Running Shoe Update Review – Nike Lunarfly 3 and Saucony Kinvara 3

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Saucony Kinvara 3

The Saucony Kinvara 3, available from Amazon and other retailers

Over the past 18+ months, I’ve been largely rotating just two shoes in my lineup.  Using shoes of slightly different styles can help address different muscle groups and improve performance and resistance to injury, especially in the lower legs.  As I’ve been moving away from “stability” shoes to more neutral designs, and am generally seeking to use less (lighter) shoe, the ones I’ve been rotating are both relatively light.

The Nike Lunarfly, used for most long, general aerobic, and recovery runs, is a traditional type of shoe offering some stability.  I’m now on my 6th or 7th pair of this series (I’ve lost track).  The Saucony Kinvara, used for speed work, shorter races, and some medium-long runs, is a neutral shoe with some cushioning but a bit more minimal design.  I’m on my third pair of these.  Both shoes underwent updates in early 2012, and with some history on the new versions, it’s time for an in-depth review.

Nike Lunarfly 3

The Nike Lunarfly 3 is available in this and other garish combinations from Amazon

The Nike Lunarfly 3 maintains a lot of the design of the Lunarfly 2, including:

  • Light weight for a stability shoe, roughly 9-10 ozs. (depending on size)
  • A 9mm heel-to-toe drop, slightly lower than typical stability shoe designs
  • A wide range of highly questionable color combinations, almost as if Nike applies leftover or discounted dyes in producing these shoes
  • The bulky looking sole that belies the shoe’s light weight and flexibility
  • Stability features that tend towards the lower end of the range, an “almost neutral” design
  • The Breathe (for warm weather) and Shield (waterproof) options, in addition to the standard upper

What has changed is subtle but, for many runners, it is noticeable.  This generation seems to have a little more pronation control than the previous design, making it feel a little less neutral, a little more controlling.  I know of a handful of runners who were unhappy with this minor change and have moved away from the shoe.

The bottom line for these shoes is that they are still a decent step away from bulkier stability models, offering weight savings and a bit less heel without pushing you into more minimalist designs.  If you are used to a more minimal shoe, then these may feel bulky or constraining.  The fit is good; I have a wider foot, but moving to a size 13 (which is what I wear in most running shoes, versus the size 12 I wear for “everyday” shoes) allows for ample space without “slop”.

Similar to the Lunarfly 2, I’ve gotten about 400-450 miles out of one pair (my second is at 200 miles and third at 150, with both still going strong), which is a decent life.  And at a price of $85, with discounts often available (I bought a pair for $55 directly from Nike a few months ago), the shoe is a pretty good value.

The Saucony Kinvara 3 is likewise a reasonably small update from the Kinvara 2.  It is still:

  • A very light weight shoe, weighing in at around 8 ozs. (again, depending on size)
  • A 4mm heel-to-toe drop, which Saucony pioneered (at least in their marketing efforts) as a stepping stone between traditional and minimalist shoes (and now several other shoe makers are adopting)
  • Decent cushioning, making it more substantial than a true minimalist shoe (meaning you still lose some road feel) – the sole thickness is similar to that of the Lunarfly, in fact.\
  • Outstanding flexibility in the sole, making it feel more reactive than many other shoes
  • A neutral design, offering little in the way of pronation control
  • A wide range of appealing (and well-coordinated) color options for both men’s and women’s models – these shoes tend to stand out in a good way
  • A trail version, which I have not tried given my limited access to trails

The major changes Saucony made include the addition of more (or harder) material to critical wear areas of the sole and a redesigned upper using their Flex Film technology.  On the former, I can’t make a comparison as of yet given I have around 150 miles on my first pair; many other runners have reported that the wear rate seems reduced compared to the Kinvara 2 and the life therefore extended.  I got around 300-350 miles out of each pair of Kinvara 2’s, which isn’t enough, so am hoping for a bit better performance out of this revision.

View of the upper of the Kinvara 3

Note the “bunching” of the upper near the toes of the Kinvara 3 – though this doesn’t seem to create an issue when running.

The upper seems a bit more water resistant than the upper on the Kinvara 2, which is a good improvement, and I can’t say that I’ve found any increase in sweating or discomfort in the foot.  The one complaint I’d make about the upper is more appearance-related than functional – it tends to appear bunched near the toes, as if there is too much material.  This doesn’t cause any real issues, it just looks a bit odd.

The bottom line is that the Kinvara 3 remains a good gateway shoe to minimalism, and it may end up as your last stop on that journey. It is a less risky step than moving outright to a zero-drop shoe if you are used to traditional trainers, but adapting still requires “intelligent adjustment” – starting with shorter runs, working on lower leg strength and flexibility, building up slowly, etc.  Saucony also updated the price on the Kinvaras a bit, to around $100, and discounts are a bit harder to come by – but if the extended life pans out, then it’s still a decent value in a running shoe.

