reviews, the shoes were provided for free for impartial testing. This is not a paid review.

“It will be the first-ever shoe to feature a Graphene-enhanced foam. This, coupled with other new technologies, make it truly unique in the marketplace. It is also our most cushioned shoe ever, but we have maximized our innovation to retain the underfoot agility & flex that inov-8 shoes are renowned for and which other deeply cushioned ultrarunning shoes lack. It’s packed with energy return zip and also boasts Graphene-Grip rubber and the ADAPTER-FIT upper. Designed specifically for ultra and long-distance running over trails, including technical terrain.”

inov-8

Specs:

  • Weight: 300g (average weight across size curve) UK9.5 382g / UK7 318g
  • Drop: 6mm (heel to forefoot differential)
  • Midsole stack height (midsole only): 19mm heel / 25mm 
  • Full stack height (from bottom of lugs to top of insole): 30.5mm / 36.5mm (24/30 without 6mm foot bed)
  • Lug depth: 4mm
  • Fit: Grade 5 (inov-8 fit scale in the toe box is 1-5, with 5 being the widest). More details.
  • Key technologies: GRAPHENE-GRIP, ADAPTER-FLEX, G-FLY, BOOMERANG, ADAPTER-FIT

RRP £170.00 on Sale from Apr 8 2021.

SUSTAINABILITY – A new inov-8 sustainability strategy, developed in 2020 in partnership with Dr Anne Prahl (an expert at the forefront of sustainable workings and design), will guide every aspect of what we do. Details of the strategy are HERE.

References:

  • Nature.com – HERE
  • Runner’s World – HERE
  • The Run Experience – HERE
  • Healthline – HERE

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How to Find Your Running Shoe Size and Fit.

Run shoes should be specific.

It shouldn’t be complicated, but it is. Go on any run forum and I will bet you that daily, someone will ask a question about run shoes.

I want a shoe that will allow me to run muddy trails and road?

Can anyone recommend a shoe for fell running?

I have Hobbit feet and I need cushioning and grip – what shoe?

I could go on and on. The thing is, while it may be okay to ask a couple of question like:

  1. How does a specific shoe perform in mud?
  2. How is the wear and tear of ‘x’ shoe?

Asking for a specific shoe recommendation can be a recipe for a disaster, the reason being, we are all individual and shoes are very personal based on a multitude of factors. Nobody on social media knows you, your needs, how you run and what type of running you do.

So, please do not ask for a shoe recommendation on social media unless you are specific. A good example being:

“I am male, aged 44. I have been running for 23-years and I have extensive history in cycling, triathlon, road running and now I am moving to trail running… I am 5ft 9. A little overweight. In regard to shoes? I am looking for a trail shoe that will provide great grip on muddy trails. I need support for my arch and cushioning but not something as cushioned as say a Hoka. In regard to foot width, I am in the middle, neither needing precision or wide fit. On a scale of 1-5 I would be a 3!’

With the above we have information from the runner and therefore suggestions and recommendations can be specific and targeted. Even then, the runner should go to a run store, albeit now he has a shortlist of options and then try on the shoes to find the one that best suits him, his feet and his needs.

IF THE SHOE FITS

Firstly, and importantly, not all shoes are equal and not all feet are the same.

Measure your foot.
Measure your foot.
  • Foot length.
  • Foot width.
  • Foot shape.
  • Pronation.
  • Supination.
  • Neutral.

Quite simply, the better a shoe fits, the more specific to the type of running one will do in that shoe, the more likely you will feel better. The foot will be happier and the miles you run will be more comfortable.

Our bodies are supported by our feet; they are the first point of contact with the ground and therefore, they are incredibly important. Getting a correct fitting shoe that is specific for purpose is crucial.

When I say specific for purpose, let me provide some simple clarification now and then explain in-depth later. Shoes come in categories; I see the main list broken down as 6 main groups:

  • Road
  • Road to Trail
  • Trail
  • Ultra-Running (with sub heading of Ultra Road and Ultra Trail)
  • Fell Running
  • Mountain Running

Now, one could break down the categories even more with very, very specific needs such as, “I need a mountain running shoe with an aggressive outsole with great grip in wet and dry conditions and superb traction in mud.”

