Running Shoe Review – Saucony Kinvara 2

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As usual, I’m delinquent in reviewing a new pair of shoes – the Kinvara 3’s from Saucony are on the horizon.  However, in this case, there is a method to the madness – I’ve just had a hard time figuring these shoes out.  And maybe that’s because, despite a big step towards promoting a minimalist concept, they still act and feel in many ways like a traditional running shoe.

I’ll admit that I was intrigued by the Kinvara’s due to the hype surrounding them on such sites as dailymile.  Everyone just seemed to transition into them very easily, as if they were some sort of “every shoe”.  Or maybe a better description may be what Pete Larson used on his Runblogger review of the original Kinvara’s – a “gateway shoe to minimalism”.  Thus they are positioned to be almost a one-size fits all type of shoe – low heel-to-toe drop (4mm, versus the typical 12mm) for those seeking form improvements through minimalist shoes, and cushioned for those who still pronate or have less defined form (either on an everyday basis or late in the marathon) – though they are truly a “neutral” running shoe.

A plethora of Kinvara 2’s are available on Amazon

There are some clearly appealing attributes of the Kinvara:

  • Lightweight – at 7.3 oz. (men’s size 9, Kinvara 2), this shoe is approaching racing flat territory
  • Wide range of colors – well, OK, maybe this is a little more subjective, but who doesn’t crave a bit of variety and ability to match their race-day outfit?
  • Pricing – with a list price of $90 (which you seldom have to pay, if you keep your eyes open), these are a pretty affordable option compared to other models.

My initial experience with the Kinvara’s was not positive.  I had tried on a pair back in October 2010 – in fact, my intent in heading to the shoe store that day was to come home with a pair of Kinvara’s.  But the fit didn’t seem to work – honestly it’s because the shoe store didn’t have the right size.  So I forgot about them for almost 10 months, until I saw a pair on sale in August.  I just went ahead and bought a size up (size 13) site unseen, and was fortunate to find that the fit was terrific – no issues in the toe box, no blistering at all in the ~400+ miles I’ve put in the shoes.  I normally wear a size 13 running shoe (size 12 for other shoes), so it’s sizing seems inline with other models.

As others have pointed out, the shoes are comfortable – almost like wearing slippers.  These are the kind of shoes that you wouldn’t mind wearing every day.  And the light weight is noticeably different, even when compared to the 8.9 oz. Nike Lunarfly 2’s (also a light shoe).  There is no stability-type support – no medial post, no raised cushioning on the inner sole.  But it is a cushioned shoe, so you aren’t exactly feel the ground – in fact, despite the thinner sole in general, you get more road feel in Mizuno Wave Precision’s, as the forefoot-section sole is thinner.
These shoes do seem to beg to go fast, there is no doubt.  It is not much fun to wear them for anticipation runs – they are made for tempo or interval work.  But the question really is – how do they work on long runs, specifically marathons?

For this runner, the question is still open.  I’ve successfully worn them in half-marathons – even when such races climaxed a >75 mile week.  But it seems that every time I try to go over 90 minutes or so on a long run, my legs get fatigued.

Part of this may be that such runs usually were attempted when the shoes had >250 miles on them.  As Pete pointed out in his initial thoughts on the Kinvara 2’s, his original Kinvaras showed significant signs of compression of the EVA in the midsole after 200 miles.  I had to give up on my first pair around 350 miles, and probably should have at 300 miles.  It wasn’t so much wear on the sole that was the issue (as some others have cited), but rather just the increasing fatigue I felt during medium-long (12-15 mile) runs – likely due to the EVA breakdown.

So the jury is still out on whether this will ever be my marathon shoe.  And, if your goal is to improve your running form by getting the heel “out of your way” through the lower heel-to-toe drop, just buying a shoe with that feature isn’t going to deliver the goods.  I don’t think buying shoes is a shortcut to form improvements.

One other concern that has been raised about minimalist shoes in general is the strain they can put on your calf muscles as you run in a manner in which you are not accustomed (more up on your forefoot or midfoot – again, if you believe that just different shoes can make such a difference).  I don’t know if these shoes have created this issue – or resultant strengthening, for me.  Maybe there has been a little bit of enhanced soreness in the calves after using the Kinvara’s.  I will say that I am currently battling what is likely some Achilles tendinitis, but I have, if anything, been shifting more to running in my Nike Lunarfly 2’s of late.

