For a month or so now, I've had a shiny new pair of inov-8 X-Talon 212s sat in their box waiting to be put through their paces. I've been taking it easy following an injury and wanted to wait until a worthy occasion before properly giving these little beauties a test. That occasion was none other than The Nuts Challenge, one of the UK's toughest and muddiest obstacle races. I've run the course previously wearing Mudclaws, so I was keen to find out how the X-Talon 212s compared in terms of grip on such a notoriously slippery course. As you can see in the before and after shot above, they certainly got a seeing to!
Before I go any further, here's a little something for the fact fans:
- inov-8 make minimal shoes with little or no "drop" (differential between the height of the heal and toe). This encourages a more natural running style with a forefoot strike (which has amazing benefits but is something you should work towards carefully).
- All inov-8 shoes have a number. That number corresponds to the weight in grams of that model in a size 8 (so these are 212 grams).
- The X-Talon 212 has a 6mm drop, so slightly more than the X-Talon 190's 3mm drop.
- X-Talon is pronounced "Cross Talon".
- X-Talons are unisex
It turns out that this year's Nuts Challenge course was a very mean place to be testing a pair of shoes. With weeks of relentless rain and flooding the clay-based earth was more slippery than anything I've ever encountered before. The x-Talons griped most of the terrain perfectly, as I've grown to expect from them, but in the most slippery parts of the course I honestly don't believe that there's a shoe in the world that could have given 100% traction. My comfortable running stride was interrupted as I fought for balance. Having walked around the course after completing my race, I realised that the X-Talons had performed very well compared to most, as I watched people struggle to even stay on their feet.
Mud doesn't get any more slippery than it was that day. I think I might have got on slightly better in a pair of Mudclaws but not by a massive amount, I think even they would have struggled. Consequentially, I felt like I hadn't really given these shoes a fair crack of the whip, so decided to extend my test to last weekend's RockSolidRace in Exeter. There I knew I would face all different types of terrain, with an abundance of paths, grass, hills and mud of every kind.
At RockSolid the 212s came into their own, they felt speedy and agile on the flat, secure over rough terrain and the "talons" griped well on even the steepest hills. Although I'm an enormous fan of Mudclaws, the X-Talons definitely feel like they are more built for racing, with their snug fit and aggressive shape - they seem to push you to pick up your pace. That being said, I don't think they are quite at the level of the even more minimal X-Talon 190s, which really do feel like racing machines.
The blue and orange strip of material that runs around the sides and toe of the X-Talon 212s is not featured on the 190s, which I think will prolong the life of the 212s by a fair amount, as it strengthens the problem areas which tend to rip first. With that in mind, as well as a slightly more forgiving profile, the 212s are more of an all-round choice, rather than being a specific race-day shoe.
The only downside from an obstacle racing point of view is that these don't grip particularly well on slick wet wood and metal. So I struggled on a couple of the challenges but I don't believe there's a shoe on the market that can grip both mud and slippery wood, and the downsides of a shoe like this pales into insignificance when weighed up with the way it handles natural terrain.
As far as I'm concerned, inov-8 are still at the forefront of obstacle racing footwear and all of the UK's best athletes seem to agree. Let's hope they keep up the good work!