Skechers. Seriously.

IMG_5934by John Schrup

I began working for the Skechers Performance Division (SPD) in July of last year.  Well before I took the job, I’d become familiar with a few of their models and had written about how impressed I was.  BMort1 had hooked me up with a pair or two and then Kurt2 had sent over a couple of others.  The GO Run series had become part of my regular rotation, along with the Kinvara, Adios, Tarther (RIP), 1400 and beloved Launch.

At first, I was hesitant to trumpet the merits of Skechers product because I was a shoe snob–the wrong kind, really, leaning more toward brand snob than anything.  But I was digging the shoes so much that eventually I couldn’t hide that I was wearing them on more runs than not  (I still have the almost unused Kinvara, Adios, 1400 and Launch to prove it. They’re in the closet, and we still chat, though mostly now it’s like when you run into an old girlfriend and you’re married with kids and you’re like, soooooooo, how’s it going?)

And then last summer I got a message from my man Seth, who was working on the SPD marketing team at the time, that I should send my resume tout de suite.  Some things happened after that, obviously, and I ended up at the Intergalactic Sales Conference in Manhattan Beach.  If you’ve never been to Manhattan Beach, CA, it’s the kind of place where everyone smells real, real tan and you get sand in your parts, whether you want it there or not.  Also, if it gets below 60 degrees, they call FEMA to bring in some long sleeve shirts, because you never really know.

Several people asked me, upon my return from MB, seriously, dude?  Skechers?  Just like I’d been asked when I was reviewing the shoes.  Yes, Skechers.  Specifically, Skechers Performance Division.

There are some challenges I really, really enjoy.  If there is an underdog quality to the challenge, I’m all over it.  And Skechers Performance is an underdog in the specialty running market, so the excitement was immediate and visceral.  The challenges are real—most of you probably didn’t even know that Skechers makes performance running shoes, and even more of you probably only knew of the Shape Ups and all that. And running specialty is well aware of it, so there’s the challenge.  How to introduce to the public a really, really, really good product from a brand that has previously not been associated with performance product?

ATHLETICS-US-MARATHON-BOSTONThe idea is to change the perception of the brand.  Most people probably don’t care that the product team is as good as it gets and is making product that is as good or better than anything I’ve seen in 30-something years of running.3 Most people probably won’t even raise an eyebrow that Meb wore them when he won Boston, because truth be told, most people don’t follow the sport in that way.  All it really takes is to get the shoes on some feet.  It’s that simple; and it’s not.  Obviously you can’t just go around giving away all your shoes, can you?  No, but all it takes is a few who are willing to try.  Word of mouth, and all that.

We know that if you’re looking for a shoe to try, there are really two fundamental variables to consider:  fit and feel.  The shoes have to fit your feet well enough that they function the way they’re supposed to.  Both the shoes and your feet, that is.  And they should feel as if you’re really not wearing anything at all.  They should disappear on your feet.  Neutral, maximal, stability, whatever.  The shoes should allow your foot to move unrestricted.  And that’s the idea behind SPD product:  To make the smoothest transitioning footwear possible.

And it certainly doesn’t hurt when you get to rub shoulders with Kara and Meb.

Skechers is now carried at Rogue Running. Stop in, try ’em on and see for yourself!

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1 Dude is fast, but he puts his pants on one at a time, just like you and me.

2Stockbridge.  VP, Technical Development, Performance Division.  Good people.

3Note to self:  Edit, using actual math.

Off and On Again

by Chris Mclung

There are two ways that I know a shoe is good.

One of those I documented in this previous review of the Adios Boost. To save you from having to re-read that one, I will summarize: basically, my dog helps me.

The second is based on what comes to mind when someone asks me after a run: “So, how was the shoe?” If in that moment, my mind goes blank, then I know we’re on the cusp of shoe nirvana.

Enter: the Cloudracer from On Running.

On is a relatively new and unknown brand in the US, although it’s been going nuts in Europe for at least 2 years. It all started when Olivier Bernhard, a three-time World Duathlon and multiple Ironman Champion, retired from professional competition. As someone who struggled chronically with Achilles issues, he teamed up with a Swiss engineer to make a shoe that would give him enough relief to continue running for fun as a retired pro.

They expeon-cloudracer-running-shoe-review-4rimented with all sorts of designs, but the most effective was a make-shift shoe where the traditional foam was augmented on the bottom by cut up loops of old garden hose. These garden hose loops would eventually transform into On’s Cloudtec technology, the little rubber circles that appear on bottom of their shoes.

The company claims that these little clouds provide the magical combination of a more responsive ride with better horizontal and vertical force dissipation (i.e. cushioning) than conventional shoes. The video at the bottom of this page shows the comparison in action: [Note: That video is pretty compelling until you realize that the comp shoe is a Nike Structure Triax without the swoosh on it, a shoe bound to make anyone land with a thud.]

