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.
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 Saucony. Early 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.