I started to wear fell shoes in about 2006, the first pair I bought
were Inov8 Mudrocs, and they cost me about £60. They gave me the most horrendous blisters on my heels until I worked out you needed to steam the heel cup to make them fit a bit better.
My mate had the Mudclaw 285's - those white ones with the offset lacing- again about £60, again, they gave him the most horrendous blisters imaginable, and our weekends of adventure racing often ended with us comparing battle scars, both from falling over, and from the inevitable foot damage caused by shoes that were, yes, uncomfortable, but also were by far the grippiest shoes out there on the market.
Since then I've gone through a variety of shoes, each time paying probably no more than £80, maybe £85 if I was unlucky for a pair of race sharp, comfy shoes with decent grip to see me through maybe 6-8 months of racing, and then maybe another 6-8 months of non-racing, training and general kicking around.
In the past few years, Salomon have really upped their game, from the original XA pros (which I loved), to the SpeedCross 1,2 and 3, then came the Fellcross, which, to my knowledge was really the first time fell shoes crossed that line in the sand of £100. Since then, we have had the Fellcross 2 and 3, the Fellraisers, the Sense Soft ground, and now the S-LAB Speed, retailing at an eyewatering £145.
From inov8's side of things, it was really the trailroc that hit the super £100 level. The perennial favourite, the x-talon stayed generally at the same place in terms of cash, but have recently steadily risen in price, the same can be said of the mudclaws, both now being sold at £95, and with the introduction of the Race Ultra at £110, and the Terraclaws at £110-120 we seem to be at the place where every pair of shoes being introduced to the ranges are hitting a ton.
Scott's retail at about that price, but Walshes, for some reason, are still about the £70 mark.
Although most fellrunners that I know are a bit canny about buying shoes - getting last years models (or even the year before) from places like sportsshoes.com, end of season sales at Pete Blands, and getting various discounts at online retailers, I've started to wonder just what the heck is going on?
I know that shoe makers have to make money, they have to pay wages etc, and snazzy graphics and manufacturing costs do indeed go up - hence why the prices have gone up. However, has inflation really gone to such a level that we should be paying £100 for a pair of shoes that are pretty much going to be worn out in 6 months? I know I can't afford to be paying that, and so am hunting around to stockpile a few of the older pairs, which seem to be fairly bombproof while I can get them at a decent price.
There is the argument that if you don't want to pay the price, then there are a few cheaper models around the place - but truth be told, the grip on them isn't as good as these expensive shoes... but then, the expensive shoe grip hasn't necessarily increased as the price has increased... neither has their longevity. So what the
heck am I paying for at £100+ for a pair of shoes?
Am I buying grip? As mentioned, the grip on the shoes today doesn't appear to be too radically different to the grip that I was getting out of x-talons 3 years ago at £70 a pop. (I have to mention here that Salomon certainly didn't have the grip right on any of their previous shoes - Fellraisers being a particular low point - but apparently the S-LAB speed is pretty good with grip.... but an £145 for grip when the others have been shoddy? I think that might be slightly taking the piss)
Am I buying longevity? The shoes I am buying now last for about the same amount of distance and time as the shoes I had back in 2006. Yes, they are more comfortable, and when I get a pair that self-destruct after about 200km, if that, I tend to take them back and complain.
Am I buying "cool design"? well - maybe on this point - consider that walshes have stayed pretty much exactly the same for years, and inov8 have gone through a number of redesigns in about a decade... maybe I am - and ditto with salomon.
Am I going to be faster? Am I buying speed?! Well, the answer may or may not be no. In terms of road cycling, I commuted on a mountain bike for a number of years, and then changed to a road bike... my commute was a grand 3 minutes faster. That being said, a road bike makes a heck of a difference over a long ride. Indeed, grip and comfort make a huge difference over a race of any distance, but the grip I have now doesn't make me any faster than the grip I had 3 years ago. Buying new shoes does not make you faster as a runner.
So... it doesn't appear to be that I am buying more grip, more speed, or indeed shoes that last any longer than the ones that were being sold 3 years ago - they just look a bit snazzier.
Until someone shows me some objective evidence that their shoes are now grippier, stay grippier for longer (upwards of 900km), double that if I'm going to be paying twice the price of a normal shoe), and indeed last for that long in terms of sole and upper, then, to be honest, I think I'm going to have to stick with looking for deals for old models, waiting for some serious sales, or just stick to Walshes.
(as a side note, it should not be thought that because all the photos here are of inov8s that I think they are rubbish - on the contrary... the only reason I have only pictures of inov8s is because they are the main running shoes I have been wearing for the past 7 years, so inevitably I have gone through a fair few shoe life cycles).