One pair of shoes that I’ve had kicking around in my collection for quite a while is the Inov8 F-Lite 195. I purchased these when I discovered the Nike Free 3.0 version 4 wasn’t going to agree with the shape of my foot. I was thinking 3mm drop compared to the 4mm set-up on the Free wouldn’t be a massive step down for me. However, as I’ve been discovering the difference between even a modest amount of cushioning in the Free is quite big compared to the stripped back design of the Inov8 F-Lite 195. After about three or four runs I decided that these shoes with their lack of cushion were causing me to run a bit apologetically, so they became my go-to casual walking shoes rather than being integrated into my regular running shoe mix.
Zero drop experiment
That was many months ago now and a recent period of not much running prompted me to try doing most of my runs in zero drop or near zero drop shoes. No philosophical shift, just another experiment to see how I’d go. I also spent most of February based in the bush so the surfaces available were all a bit more forgiving than the hard cityscape. That’s meant running in the Saucony Virrata, which I recently reviewed, the Inov8 195 and the Skechers Go Bionic for all of my runs.
Since I last ran in these shoes I’ve focused on working on adding some additional strength to my feet, doing most weekly gym sessions barefoot and specifically choosing exercises that would involve placing considerable weight over my forefeet. I’ve also been practicing doing running drills and fitting in the odd barefoot run where there’s been a grass oval available to train on. All of these measures seem to make running in the Inov8 195 a little easier than it was before.
A few niggles
I’ve done runs as short as 20 minutes and up to 40 minutes without major aches and pains developing. I have, however picked up a niggle or two that suggests full time zero drop running, even at modest training volumes wouldn’t be a great idea for me in the long term. As such the experiment has come to an end as I start working back to getting in better shape.
The cushioning is very modest so you need to be aware of potential stone bruising and general wear and tear under the metatarsals in particular. I tried not to run in these shoes on consecutive days to give my feet a chance to recover.
CrossFit and gym shoes
If you look on the Inov8 website the 195 is positioned as a CrossFit shoe – part of the rubber sole is even cut-out with the intent of improving the ability of the wearer to climb ropes. I’m not a rope climbing kinda runner but the plus of this feature is the forefoot and rear-foot is completely decoupled perhaps making for a closer approximation of barefootedness than some other minimal offerings.
The sole is a simple rubber affair with what has been proven to be hard wearing tread – I tend to find walking just as hard or harder on running shoes than running and while I’ve not done many running miles in these shoes I have used them as my daily kicks for about a year.
The fit of the 195s is relatively forgiving, with minimal structure and no big overlays around the forefoot, so there’s a reasonable amount of room to move. I’ve noted over time that my little toes have started to wear the upper a little, so there’s probably an argument to be made for a fraction more room in the width. In terms of vertical volume the shoe accommodate my high arch without issue if I loosened up the laces.
My first experimental jogs in the Inov8s were on hard city surfaces. While smoother movers than I might be able to make this combination of hard/hard work for them I found it a struggle and would generally suggest saving them for natural surfaces – especially if you’re unaccustomed to wearing shoes with very minimal cushioning.
If you were minimally inclined and experienced then this shoe could be an option for some easy running. I have seen some runners racing on the track and road in these shoes but I wouldn’t suggest doing this from a performance perspective. The lack of stiffness means the shoes won’t help much to extract sustained speed and the lack of cushion on the road could lead to sore paws. An exception could be made for trail running where the softer surfaces and need for better connection to the ground counteract the need for pure speed.
It’s pretty hard to find much wrong with the Inov8 195s, they’re a simple shoe that for smooth movers might provide a viable option for minimal training on natural surfaces. However for the majority of runners it’s likely these treads will be better suited as a gym or circuit training shoe. Their good grounding and lack of structure make them a great option for extracting the maximum benefits from your strength training. I’m fortunate to be able to train in a gym that permits barefooted weight training, but in most cases this won’t be the case, so looking at a range of minimal shoe options such as the 195 for strength training is a worthwhile endeavor.
Do you run in the Inov8 195s? Please share your experience with a comment below.
Words and images by Brian Martin