My first reaction when I saw them? Gimmick. Let’s be honest, that’s what you are thinking too. Much like with the lugs on a Newton shoe, the first thing you think of when you see something silly protruding from a running shoe is “that’s a gimmick, where’s my tried-and-true Brooks or Saucony or Mizuno?”

HOW WAS IT?!?

HOW WAS IT?!?

But I will try anything once, so I took a pair of On’s for a spin about 18 months ago. I was seeded a pair of the original Cloudracer, their lightweight trainer (in the orange and silver color you may have seen). We will call it Cloudracer 1.0 for the purpose of this blog. Upon returning from the first run, Subtle Chuck screamed, “How was it?” My honest answer at the time: “Awful.” I felt the little clouds protruding into my feet with every step. It wasn’t painful by any stretch, but it was annoying, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the shoes.

At that point, the decision was easy. We wouldn’t be carrying On shoes anytime soon. Fast forward 15 months, and I was given another pair of Cloudracers to try, this time in green and silver. I was promised by the On rep that I would love this updated version (we’ll call it Cloudracer 1.5). I accepted the shoes politely because I don’t usually turn down free shoes, but I quietly thought that it would be a cold day in hell before they made their way onto my feet on a regular basis.

Screen shot 2014-06-27 at 12.48.50 PMOther than the color change, the shoes looked exactly the same as version 1.0. I had plenty reason to be skeptical, until I accidentally ran in them one day. They were the only pair of shoes I could find one morning (thank you, Jasmine) while getting ready to coach, and therefore, the only shoes I had when I went for my usual post-coaching easy run on Wednesday.

After that run, I didn’t think about them again, until Subtle Chuck asked me in his soft, muted voice: “Have you run in those new On shoes yet? What did you think?” The mind went blank. Let me think. Had I run in them yet? Yes, I did accidentally that one day after coaching. How did they feel? Wait, I don’t remember. I don’t remember thinking about the shoe at all that day. That can’t be right.

So, I started to play it back in my mind. I remember the run being slow (as usual on my easy days) but also smooth and free. The clouds didn’t bother my feet. I thought about a lot of things that morning, as I would during any solo run, but not the shoes, not once. The shoe disappeared on the run that day, like it should. That’s shoe nirvana.

The difference from version 1.0 to version 1.5 is the all new “speedboard”, a rigid, plastic piece (similar to the Adidas torsion system) that is integrated into the midsole foam to make the ride more responsive and give the On shoe a more uniform feel. What a difference it makes. With that change, the clouds could do their magical thing and your feet don’t know the difference.

The On Cloudracer now has a home on our wall

The On Cloudracer now has a home on our wall

Now, the Cloudracer has a permanent place in my rotation as my Wednesday/Friday shoe (for easy days). It’s light (at 8.5 ounces for men and 7.5 ounces for women) and responsive (thanks to the speedboard) like any racer should be, but has enough cushioning to be used as training shoe for most. The offset is just 5mm (heel to toe), so there’s no extra bulk in the heel to get in the way of smooth, efficient running. In addition, the upper is probably the most breathable on our wall, perfect for hot, humid summer runs.

So, I was wrong. On is definitively not a gimmick. The shoes are the kind that make your mind go blank when you run… that free your mind to think about solving all of the world’s problems instead, taking you one stage of enlightenment closer to shoe nirvana.

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Screen shot 2013-06-24 at 2.46.38 PMChris McClung heads up all things retail at Rogue Running, and currently coaches The Morning Show, a group for half marathoners and marathoners alike.

 

The Myth of Over-Pronation

by Chris McClung

For over 30 years, the running shoe industry has put you in shoes based almost exclusively on one single variable – pronation. We are here to say that the industry’s concept of pronation, the need to correct it, and therefore shoe fitting is utterly and completely wrong. Further, the resulting technologies, such as the “post,” designed to “correct” this mythical, biomechanical fault of over-pronation are unnatural, inefficient, and likely the cause of more issues than they were designed to fix.

In fact, there is no such thing as over-pronation.

There, I said it.

Pause. Breathe. [Duck].

Since some of you might be reacting as people did when Nietzsche declared, “God is dead,” I’ll take a minute while you compose yourself, change your pants, or unfurl yourself from the fetal position clutching your Runner’s World shoe guide.

First, a few disclaimers:

1. I am not a scientist and this is not intended to be a science paper. This is just a conversation starter designed to promote discussion and encourage change in the industry’s concept of fitting so that you end up happier in your shoes and therefore happier with your running.

