Always a fun one.
Inov8 alone now has somewhere around 38.. no, sorry, now 39 different shoes to choose from in terms of grip, shape, weight, look and price. Its almost a good thing that I only have 2 pairs of fellrunning shoes to choose from when it comes to races or else I might end up just sitting there contemplating which shoes to wear long after everyone else has run off into the distance.
The Chunal race was a case in point. It had been dry for the most part leading up to the day, and the ground was rock solid. No amount of big lugged grip was going to help dig into the soil in this race. It was going to be more about cushioning the feet and making sure that I didn't bruise the bottom of my heel on hard surfaces by wearing something with a crazy amount of grippiness on hard unforgiving dirtpack and track (like in Bamford).
Therefore the only choice was to go for the Roclite. Grippy and robust, with enough of a heel counter to enable me to fling myself down hills regardless of whether they are ankle deep in bog, or tarmac hard dirtpack. I found with the Baregrips, that no matter how much I try, when heading downhill, I heel strike no matter what. The rest of the run I have no issue with them at all, but downhill I find myself holding back because of the inevitable pain that I'll feel through the heel.
I'm evidently either not running downhill properly in Barefoot shoes, too scared to lean foward, or don't move my feet fast enough. Whichever one it is, I know that unless the ground is squidgy or bouncy, I'm going to run slower downhill in the Baregrips.
Interestingly, the vast majority of people at recent races that I have run at are wearing Inov8 x-talons 212s. It would seem that they have the requisite grip and enough differential for painfree downhill running. They have a pretty thin sole unit, so like the Baregrip they may well be quite painful on sharp rocky sections, but they do have a large following. I have the f-lite 220s which are much the same shoe, but with a road sole- I use them for work, and I can feel pretty much everything that is underfoot. Yes, it gives me good proprioception, but I get the feeling that it might take a bit of getting used to and a few bruised feet to get used to them in an offroad situation.
I have seen a few more people wearing the red x-talon 190s recently as well- they have less cushioning than the 212's and I suspect are a little more like the Baregrips- though they retain 3mm differential from heel to toe as opposed to 0mm in the Baregrips case. (I think I'm right in saying this, please correct me if I'm not)
There was a racer out there who was running in the 190s who had one shoe slightly different to the other, it seems like there may be a new type of 190 or a new design of sole unit being tested out there. No idea whether it is more grippy/ more durable/ less differential, but there is something (ahem) afoot.
Whatever it is, I probably need to get my hands on a pair of X-talons at some point to try them out and see how they compare in terms of grip and comfort to what I already have. I've thought about looking at the La Sportiva range, but from what I've heard from speaking with other runners is that they just don't grip well at all in any conditions. I certainly can't justify forking out £70 for a pair of shoes that don't grip just so that I can say yup- they don't work as well as you would want them to.
There is of course the new Salomon Fellcross coming out, at £120 its quite a mark up. Yes, there has been a lot of research into this shoe, and yes I'm sure that it is amazing and whoever uses it will rave about it. But thats 2 pairs of other shoes. It will be the sponsered athletes that wear them, and those that can afford them. I'd just be afraid of destroying them in a single race... I'll keep a close eye out for them at races, and do my damndest to beat them in order to prove to myself that its not to do with what you wear on your feet, but how you run in them.
That being said, if Salomon want to send me a pair to try, I'll gladly let them know if they help me run faster...!
Please note that this is very much focussed on the Peak district racing scene... I know that the Lakes, and indeed Wales are much rockier and can be much harder on the feet and shoes. Next year, I hope to have enought petrol money to be breaking my shoes out there as well.