Monday, 07 July 2014

Race Ultra 290

Race Ultra 290

In February 2014 I met many of my Inov-8 teammates at a company retreat in Big Sur, California. We were introduced to many different products from apparel to shoes to hydration packs. One of the first products I was given and told to change into for a photo shoot was the trail running shoe called the Race Ultra 290. The number (290) refers to the weight in grams. I have been almost exclusively wearing Inov-8’s since 2008 and normally I tend to wear shoes more in the 190-220 range, so they seemed a bit much for me even before I put them on my feet. As soon as I put them on the first thing I noticed was the cushioning and comfort. The mesh lining encapsulated my foot in a very snug way and the transition as I walked was much more “pillowy” than I’m used to. I am accustomed to the very minimal, lightweight, low profile shoe that Inov-8 is known for, but this Race Ultra 290 felt like hopping into a Cadillac; very plush and a smooth ride. As a “shoe geek” I first looked at the tread pattern, which is very important to me. That passed the test. I love all of the Inov-8 designs in terms of the lugs. Then I asked a couple more questions about pertinent information (more HERE):

Question: “What is the heel to toe differential?” - Answer: 8 mm

Question: “What is the stack height?” - Answer: 18 mm

The stack height was a little higher than I’m used to but I took them for a spin on the stunning coastal trails in Big Sur, while professional photographers snapped photos of us at sunset. I felt really cool! Despite much more cushioning I did still notice that I was able to “feel the ground” and I didn’t lose too much proprioception. Later that evening I said to team manager Caitlin Fenn, “I think I found my shoe for Western States 100 this year”, which I would be returning to for my third year in a row. Western States is a mountain/trail 100-miler that involves a lot of downhill pounding. In fact it boasts approximately 22,000 feet of descending compared to the 18,000 feet of ascending over the entire course. Having a little extra cushioning and protection sounded nice, especially after having done it the prior two years and knowing what was waiting for me.

Fast forward to late June 2014, just after the launch of the Race Ultra 290, and I showed up to the start line at the base of the ski resort at Squaw Valley, California with a fresh pair ready to roll. I had worn them on some quality, long efforts in the Columbia River Gorge here in Oregon where I live and gave them the “downhill test”. They passed. Now it was time for the 100-mile test!

Within the first 30 miles I noticed how good they felt on some of the sustained downhills and technical rocky sections. I could roll right over top of these sections in a way that I could not with the more lightweight minimal shoes, and that was a little treat for me as the miles ticked by. There were sections of the race where I was running downhill for five miles at a time and I often thought what it would be like to have a different pair of shoes on. At around mile 45 we crossed a stream that was waist deep. I waded in the water and submerged for a minute to cool off. After I got out of the water I did notice that the shoes held in the water a little longer compared to the other lightweight shoes that I normally wear. After a mile or two climbing one of the biggest ascents (Devil’s Thumb) I noticed that they did indeed drain and squeeze out most of the water. Then it was back to downhill pounding again and that got out whatever remaining water might have been in there!

By mile 70 I noticed a little pebble that snuck into the heel of my shoe. At that point I tried to get it out with a finger swoop to no avail, and I thought about the feature that the Race Ultra 290 offers regarding a gaiter. There is an attachment system where you can clip a gaiter to the side of the shoe to keep out debris. Nice touch, Inov-8, but it was a lesson learned the hard way for next time for me. What I really noticed was toward the end of the race (meaning miles 80 thru 100) that I could still continue to blast the downhills despite my feet and legs hurting and my running form probably crumbling a little bit. Normally, when I wear Inov-8’s I am not able to rely on the shoe too much, but with the Race Ultra 290 I felt stable and secure and was able to push harder in those sections because of the shoe. This meant a lot to me and I was proud to move from 20th place to 15th overall in the final 20 miles. Thank you, Inov-8, for yet another stellar shoe option while continuing to raise the bar!

(Note: One thing I did notice was that for these long runs it might be wise to size up a half or a full size due to swelling in the feet. I did feel that the toe box was pretty roomy similar to the TrailRocs)

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