2. We are still learning too. Even though the degree of pronation has only been a small part of our fitting philosophy, the term “over-pronation” has been and still is embedded in our vernacular. With this blog, we are taking a stand against the use of the word and making a shift in our philosophy. This updated perspective has been honed through the input of scientific studies and with the experience of collectively fitting thousands of runners in our store over the last 5+ years. Many of these runners also train with us, providing a feedback loop and level of accountability for perfecting the fit that few stores have. This is just the tip of the iceberg on this discussion, and I am happy to discuss further with anyone interested. My email is at the end of this blog. In addition, we are “putting our money where our mouth is” with the Rogue Shoe Challenge, discussed below.

But first, let’s back up.

What is pronation?

Pronation is essentially the rolling inward of the foot as it comes into contact with the ground through each step. Most runners (or about 98% of you) pronate, generally landing on the outside of the heel as the foot contacts the ground and then rolling inward from the heel strike to toe off. The other 2% of runners supinate, rolling from the inside/out instead of outside/in. Those of us who pronate all pronate to different degrees depending on how the feet, ankles and legs work together. Beyond the mechanics of it, pronation is simply the body’s way of dissipating the forces associated with each foot strike. Without pronation, which spreads the load of ground contact over many milliseconds (instead of one) and over more muscles and tendons and bones, you would likely break your ankle when you hit the ground with one an intense thud.

f132425For those not familiar with the term pronation, you might be familiar with terms related to shoes and pronation such as “motion control”, “stability,” and “neutral cushioned.” The terms motion control and stability are typically associated with the word “over-pronation” or a foot that is supposedly pronating too much and needs correction. According to the running shoe industry, “over-pronation” is a biomechanical affliction evident when the foot/ankle rolls inward past the vertical line created by your leg when standing.

Most of us have seen such “over-pronation” in action, likely played back to us in slow-motion after running on a fancy, camera-equipped treadmill at your local running store or marathon expo. When we see it, we tend to cringe because we love symmetry, and we can’t help but want to correct or align anything that’s not symmetric. And, in this case, because we also love and are enamored by technology, often at the expense of validity.

But, there are two problems here:

1. The term “over-pronating” implies that there is a standard line over which “normal” pronation becomes “over.” But, who created that standard? If you look, you won’t find an answer. I submit that the line was created in the 1970s by our need for visual symmetry and by what has become millions of marketing dollars spent to sell you shoes, not by any true scientific definition of how the foot and ankle should work. What if those who pronate more than average have a greater need for force dissipation than others, a need that shouldn’t be hindered but rather facilitated? What if there is nothing to correct at all?

2. There is no scientific link to so-called “over-pronation” and injury. You can find studies like this one or even this one from a running shoe company itself that dispel the myth that “over-pronation” causes injury. As a coach, I deal with injured runners daily, none of whom have had injuries caused by pronating too much. In fact, I challenge anyone to name one single injury caused by this “dreaded” affliction. Not Plantar Fasciitis… that’s caused by tight or weak lower legs/calves. Not Runner’s Knee…. weak hips/ankles. Not shin splits… overuse or tight/weak shins/calves. Not IT band syndrome… instability/weakness in the hips and core. And the list could go on. In fact, as this article from Running Times points out, most of the issues that keep you from running start well above the feet.

Now many of you might say “But Chris, if it wasn’t for my trusted, high stability Brooks Adrenalines, I wouldn’t be able to run.” That might be true. I submit, however, that one of two things is possible in your case. Either a) you are responding favorably to something in the shoe, such as it’s relatively stiffness, that has nothing to do with the “post” or the perceived correction of “over-pronation;” or, b) you would actually be happier in something else and just don’t know it.

Gayle-BarronSo, if there is no such thing as over-pronation and if excessive pronation doesn’t cause injury, then how did we get here? One word: marketing. In marketing, you simplify the world to tell a story, a story that is easy to understand and that ultimately sells the product you want to sell – lots of it. In the 1970’s and early 1980’s, when running shoes were becoming a thing during the jogging boom, the shoe companies latched on to this singular variable because it was easy to understand, easy to develop a fitting philosophy around, and ultimately easy to sell. Then, an assault on “over-pronation” began as if it was an epidemic. Shoes were developed around it, the gloriously hard and dense foam “post” was invented to correct it, running stores were opened to preach it, and you were educated about it with everything from articles in Runner’s World to fun at-home wet-foot tests.

Now, I am embarrassed to say that you/I/we have been sold a truckload of bulls**t. I am embarrassed because I am the co-owner of a running store and am proud of the expertise that we provide. And, even though our fitting philosophy is different and our long-established ten commandments of shoe fitting mention nothing about pronation, our credibility is tied to the credibility of our peers and the shoe companies that work with us.