But before we get into the discussion on the shoe for the job, getting a correct fitting shoe is vital.

HOW DO WE FIND A CORRECT FITTING SHOE?

Image ©blitzresults.com

Please don’t fall in with the generic advice that a run shoe should be one size bigger than say your every day casual shoe! For a start, this assumes you have the correct size casual shoe and trust me, from experience, very few people do. The recommendation for sizing up also comes from the assumption that a foot swells when running. From experience, feet rarely go longer but can go wider with repeated impact and stress; think of races like Marathon des Sables when a runner is in a hot/sandy environment. So, one may need a wider shoe but not a longer shoe. This comes down to getting the specific shoe for the job.

©custom fit.me

I wear the same size run shoe as my casual shoes (typically) but to clarify, I go for the ‘same fitting’ shoe.

Shoe sizing between brands is variable and inconsistent, an EU 44 in say Salomon is not necessarily the same as an EU 44 in inov-8. So, first and foremost, always try shoes on!

Length and foot width does change so it can be a good idea to have your feet measured if you are new to running with little experience. Some specialists suggest getting feet measured yearly, but for me, this still only gives a guideline to shoe size as comfort, feel and specificity come in to play.

Foot shape and how you get the thumb nail of space.

“As a rule of thumb,” I have consistently found that a thumb nail of space above one’s big toe is usually ideal for sizing. This is classic for an ‘Egyptian’ foot shape (D). I say usually because I have seen some feet where the second toe is longer than the big toe, known as ‘Greek’ foot shape (C), so, this would require an individual approach. There is also ‘Square’ foot shape and the thumb nail width above the big toe usually applies here, but, a wider toe box may be required.

Remember, both feet are usually not the same size, so, take this in consideration. Go for fit and feel with the bigger foot!

NOTE: Specifics come in to play such as foot width and specificity of the shoe. As an example, If you are running technical trail, you will need a more ‘precision’ fit. If running long/road ultras, you may well prefer a wider fit that will allow toe splay. More on this later.

Wear socks that you typically run in and if you normally wear two pairs of socks, then wear two pairs when testing and trying. Two pairs of socks may require you to go a half or full size larger depending on the sock thickness. Note:nYou may wear the same shoes for Summer and Winter, but in Summer you use light and thin socks but for Winter you use thick Merino socks. This may well mean you need a different size shoe for Summer in comparison to Winter.

Insoles can give a good indication of the shoe size and its width. As a guide, the insole should match the shape and size of your foot.

With the insole back in the shoe, place your foot inside and firstly check for the space at the front. If you have the required space, lace up and tighten. On the top of the foot you have the ‘Navicular Bone’ and the shoes should be tight here but not so tight to restrict blood flow.

Stand up and move around. Key checkpoints are: 1. Thumbnail width between longest toe and edge of shoe. 2. Check pressure on your little toe. 3. Check pressure and feel on your big toe.

Ideally, you want to be able to run in them and most good run shops have a treadmill to try out shoes. Key checkpoints: 1. No slippage in the heel area. 2. No pressure on toes. 3. Instep feels secure and pain free. 4. You have support or a lack of support as needed.

If you see material bulging because of tightness you may need a bigger shoe, or you have the wrong width. If you see an excess of fabric, you may have a shoe that is too large or too wide.

Check the fabric of the shoe and the seams. Will they be breathable for your needs? Will they protect you for your needs? Does the toe bumper have enough protection?

Remember shoes flex when you run. In the propulsive phase, the shoe will bend behind the metatarsals and this can be a troublesome area if the shoes are the wrong size. Often a sign of a shoe that fits incorrectly is this area will crease and often tear causing failure in the shoe upper. If running uphill, think mountain, fell and trail running, this area of a shoe gets a great deal of stress.