While it’s tough to see in this picture, there is distinctly less heel wear in the Kinvaras at 150 miles than in the Lunarfly’s.

Perhaps what has changed most the past year is not the shoes, but the runner.  In 2011, I tended to prefer the Lunarfly, and went with it for my marathon.  My legs just seemed to feel dead once I got past 15 miles with the Kinvaras.  I’m not sure what role, if any, they played in my Achilles tendinitis issues earlier this year, but, ironically, as 2012 progressed, my Achilles actually felt better running in the Kinvaras than in the Lunarfly, which is a similar phenomenon to what Pete Larson reported in coping with plantar fasciitis.

Perhaps it was the time spent focusing on form, specifically on cadence, and building core and leg strength.  There was a noticeable difference in heel wear between the Lunarfly and Kinvaras, and it felt more and more like the heel on the Lunarfly was “getting in the way” when I ran.  As the year progressed, the Kinvaras felt more and more comfortable and the Lunarfly less and less so, specifically causing hip and IT band tightness.  Thus, for this year’s marathon, I opted for Kinvaras with no regrets. In fact, the only regret is that I have too many pairs of Lunarfly’s to “use up”.

Going forward, I’m moving away from the Lunarfly to an everyday trainer with even less weight and a 6mm heel-to-toe drop, the Asics Gel Lyte 33.  Hopefully this will become the bulkiest, highest-heel shoe in my lineup.  Maybe it’s a case of “it’s not you, it’s me” with the Lunarfly, but they’ll be worked out of the rotation as soon as possible (though I still value my Lunarfly 2 Shields as a good poor-weather running, or soccer-coaching, shoe).

You can find the Saucony Kinvara 3 on Amazon (with free shipping if you are a Prime member – a very worthwhile investment), at Road Runner Sports, or directly at Saucony.  The Nike Lunarfly is also available on Amazon and at Road Runner Sports (all links, including the Gel Lyte33 link above, are affiliate links).

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  • Drew Trachy

    Nice review, Greg. I’m always looking for lightweight trainers that still offer some support. I haven’t tried Nike in over 5 years, but might consider the Lunarfly in lieu of the Saucony Fastwitch that I love so much. I don’t even get 300 miles out of those, unfortunately. I’ve considered the Asics you mentioned, but wonder if they’d provide the pronation control I believe I need. I think I’ll wait for your upcoming review of those before deciding. ;)

  • http://predawnrunner.com Greg Strosaker

    Hi Drew, thanks for your comments – I would suspect you should get better life out of the Lunarfly’s, at least based on my experience, and I think “lightweight trainer that offers some support” is a good description for the shoe. I don’t think the Asics will provide the support you are looking for, as they are of a more neutral design, but I’ll let you know more thoughts in a few weeks.

  • LesserIsMore

    I have pretty much found the exact same thing. Was a huge fan of the Lunarfly 1/2 and Kinvara 2. Based on the changes I saw in the Lunarfly 3 I decided it wasn’t a shoe I’d need. Still working through the Lunarfly (avg 500+ mi/pair) and Kinvara (300/pair) in the rotation. In looking for another high mileage light shoe I found the Brooks Green Silence on close out (6mm drop and sub 8 oz) and really like it with about 150 mi so far with minimal wear. They run wider than most Brooks so the fit works for me better than the Kinvara. I was looking at the Gel Lyte too so curious your take once you’ve got some miles on them.

  • http://predawnrunner.com Greg Strosaker

    Thanks, I always like getting the affirmation that I’m not unique in my experiences with shoes. I generally do find Brooks to be a bit narrow (which is why I’ve shied away thus far from the pure lineup), but maybe the Green Silence is worth exploring. I am really happy thus far with the Gel Lyte 33′s, so may review them sooner rather than later.

  • Mark Junkans

    Good review. I’m on my first pair of Kinvara’s, and I didn’t really like them at first because of they have a bigger heel drop than I’m used to. They’re also a little more “noisy’ than my zero drops, probably because of the heel. I am liking them more and more though, especially with the ample toe box. Am considering running my next marathon in Kinvara’s, but they seem to get a little heavier in the later miles compared to my flats. They do look faster than my other shoes, and you know that looks are important for a race. :)

  • http://predawnrunner.com Greg Strosaker

    Thanks Mark, you are coming from the opposite direction than I did, so I can’t compare the Kinvara experience. I can certainly understand how they’d feel like “too much” compared to flats. Hoping to experiment with flats in the near future and maybe someday the Kinvara’s will feel bulky to me too.

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  • FE

    Hey, how do the Lunarfly 3′s compare to the 2′s? Same cushioning? Pronation control? Thanx

  • http://predawnrunner.com/ Greg Strosaker

    I find them pretty similar, perhaps a tad more cushioning and more stability (more of a medial post) in the Lunarfly 3′s, but it’s tough to tell the difference.

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