“Over-pronation” is not a thing and correcting it does more harm that good, inhibiting natural motion instead of facilitating it, like putting your foot into a cast with a brick underneath it. There are so many other variables that are important in shoe fitting – the relative flexibility/stiffness of the shoe, the cushioning, the weight, how it fits/feels, the way the upper hugs your foot, or the relative heel to toe differential (aka “drop”). I don’t even like to call it “shoe fitting” because that makes it about the shoe. It’s really about making your feet happy and allowing them, with your body, to move in a natural and efficient way so that you run free and effortlessly.

THE CHALLENGE

So, humbly, we take a stand for change by declaring, “over-pronation is dead” and by issuing a challenge to you. For anyone currently running in the chains of a posted shoe (see list below), we challenge you to let us fit you in a new, neutral shoe without the so-called correction.

If you aren’t happier and injury free with the new pair after 30 days (even if you run them ragged), come in for a full refund or exchange with no questions asked. And, on top of that, if you aren’t happy, we will throw in a $25 gift card to spend on anything else in the store as our way of putting our money where my mouth is. Take the Rogue Shoe Challenge. If you don’t live in Austin and can’t come see us in person, then we recommend shopping for “neutral” shoes with our online retail partner with a generous return policy: Road Runner Sports (Note: Use the link to the left for 10% off and free shipping). We dare you to be happier on your feet!

This challenge will run through June 30 at both Rogue Running locations. The shoes eligible for the challenge include:

Asics GT-2000

Asics Kayano

Asics DS-Trainer

Brooks Adrenaline

Brooks Transcend (sorry Brooks, but those “guiderails” are just a 360 degree post)

Brooks Ravenna

Brooks Beast

Saucony Guide

Saucony Hurricane

Saucony Omni

Nike Structure Triax

Nike Lunar Eclipse

Adidas Sequence

Adidas Salvation

New Balance 860

New Balance 1260

Mizuno Wave Nirvana

Mizuno Wave Alchemy

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BREAKING!
Dr. Spears and Sports Performance International (SPI), Austin Fit Magazine’s #1 Sports Doctor of 2013, are now putting their money and reputation on the line with us in the Rogue Shoe Challenge. For those who might be wary of injury, SPI is confident in our shoe fitting perspective and is now guaranteeing the challenge as well. If you get injured while attempting the Rogue Shoe Challenge, SPI will provide you with FREE injury consultation and physical therapy to resolve the issue. So, you are now officially out of excuses to drop the “post” and liberate your feet!
Here is the fine print for those who also want the injury guarantee:
– You must be fitted during the weekly injury clinic with Dr. Spears at Rogue DT (Wednesday from 4-6 pm) so that we can collaborate with him on any special issues to address with the fitting.
– You must check-in with us at the first sign of an issue, so that we can proactively manage it.
– The injury must clearly be tied to the change in shoes. For example, any injury gained from otherwise ill-advised moves like doubling your mileage from one week to the next or doing some fancy parkour trick off the Pfluger bridge is on you!

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Screen shot 2013-06-24 at 2.46.38 PMChris McClung heads up all things retail at Rogue Running, and currently coaches The Morning Show, a group for half marathoners and marathoners alike. He can be reached at chris@roguerunning.com.

Do you Karhu? (Part III…the final part)

by Chris MacLeod

Steady3

Note: This shoe is currently only available at Rogue’s downtown location.

After my mini love affair with the supportive Fast, I was downright excited to give the Steady a go. As a shoe that’s advertised as a supportive, stable shoe, I was a bit surprised Karhu got this one through the Rogue front doors.

The answer to that…well, like a Facebook relationship, it’s complicated.  The Steady was quite simply nothing like I expected it to be.

First off, though I didn’t feel any of the Karhus could be said to run “true to size”, the Steady was by far the most egregious offender. I couldn’t help but burst out laughing when I pulled on my usual size 9:

SteadyLength

And then I followed my coworkers around demanding, “Look! Look at my foot! Hehehe!”

Unfortunately, the general feeling of “too-bigness” wasn’t mitigated by dropping down a size. Not only did I face my all-too-common battle with a bunchy upper, but my foot actually slid around when I started running in this shoe.

I’ve never had a narrow enough foot to merit ordering narrow shoes (and Karhu doesn’t make them anyway), but I’m afraid this shoe was just too big for me to give a fair shake.

For the sake of completeness, I did still jog around a bit so I could report the other features:

This shoe is quite stiff, giving it a nice amount of reactivity with the ground.

SteadyBend

It’s possible I’m a tad obsessed with taking this particular type of shoe shot.

Also, at 8.9(?) ounces, the Steady is noticeably lighter than other shoes in the stability category. Granted, you pay for this in less cushioning and less-noticeable support than a typical stability offering.

One other thing you sacrifice for less weight is the “new and shiny” feel of the upper. After just 20 minutes, the shoe looked like this:

SteadyFabricNobody tell Chuck, okay?

