I personally think that one of the things that some running brands could do a little more of, is talking about their heritage and the reason they do what they do. This is part of what we believe in at Freestak and it comes from a feeling that often people don’t just by what a brand produces it, that buy why they produce it. People engage with brands that have a story and tell that story as well as possible.
The shop is not huge but what they pack in there is really impressive. Broadly it is divided between performance on the left as you enter and lifestyle – in the form of their Originals range – on the right. But the two sides of Saucony’s offering merge into one huge run-fest in a shop that is really dedicated to our sport.
One of the most striking things about the shop is a case on one wall that contains shoes from throughout the years – leather-soled track spikes from the days when sprinters dug out their own footholes in the cinder tracks with trowels that they carried to each race all the way through the earliest EVA-soled running shoes, via the monsterous, built up trainers of the ’80s and ’90s to the latest innovations in running footwear. Interestingly some of the oldest Saucony shoes display a three-stripes logo that was dropped in favour of the swirl with three dots that now graces Saucony shoes. That three strip logo was later adopted by another famous running brand…
History informing the future
There is history here for sure, but as Jonathan Quint, European Marketing Manager for Saucony explained to us, it is all about development towards the ultimate running shoes. In recent years Saucony has looked deeply into the trend for minimalist footwear and even barefoot running to try to figure out what nothingness can offer runners and how those benefits can be incorporated into their shoes. That is why Saucony introduced shoes with a smaller heel-to-toe offset (or differential) of 4mm like the Kinvara 5 and now are bringing that lower-profile sole into many of their shoes.
At the event to talk about how the Saucony innovations impact on runners, was their in-house coaching ambassador Nick Anderson from RunningWithUs. He talked extensively about how to adapt to shoes with a smaller differential and why running in a shoe like the Kinvara 5 is so good for us, albeit only is the runner adapts slowly to the extra pressure that the calf and achilles comes under. That is worthy of a blog post all of it’s own and I will try to get Nick to go on record and tell me more about that in a future piece.
Style and performance
But back to the pop-up shop. I really enjoyed the opportunity to find out more about Saucony. It was clear that the whole company, from designers to marketers and from coaches to sponsored athletes pour a huge amount of effort into trying to make shoes that help runners become better. They are clearly not a brand that jumps on fads and – notwithstanding the Hattori that I believe they have discontinued – that have taken a very considered approach to the trend towards minimalism. I think that Saucony is a brand that can really be trusted and it is only by seeing all the years of development and research that you really get that message.
So if you have a chance to pop in to the pop-up, I recommend it. You will probably also end up drooling over the very smart looking Kinvara 5 London edition and the Saucony Originals on display – I know I did and it was probably for the best that there wasn’t a chance to buy on the night I went!
At the risk of sounding like a fashion blogger (and believe me, when it comes to personal style, I am in the bottom tier of the population!) there does seem to come a point in the year when I put away my summer running gear and bring out my winter kit.
It is not as dramatic as making a complete change on one day, but I certainly dig out my running tights, check that they don’t have holes in them, maybe wash them after not wearing them for 6 months. The same goes for long-sleeve tops and jackets that have not seen the light of day since before the London marathon in April. I then starting trying to remember where I put the running hats and gloves, etc that I know I will be looking for pretty soon.
Basically winter is most definitely coming and kit will be required to deal with the conditions. And dealing with the conditions is absolutely crucial if you want to be the best runner you can be. Hibernation is not an option: it is a scary thought but the London marathon is only 176 days away. That is 5 months and 25 days from today or perhaps 20 long runs… so it is important that you don’t miss many of them!
Winter miles = summer smiles
Please don’t misunderstand me: I am not a running masochist. I’ve woken up on many, many occasions, heard the rain tapping on the window and felt an icy draft blowing through the window and wanted, more than anything, to roll over and have another hour in bed.
However (and this is a BIG ‘however’) I have learned that if I was to take all the ‘want to roll over and go back to sleep’ and put it in a big pile of ‘want’ it would not be as big and important as the pile of ‘wanting to know how good I can be as a runner’. So I get up. Because by getting up and dealing with whatever the weather is bringing to the party, I am giving myself a little more chance of running the marathon PB that I so desperately want in my next marathon in April 2014.
