I just finished a 21-mile run, and I figured what better time to talk about the shoes I wore than now. My new friends over at Inov8 were so very kind to provide me with a pair of their F-Lite 195 racing flats to try out after hearing about my heel injury. I was extremely excited to get a chance to check out their shoes as I have heard a lot of great things as well as rumors of a barefoot friendly line in the future. I’m excited about that, but at the moment I’m really excited about these 195s.
Mine are the bright red version, and I like the look except for one small thing. This past weekend I was at a hotel, and the lighting in there made them look pretty pink, but they say real men wear pink so there you have it. The styling of the shoe is sleek and simple, which really appeals to me. Everything in the design has a technical aspect to it that creates some level of performance enhancement for the shoe. This is also a great thing in my book as I don’t see a reason for a bunch of extra material on my shoes for the sake of design. I pulled them out of the box, and my initial thought was that these shoes were narrow. They are not the widest shoe out there, but they have a long toe box that makes them look narrower than they really are. Overall the design gets two big thumbs up in my book as I really like the look, and everyone I’ve shown them to has also thought they are a great looking shoe.
In terms of science in design, this shoe is not lacking in any area. The upper is a nice mesh that allows the foot to spread out and have some room. It is snug but not tight. The lacing is supported by TPU supports that streak up the sides of the shoes. This is one of the functional design aspects I mentioned before. The TPU supports help snug the shoe to the foot without creating pressure over the top of the foot. There is a nice coating over the edge of the toe box to protect the toes as well as keep them from pushing up through the mesh upper. The upper is very breathable as well as comfortable. I would not recommend this as a sockless shoe, though, as the tongue has a rough seam where it connects to the toe box. On shorter runs you can go sockless, but on the longer runs I think you’d get some good rubbing. Lastly the heel cup on this shoe is adjustable. It’s designed to fit most feet as-is, but with a little steam and some wearing around you can mold the heel cup to fit your heel exactly for better fit and comfort. The upper is really well thought out and constructed, and I gotta say I really like it.
The sole is where this shoe really gets my attention. For starters it’s thin, measuring in at 7mm-Forefoot and 10mm Heel for a 3mm drop from heel to toe. Yes the ideal scenario is to have a zero drop, but the drop in this shoe is really not noticeable at all. The sole is comprised of foam and rubber and is really spongy to the touch but feels solid when you step. The rubber is a special sticky rubber compound that is designed to add grip in wet conditions but comes with a durability trade off. I can attest to this as I can already see some wear on the spots where my foot strikes the ground. It’s not bad, but it’s there. There are two things to this sole that make it very technical, and I love them both. First is what Inov8 calls the meta-flex groove. This is a strategically placed flexion groove that is designed to allow the foot to flex in a natural way at the metatarsals. It works, and I like it. It allows my foot to flex and bend as it does naturally, which lets me keep my form natural and on the forefoot. The other piece of tech in the sole is the fascia band which emulates the plantar fascia in the foot. It’s not something you’re going to feel and say “wow, it feels like my plantar fascia down there,” but it does allow the shoe to mimic the movement of the foot. For me the best aspect of this band is the lateral flex it allows the shoe to have, which is not typical of conventional shoes. It is a very well thought out design that I think makes this shoe more than it could have been as well as makes it a shoe that is better than other shoes like it by far.
When it comes to fit I love this shoe. I was concerned about the width of the shoe and even Inov8 warned me that people sometimes complain about the width of the toe box. My concerns were unfounded as I find this shoe to fit really well through the ball of my foot. It is snug but not tight, and that is a big deal. If I had to take a guess I would say that people have sized the shoe incorrectly in length which I can see creating a width issue. I first thought the shoe was too long as I have the classic thumb’s width of space between my toe and the end of the toe box. I like my shoes to fit the length of my foot snugly so I was worried these shoes were too long. It was the opposite as I can tell the extra space is the reason the shoe is wide enough for my foot. I have a wide foot that I can barely squeeze into most shoes so for these to fit is a big deal that makes me happy. By getting the shoe with the extra toe space I have put the ball of my foot in the correct position to take advantage of the shoe’s meta-flex groove as well as the shape of the shoe. My only complaint is that my wide foot has my fourth toes on both feet touching the end of the shoe and that has created a little irritation at the tips of those toes. This is something I was used to when I wore conventional shoes so it’s not a surprise here. What is a surprise is that it’s not really bad at all. In fact after today’s 21-miler all I have is some soreness. No black toes, bloody toes, or blisters to speak of, and that is great! I found no need to steam the heel cup of the shoe as it seems to fit me just right out of the box, and I find the heel cup to be good. It’s supportive but not overly so. I hear a lot of runners say they want shoes to really hug the heel, and I’ve never understood that. I want my heel to be allowed to flex and move so I have a good range of motion through my ankle, and the 195s do that really well. It’s a great balance of support, fit, and comfort.
Running is where these shoes really shine. I get a good amount of ground feedback in them. Not barefoot feel of course, but definitely a lot of sensory feedback for me to use. My foot knows when it’s landed on the ground, which is the best part. I mentioned before that the sole felt squishy to the touch, and it still does, but on the foot it’s not squishy at all. In fact it’s fairly solid and kind of stiff so I know when I’ve made contact with the ground which allows me to keep a light foot fall and smooth stride. They flex with my foot and feel really light on my feet. I’m not sure I have a “shoe” in my collection that feels as light and smooth as this one does. I have great traction on every terrain I have tried them on, and they drain really well for when you hit a puddle or soft spot in grass. All in all the performance of this shoe is really top notch.
So what do I think? Well if you haven’t already figured that out: I really like them. My first run in them was an 8-miler that consisted of a 5-mile warm up run capped by a 5k race. My feet felt great in these shoes that day right out of the box. My toes have enough room to breathe, not really spread out, but enough to be comfortable and not feel squeezed in, which helps add to the great feel and fit. They also did not disappoint in today’s 21-miler as they stayed comfortable the entire time. They allow me to run the way I want to, and that says a lot. If I want to heel strike I can, and the heel is thin enough to keep me from hammering down with each stride, but what they really do well is not inhibit my forefoot strike. I can run with a smooth natural form and not feel like I have to think about it like I do in other conventional shoes. I feel nimble and light like I do when I’m not wearing shoes, and that alone makes them worth the price tag. Looking around at the recommended retailers, as well as in Google’s shopping results; the average price is between $100-115. This is a general industry standard price range, and I think these shoes are worth every penny.
For more information or to order visit their site at www.inov-8.com and enjoy!
Update: This was written a few weeks ago and since then I have logged more miles and took a shot the Goofy Challenge at Disney World. Everything I stated before still holds true about these shoes. The sole has not shown any more signs of wear than before and that was both surprising and comforting. The toe box still feels good but is snug. It takes a few minutes to get used to it when I haven’t worn them in a while but I have that problem with just about any shoe so this may or may not be an issue for you. Overall I am still highly impressed with these shoes as they are now showing to be durable and still maintain comfort.