I’m pretty sure the creased decoration is purely that – decoration – and doesn’t represent an actual structural problem with the shoe. But, if you’re the type to try to keep your shoes pristine, consider this a heads up.

Steady3 Verdict

Pros: Very light for a stable shoe.

Cons: Sizing was pretty far off. Upper may be a tad too light to support its own decoration.

Overall verdict: I really don’t think the Steady fit me well enough to give it a fair shake. It’s not the shoe for me, but not because it’s lacking in technology or features. Not the most helpful shoe review, but for me, the shoe just don’t fit!

Karhu Steady3 Specs*
Weight 8-10 oz.
Heel/Toe Drop 12.6 mm (or 8 mm – we found conflicting reports)
Design Features

 

Construction:

  • New “EV-icient” EVA foam midsole
  • Assymetrical Karhu Fulcrum technology to help control overpronation
  • High-abrasion rubber on outsole
  • Reflective piping on upper
Available Sizes M: 8-13

W: 6-11

Available Widths Standard
MSRP $125
* – We were unable to find Women’s specs for this shoe.

Missed Chris’ earlier reviews? Check out the Flow3 here and the Fluid3 and Fast4 here.

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About Rogue

Stop by to check out the Steady3 and talk with the experts at Rogue Running – two Austin-area locations!

Do you Karhu? (Part II)

by Chris MacLeod

What was the first thought when I slipped on the Fluid3?

“Holy crap, this shoe is long!”

FluidLength

I dropped down a size and the shoe STILL fit like this.

Perhaps I should remember this the next time a customer is upset about how “big” their shoe is. Buying a Karhu is like shopping at Chico’s; everyone’s a size 2! (Gentlemen, don’t worry about understanding that last sentence.)

The next thing I noticed about the Fluid was how light it felt on my foot! This was quite odd, given that the Fluid is technically about half an ounce heavier than the Flow, but let’s just accept that if you want someone to estimate weight by hefting an object, I might not be your go-to person.

I think the reason this shoe felt “lighter” to me was its stiffer last, which gave the shoe a more responsive, “springy” feel than the Flow.

FluidBend

Not so flexy now, are we? (Ouch, I think I pulled something in my hand…)

The Fluid is still a tad heavier than I would choose for a 5K, but I could see using it for quality work. Full disclosure: My Flow fan friend (say that 3 times fast) calls it a “long run shoe”, so I perhaps I’ve just gone completely off the range on this one?

Drop-wise, the Fluid feels low, but not zeroed out, which I personally prefer. (The prodigal daughter writes shoe reviews, hehehehe!)

I might have to bite the bullet and admit I’m a cushion fan, because I also liked that I couldn’t feel the fulcrum as much in the Fluid, as compared to the Flow.

I’m starting to sound redundant with all the things I “liked”, so I’ll just say it flat out: I really LIKE the Fluid! I would never have pulled it off the wall for myself were I not expressly intending to review it, but I’ll take it as a life lesson that I shouldn’t be afraid to try new things.

The only real down side of the Fluid for me was that in addition to fitting long, it was also a bit wide on my narrow feet. Even cinching down the laces, I could just generally feel my foot moving around in this shoe.

FluidWidthWhy do shoes always look like this on my foot?

Of the four Karhus, the Fluid3 and the Steady3 (review to come) fall noticeably in the “too big” camp. They also came out at the same time, leading me to wonder if there was a machine calibration change somewhere on the assembly line.

Fluid3 Verdict

Pros: Light, responsive ride with enough cushion to stay comfy over longer runs.

Cons: This shoe is huge! Who do you think I am? Bigfoot?

Overall Verdict: For most runners, the Fluid3 would likely make a solid everyday trainer or a good transition down from more structured shoes. It’s not a racer, but it’s no pillow either.

Karhu Fluid3 Specs
Weight 8.9 oz
Heel/Toe Drop 8
Design Features Construction:

  • New “EV-icient” EVA foam midsole
  • Karhu Fulcrum technology (higher durometer EVA)
  • High-abrasion rubber on outsole
  • Open mesh upper
Available Sizes M: 8-13W: 6-11
Available Widths Standard
MSRP $125
*-We were unable to find certain specs for this shoe

Fast4

Remember that history lesson at the beginning of all this? As you can tell, Karhu is a brand that fills me with nostalgia. The Fast4, in particular, takes me right back to 1989.

Which is not a knock on the shoe in any way! I’m going to go ahead and ruin the ending right here: I LOVE this shoe. I’m just not 100% sure my reasons are entirely objective.

Technologically speaking, the Fast has the same basic features as the Flow and the Fluid. The fulcrum, the cloth upper, the crazy colors…all present.

