I recently opened a new pair of X-Talons, one Inov-8's newest shoe designs, last week in advance of a short cross country race. Since I'm an ultra distance runner, it was going to be a new experience all around for me - short race, new shoes etc. From beginning to end it was a great experience. The shoes have sweet great look to them, slightly different than the typical Inov design, that sends a subtle message that these are shoes to be reckoned with. Taking them out of the box was like lifting the tissue out of the box - I thought to myself, man these are light shoes. They just felt fast and when I ultimately put them on I ran fast.
I decided I would give them a first test on a loop in our local fells first. It is a fairly rocky, up and down loop which I ultimately ended up running half in the dark due to some poor planning and bad traffic getting to the trail head. (It was the day before Thanksgiving so arriving anywhere on time was a gamble). Putting them on was like slipping on a comfortable sock. The X-Talons fit snug and the upper wraps around the top of the foot comfortably so you notice it at first and then it simply becomes part of your foot - seamless.
The X-Talons performed incredibly well from a technical perspective. Again, the fit was snug so my foot did not slide inside the shoe and I had a good feel for the trail. They ride low with a very minimal sole that almost gives the feel of running bare foot. The laces are a little thinner and easier to cinch down, like locking in an extra buckle in a seat for a fast ride. As I ran through the rocks and over roots, my feet were able to find their way to the right spots, whether between or on obstacles, without any sense that I had to take into account the profile of the shoe - no clips, kicks or awkward half steps. Probably the one area where the X-Talons depart from the human foot characteristics (but in a good way) is the sticky rubber sole. These shoes stick to almost anything - rocks, roots, going up, down and even through leaves. I would venture to guess that the name X-Talons comes from the fact that running in these shoe is like having talons on the bottom of your feet - they grip the trail and whatever comes in their way. I'm a guy who falls a lot - ask anyone - and I made it through a rocky 8 mile up and down loop half in the dark without a single fall. Not one. It was a great experience to have that much confidence in my stride and arrive at home in once piece.
So, anyway, I ran a cross country race the day after Thanksgiving and they performed extremely well again - even in different conditions (wet, grassy with mud). They ran fast, light and kept me upright for a quick finish - better than any road flat. The X-talons are light enough to keep your feet floating but not so much so that every foot strike is a punch to the bottom of the foot. They provide a light landing with each step. You know you have a good shoe when you don't even notice you have them on - for me, those are the X-talons.
I gravitated to Inov-8 because of their design philosophy which really has a light, minimalist tone. For me, the X-Talons were the epitome of this philosophy - a shoe that helps bring out the best of my running. The shoes complemented my natural gait without changing it or overcompensating for weaknesses (like many road shoes and some trail shoes). The X-Talons are an example of Inov-8 nailing its philosophy of designing shoes around the natural function of the foot. These shoes do not need an instruction manual and are truly a one kind fits all type of shoe.
The question now is how far they can go. I don't see why I couldn't run a marathon or at least 50k in the shoes, maybe longer - who knows. But as the days are now short in the Northeast and the cold is here to stay, it may be a few more months before I'll have the opportunity see dirt and temps that I'm willing to brave for more than a few hours. Until then, I'm itching to put the X-talons on for another run as soon - and as fast - as possible.
For those of you thinking about trying the X-talons, go for it - they are a no lose choice and you'll experience something.