Check out these bad boys! I introduce to you the flagship of Inov-8s off-trail range - the Mud Claw 265. Last weekend I put them through the ultimate muddy test at the JCB Mud Run, so that I could see if the hype that surrounds Inov-8’s most legendary product is... well, just hype.
In the last few months I’ve tried out a few Inov-8s and, although there are several things in common between them, they are all very different. The similarities come down to Inov-8’s belief in “natural running”. Their entire range of shoes is built around their opinion that running should be taken back to its natural form and that we should rely on the strength in our legs and feet rather than the padding in the heals of our shoes.
Minimalist and barefoot running is all the rage at the moment and, after rejecting it for a while, I am a convert to the theory, if not entirely to the technique. There are plenty of videos and articles out there if you need convincing. Here's one I found in keeping with the Inov-8 theme. It drifts off into a bit of German and a sales spiel, but you'll get the idea...
So, in essence, what they’re saying is that striking with the ball of your foot makes a lot of sense. In our feet and ankles we have in-built suspension that can only work its magic by striking the ground towards the front of the foot. No matter how much padding we have in our shoes, all the while we strike with the heel of our feet, we are jarring our legs and eventually that will have its consequences.
So, as I say, I’m a full convert to the theory but in practice it’s easier said than done. It’s a long road to fully adjusting to the forefoot strike. You need to get some decent technique advice (again, there are some great bits of advice on t’interweb) and you need to take things slowly. Literally starting with five minute stints and building up from there.
At times I’ve felt like I’ve rushed things. I’ve gone into races that are too long for me to cope with a forefoot strike throughout and have resulted in plodding towards the end. And I don’t recommend plodding in a minimalist shoe! However, since then I have taken myself back to basics, have built myself up and last weekend I set myself the target of running two very muddy 10km runs in the aptly named Inov-8 “Mud Claws”.
Before even trying the Mud Claws on, it was clear that these bad boys would tick a lot of boxes. On the underside they had a grip that isn’t far off a pair of football boots. They had a substantial upper that looked capable of standing the test of time, along with some extra tough protection around the toes. Even with their apparent ruggedness, they still had the light feel of the other Inov-8s I’ve tried. These guys definitely know how to keep the weight down!
Comfort wise they fit a treat. I take a standard size 12 and it always winds me up when shoes aren’t true to size. I’ve bought a fair amount of trail shoes that have fitted a good size smaller than they’re labeled... and I’ve got some missing toe nails to show for it! So these were marked as a 12 and fit like a 12, with a nice amount of wiggle room in the well protected toe box.
So, the JCB Mud Run really was the perfect testing ground, with a sample of most types of terrain that you could encounter: tarmac, rivers, gentle hills, steep banks, narrow trails, dry earth, shallow slippery mud, thick sticky mud, grassy fields. The only thing it really missed was rocky ground.
With each type of terrain I kept expecting a weakness to be highlighted in these shoes, but alas no, these really did steam on through everything with a confident secure feel. It was especially apparent in the shallow slippery mud and the steep banks. I passed by a few people who were really struggling to get any purchase with their feet. Admittedly a few of them were in road running shoes (never a good idea) but I did spot a few trail shoes amongst them as well. The claws dug deep and securely and allowed me to run normally without having to concentrate on balance. I’ve run races on slippery terrain before and it’s surprising how tiring it can get when your feet are fighting to secure every footstep. Getting a decent grip under your feet like this really does save a lot of energy.
What was also very apparent was that the mud shed away from the well-spaced claws naturally. It can be very tiring when you’re carrying a tonne of earth around on the sole of your shoe so, again, these are going to save you a lot of energy.
From the first few seconds of the race I was into a river and my feet were soaked and, to be honest, it didn’t really make much difference. With the minimal construction of the shoes there’s very little in there that can soak up water. So within seconds they were fully drained and feeling as light as ever. The other major test was the thick knee-high mud, which they passed again with flying colours. They stayed securely on my feet without filling up with gunk!
I feel like I have to come up with a downside for these shoes to make this a well-rounded review, but to be honest I’m really struggling! Okay, they’re not great on tarmac... they just get by. That’s all I’ve got!
So, in summary, these Mud Claws have now taken pride of place in my shoe collection and I intend to use them for training as well as races. I feel like they’re well built enough to really put the miles in without falling apart and really are very capable in all types of terrain. They really come into their own in slippery mud and hills though, where their insane grip and stability really shines through.