But, as the “most supportive” of Karhu’s neutral shoes, these modern features are accompanied by a distinctly old-fashioned amount of cushion and structure.

FastMedial

Also, they’re purple, and I totally had a pair of purple gym shoes when I was six!

As you can see from the picture, the Fast also has a more “old-fashioned” amount of heel lift, with a full 14 mm of drop from heel to toe. With the recent takeover of low- and no-drop shoes, this is a legitimate rarity in running specialty.

The other feature of the Fast that can be tough to find these days – Adidas Boost’ shoes aside – is cushion. This shoe is soft all over (except for a surprisingly noticeable – and reassuring, if you tend toward overpronation – amount of arch support).

The toe is downright squishy, but not so built up that you feel like you’ll trip over it, and the heel feels like it includes a pre-installed heel cup. Which, granted, was disconcerting at first, but I stopped noticing the slight “bump” after about 3 minutes in the shoe. I suspect it would settle with wear.

Of course, all this cushion and support do mean that the Fast isn’t exactly a lightweight model. At 11 oz., it rivals bigger support shoes like the Brooks Adrenaline in weight, which explains my gut feel that for me this would be a long run shoe. As much as I love this shoe, it just can’t match the Fluid or the Flow in terms of the responsiveness I would want for track work.

That said, if you told me to pick a shoe to go run 20 miles in, the Fast would be a contender. (It also passed the “stand around” test with flying colors…I could work in this shoe all day.)

FastBend

Can’t you just see the cushiony comfort?

Fast4 Verdict

Pros: Pure cushioned comfort! Also, support. And purple!

Cons: A bit heavy with a large heel-toe drop that might feel a bit 1989 to you, too.

Overall Verdict: The Fast4 is a solid, grind out the miles shoe for those looking for a comfy ride. It does not feel “lightweight”, but if you yearn for the old days of solid stability, the Fast may be for you. Though advertised as a neutral shoe, I felt the Fast had adequate support for a severe over-pronator like myself.

Its sheer comfort could also make it a great option for those prone to impact soreness.

MensFastWallProof that the men’s version is not purple.

Stay tuned – the Steady3 is up next!

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About RogueStop by to check out the Fluid3 and Fast4 and talk with the experts at Rogue Running – two Austin-area locations!

Do You Karhu? (Part I)

By Chris MacLeod, Rogue Running Cedar Park

Here at Rogue, we have one surefire method for determining how much of a shoe geek someone is. It involves observing their reaction to this shoe:

FlowWall

Average runner: “Oh, that’s a different-looking shoe.”

Total shoe geek: “Oh wow, you guys carry Karhu???”

Karhu History

Karhu, Finnish for “bear”, is a Helsinki-based company that dates back to 1916. (Technically, the company name is “Karhu Sports”, not to be confused with Karhu beer, reportedly Finland’s most popular lager.)

Long before the rise of runners from East Africa and the Caribbean, the world of track and field was dominated by the “Flying Finns”. Karhus graced the feet of such famous runners as Paavo Numi and the Finnish team that accepted Steve Prefontaine’s invitation to race at Hayward Field in 1975.

Yes yes, this is supposed to be a shoe review, not a shoe history report. Just ONE more fun fact: It was actually Karhu that created the famous 3-stripe logo that now graces Adidas products. Karhu sold the mark to the then-small German company in 1951 for the equivalent of 1,600 Euros and two bottles of whiskey (the latter being equivalent to…two bottles of whiskey.)

Technology Overview

Here at Rogue, we carry four of Karhu’s road shoe offerings:

KarhuCollage

Clockwise from top-left: Flow3, Fluid3, Fast3, Steady4

These shoes run the range from very light neutral trainer to decently-cushioned stability shoe, but all four are built around Karhu’s patented “fulcrum technology”.

Don’t you wish you’d thought to patent the fulcrum?? Genius!

In running shoe terms, this means that the midsole includes a triangular-shaped wedge of higher durometer (stiffer) foam that creates a pivot point for your foot as it rolls over the ground. Karhus basically have a pivot where traditional shoes might have some form of medial posting. Needless to say, this is one shoe I would like to cut in pieces to see all the layers! (If only performing surgery on quality running shoes didn’t make me tear up.)

According to Karhu, the fulcrum design not only fights over-pronation, it also reduces vertical oscillation. In short, the shoe makes your foot roll so efficiently over the ground that you bounce up and down less, thus conserving energy.

KarhuOsc

Image from karhu.com/technology. The green line is Karhu; the red is everybody else.

According to Karhu, by reducing oscillation, you reduce other common evils like over-striding, braking with your heels, etc. The end result is a more consistent stride.

