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.
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.
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.
Written by Brian Martin