My initial plan for my second marathon this Fall (Manchester City in NH) was to try to run it in the Vibram Fivefingers Bikila. However, I have come to the somewhat disappointing realization that I just didn’t have enough time in between marathons (5 weeks) to gradually build mileage back up to the point where I would be comfortable running 26.2 miles in them. I did do a ten miler in the Trek Sports last weekend, and it went well, but recovery was slow (calves were barking once again, probably the shoes combined with residual marathon fatigue – usually takes me a bout 4 full weeks to recover completely), and pushing longer just for the heck of it didn’t seem wise at this point. I don’t really have a time goal going into the Manchester City Marathon since I surprised myself with a BQ at the Smuttynose Rockfest Marathon (in the Saucony Kinvara), but I’d like to enjoy the race and not risk an injury. Furthermore, Manchester is extremely hilly, and although I find uphills much easier to run in Vibrams, downhills are the opposite, and it just doesn’t seem like the right race for which to push this little experiment. Given all of this, I find myself looking for an alternative shoe for the 26.2 in Manchester.
I’ve taken some ribbing from my more hard-core minimalist friends about my liking of the Saucony Kinvara (see picture at left), which they deem too highly cushioned and to high in the heel to be a truly minimalist shoe. To be honest, I agree with them – the Kinvara is not in the same league as something like the Vibram Fivefingers. However, I am also arriving at a point of (temporary?) clarity regarding my running shoe preferences. I tend to view shoes as tools, with different shoes serving different purposes, and for long runs and marathons I see value in have some extra protection under foot, particularly since form often tends to break down late in a long race. Any shoe that brings you a PR (and a BQ) is going to occupy a special spot in your rotation (regardless of how much of a role the shoe actually played), and I have no shame in saying that the Kinvara is a great marathon shoe, and a great all-around shoe for someone looking for something less but not wanting to go all the way to a shoe like the Fivefingers (you can read my full Saucony Kinvara review here).
Despite my affinity for the Kinvara, I am ever the experimenter, and I really want to try something different in Manchester just to keep things interesting. As such, I am now leaning toward the newest shoe in my rotation, the Saucony Grid Type A4 (see photo above). The A4 is the next step downward toward a more minimal shoe in Saucony’s lineup, and it’s a shoe that I have long wanted to try. Saucony was kind enough to send me a trial pair to review (disclosure – these shoes were free of charge), and I took them for a first spin yesterday. I did a 5 miler at about 6:50 min/mile pace, which was probably the hardest run I have done since Smuttynose (I’m happy to report that Jack the running dog completed this speedy jaunt with me!), and they are definitely a different shoe than the Kinvara in a number of ways. They weigh in at about 6.5 oz on my scale, which is an ounce or so lighter than the Kinvara, which is conducive to making me want to run fast in them. Additionally, the Grid Type A4 sole feels distinctly firmer, and they ride considerably closer to the ground. The heel-toe drop is the same in the two shoes (reported at 4mm). On the potentially negative side for those with wide feet, the Grid Type A4 is noticeably snugger in the toebox than the Kinvara. I’d probably place the Grid Type A4 somewhere between the Kinvara and the Mizuno Wave Universe on the minimalist scale. It’s hard to say much else after a single run, but the plan is to do an easy long run (15 miles) in them this weekend, and if all goes well I’ll probably wear them in Manchester on November 7. Stay tuned!