These are, at a minimum, a good pair of shoes to have in your rotation, to alternate with either your minimalist shoes to provide some relief for your Achilles and calves, or with your traditional running shoes to work some different muscles.  They are not great winter running shoes, as the protection is pretty minimal – your feet will get wet, and cold quickly.

Perhaps the best way to sum up these shoes is using a good news / bad news approach.  The good news is that you can gain some benefits in your performance through the lighter weight without any changes to your running form.  The bad news is that you can gain some benefits in your performance without any changes to your running form. Sorry, there are no shortcuts to becoming a midfoot lander, if you believe that is important.  And, facing that reality, is this really a “gateway shoe”, or is it going to be the final stop on many runners’ journeys?

I’m very eager to hear your thoughts on these shoes, as my opinions are still quite open to swaying. As Nike increases the weight slightly in their Lunarfly 3’s, and I once again face into potentially making adjustments to prevent further injuries, I may be in the market for yet another new approach on shoes.

You can find a wide range of color choices and sizes for the Saucony Kinvara 2 on Amazon, or directly from SauconyEarly word on the Kinvara 3, available in May 2012, indicates that it includes a beveled heel to make the shoe more forgiving for heel-strikers (ah-ha!), will be available in widths, and carries a $10 higher price tag.  If you like the Kinvara 2, maybe it’s time to stock up.

Update 11/14/2012 – to read more about the updated model, see my review of the Saucony Kinvara 3.

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  • Gator Mike

    I’ve got 628 miles over three pairs of K2s and another 907 miles on two pairs of the originals.  I like them because they are light and comfortable.  I’m still working on my form everyday; I know it tends to be sloppy.  I’ve had some injuries (calf & achilles) but I can’t blame the shoes.

  • http://predawnrunner.com Greg Strosaker

    You are right in that we should never really blame shoes for our injuries (after all, even if they are “the wrong ones,” they don’t force us to wear them).  And your experience with miles on the shoes sounds a little better than mine – did you see a difference between the 1’s and 2’s in terms of wear?

  • LesserisMore

    I have very similar feelings on the Kinvaras.  I love them for my tempo runs and track work, but I’ve gone as far as 13 miles in them and despite running well, my legs did feel quite a bit more beat up than usual in the calf area.  I shift between the LunarFly2s and Brooks Launch (which I plan to run my next marathon in) as alternativee (higher drop) shoes that seem to let me recover from any soreness from the Kinvaras.  I’ve decided to use the Kinvaras as racing shoes for 13.1 on down and/or for fast training, but I’m not convinced I could use them in the marathon yet.

  • http://predawnrunner.com Greg Strosaker

    This sounds nearly identical to my experience and shoe choices (well, except I haven’t tried the Launches – my only pair of Brooks didn’t fit me well but I may have had the wrong size) – we are therefore shoe twins! Let me know if you try anything else so I’ll know what to buy!

  • Steve Pero

    Greg, I came upon your post and agree with you. I bought a pair of K2’s on Pete’s review, but they are just feeling a little too minimalist. I’m not a newbie, either, have been running for 37 years and have tried the full gamut on shoes. I still have them in my locker, but tend to put my Lunarfly 2’s on more and more, they are just more comfortable. My only gripe with the Nike’s is the forefoot width, but it’s getting better with time.

  • http://predawnrunner.com Greg Strosaker

    Hi Steve, thanks for stopping by and your comment, I’m amazed at the widespread use of the Lunarfly’s, they aren’t a heavily promoted shoe but just seem to work for a lot of runners. Interested to see what they have done in the “3”, looks like it may be a little heavier which doesn’t bode well – always a temptation to keep adding more and more to the shoe.

  • http://profiles.google.com/rachel1824 Rachel Caine

    I thought I really liked the Kinvaras (1 & 2) and did, in fact, wear them for a marathon but I was blowing through sneakers so quickly! After 200 – 300 miles, my shins would start to fatigue early in a run (the shins, for me, are always my indication that it’s time for a new pair of running shoes). I know I can usually get them for between 60 and 70 dollars, but replacing them every 2 months or so, when I’m training for something over half marathon distance, was getting a little ridiculous. I switched to the Brooks PureConnect back in October, and while I’ve gotten more miles out of them then any pair of Kinvaras, the jury is still out for me on these shoes, too. Maybe I’ll look into the female Lunarflys…

  • Dave Spell

    I loved the original Kinvara’s but the 2’s are just not the same.  As much as I try to like them they just seem to not feel the same as the originals.  The toe box is not the same and my toes feel crushed together at times.  Maybe I should try a 1/2 larger.  I still rn in the 2’s they just are not my go to shoe for the marathon as the originals were.