I’m not quite as clear on how the fulcrum controls over-pronation, but Karhu does have a video of a guy running pretty darn neutral. I think the basic idea is more efficient stride = less time on the heel to over-pronate, which is in line with the idea of controlling injury-causing foot movements by running on the mid- to forefoot.

If you read my previous review of the ASICS Super J33, you know I’ll be giving these shoes’ pronation control abilities quite the workout!

Flow3

The lightest of the four Karhus at Rogue is the Flow3, which Karhu promotes as durable enough for an everyday trainer yet light enough for a racing flat. Even I, one of the more “stability-friendly” Rogues you’ll meet, find the “racing flat” claim a stretch. The Flow is by far the most flexible of our Karhus, and not too cushioned, but it’s no Adios Boost.

FlowBend

Well hello, Flexy.

As the pic illustrates, there’s not a whole lot of cushion/stiffness/etc. in the front half of this shoe. This can be great if you like a lot of flexibility and ground feel, but for me it caused that pesky metatarsal joint on my left foot started whining a bit.

Note: Metatarsal pain is a problem for me in most lightweight shoes – or any that are particularly low on the cush-factor – but if you are prone to it yourself, you may want to watch out for it in the Flow.

Another element of the Flow that I decided to attribute to the lack of cushion (and this was definitely the standout factor for me) was that I could feel the fulcrum almost as much as the posting in a support shoe. Weird, right?!?

I won’t say there was a lot of pronation control per se (nor would I expect it in a lightweight trainer), but I could definitely feel something under my arch. Very odd. Perhaps this gets less noticeable as you adapt to the fulcrum?

On the run, the Flow definitely rides like a low-drop shoe. Granted, at 5mm, this is far from the lowest shoe on the floor, but I was legitimately afraid to land on my heel. I’m not sure if that was due to forward propulsion from the fulcrum or just not wanting to land on the stiff heel, but either way, for me, the Flow did encourage a forefoot strike!

One last noticeable element of the Flow was the “heel collar” on the insole, between the heel and the ankle. I noticed no such feature in the other three Karhus, which was a shame, because it fit perfectly! The little padded nobs clinched the shoe in place: I couldn’t have made the Flow slip if I tried! (And I did.)

FlowInnerHeel

Heel collar on the Flow.

Flow3 Verdict

Pros: NO heel slippage, low drop, encouraged a forefoot strike.

Cons: Felt “piece-y”. I could literally feel each separate piece of the shoe. I also expected a lighter feel given the lack of cushioning.

Overall Verdict: If anything, this would be a quality workout shoe for me. While I don’t think I’ll be adding the Flow to my regular rotation, another Rogue termed it “One of [his] favorites. The only Karhu [he] likes to run in.” Consider this a good reminder that every foot is different, so you should always take your shoe reviews with a grain of salt! (Or silica pellet.)

Karhu Flow3 Specs
Weight M: 8.6 ozW: 7.3 oz
Heel/Toe Drop M: 5.1 mm (23.3 mm/18.2 mm)W: 5 mm (18 mm/13 mm)
Design Features  Construction:

  • Compression molded EVA foam midsole
  • Karhu Fulcrum technology (higher durometer EVA)
  • High-abrasion rubber on outsole
  • Open mesh upper
Available Sizes M: 8-13W: 6-11
Available Widths Standard
MSRP $115

Stay tuned – the Fluid3 is up next!

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About RogueStop by to check out the Flow3 and talk with the experts at Rogue Running – two Austin-area locations!

Hoka One… WHAT?!?

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by Chris McClung

“So, we’re bringing in the Hokas.”

Those might be the last words I utter on this planet. Well, the last words before the rest of the words in this blog.

Yep, cue the apocalypse. Hide your children. Grab your bug-out bags and zombie survival manuals. Retreat to your doomsday bunkers. And, don’t forget to bring your parkas because hell is getting mighty frigid about now.

BUT, before you freak out or begin typing out your own “Open Letters to Rogue,” please allow me a moment to explain. This has been a decision that is 11 months in the making with no shortage of very heated internal debate. In fact, as recent as 4 weeks ago, I was personally adamant that we should not bring them in, even though my favorite mancrush, THE Paul Terranova, is a loyal fan of the brand.

This is the story of why we are adding Hoka shoes to our assortment, and perhaps more importantly, insight into how we consider potential new additions to the wall.

First, a quick background on us…

For those not familiar with our shoe fitting philosophy, we have a very different approach  to putting shoes on your feet than most other stores in our industry. As a quick summary, our philosophy centers on this concept: keep it simple. The shoe is not the end all; it is a facilitator, which should “get out of the way” and allow you to achieve your most efficient gait. We favor simplicity over complex “technologies,” neutrality in the shoe vs. corrective stability, lighter and leaner vs. heavier and more “cushioned.” And, perhaps above all, the shoe should be everything you need and nothing more, allowing your body to most efficiently and naturally do the work needed to move you forward through space.

