Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Saucony Kinvara initial thoughts

I recently picked up a pair of Saucony Kinvara's and took them out for a test run. I paid for them, because I'm not one of those famous bloggers that get's special consideration from running shoe companies, so hopefully that will mean my review will be views as relatively unbiased, given that I have been subject to the same marketing everyone else has for this shoe.

My first impression of the shoe is that it is attractive and light weight. On my kitchen scale, each size 12 shoe weighed in at 8.8 ounces.  As previous reviewers have noted, there is very little substance to the uppers. Indeed the uppers are so unstructured, they remind me of the upper on my cross-country flats or a racing flat or spike. In fact, the upper is apparently derived from the Saucony Endorphin LE2 racing spike, while the lug design of the outsole/midsole is based on the Saucony Jazz original (based on Saucony's marketing information).

Side view of Saucony Kinvara lower shows instep - no posting for stability (this is a shoe for "neutral" runners)

Front view of Saucony Kinvara
In the "front view" photo above, you can see some extra padding in the upper surronding the heel. This extra padding appears to help prevent heel slip. I've never had a major issue with heel slip, and having worn this around I don't suspect I'll have that problem with the Kinvara, either, but for those with very narrow heels, this might be a welcome feature. For me, it's not critical. See a close-up of this padding in the detail shot below.

Detail of heel padding on Saucony Kinvara - helps prevent heel slip
The photo below is taken from inside the shoe and shows how minimal the upper material is. I hesitate to use the term "minimal" here, since that has become a marketing buzz word, but there are few other words that describe the relatively small amount of thin material used in the Kinvara's uppers, which, though light, appear as durable as the uppers on any number of other light weight trainers I have seen, including the Brooks Launch and Asics Gel Speedstar 4 (which I also own and enjoy). This minimal upper is part of what makes the shoe so light weight. It seems to be constructed with just enough materials so hold the sole of the shoe securely on the foot!

Daylight showing through uppers of Saucony Kinvara - very minimal/light weight upper
That sole is also relatively light weight, because the heavier, more dense rubber outsole material is used sparingly. Meanwhile the midsole material doubles as outsole in areas that typically receive less abrasion and wear. I've been assured by shoe store salespersons and other Kinvara owners that the midsole material does serve adequately in this dual midsole/outsole role, but I'll be keeping an eye on sole durability as I begin to put some miles on these. I may have been spoiled by the highly durable outsoles of the Asics Gel Speedstar 4 trainers I've been using, but because the Kinvara's are lighter, I'm hoping they will have just as long a useful life. We'll see.

Saucony Kinvara sole - note how the midsole material doubles as outsole along the lateral portions of the forefoot area
So far, I've worn these shoes for some short jogs outside of a running shop, and around my house, and a 2.3 mile run around my neighborhood streets. They feel great. I've not worn a shoe that provides more cushioning in the forefoot. The heel-forefoot differential (difference in thickness of sole at the heel relative and forefoot is only 4 mm according to Saucony specs and various online reports, which is flatter than my other trainers but still has a little extra height in the heel compared to my Saucony Kilkenny XC3 Flats. So, they fit right within the range of soles differentials I'm accustomed to, and are very comfortable on my feet.

In running around in them, they definitely do seem to encourage slightly more midfoot/forefoot strike than typical trainers, which suits me fine. I had no problems or discomfort in my run around the neighborhood street. Although I'm a midfoot striker, I've been trying to get a little more on my forefoot (just a little), which I think might help with my 5K/10K performance, and these shoes should give my calves a little something extra chew on while I work on that. I think they will work well as both a light weight trainer and a racing flat for 5K-10K-Half Marathon Races and possibly Marathons. If I really like them, I'll have opportunities to try them in races of at least the shorter three of these distances before it's time for another pair, and then I'll be able to report on how things went. So far, so good, and I'm looking forward to updating this review when I have more experience with the shoes.

Update (7/29/2010): Ran over 13 miles in the heat in these shoes today. The heat sucked, but the shoes were great. They were light on my feet the whole way, comfortable. One of the best parts of the run. Definitely will be a good half marathon shoe. I'm noticing a little wear in the usual places (for me)-along outside of heel and down the center of the forefoot, but nothing to be concerned about yet. You see wear on the sole of any shoe after 15 miles of running.

Update (8/1/2010): Ran 10K race in the Kinvara's today, and never once had any reason to think about my feet. No pain, no odd feelings. More like the shoe as more cushioned extension of my foot. Only other shoes I've tried that feel like this in high-intensity run are my Saucony Kilkenny XC Flats. I consider that a good thing.

Update (9/8/2010): Ok, by now I have run quite a few more miles in the Kinvaras, but I was hampered a little in that by some knee issues that began to arise. I don't believe the Kinvaras had much to do with the knee issues, but rather it was a period of increased running mileage as I prepared for a Half Marathon, which I also ran in the Kinvaras. After all this, I have decided that I like the Kinvara's, but for now I see them as more of a shoe for longer running distances. I have had the opportunity to use them frequently and switch back and forth between the Kinvaras and my Kilkenny XC3 Flats both during and betweeen workouts, and for most of my running, particularly the faster work, I find that I prefer the Kilkenny flats (lighter, more flexible, adequate cushioning for me). I'll probably continue to use Kinvara's for longer runs, and stick with the Kilkenny flats for runs up to about 10-12 miles.

Update (12/21/2010): Despite what I had said earlier about possibly lack of durability of this shoe, and concerns that others have expressed on the same topic, I've now got over 450 miles on my first pair of Kinvaras. The soles have worn, but worn easily. They began to feel a little hard on my feet, but I replaced the insoles with some new stock Kinvara insoles that a friend who wears the same size wasn't using, and they felt god as new. The uppers are splitting a little where the shoe flexes during runs - over the forefoot area, but it's only the outer materials, so they still stay on and fit well. So, as far as very light weight shoes go, In the end I have to give the Saucony Kinvara very good scores for durability, at least on my feet. This could be because I'm a neutral midfoot/forefoot striker, but regardless, these shoes have taken whatever I have given over the last several months, and I'll likely just keep using them until the there is real problem. 

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