A good running store with professional staff will help you with shoe choices and they should discuss the pros and cons of the specific brands and models available. However, gut feeling and how you feel goes a long way. Always be careful of ‘sale’ shoes! Don’t be influenced in buying the wrong shoe just because it is a good price.

WHAT CAN GO WRONG?

Marathon des Sables has some foot horror stories and the general story is because of the heat, the sand and how brutal the race is. The truth is, the issues (usually) arise through runner’s choosing the wrong shoe and the wrong size. 

Old advice has said size up, go bigger as your feet will swell.

However, a shoe that is too big allows the foot to move inside the shoe. A moving foot causes friction. Friction causes blisters. The rest is self-explanatory. In addition, with each sliding of the foot, the toes may impact with the front of the shoe and result in bruising. Think of running downhill with shoes that are too big, your toes will be crammed at the front with room behind the heel.

Having said this, feet can swell through impact and heat. So, using Marathon des Sables as an example, one consideration may be going for a shoe with a wider toe box but still that thumbnail of space at the front. What often happens is a runner has a favourite shoe and decides they need more room, so, they just buy a larger shoe (than needed) because it increases the width/ space. Actually, what they should do is change the shoe. It goes back to specificity.

Shoe that are too tight and/or too small will result in black toenails but more importantly can damage ligaments and possibly result in damage to the metatarsals. Stress fractures are a real risk. Also, you will have foot fatigue and pain. The foot is full of nerves and bones. As an example, the soles are extremely sensitive to touch due to a high concentration of nerve endings, with as many as 200,000 per sole. *The foot receives its nerve supply from the superficial peroneal (fibular) nerve, deep fibular nerve, tibial nerve (and its branches), sural nerve, and saphenous nerve. These nerves come from peripheral nerves that arise from the L4 to S3 nerve roots and contribute to the somatic motor function, general sensory information, and the cutaneous sensation of the foot. In regard to bones, each foot is made up of 26 bones, 30 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, all of which work together to provide support, balance and mobility.

If you require stability shoes, the wrong size shoe may well put the support in the wrong place and instead of providing help, it will create onward issues and problems. Plantar Fasciitis is a risk.

Quite simply GET THE CORRECT FITTING SHOE!

IMPORTANT FACTORS TO CONSIDER

Okay, so we have given a guide to how you find the correct size of shoe. But now we need to be specific and address and look at some fundamental questions before going to any run store:

GAIT

Supinate – Your weight tends to be more on the outside of your foot.

Pronate – Your weight tends to be more on the inside of your foot.

Neutral – Your weight is distributed evenly.

Foot arches, low, medium and high.

You need to know which of the above you are, as all brands and manufacturers produce shoes to answer these three specific needs. If you do not know the answer to this question, look at the soles of shoes you have worn for some time – you will see how they have worn. In a proper stride, your foot should roll forward and pronation should be neutral. Shoes that are geared towards supination or pronation are designed to bring you back to neutral.

Side view.

Many runners who need specific support often see a Podiatrist and have Orthotics made that are transferable to any shoe. In this scenario, you should purchase neutral shoes. 

**If you supinate, it can cause excess strain on your ankles. It may lead to shin splints, calluses, or bunions on the outer side of your foot, and pain in your heels and balls of your feet. Excess over pronation, means that as you walk, your foot rolls toward the inside and your arch tends to flatten out. Your shoe will show uneven wear on the inside part of the sole.

CUSHIONING

Hoka One One are very cushioned.

From barefoot running to bouncy marshmallow shoes, there is a plethora of cushioning options available to choose from and what is best may just come down to personal taste…

However, I beg to differ. I feel cushioning or a lack of cushioning should be applied based on what type of running one is doing and what conditions.

Examples:

Fell running – Fell running often takes place in soft, boggy and wet ground. A feel for the ground is essential so that you can respond with ever-changing terrain. A shoe with too much cushioning will remove that feel, place you higher off the ground and may well increase the risk of injury. A sprained ankle being one of the most obvious.

Road running – Road is hard, it can jar the body, muscles and tendons and therefore a shoe with a little more cushioning may be preferable. For some, they require sofa like comfort. Others prefer some cushioning but not at the expense for the feel for the ground.

