Saucony Kinvara 2 Review

I’ve been slow to like and appreciate the Saucony Kinvara 2, but I’m beginning to warm to the Kinvara as a semi-regular bulk training shoe. After four or five 40 minute jogs in these shoes, things really started to click for me after a 6km cross country race wearing spikes left me with sore paws and feeling a bit ginger. So I was looking for something with a little cushion to ease my journey around my regular 80 odd minute long run course. When I returned home my smarting feet were pretty happy with the decision and so was I having got the feel for running well in the Kinvara.

The Saucony Kinvara 2 is not exactly an unknown quantity in running circles, particularly amongst those more minimally inclined and probably many other runners that might not even realize they’ve purchased a shoe with a much lower profile than their traditional 12mm+ drop foot-coffins. I suppose knowing in advance that the Kinvara is a cushioned, lightweight trainer with a 4mm drop made me a bit skeptical about where this shoe might fit into the context of my own running and minimalist transition and its potential and/or benefit going forward.

I’m now relatively experienced and well adapted to wearing low profile shoes, doing most of my running in Nike Free 3.0 and various other racing flats and marathon racers. I’ve also been doing a solid amount of barefoot jogging on grass most weeks for the past four months – usually at least 20 minutes and recently some barefoot tempo running on grass.

In the back of my mind I was thinking perhaps I’ve past a shoe like the Kinvara 2 by? But equally I was wondering if I’d been aware of this shoe a couple of years ago, perhaps it might have made a great stepping down point and useful tool when moving from heel-striking to forefoot running and implementing a stronger glute driven running technique.

The Saucony Kinvara 2 is a relatively light shoe that looks much like a regular lightweight trainer. The primary differences being the Kinvara’s heel-to-toe drop of 4mm compared to 8-10mm and the cushioning and sole of the shoe being one and the same piece of material. A similar concept to the Nike Free range and one that I’m a fan of, even with the slightly softer and thicker Kinvara cushion, I reckon it translates feel for the ground pretty well.

The lack of flexible grooves through the sole might detract somewhat from feel, but it’s a practical benefit for those annoyed by the rock catching properties of the Nike Free range. The Kinvara is also a surprisingly stable feeling shoe, probably due to the quite wide footprint of the forefoot sole compared to the actual toe box and forefoot upper area.

Minimalist transition

So where does a 4mm drop cushioned shoe fit in a minimalist transition pathway? I think the answer lies in not being too hung up on making a linear progression down from 12mm drop traditional running shoes to zero drop, zero cushion shoes. I’m a big believer of having multiple pairs of shoes for different roles or just for variety and stimulus alone. Having a few different shoes in your toolkit is wise, and the addition of something like the Kinvara, i.e. a flattish shoe with some cushion, could be a sensible decision for those on a transition down and/or runners like me who just fancy a bit of cushion from time to time while maintaining the feel of a lower drop shoe.

I’m not sure if I’d recommend the KInvara as a first step down, a light weight trainer with a 8-10mm drop or a marathon racing shoe will some heel support probably being a more conservative approach.

Minimalist running transition insurance?

One of the big issues faced my many runners transitioning down aggressively into minimal, very flat and modestly cushioned shoes has been the instance of metatarsal stress fractures. In my opinion this tends to be caused (in addition to lack of cushion) by the runner’s expectation that a simple transition from heel-strike to forefoot oriented landing will solve all of their injury and running technique problems.

As I’ve written about a few times on this blog, making this change without strengthening and learning to activate your hip extensors and external rotators (hamstrings and glutes) can be a recipe for a number of running injury disasters, of which metatarsal stress fractures are but one. It’s worth reiterating that I consider this strengthening and activation of the glutes in particular to be more important than making a change to your foot-strike pattern in the first instance.

So perhaps a more conservative and practical approach to those wanting to transition down and work on forefoot running is to use shoes like the Kinvara 2 that have a flat profile but retain some cushioning volume in the forefoot? While barefoot purists might rage against such thinking, it does allow a bit more margin for error for runners who inevitably want to progress more quickly in training volume and intensity than the thinnest shoes might allow.

