I had such high hopes for the slab-4’s from salomon. These shoes were going to propel me to success on the six foot track marathon and see me through countless long runs and training in the australian bush.  Salomon have one of the best product design philosophies of any running shoe maker. They run workshops with their elite(sponsored) runners who provide feedback about each shoe, piece of clothing etc and its then refined and worked on, trialled for months before eventually making it to mass production to be purchased by those of us not lucky enough to run professionally. Killian Jornet wore these things in numerous races (although he is now wearing a new prototype pair called ‘the sense’ which will be released in May). Anyway, suffice to say these things are designed by runners for runners and have some serious testing over much tougher/longer/harder conditions than I would probably ever use them in. I had high hopes.

So what went wrong? In short these shoes just cause me too much pain. Slipping them on they felt good; I’m a minimalist runner so I was worried about the large heel-to-toe drop on these (12mm compared to 0-4mm which I normally run in) but was pleasantly suprised at how comfortable they felt putting them on and walking around the house. It felt weird having that much cushioning but I knew I needed to run some very long distances and was a bit worried about putting in 35km+ runs for 4 hours+ without any cushioning on the steep hills.  The problem with these started when I ran distances over 10k’s. I started to notice some hot-spots around my arches and the forefoot and this got progressively worse over the next 10km. By 25km I had huge blisters (despite stopping at 15k to tape up the hot spots) and was finding anything other than running on the flat very uncomfortable indeed.

I tried again the next week with different socks and playing with the laces. The problem seems to be that despite buying these in my normal size (UK 7) they run too wide in the heel box. The quick laces do not lend themselves to being able to anchor the heel in place and I found myself either having to constrict the top of my foot (yanking hard on the laces and causing cramp) or leaving them a little looser which allowed my foot to slide around (causing blisters).

The shoes seem to run a little small to size for me, but even so I found the heel slipped around a lot and on steep downhills my toes would be  jammed against the end of the toe box. I didn’t get any black toe-nails on the 25k run (which is a positive!) but it definitely wasn’t comfortable and I doubt I’d be able to contemplate running anything longer in these. On the uphills I noticed the reverse where my heel would be lifting up off the inner of the shoe.

There are some good points to these shoes as well which I’ll point out for others still thinking about trying them:

1) They are sturdy and on rocky, hard-packed trails provide some extra cushioning especially when your form starts to get a little sloppy due to tired legs.

2) Despite being a forefoot runner and being very dubious about the big heel-to-toe drop I didn’t find the transition too bad. It felt a bit weird for the first few kms but then they felt ok in terms of stride pattern. Note: I did find that my left knee started to hurt a little and put that down to the fact that its hard to maintain good form with such a lot of cushioning which removes some of the feel of the ground. (i.e. its easy to start using the cushioned heel on the down hills instead of fore-foot striking)

3) The laces are easily adjustable… the downside is that I found myself playing with them a lot to try and get things right. I’m not convinced that the quick laces are actually better than regular laces after experimenting for a while. You just don’t have the same options to tweak how your foot is held in place. The positive is that they don’t come undone, they can be cinched up quickly if you have a lot of downhill, and if/when your feet swell you can ease them off quickly as well.

I hope that the new Salomon Sense shoes fix some of these problems, I still think Salomon have a great product design philosophy and if your feet are the right shape there are plenty of people who swear by these, they just are not for me it would seem.

Salomon – if you are listening then I’d love to know if there are other widths/lacing systems being considered for the sense.

In summary: an expensive mistake and I don’t think I’ll be using these again. I’m going to look for something more minimal and maybe the s-labs will just become a pair of hiking shoes… I’ve just purchased a pair of Saucony Peregrine’s which look a little more padded than the inov8 talon 190/195’s (which I love but are not great for longer/harder trails). Fingers crossed the peregrines provide me with a better long distance trail shoe which still has a minimal forefoot striking set-up.

Salomon S-LAB 4 Review

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