August 15, 2011
I owe one of my loyal readers a review of the famous Saucony ProGrid Lite Kinvaras. After putting about 50km on these shoes and running a race, I feel confident to give them a fair review.
Lately, the running community has been gripped in deep discussion about the notion of barefoot and minimalist running. There are compelling and interesting debates about the very philosophy and economics that surround ‘traditional’ running shoes. I’m particularly interested in the evolutionary and physiological arguments about running barefoot. There’s a particularly interesting study from Harvard that acts as a good primer to this debate.
I don’t necessarily believe we are well-designed to run completely barefoot on city sidewalks. But, after learning the history of the running shoe from Christopher McDougall’s “Born To Run” I wonder if there’s a half-way point where you get some benefits of both worlds. The Kinvara is very famous as a ‘gateway’ or transitional shoe into the minimalist running world.
The first thing that is obvious about the Kinvaras is their mass: 7.7oz, as opposed to my Saucony Cohesions which are about 11.9oz. There are dynamic benefits from having a lighter shoe, but this all comes at a cost
Putting these shoes on for the first time, I almost felt dizzy because the heel raise was a little odd. On a ‘traditional’ running shoe, the heel is about 2.4 cm off the ground, and the forefoot is raised about 1.2 cm. With the Kinvara’s it’s not quite flat, but the heel is about 1.2 cm up and the front is only about 0.7 cm up. Because of this, I felt like I was falling backwards for a time while wearing them.
The construction is noticeably different from ‘traditional’ shoes. Most shoe manufacturers go out of their way to decorate and embellish the uppers of their shoes with canvas and fabric. The uppers of the Kinvaras are little more than paper. The ubiquitous Saucony logo is actually printed on the inside of the shoe instead of embellished as a patch. This minimal fabric on the top is great for reducing weight and breathe-ability, but not too great in the rain or running through puddles.
The construction of the sole is also very different. The Kinvara is advertised as having Saucony’s famous ProGrid, but in small letters they’ll say it’s ProGrid Lite! It definitely does not have the same toughness and elasticity of the full ProGrid. It’s understandable considering the regular ProGrid would be too big for the shoe and add a bunch of weight. If you were expecting pillows on your feet, think again!
When you put all of this together, you get a very unforgiving shoe. Don’t even think of heel striking; you will feel as if you received an electric shock to your heel! I also really had to concentrate on landing carefully because it’s way too easy to roll the ankle or land hard and feel a lot of pain. If nothing else, they force me to keep very tight and controlled on my form.
After training with the Kinvaras for a bunch of 6km and 8km runs, I decided to use them to race the Highland Yard 10k. One big difference I noticed while racing rather than training was that my form collapses a bit in favour of speed. The shoes did not accommodate, and my feet suffered because of it. My feet were already pretty tender 7km into the course, but then the road changed from asphalt to gravel. It was remarkably painful to run at race pace on gravel on these shoes! Every point of the stone seemed to poke right to the tops of my feet. At the end of the race, I was so happy to get out of the Kinvaras and into a pair of sandals.
I liked the Kinvaras and enjoy exploring the notion of minimalistic running. They are very unforgiving and I probably need to spend more time on form and toughening up the bottom of my feet if I plan to use them on longer distances. I look forward to continuing to use them on shorter distances.