While I have only been running trails for the past few years I can tell you that I have tried out dozens of shoes in search of the glass slipper that fits me just right. I’ve tried shoes with extra support thinking it would be safer on trails, I’ve ran in minimalist shoes and then I discovered what I perceive to be the ultimate in trail running shoes the Talon X-212 by Inov-8. It was kind of a freak accident that I discovered this shoe since I ordered it by mistake thinking I was getting the Talon 190’s but when it arrived I opened up a box of Talon X-212’s. To be honest this didn’t make me very happy because I had never worn this shoe before and I had a race the next day. I had worn my previous pairs of Talon 190’s down to the nubs so they were not going to be the optimal choice for my race but then again neither is using a shoe you have never ran in before. I surveyed the shoe a little and started to play with it to see what it was like and to my surprise it appeared to be the miracle I had been looking for. This shoe is extremely bendable, has these amazing rubber lugs, and was only 212 grams (7.5 oz). Obviously all that is great if you’re just breaking in a pair of shoes during some training runs but what about if you’re running a 50K the next morning?
I pulled the 8 pounds of stuffing out of the shoes and slipped on the most comfortable trail shoe I have ever worn. I loved the feel of the soft mesh lining and while there really is not much sole to discuss on this shoe I could feel just how sticky the rubber lugs were as they touched my tile floor. The shoe has a tendency to run a little narrow but for me that is great and I like a shoe that is snug around the sides of my feet. I laced up the shoe nice and tight and since I did order a size 13 they were a perfect fit. I normally wear a 12-12.5 depending on the shoe so I do suggest sizing up a ½ size if you get these. The laces are extremely durable and are made of a thick rope like material that does not rub on the top of your foot even when they are tied down tight to prevent movement. I ran back and forth in the house a few times and while I wasn’t sure about a new shoe I had made my choice at this point that these were the only shoes that were going on the plane with me to Snowbird, Utah for the Speedgoat 50K.
Obviously no one likes a different shoe for racing than they have trained in and to make matters worse this is not your ordinary race. While it is only a 50K it does combine 11,800 Feet of elevation gain, 11,400 feet of descent, extremely technical rocky sections, snow, mud, and flowing water coming down the ski slope trails that you climb during the race. If there was ever a place to get a good feel of a shoe it was going to be here. Again I didn’t get this shoe to review it; I accidentally ordered the wrong product so I would be living with my decision no matter how they felt during the race. Right out of the gate this race starts with a huge climb up the Snowbird Ski Slopes through mud, rocks, and snow so I they be tested early. The sticky rubber lugs were amazing as I climbed up the wet rocks and they just seemed to latch onto every boulder and allow me to spring off of them. I could feel the rocks below my feet because of the minimalist nature of the shoes but even without a rock plate I never had pains on the bottoms of my feet from striking a rock wrong. I had never ran in snow before so I was a little skittish as I made my way to the top of the hill and headed over towards Little Cloud basin. There was at least 40 inches of snow left on the ground and we would need to navigate through this terrain while hanging onto a rope. The rope was there more to keep you from falling but I wasn’t slipping in my shoes.
Coming out of the snow and water you sometimes start to feel the rubbing of a shoe on a soft spot on your foot but not these. The water drained almost instantly out of the mesh lining which ensured that my feet would stay cool and dry. I was ecstatic since I was wearing compression socks that don’t always do the best job preventing moisture like a drymax sock and I was worried with the extra water weight I would develop some blisters. There was no extra water weight because the shoe never really seems to get wet. The next part of this course is wet, technical rocks that could wreak havoc on some but if you can bounce off the rocks and stay on your fore foot there is absolutely nothing to worry about. This shoe doesn’t move around at all and you can feel it contour to your foot when you’re ascending and descending hills. The bend ability of the shoe also comes into play in the technical sections because it takes away the stiffness of the rocks and allows you to glide over them.
This has now been my shoe of choice for every race I have ran since then and just as baseball players are superstitious so is this ultra runner. I make sure that I have a brand new pair of shoes ready for race day and while some people like to break in their shoes beforehand I never do. At this year’s Javelina Jundred I had the local running store rep drop me off two pairs the night before the race and I would go on to run my faster 100 mile race ever without changing shoes or socks once in 18:28:12 good enough for a 9th place finish. There are so many great options for trail shoes out on the market but I have not found anything that compares to the Talon X-212. I am sure I will be wooed by the new Inov-8 shoes coming out this summer but I am not sure I can ever switch away from my favorites. A typical pair of these lasts me 350-400 miles and I like to rotate every run between three different pairs of them. I know that sounds ridiculous to have three pairs of the same shoes but when you’re an everyday runner in the rocky terrain of Arizona it is nice to always feel like you’re wearing new shoes. In the last year I have purchased 12 pairs of these shoes and ran over 4000 miles in them and while my closet looks like the Inov-8 Goodwill it is tough to throw out a shoe I know I could get another 50 or so miles out of. I would recommend this shoe to anyone who likes a minimalist feel but enjoys having a protective layer between your feet and the rocks below them. This is definitely a performance shoe that helps runners develop a fore foot strike and maintains it’s integrity even on the most rugged courses such as Speedgoat and Zane Grey.
Weight: 212g (7.5oz)
Differential: 6mm heel to toe drop
Sizing: Unisex, sizes 5.5-13M
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