Hoka, on the other hand, would seem to represent the exact opposite of what we believe. The brand is at the center of a new “maximalist” movement in running shoes; it’s the new yin to the yang of the minimalist/Vibram movement from 5 years ago. Hoka founders reference the success of “over-sized” movements in tennis rackets and skis as rationale* for their design. If you have seen the shoes, they are downright beefy like moon boots, with ultra thick midsoles that make even the most petite individuals look like giants in a pair.

We essentially espouse a philosophy of “less is more.” Hoka says that more is more. So, what gives?

Three things:

1. Every shoe has a purpose. And, Hokas are no exception. The shoes have their roots in the ultra-trail world where athletes must endure long, sustained periods on their feet as well as very technical terrain. With max cushioning and a broad, stable ride, Hokas create the perfect platform to bomb down really technical downhills as well as provide long-term support/cushioning for 50+ mile runs. Over 50+ miles, the body will break down no matter what, regardless of how strong you are, so having a plush, well-cushioned shoe can provide an advantage during an ultra-marathon after 12+ hours on your feet. For the same reasons, Hokas are now becoming popular in the triathlon world, particularly with Ironman-distance athletes, as a friendly companion for their feet during the final 3-6 hours of their already long days.

In these cases, the shoes are doing the work in a situation where the body simply cannot, or at least when the body needs some serious help to endure.

Our own Erik Stanley wore a pair during his top 5 finish at the Bandera 100K last January, and of course, Mancrush Terranova dominated in them on his way to top 10 at Western States in June.

That said, our worry with the Hokas is that they will be used as a crutch in situations where the body SHOULD be doing the work instead of the shoe. Just as the Vibram Five Fingers and barefoot running were not the answers to all of your running pains, neither are the Hokas. They have their place in situations described above or perhaps as a tool while returning from injury, but as currently constructed, we would not recommend them to an everyday runner who is strong enough or could be strong enough to run comfortably in a shoe with less cushioning and a lower platform.

2. Given their purpose, the shoes are good… really good. Yes, the shoes are 6-8 millimeters thicker in the midsole than any other shoe on the wall, but other than that, they meet our criteria on almost every other dimension: simple construction with no unnecessary “technologies,” a level platform (4-6mm offsets), light materials with relatively low weights for their size, a smooth transition with complete ground contact from heel to toe, and a lightweight/breathable upper that fits well on many different kinds of feet.

We know we like them because staff members have been wear testing seed pairs for nearly 11 months. We are never quick to move on any new shoe brand; we need time to test it, learn about, digest it, and understand how it fits into our philosophy. Ultimately, after taking the time needed to evaluate it, then you won’t see it on our wall if we don’t believe in it.

With the Hokas, we have made no exceptions to our vetting process, and in fact, we’ve had more debates over this brand than I can count with every member of the team. Ultimately, with the verdict in, the Hokas are Rogue approved.

3. You asked for them. When we say, “Rogue approved,” we aren’t just referring to our staff. Because so many of our customers train with us, we have a different degree of accountability on the shoe floor than most stores. If we screw up the fitting process with anyone in our groups or if a shoe just isn’t working, then we generally hear about it immediately and LOUDLY.

Therefore, our shoe wall is a living and breathing reflection of our expertise AND your feedback. If a shoe isn’t working with you, then it doesn’t stay on the wall. And, likewise, if you want something or ask for it, then we will give it a much closer look. Newton is a brand that we carry in part because you screamed loudly for it. Hoka is a similar story. We received 4-5 calls a week per store asking if we carried the brand, much more than any other brand in recent memory. Of course, Mr. Terranova has also been incessantly lobbying for them.

That type of demand only comes when the product is really good, validating our own conclusions, and giving a much broader meaning to the phrase Rogue approved.

With Hokas (and any shoe on our wall)… Rogue, the collective Rogue, approves!

Note: We currently carry the Hoka Bondi B2 and the Hoka Stinson Trail.

* All arguments in this blog aside. I happen to think this rationale is more about marketing than anything valid. Over-sized tennis rackets are about generating power and increasing the size of the sweet spot. Over-sized skis are essentially about improving aerodynamics. Neither of those scenarios says anything about the potential success or failure of over-sized cushioning, but that’s an opinion of one.

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Screen shot 2013-06-24 at 2.46.38 PMChris McClung heads up all things retail at Rogue Running, and currently coaches half marathoners and those taking on the Austin Distance Challenge.

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Want to check out a pair of Hokas yourself? Stop by either Rogue Running location!

Austin: 500 San Marcos St. 78702 / 512.493.0920

Cedar Park: 2800 E. Whitestone Blvd. 78613 / 512.777.4467