A quick update to let you know that I’ll be reviewing these shoes in the next week or two, having just had a pair arrive fresh from the US. As a way of providing some initial thoughts, I must admit that when I got them out of the box and looked at the insides, I was a bit taken aback by how thin the soles are i.e. there’s really no give at all in them. I’m not sure what I expected, but having worn Nike Free’s for so long, I guess I was thinking that there might be a little more give.
However, not to be deterred, I put them on at work and wore them for a good eight hours, not doing much but walking in them, but I must admit that they felt great. They are exactly as it says on the tin, a glove, in that they fit precisely like one – and something the Nike Frees have done well with too.
It was a little strange at first putting them on as the heel and mid foot is a very snug fit. Indeed, the area around the mid-foot is extremely narrow, but the toe box is very wide and just how I like it, which means plenty of room for the forefoot to move around.
One thing that did surprise me was the ‘toughness’ of the sole and shoe in general, something the Nike Free has nothing of. The toe box has a good protective film of rubber over the end, and while it won’t completely protect your toes, it will go some way towards helping. The sole of the shoe is what really surprised me though. Made by Vibrams, I was expecting a very flimsy piece of rubber and pretty much to feel everything that I trod on. Not so it seems. The sole is extremely tough I think, yet you can screw the shoe up into a little ball too. It appears as if a lot of thought and design has gone into this shoe. It’s tough, yet extremely flexible – often a very hard balance to get for us minimalist runners who want some added protection too.
The next day (so yesterday), I decided to take them out for a spin. Admittedly I live in the City, so finding trail is difficult, so I went on a small 7km road run instead just to get the feel of them. With zero drop from heel to toe, you automatically start up on your forefoot and mid-foot when striking. For me, this is something I’ve been doing the last two years, so nothing new, but the lack of padding over the Free’s is very noticeable, but surprising not uncomfortable. This was however only over 7kms. A 100km or 100 mile race is going to be a different kettle of fish entirely.
I did manage to find a little bit of rougher track around where I live, and I deliberately ran over some rockier parts and tree roots, just to see how the going was. Again, the soles held pretty firm on those and while you do feel the shrubbery beneath you, it’s not as bad as I thought. There’s a noticeable difference between these and the Inov8 Talon 190’s I’ve worn over the last 3 months (a separate review of those will be coming). The plan is to take these for a test drive over the weekend in New Zealand, where I’ll be training for a few days. Plenty of hilly and rocky places for me to take these shoes, and I’m excited by the prospect of how they will go. It will be a very good test of how they perform
I’ve been looking for a new trail shoe for a while now, and the Talons just don’t quite do it for me. These I think, have the potential to be good and if all goes well, they could be the shoe of choice for the Great North Walk later this year. They held up well on the flatter road, so will be good for those sections of GNW, and I also suspect for the softer trail too. GNW is not overly rocky compared to some races, so these shoes do have great potential. But we’ll have to see how they fare first. If not, the Free’s could be coming out of ‘trail retirement’ yet again.