Marathon Shoes: Choosing My Shoe for Fall Marathon Two

Vibram Fivefingers Bikila 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.

Saucony Kinvara 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).

Saucony Grid Type A4 Side

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!

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Big decision, Pete! You know your body best, but having seen the photo of your late race heel-striking running form at Manchester City (certainly understandable as nearly everyone’s form breaks down when fatigued) I was surprised with so few weeks between your marathons that you’re now leaning away from the shoes that brought you safely to the huge PR and BQ towards an even more more minimalist shoe.

    • Pete Larson says:

      It was always my plan to run one of the two Fall marathons in Vibrams,
      but I’m just not confident in being able to handle the distance in
      them right now. Wearing a flat is a compromise plan I guess.
      Manchester is not a PR kind of course, but it’s my home turf so I’m
      hoping to just enjoy the day and the race and to go in with no
      pressure of any kind. I like trying new things, so this is the perfect
      opportunity.

      If you asked me to choose a shoe right now for Boston though, it would
      be the Kinvara.

      Pete

  2. Patton Gleason says:

    Pete,

    Good luck at MCM. The A4 is a great transition from the Kinvara. Anytime you are making some adjustments, moderation is key. Especially post marathon. By the sounds of it, you have plenty of great running days ahead to try a variety of shoes.

    BTW, the A4 also makes a great CrossFit and general cross training shoe.

    Cheers,

    Patton

  3. This summer I bought a pair of Mizuno Wave Musha 2, very lightweight and a low heel-drop. Great shoe!

  4. I have to agree with you about needing the extra stuff underfoot. I don’t think some of the barefoot mafia that use the explanation that early man ran without shoes don’t understand is that early man did not attempt to run 45+ miles a week on asphalt, and they usually died at 22 years old.

  5. The Grid Type A4 is currently my transition shoe to zero drop so I’m looking forward to hearing what you think. I’m enjoying working them into my runs and hoping to be able to wear the zero-drop NB Minimus in March ’11! Good luck in Manchester City!

    • @ Janmac -
      NB minimus due look interesting but unfortunately, they apparently will not be “zero” drop. They will be 4mm drop (according to their website). That’s the same as many other shoes, including the A4′s. For this reason I will continue to use my Bikila’s and Evo’s and look forward to trying Altra’s when they come out.

  6. I do most my fast sessions in modified nike free’s [ zero heel lift] or hyperspeeds, But race my marathons in Spira or Newton racers.
    My idea being to strengthen my muscles and bones as much as possible in training but use the Spira or Newtons to absorb as much shock as possible and save the legs when racing!

  7. I just got my new pair of VFF’s KSO. i would like to run in marathon but dont have time to it. I’m just running/jogging in my place just for exercise but i love running.

  8. I just ran the MCM in my Kinvaras, and while everything else hurts like hell, my feet are absolutely fresh and unscathed from the experience. Thanks for the great and accurate review.

  9. Jason Fitzgerald says:

    Pete have you tried the Saucony Fastwitch? While they do have a medial post (which I’m traditionally against) they weigh in at 7.0 oz. and are not quite as minimalist as the A4′s. I’m using a pair right now for about half of my runs and they’re awesome.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Jason,

      Yes, I’ve actually run two of my marathons in an older model of the
      Fastwitch. Bit too much heel for me right now though.

      Pete

  10. AshwynGray says:

    I applaud your penchant for experimentation, Pete! I was interested in trying the A4 as well until I saw how narrow it is. I’ll be interested to know how these treat you on the longer run.

  11. I’ll be curious to see which shoes you go with for Manchester. I just ordered my second pair of Kinvaras… stylin’ very flashy orange

  12. Greg Anderson says:

    I remember laughing at Saucony’s marketing on the Kinvara last spring. How dare they call a shoe with such a thick sole “minimalist”! Now I own a pair.

    I tried the barefoot thing for a couple of months, and I also tried VFFs. I ultimately came back to some lightweight “traditional” shoes because a coach helped me with my form. My problem all along hasn’t been my shoes, but small problems with my form and weakness in my core and hips.

    My point is, I think its great that you’re trying out a lot of different shoes and not allowing the hype around barefooting and minimalism to distract you from what’s most important: enjoying the run.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Greg,

      You totally hit the nail on the head with this comment. I’m finding
      the lightweight shoes are to my liking, and I’ve gone back to seeing
      the Vibrams more as a tool than an everyday shoe for me. Doing my form
      work this summer has really opened things up for me. That being said,
      I have no plans of ever going back to a 12mm drop shoe – 4mm is just
      about right for now, and more zero drop options are coming.

  13. Pete have you seen the article by Jack Daniels on ‘Barefooting’
    some wise words from the legendary coach!link to runningtimes.com

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