When purchasing shoes, look at the cushioning typically shown as, for example – Midsole Stack 8mm/ 14mm. This is 8mm cushioning at the front and 14mm at the rear. The higher the numbers, the greater the cushioning.

Some shoes include a rock plate which offers protection from sharp objects, useful when trail running.

DROP

Image ©rei.com

Shoe drop is essentially the difference between the height/ thickness of the midsole under the heel compared to the same measure under the ball of the foot. Years ago, drop was not a consideration. On a personal note, thinking back say 8-years, I never considered shoe drop. Now, it’s all important.

Importantly, do not be confused by cushioning here. You may well look at say a Hoka One One and think it has a high drop. On the contrary, they typically have a low drop of 4mm. ***Drop refers only to the difference in thickness between the front and back of the shoe and is not a narrative on the magnitude of the thickness.

From experience, I do not consider that any runner has an ideal drop. I see drop as something that can played around with based on the needs and requirements of the shoe and the conditions it will be used. But I must clarify that I have been testing shoes for 8+ years and switching drop on a daily basis has been no problem, on the contrary, I actually consider it to be beneficial.

As a way to explain, I use 0 drop shoes all the way through to typically 8mm. I do have one pair of shoes at 10mm, but they are an exception.

Zero drop or barefoot advocates will argue and argue that zero is the only way to go and if you are adapted and have no injury issues, that is awesome. However, most people have not experienced zero drop and suddenly to do all runs in zero will almost certainly result in some injury. Zero takes adaptation.

Pure Sports Medicine are clear, “What we do know is that human tissues can be sensitive to sudden changes in the way they are loaded, and that it is biologically coherent (and in keeping with the laws of physics) that differing shoe drops may load certain tissues differently. As such, if you are currently uninjured there is no justification for changing the drop of your shoe, but should you want to then be mindful of allowing the body time to adapt to such changes (although many runners may be able to interchange between shoes of different drops we would usually advise being over cautious if this is not something you have done before).

So, if you typically run in 8mm drop shoes without injury, it makes sense you purchase shoes with 8mm drop. Equally, if 4mm is your thing, purchase 4mm.

Specificity of drop.

I personally (and others like me) see drop in conjunction with cushioning, or, a lack of cushioning as a tool to get the most from my body and my runs. For example, if running a muddy fell run, I will use a lower drop, say 3 or 4mm with less cushioning. By contrast, if I was doing a long trail run, I would prefer 8mm drop and more cushioning. 

A certain drop may be beneficial in reducing sensitivity and complementing your overall management strategy – so consider this. ****Changing the drop of your shoes (or using multiple shoes which have varying drops in a rotation system) is not to be discouraged or feared, but be sure your body’s tissues can tolerate this, and are given the necessary time to adapt and attain the capacity if needed.

GRIP

The outsole of a shoe is key as this is the point of contact with the ground on which you are running. Again, specificity is key. There is no one outsole that will do all jobs well and therefore the need for multiple shoes with specific tasks is an essential armory to a runner’s shoe cupboard.

Road shoes – Typically need little grip, just a good rubber.

Road outsole

Trail shoes – Typically require a good outsole that is durable and has grip, say 4mm studs.

Trail outsole

Fell shoes – Typically will be aggressive and on first looks may look like football boots with 6 or 8mm studs.

Mud/ fell outsole

Mountain shoes – Typically will be a mixture of trail and fell shoes and the outsole will be sticky to provide good grip in wet and dry conditions.

Mountain outsole

In an ideal world, if you ran all of the above scenarios, you’d have a pair of shoes for each scenario. However, shoes are expensive and many runner’s need to make some compromises. Brands realised this and for example, some offer road to trail shoes that provide a best of both worlds’ scenario. The inov-8 Parkclaw is a great example. “the perfect shoe for runners wanting to run on paths and trails, or those looking to make a transition from road running to trail running.” – inov-8

If you need grip for mud, you need to be specific, there is no compromise.

