By John Schrup, Rogue Equipment
For those of us in running specialty, footwear is our bread and butter. And to be completely honest, for the past several years, often it seemed like we were eating week old white bread and margarine. Personally, running shoes had become rather boring.
For the past several years, running footwear has seen a dearth of innovation—real, functional innovation. Most of the new stuff we see has another bell, an extra whistle, maybe some flashy chrome-looking overlays. But nothing really new. Nothing that actually functions to help the body move the way it is designed to when running.
Until the past year, when we have seen some shoes that have been worthy of note. If last year’s shoe was the Brooks Launch—simple, minimalist-leaning, unadorned by bells and/or whistles, unencumbered by any proprietary cushioning technologies—this year’s shoe is likely to be the Saucony Kinvara.
The Kinvara takes what the Launch offered and then lifts it (or lowers it, depending on your perspective) a notch. The Kinvara is a lightweight trainer that can be used by a wide range of runners for almost any kind of running they wish.
Most running footwear follows a simple engineering design by which the midsole of the shoe is built with 24 or 25 mm of EVA foam under the heel and 12-13 mm of EVA under the forefoot. Each shoe company has different configurations, but for the most part, we see a fairly standard heel/toe offset. In recent years, we have come to know that the body’s mechanics are more efficient in running when the heel is lower to the ground, relative to the forefoot. And this is where Saucony has taken the big step in their design of the Kinvara.
The Kinvara sports a 4mm offset: The heel is 18mm of foam and the forefoot is a bouncy, protective 14 mm. The 18mm heel is lower than many racing flats, which would seem unsuitable for daily training for those of us who reside on the mortal side of things. But the extra height in the forefoot helps to provide a comfortable balance in cushioning, protection, and efficiency. Whereas the Launch, with a more standard, albeit shallow heel/toe offset, felt like an unusually smooth lightweight trainer, the Kinvara feels like an unusually protective and cushioned racing flat. There was a time when racing flats were reserved for the feather weight, the fleet ectomorph in race specific situations. Now it is known that racing flats can be used much more often by a much broader spectrum of runners. And this is where the Kinvara is gold: It is a trainer with the racing flat feel that won’t bottom out quickly for those of us who to need to push away the second piece of cake.
On the foot, the Kinvara feels like a racer. Super lightweight, both under and around the foot, when you put it on, you want to run fast, even if you are genetically inclined to glacially slow movement. The upper is deceptively comfortable. The upper is a paper thin three layer construction that at first appears to lack any support, but within the first few strides proves to be a proper fit.
Because of the lower offset you are less likely to smash down on the heel, simply because there is less heel there to smash down. By the end of the first block, you will notice that you are landing more mid-foot, and the foot strike feels quicker. The shoe at all paces feels smooth and efficient, never getting in the way or failing to protect from hard surfaces. So far, I have about 7 or eight runs–maybe 60 miles—on my new Kinvara. It did take about 3 or 4 runs for the beefier forefoot to break in and feel appropriately flexible and responsive, but now they feel like the bedroom slippers that I want them to be.
At Rogue, when we help our customers to select a shoe, we suggest they choose the shoe that feels the most like it is an extension of the leg, the shoe that is most like it is attached to the foot, and least like there is actually a shoe there. The Saucony Kinvara is all of that. And it is one of the first shoes in a long time to get us really excited about running footwear.