Adopting this approach means you can start the process of working on technique and begin making the physical adaptations of lengthening and strengthening your calves and Achilles and toughening up the plantaflexors of the foot. While this process is taking place your feet have a bit more protection from the sometimes harsh forces involved in learning this new running skill – trust me I’ve been there, mistakes can and do happen, so why not plan strategies to minimize their impact?

If you’ve already transitioned down, having a forgiving, flatter profile trainer is again not a bad idea for easy runs or longer outings where you feel the need for a bit more protection.

On the run

In terms of the ride and feel, the Saucony Kinvara 2 seems suited to easy pace running of which I’ve now done more than 100km of in this shoe. I wouldn’t be in a hurry to use the Kinvara during speed work (I suspect they lack a bit of zip) but it could be suitable for longer tempo runs or marathon pace efforts. For longer, easy paced runs the Kinvara works well and has been a popular choice for many Marathon runners including Runblogger Pete Larson, who is also a fan of this shoe. His review of the Kinvara can be read here.

So far I’ve taken the Kinvara on gravel, sealed road and granite sand. I probably enjoy them most on the gravel where they ride surprisingly well over uneven surfaces, loose rock and stones. I have read that many consider the Kinvara not very durable and I can see this would be the case if you’re generally a bit hard on your shoes.

However, I suspect I’ll get similar wear out of these as I have for the Nike Free range, which I have found surprisingly durable – logging 800+km in most pairs. I guess part of the answer lies in rotating shoes, if you wear them once or twice per week you’ll probably get a good journey out of them. I suspect if the Kinvara was coated in a heavy durable outer sole that it would lose a lot of its feel for the ground – something I really like.

Impact of the lower heel-toe drop

I think the key with the flatter shoe really is the capacity to continue to practice running in a way that loads and releases energy from the foot, Achilles and calves. While I’m still relatively new to and still learning the art of forefoot running I find it valuable to stay in flatter shoes to allow me to practice getting the feel for this important loading cycle. The bit of cushion does allow you to feel more confident about putting some revs through the ground while still maintaining a forefoot landing pattern.

I’m not sure how the Kinvara will perform for heel-strikers, but I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t be a good shoe – I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who’s running well in the Kinvara with this foot-strike pattern.

Conclusion

I’m looking forward to doing some miles in the Kinvara 3 when it arrives, as the quick treadmill sample run made my think they were better than the 2, with perhaps a slightly firmer ride – time will tell. But as it stands the Kinvara 2 is another good shoe to consider adding to your kitbag. I would like to hear of other runners’ experiences with the Kinvara: durability, minimalist transition and overall impressions.

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Disclosure: Shoe sample provided by Saucony

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13 Responses to Saucony Kinvara 2 Review

  1. Rob May 17, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    Hi Brian,
    very late comment but i had recently started in the Kinvara 2, having worn the kinvara 1 about 3 pairs of runners ago. Kinvaras are my favourite shoe for comfort, weight and for being able to feel the ground a little when i run. Compared to other shoes i have owned they are pretty well priced too. The problem is that the lightweight sole wears out very quickly. The upper has been improved and is quite hardy but that means little when you are running on a wet dark morning with grip that is no better than a pair of rubber thongs. So with that said, instead of having runners for different surfaces i now have night and day runners!

    • Brian May 17, 2012 at 10:55 am #

      G’day Rob, thanks for those insights. I like the night and day runners approach, something in that! What do you run in when it’s dark?

  2. Greg Strosaker May 8, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    I’ve put in around 450 miles in 2 pairs of Kinvara 2’s and wrote a review with a lot of the same conclusions as you did – Pete referred to them as a “gateway” shoe towards minimalism and that seems an apt description. Pure minimalists would abhor the cushioning, and traditionalists could still run in these shoes without much modification to form (you can still heel-strike in them). So I guess you can either call them a good compromise or a cop-out.
    I still struggle with whether I like them or not – I had increased the portion of my mileage I run in them and was trying to work them up from a half-marathon to marathon shoe, but then ran into some Achilles tendinitis, so I’m rotating back to my Lunarfly’s (9mm drop) and will use the Kinvaras and now Nike Free’s more occasionally. Not sure if I’ll try the Kinvara 3’s.

