Gear Review: Inov8 Skins Running Shoes (Part Two)

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote Part One, but having had a fairly playful run down at the beach in these things earlier, I thought it was probably time to cut to the chase and write Part Two of my Inov8 Skins review.

The long delay has been partly because I’ve been crazy busy at work, but mainly because I still don’t really know how to sum these things up.

(Yes, I know, that’s really unprofessional; but I’m trying to preserve my amateur status so I can pontificate at the Olympics next year)

I’ve now tried them on the road a few times, and while I know other people who love them for roadwork, I still feel that I need a little more in the way of foot protection for my road runs.

Having said that, they continue to make my runs through the dunes an absolute pleasure.

Most importantly of all, due to the complete lack of heel lift, they appear to be helping my tired old knees to cope with my steadily increasing mileage, and having a fairly beneficial effect on my calves and achilles’ too.

So with yet another unwise Marathon on the horizon (Edinburgh, if you’re interested. Sometimes London just doesn’t offer all of the hills and cobbles you want of a longer run), they’re now a key part of my training.

The Incredibly Wishy-Washy Conclusion

Generally, when I write gear reviews, it’s a simple matter to talk about the pros and cons of any item, and recommend them if I think that the good outweighs the bad.

However, what I’ve now realised about Inov8 Skins is that they’re the Marmite of running shoes. You really are going to love them or hate them.

But you really do have to try them out, especially if you do much running on trails or beaches; because frankly, after living with these things for a couple of months, I wouldn’t venture into the sand dunes in anything else.

And so, I’m going to give them a 4.5 Jelly Baby Rating, with half a Jelly Baby deducted simply because the fastenings are a bit on the fiddly side.


Gear Review: Inov8 Skins Running Shoes (Part One)

Crikey. I’ve been reviewing running shoes for a while now, but I’ve never found myself quite as stumped about how to begin a review before.

That’s because not only are the Inov8 Skins quite unlike anything I’ve every run in before, they’ve also made my run a completely new experience; and quite frankly, I’m still in a mild state of shock.

So as you’ll note from the title of this post, I’ve decided to give myself a bit of wiggle room by recording my initial observations here, then following up with a second review in a week or two when I’ve decided how great/moderate/bad these things are. Though if I’m honest, having just got back from my first run in these things, and had an absolutely splendid time, I can’t see me saying too much that’s bad.

Anyhoo. As I’m not really sure what to say about the Inov8 Skins, let’s start at the beginning.

First impressions out of the box

Hhhmm. Ok. So I opened the box and basically took a couple of foot-shaped condoms out of the box. These things are soft, translucent and totally unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

However, while I had planned this review to ring with lots of easy prophylactic jokes, there’s really not much to go on there. For starters, you’re never going to roll these babies on one-handed in the dark while your thoughts are elsewhere…

Nope, a certain amount of concentration and a bit of flexibility is required in order to fit the Inov8 Skins onto your feet, especially if you want to get all of your toes in the right order. Which is easier said than done, especially if you have toes that are quite as finger-like as mine.

However, once that’s done, and you’ve pressed the soft little stud things into the right holes, these things feel pretty soft and comfortable: albeit that they look extremely strange.

Things to consider before running

Worryingly, pre-run instructions are printed inside the box, where Inov8 urge you to introduce yourself slowly to running in their Skins.

So I wisely eschewed my plans for a 7 mile road run, and instead parked up at the beach for a slow 2-miler up and down a few sand dunes.

And what an absolute revelation they were! While I always enjoy a trail run, I can honestly say that I’ve never run up and down sand dunes quite as effortlessly in my life. My toes dug in just as nature intended, and it’s fair to say that there isn’t a running shoe on earth (in my humble opinion) that can make it so easy to deal with soft sand. That’s because while I’ve praised all sorts of trail shoes for their superb ‘forefoot flex’, running in the Inov8 Skins makes you realise just how inflexible all running shoes really are.

So much so that I totally forgot about starting off gently, and soon found myself four miles from the car and grinning broadly. Obviously, at my age, going back over four miles of steep dunes wasn’t really an option, so I chose a path called the Velvet Trail, which is a flat and very pleasing mixture of mud, moss and grass for my return leg.

Which is when I first discovered the small flaw in the Inov8 Skins as a trail shoe: they offer absolutely no more grip than your bare feet, causing me to slip-slide away for several hundred yards before I found a path that looked likely to take me to the shoreline.

As luck would have it, I got totally lost at this point, finding myself knee-deep in brambles and other thorny objects, causing mild panic and a few minutes of very tentative scrambling before I found myself on the hard-packed sand of the beach. Yet, unbelievably, not a single thorn penetrated the silicone soles of my footwear (though to be honest, I ripped my legs to shreds).

After that, I had a gentle few miles along hard-packed sand and shallow seas to get back to the car; which was fairly enjoyable, though strangely more of an effort than running up and down the sand dunes.

The slightly confused verdict

These are about as far from standard running shoes as it’s possible to get. So I’m not even going to try to compare them to anything else. Lets just say that while I’ve scoffed openly at the whole barefoot running phenomenon in the past, I’m not laughing any more.

Nope, I’m sitting here thinking that all of my beach runs are going to involve the Inov8 Skins in future, as there really isn’t a trail shoe on earth that compares when you’re taking on sand dunes.

UPDATE: I woke up the next morning with very stiff calves, as one of the effects of these things is to stretch your calves and achilles slightly, as there is absolutely no heel lift. However, with subsequent runs, this has been minimised, and I’m still loving them as much as ever. Full review to follow next week. And I may yet wear these things for Hellrunner…