Friday, November 19, 2010

GoLite Flash Lite Review: Zero Drop Road to Trail Runner

The fine folks at GoLite Footwear were kind enough to send me a pair of the Flash Lites to try.
The Flash Lite is as far as I know the first "zero drop" trail and road runner on the market, others to follow. It allows a stride closer to the bare foot while offering the protection of a traditional running shoe. Golite calls this technology "GoLite BareTech".

Zero Drop:
Zero drop means that there is no drop between the heel and the forefoot of the shoe. Most traditional running shoes have a drop of 10 mm or more which translates into the heel landing first and as the theory goes more injuries and a less efficient stride. The goal is to land closer to the midfoot thus better absorb shock and allow the foot to cycle faster with each stride. The recent barefoot, minimal, natural running craze has led manufacturers to start to reduce the drop. My current favorite road shoe the Saucony Kinerva has a 4 mm drop. I have noticed that my chronic hamstring and calf tightness has declined since I started running in the Kinevras . I now have the Kinveras and racing flats such as the Adidas Rocket and Ascis Hyper Speed now in my daily quiver. I no longer run in conventional road "training" shoes.

Back to the Flash Lites. They are a solid, if a bit heavy, well supported trail runner that can also be used in moderation for road running to practice mid foot running. They are also the most comfortable every day walking around shoe I have ever worn. If I was embarking on a long trip with road and trail running, hiking, and travel and could only take one pair of shoes I would take the Flash Lites. I might wish for a bit less upper busy ness style wise though. And this brings me to the dilemma presented by the Flash Lites. They are good at all forms of mobility but not outstanding on any particular terrain except smooth horse trails. I guess it is impossible to find the perfect single shoe but I will keep trying!

On the Trail: I have run approximately 30 miles of trails. Half of my running was on rough,rooty and rocky single track and half on grass and dirt horse trails. The Flash Lites were outstanding on the smoother trails. On single track, while never unstable, when stepping on obstacles I felt a bit "high sided" balanced on the obstacle as opposed to running through it. Never at risk of twisting an ankle due to the zero drop but not as smooth as for example my thick Hoka One Ones or as agile as Inov-8's .

The Flash Lites use GoLite's Soft Against the Ground technology which puts stiffer foam closest to the foot and softer foam closer to the ground. For my taste, the softer part of the midsole could be softer and maybe a bit thicker to better contour to the ground and lessen the feeling of balancing over the obstacles. The original GoLites, which also were based on Soft Against the Ground principles, had shock absorption incorporated into the outer sole. The orginial GoLites, see my post here, incorporated very pronounced soft lugs. While quite goofy looking they worked very well to absorb and contour to the terrain and in a very similar fashion to my Hoka One Ones which feature a very thick soft midsole. While I have not been back to Utah since I received the Flash Lites, I suspect they will be a wonderful shoe on the smooth Park City trails. I also think they will be outstanding on snow and ice this winter.

On the Road: I have run approximately 20 road miles in the Flash Lites. There is no question that the zero drop encourages a mid foot strike. They feel great the first 2 or 3 miles of every run. As I am new mid foot running my form disintegrates as the miles go on and I revert to heel striking. They are quite firm on the road. I would not make them an every day trainer, yet. As with my comments on rough single track trails a somewhat softer and thicker Soft Against the Ground midsole or outer sole would really make them outstanding for road work.

Fit and Construction: A finely crafted shoe for sure. Doug Clark, CEO of GoLite Footwear, told me they are manufactured in a factory which also makes fine Italian boots and shoes. They will last many hundreds of tough trail miles. The asymmetrical lacing works very well and the foot is very well supported even with laces comfortably cinched. I often find that to get good support I have to over tighten other trail runners. Plenty of toe room for my narrow foot. GoLite includes 2 additional forefoot footbed adjusters so that different volume feet can be accommodated. They call this system Precise Fit and it really works. I do think that the shoe could be made lighter by reducing the amount of material in the upper. The toe box is very reinforced, never was a problem but adds weight. The many overlays are functional but I wonder if they could be applied over lighter materials. The tight mesh in the Saucony Kinveras with soft lining is very sturdy and comfortable and weighs very little. It looks like the new New Balance Minimus trail runners reviewed by the Run Blogger adopt a similar approach. As Doug explained to me the choice of materials is often related to the willingness and capability of the factories to work with them. So, the designer can't always get the combination of materials and construction they want if their factory is unfamiliar with it. Especially true for a start up like GoLite.

Conclusion: First to market with a zero drop running shoe. A very well built, firm, relatively light yet sturdy shoe which can serve as midfoot training tool for the road and is a very serviceable trail runner, particularly on smoother trails. My most comfortable shoe to wear around. Single shoe to take on a long trip where trail and road running, hiking, and walking are in the mix.


Carter said...

How are the flash lites working out for you? Durability/wear? I'm mostly interested in month long hikes/walks with one third on pavement like the camino de santiago. How do you think the Bondi-b Hoka would work as a hiking shoe?

Interesting blog, thanks.

Sam Winebaum said...

Durability is excellent. At the GoLite booth at OR they showed me a pair with 500 miles of mixed road and trail use by Cathy O"Brian former US Olympic marathoner and wear looked minimal. Keep in mind she is light in weight.Mine are showing no wear at all after 50 miles of mixed use.
If you are going on month long hikes day in day out I think you may find the Bondi-B or the other new model the Combo XT which looks like the Mafate with the sole of the Bondi a better choice. The sole does not have as much of a profile as the GoLite but I was told it is more durable than the Mafates. On roads the Mafate outer sole lugs wore quickly to smooth in the toe area although I am still happily running roads in them, Not sure on grip of the Bondi or Combo XT till I try them but might be slick if you except lots of mud. Dry sandy surfaces and dry rocks should be fine. Nothing beats the day in day out comfort.

Anonymous said...

Picked these up at a year-end sale for $40, and they're a dead bargain at that price. I wore a pair of ecco trail runners while hiking the colorado trail, and picked these up thinking they might be an upgrade. But, honestly, these things won't last to see the trail--they're too comfortable, and I wear them every day!