    • Brian May 8, 2012 at 10:58 am #

      Thanks Greg, great info – I reckon I’m a bit like you, will use them once or twice per week but always rotating with other shoes. Actually don’t mind that approach, the variety is a mental holiday as much as anything.

      • Curb Ivanic May 9, 2012 at 8:15 am #

        Brian & Greg, regularly using different shoes to run is a terrific strategy and one that I highly encourage my runners to use. As Brian said, great for mental break but also has good physical benefits. It helps you keep a healthy level of movement variability in your running gait and changes the musculoskeletal stress to help avoid overloading specific joints or muscles while still allowing for improved running fitness.

        We hosted a running symposium in Vancouver earlier this year and the topic was minimalist shoes. We had a terrific panel of experts provide some great insights from different perspectives. You can view the videos here: http://www.corerunning.com/running_symposium.html

        • Brian May 9, 2012 at 8:20 am #

          G’day Curb, thanks for the feedback and the link. Totally agree, running in a single shoe model can be a pathway to getting overuse type injures. Mix it up a little! Brian

  3. Cam Baillie May 8, 2012 at 12:11 am #

    Brian.
    Another insightful article. I can relate well as over the last 14months I have explored a similar journey towards a less is more approach in running shoes. (I’d noticed you’d also scored some limelight with Pete Larson’s Runblogger site as well- congrats on that!)
    I bought my 1st pair of Kinvara 2’s locally in Aug11 to transistion from Saucony Triumph 5’s to something lower profile. I found a gradual approach was required over several months to manage some archilles and calf issues; rotating different shoes really helped me too. Prior to this I’d been working on basic aspects of my running form and a mid-to-forefoot strike.
    I was blown away by how light the K2’s are and their general feel underfoot. I’ve since bought a second pair a half size up to seek slightly more toe room. Along with dropping my orthotics (at last) I can say that the results have been all positive for the last 2mths. And yesterday they helped me to I bash out a PB in the Pufing Billy in damp muddy conditions. And unlike some complaints I overheard, I never had issues with my toes moving fwd (being squashed) during downhill sections – and I certainly let gravity do its thing after pushing through the ups this time around! More glute work instore over the next 12mths methinks.
    I’m keen to try the K3’s in the near future, as well as their trail version.

    Keep up the good writing and reviews.

    Cheers

    CB
    Highett

    • Brian May 8, 2012 at 7:40 am #

      Thanks Cam, appreciate the feedback. Good insights all around there, smart move rotating the shoes during your transition. Congratulations on the PB racing the train, have yet to do that race, will have to lock in for 2013. Have just got my hands on the Kinvara 3 so I’ll get some preliminary notes on Facebook pretty soon. Brian

  4. Curb Ivanic May 7, 2012 at 12:05 am #

    Hey Brian, I tried the Kinvara when they first came out. Liked a lot about the shoe but found the toe-box to be too narrow for my liking. Is there any improvement in this shoe with regards to the toe-box?

    cheers, Curb

    • Brian May 7, 2012 at 7:41 am #

      Hi Curb, I can’t compare it to the original, but I think the forefoot / toe box fit in the Kinvara 2 is pretty good. I have a relatively wide forefoot for my size that struggles to fit in many shoes comfortably, so I’d say it’s a reasonably good fit. Brian

  5. Laurits Fischer-Hansen May 6, 2012 at 10:43 pm #

    Hi Brian,

    Interesting that you should do a write-up of the Kinvara 2. I just started using it as well after my DS-Trainer died on me (after 3 years :).

    I am using it as a transition shoe into more minimalistic running as I traditionally have been a more heel striking runner running in the Nimbus shoe for generations.

    So far I have done 3 runs at 45min in them and haven’t experienced any problems or soreness.

    • Brian May 6, 2012 at 10:49 pm #

      Hi Laurits, thanks for the feedback. 3 years is a good life for a shoe – time for retirement :-) That’s great you’re using them to transition – any noticeable change in your running technique from the 4mm drop? Brian

      • Laurits Fischer-Hansen May 7, 2012 at 9:12 am #

        During the first couple of runs I have mainly focused on making sure that the shoe was comfortable and didn’t cause me any pain (both regular blisters and worse injuries like shin etc), so I haven’t thought too much about my technique yet.

        As I run more in them I’ll make sure to notice chances in my stride.

        Laurits