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.
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.
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.
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).