  • http://predawnrunner.com Greg Strosaker

    Even at the lower price, the cost / mile is a bit high when you are pitching shoes in the mid-200’s, no doubt. And I’m concerned that the increase in price for the Kinvara 3 will result in less discounting too – I wouldn’t blame them, it’s a hot selling shoe that they probably can get more for in general. Will be interested to see how the PureConnect’s work for you, and you may well like the Lunarfly’s, seems a lot of runners rotate them with the Kinvaras.

  • http://predawnrunner.com Greg Strosaker

    Interesting observation Dave, everything I initially heard about the 2’s were that they are not that different from the originals, but I’m hearing more and more situations like yours. Often going up a shoe size does help with the toe box fit, but frankly there are so many options out there, is it worth struggling to make a specific shoe work for us?

  • http://twitter.com/fisherfamily Matt

    Nice review Greg. It’s interesting to read the comments and see the varied results people have experienced with the Kinvara’s. I’ve had good experiences with them. My first pair had over 400 miles. My second pair I wore in two marathons and had roughly the same number of miles. I’m on my third pair (I think they are 2s) and will wear them this weekend in a marathon. My biggest issue is the narrower toe box. I have had some blistering issues with theses shoes.
    I have a pair of Nike Free Run + 2s that I really like. They have a wider toe box and I’ve removed the insole to drop the heel a bit more. I just purchased a pair of New Balance 730s (reviewed by Pete Larson and Thomas Neunberger). They are 3 or 4mm drop and come without an insole. They do have a soft insole though. The NB are a bit more flexible than the Ks but have a firmer sole, if that makes sense. They also have a much wider toe box, which I really like. I’m debating whether or not to wear the NB for a marathon as well, but haven’t worn them for more than a 10 mile run.
    It seems like I’m constantly looking for shoes. I do have 3 or 4 pairs in rotation at most times, but seems like I’m replacing on pair every couple of months.

  • http://predawnrunner.com Greg Strosaker

    Matt, great comment thanks – I have to say that for someone as relatively new to running as you are (as far as I can recall), you must have some pretty solid natural form to be able to manage the types of shoes you do. Most of us struggle to get comfortable in the lower-drop shoes – perhaps you didn’t spend as much time in the “traditional” models first? It’s a good thing, hopefully bodes well for your ability to avoid injuries.
    You mention two shoes I’m going to be looking at going forward as well in the Nike Free’s and the NB730’s. Shoe choices are becoming more and more complex for those of us who do seem a bit injury prone – traditionalists would argue for more support (as would most typically trained sports med docs and therapist), while the newer school of thought is less support to make you focus on improving your form. I want to move towards the latter, but it may be a tougher (but more rewarding) path.
    Good luck in the double marathon this weekend!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/3PJT45NCRTHGPBOYJ3LJ5KNL6I SS

    Thanks for the excellent review.  I have a pair of original Kinvara’s, it was a bit too narrow for me but I stuck with it and its pretty much worn out.  It is good for short distance runs under 7 miles, but anything over 10 miles my and toes will feel like sardines.  I bought a pair of K2 and ran with it for the first time.  My new K2 is a half size bigger than my original and they felt great for a 6 mile run. They felt as fast the K1s and much comfortable compared to VFF KSO’s.  I ran with a pair of KSO’s this past Monday and got blisters under both sides of my feet, big and pinky toes.  They are just not for me.  I am going to stick with K2 and  Hattori for short runs and Triumph 7 and Gensis for long runs.

  • http://predawnrunner.com Greg Strosaker

    Thanks for your comment, I never tried the Kinvara 1’s so can’t compare. After a bout of some Achilles tendinitis, I’m moving back to shoes with a more traditional 8-12 mm heel-to-toe drop for a lot of my base mileage, so I’m not sure what role the Kinvara’s will play in my rotation going forward.

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