WIDTH

Like drop, shoe width can create many an argument. Simply put, if you have a slimmer/ slender foot, you can probably wear any width shoe providing you have the correct size and they hold you securely.

Image ©wive.com

But if you are a Hobbit, shoe choice may well be compromised as you will need to look for a wider fitting shoe.

Shoe width is also a consideration based on other factors: 1. What terrain are your running on? 2. How long will you be running?

On a personal note, if I am running on technical and challenging terrain, I want a shoe that fits and holds my foot. I am not worried about toe splay – precision is a priority. By contrast, if I was running on groomed trail for multiple hours, a shoe with more width may will be preferable to allow my toes to splay and relax.

Like drop and cushioning, I mix the width of my shoes based on my needs.

Some companies, inov-8 for example provide a width guide to steer runner’s to shoes that will specifically answer their personal needs. This a great system that takes some guess work away. The system is simply rated 1-5; 1 being a tight/ precision fit, 5 being wide and spacious.

Brands such as Altra only offer one foot shape and believe that a wide toe box is essential, in conjunction with 0 drop. It is a toe shape foot box that allows toes to relax and splay. The big toe has space and in principal, this foot box helps reduce overpronation and increases stability. On a personal note, Altra has a place for long road, ultra or trail runs, but when the terrain gets challenging, they feel way to sloppy for me – but this is a personal thought. Altra fans or wide toe box fans will disagree.

WEIGHT AND FABRICS

Shoe weight can be an important consideration. Certainly, when racing, a runner may well prefer a lighter shoe so that they feel faster. However, if running an ultra, added cushioning and a little more weight will be worthwhile for comfort.

Shoe fabrics, seamless uppers, sock-like fits, Gore-Tex and other considerations may influence a shoe choice. Make a decision based on specificity.

A lighter shoe will typically not last as long – this may be an important consideration too.

The correct shoe is one that fits correctly and is specific for the job.

CONCLUSIONS AND SUMMARY

Be specific.

Is choosing a run shoe really THIS complicated?

I suppose, yes! But once you understand the basics purchasing new shoes should not be too complicated. Below is a summary and process to follow:

  1. Measure your foot.
  2. Use a conversion chart to get your shoe size.
  3. Understand gait and what you need. If using orthotics, you need neural shoes.
  4. Ask yourself what terrain the shoes will be used on – This refers to what outsole.
  5. Ask yourself how long typically you will run in these shoes – This refers to cushioning.
  6. Do you need the shoes to be more precision fit or wider?
  7. Look at brands/ options and based on the above make a shortlist.
  8. Use socks.
  9. Try the shoes on using the size provided from points 1 and 2 but then size up or down based on the thumb nail space rule.
  10. Check the heel for slipping.
  11. Check the instep and confirm a good foot hold.
  12. If possible, try the shoes running.
  13. Reduce the choices down to 3, then 2 shoes and then make an informed and educated decision.
  14. Do not be influenced by the colour or the price.

Lacing can make a huge difference to how a shoe holds the foot. Lock lacing for example is very popular for off-road and challenging terrain as the shoe holds the foot more securely.

FINALLY

Compromise is a killer when it comes to run shoes. The more specific you can be, the better the shoe will be. But, if you have correct fitting shoes with appropriate cushioning, correct width and a good outsole, you will be able to head out the door and enjoy the process.

And yes, there are exceptions to the rule and somebody will use shoes that are too big and get away with it. Just as someone will run in sandals and get away with it. These are exceptions to the rule and not the norm.

Reference – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537292/

** Reference – https://www.healthline.com/health/bone-health/whats-the-difference-between-supination-and-pronation#the-foot

*** Reference – https://puresportsmed.com/blog/posts/what-is-shoe-drop-and-why-is-it-important#:~:text=The%20%E2%80%8B’drop’%20of%20a,the%20ball%20of%20the%20foot.

**** Reference – https://puresportsmed.com/blog/posts/what-is-shoe-drop-and-why-is-it-important#:~:text=The%20%E2%80%8B’drop’%20of%20a,the%20ball%20of%20the%20foot.

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