Monday 11 April 2016

Trail show review: Inov-8 Terraclaw 250, La Sportiva Helios 2.0 and Salomon S-lab Sense 5 Ultra

Firstly, I should point out that I didn’t get these for free and nobody asked me to review them, so I don’t feel under any obligation to say nice things.  So, views are my own.    After much trial and error, these three will be my off road shoes for 2016.   The choice will depend on terrain and required pace.    And sometimes which ones are the cleanest or match my outfit.

Secondly, I prefer lightweight shoes.  Thankfully (touch wood) I’m not prone to injury.   But don’t think I’m lucky, because my unscheduled “rest” days are usually caused my unscheduled stunts. Plus, I’m a forefoot striker and have a high cadence, so cushioning and support seems unnecessary and cumbersome to me.

Thirdly, I like space.   I’m a UK size 4 in my dancing shoes, but I like extra room in my running shoes for comfort.  Plus, my feet tend to swell, blister and my toenails have been known to pop off during races.  Having a little bit extra saves my toenails getting bruised, especially on descents. 

Fit: I’ve got size UK5.  Usually I go for 5.5 in trail shoes, but I’d could even go for 4.5 these. There’s loads of room.
Price: £120
Pros: Wide toe box.  Great for soft ground.
Cons: Struggling to find any yet.
Verdict: Great all-rounder.  Reasonably priced and readily available.
For the technical stuff, click here

If I were to only buy/own one pair of trail shoes, these would be the ones.  Although if I only owned one pair of trail shoes, it probably meant that my house had burned down. 

I’ve flitted in and out of Inov-8 shoes since I bought my first Roclites back in 2008.  They are are reliable and trustworthy brand and probably worn by half the field in any UK trail or hill race.  Like most running brands, their products have come on leaps and bounds over the past few years. 

The Terraclaws provide fantastic traction in most conditions, but come into their own when it’s wet and muddy.  After wearing Salomon S-lab Sense – which are useless on soft ground - for six months prior to getting the Terraclaws, it took me a few runs to have confidence in the grip, but once I ‘let go’ I could feel the difference.    

The toe cap is also double layered to offer better protection, lugs are positioned wide enough so they don’t clog and the tongue is stitched at an angle so it doesn’t slide. 

I’ve worn these on the road on the run up my local hills and haven’t noticed I’m wearing trail shoes, so that’s a good sign.  

They’re perfect for the UK hills in the winter and stomping about on my favourite Kilpartick, Pentland and Lake District hills.  And I would wear them in an ultra-distance race if I were expecting sloppy conditions.    

Marco wore them on the Lakeland 100 (it's been hot and dry that past few years) and swears by them, but they wouldn’t be my first choice for hard packed or dry trail. Mind you, in the latter stages when my feet are feeling a bit fat, I might just swap into them.  I’ll be packing them just in case. 

Fit: Sizes come up small.
Price: $125
Pros:  Very comfortable.  Lacing system is great. 
Cons: Not available in the UK. Sizing, especially as you’re likely to order online.  The soft heel feels great once the shoes are on.  It’s a bit tricky to
get them on because the heel keeps collapsing.
Verdict: Lightweight, flexible, responsive
For technical stuff, click here

I’ve had a pair of the original Helios for a while, but they’re a little too neat for me.  See aforementioned comment about space.  They’re OK for about 5/6 miles, but then my toes start to hurt.  I have, however, worn them on few runs in the Kilpatrick Hills and they are kick-ass on wet grass.

Some of my Centurion Running team mates are big fans of the Helios, so when I heard there was an updated version out, I was keen to try them out.  Nothing to do with pretty colour, honest.  OK, little bit about the pretty colour.  Unfortunately, they are not available in the UK (yet?), so I had to order them from Germany.

I’m glad I did as the Helios 2.0 are considerably better.  Light, soft and super flexible…they are like slippers.  They’re great on grass and mud, but cushioned and springy on tarmac.  I would even wear them as road shoes.  

It’s worth noting that Centurion RD James Elson wore a pair of Helios SR when he ran a GB team qualifying distance of 242km at the Athens 24 hour.  Although they wouldn’t be my first choice shoe for a road ultra … wearing the new Helios 2.0 wouldn’t be the wackiest idea.

One concern I have is that I can feel the rocks and stones when I wear them.  I wouldn’t change that though, as the benefit of wearing them on trails and soft ground outweighs any negatives. I just probably wouldn’t wear them on rocky course like the Lakeland 100.  Could get away with it on a Lakeland 50, but that’s a personal choice. Anything over 50 miles and the rocks would play havoc with my feet.   They’d be perfect on trails like the Thames Path, South Downs and Ridgeway though. 

Again, the sizing is an issue.  Even though I went a half size up on the ones I have, I could have done with another half size.  That’s two sizes up on my dress shoes.  It was too much of a pain in ass to send them back to Germany, so they’ll do.   That does, however, mean I probably won’t do any ultra races in them.

Fit: Slim.  Standard.  I have 5.5 and there’s plenty of room.  Possibly too much space for
training, but ideal for ultra-race fat feet.
Price: £145
Pros: Fighting talk
Cons: The price tag is eye watering.  Same colour, again.
Verdict: Unless it’s really muddy, these will remain my racing shoes. 

For technical stuff, click here

Ah the ruby slippers.  The Rolls Royce of trail running shoes.  I’ve been in love with the shoes since I bought my first Sense Ultra 4 last summer. 

At first (online) glance, I failed to see any difference in the 4 and 5.  To be honest, the only reason I bought the updated version was because my 4s have served their time after maxing out at 600 miles.  They were sent to Salomon heaven after a heavy duty weekend on the South Downs Way.

They are my race face shoes.  At the risk of sounding like a complete t*t, they make me feel nimble and fast.  I appreciate that’s on my head, but there are definitely mental benefits in the magic shoes. 

There’s enough protection and cushioning for me, and I never have feet issues when I wear them.  That’s rare for me, as my feet will always be my weakest link.  With the Sensifit, Endofit and Quicklace system, my feet feel 100% secure with zero movement - uphill and downhill.

Changes are quite minimal on the S-Lab Sense 5, just some fine tuning.  The upper material is lighter and there’s slight modification to the tread design.  Both contributing factors to making it the lightest Sense shoe to date.  The lightweight upper mesh keeps out debris and the contragrip outsole seems to provide more grip on rocks.

I sometimes give the shoe a hard time when I end up on my backside on slippy terrain, which is a bit ridiculous as they’re just not made for soft ground.  They perform best on dry trails.  It’s like running in spikes on the road and complaining about the discomfort.

Quick summary...

Inov8 Terraclaw 250
La Sportiva Helios 2.0
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 5
Wide toe box
Slim. Standard
16mm and 8mm
19mm and 15mm
18mm and 14mm
Benefits (or just marketing spiel) 
Dual-C sticky rubber outsole

Multi-directional lug pattern, which allows for quite debris release.

Double layered toe cap
Welded overlay that wraps forefoot

Welded sewn tongue, to restrict sliding
HyDrain Mesh for maximum breathability and fast drainage

Fast lacing system for easy on and off

Integral gusseted tongue and new heel cup design for comfort.

MorphoDynamic mouded sole and cushioned platform
Lightweight materials and welded construction make this the lightest Sense shoe yet.  

Quick drying breathable mesh

Quicklace and pocket

Endofit and Sensifit for precise foothold in varying terrain.

Molded EVA and Contagrip