Make the tough runs as safe and comfortable as possible
So I think that most of the time I have the mental toughness to know that I want the longer term goal more than I want the short-term enjoyment of an hour more in bed. It is a struggle though. And that toughness does not make me immune to the cold and the wet. I still don’t want to go out in miserable weather before the sun has come up. And that is where kit comes in…
The right kit can, at the very least, make a run more comfortable. In extreme circumstances, it can make a run safer.
If you are faced with cold, wet conditions, you need kit that strikes a balance between comfort and protection and gear that offers you so much protection that you can’t run properly in it. My advice is: if in doubt, go for less than you think you’ll need – you will soon warm up and to be honest, once you are drenched, all the kit in the world won’t stop you being wet. All you will do is end up carrying the water around with you.
The stuff that I have in my winter wardrobe is really simple:
long-sleeved tops (a couple have a collar and a zip neck for extra warmth)
accessories such as thin beanie hats, buff neck-gaiter things, gloves.
That is about it.
Then recently my kit had an upgrade when I had the opportunity to try out a couple of items that hit the spot as far as the protection vs. performance balance is concerned.
Inov-8’s Race Elite jackets
The lovely people at inov-8 were very generous and sent me two jackets from their Race Elite range to try out: the Race Elite™ 150 Stormshell jacket and Race Elite™ 260 Thermoshell. Both arrived in time for the CCC and I suppose I am grateful that in the end the race was blessed with such great conditions that I had no need for either a warm layer (which is what the Thermoshell is) or a waterproof. But I have been wearing the Thermoshell in particular a huge amount for all sorts of activities and thought it would be timely to write down my thoughts about both.
Race Elite™ 150 Stormshell
Technology is a wonderful thing and in many spheres advancements mean that stuff is getting smaller and lighter. Waterproof apparel is no exception. The Race Elite 150 Stormshell is feather-light. Inov-8 say that it weighs 150g, but I think that it might even be less than that. Either way, this jacket barely registers if you have it in your pack, bumbag or even stuffed in a pocket. But – and here is the really amazing thing – it is totally waterproof: 20,000mm Hydrostatic Head, water-resistant zip at the front and a hood that fits like a glove-for-your-head… Anyway, this jacket will do as good a job at keeping you dry as you can hope for, especially from something that is so light and compact.
The detailing is also great. The hood is wired so that it keeps rain out of your eyes and is adjusted to fit with a one-handed tug of a toggle at the back of the head. There is a waterproof chest pocket for a map, etc. The waist can be adjusted to ensure it doesn’t ride up or let any drafts in with another one-handed toggle-pull. And there are thumb-loops to make sure that the sleeves stay down over your hands.
Race Elite™ 260 Thermoshell
The other jacket that inov-8 gave me to try is a marvelous bit of kit. Probably slightly specialised, but no less wonderful for all that. The Thermoshell is a reversible duvet jacket. It has Primaloft on one side (the blue side) and a Pertex outer on the other side (the black side). The idea here is that with the Pertex side outermost, the jacket is 10% warmer than the other way around, so you can regulate how warm you are on the fly. I must say that I have not been able to scientifically test this claim myself, but it definitely feels warmer with the black side outermost (but maybe that is just me being suggestible, who knows?)
The Thermoshell is not a down feather jacket – Primaloft is a synthetic insulating material – which means that this jacket is not as prone to being useless if it gets wet and the Primaloft is also ‘zoned’ so that there is 40g per m2 on the body and 25g/m2 in the arms and collar, so you have more warmth where you need it and more movement in the arms where it is important. There is also a nice long zip at the front that can be opened from the bottom to allow some cool air in if you start to get too warm. And if that is not enough, whip the jacket off and it goes into a stuff-sac and in your pack or you can carry it in your hand. At 260g it really won’t be a burden.
Winter gear… great idea!
So there you go. In my opinion having decent winter gear is really important. Make no mistake, when it is cold and wet and you’re tucked up in bed, you need all the help you can to get out for your run. Knowing that you have the right kit will be a big help.
I also think that if you can be comfortable while you are running, that helps you to stay out for those long runs and also run slowly on your recovery runs. I can highly recommend both of the inov-8 products and if you have any other recommendations for kit that works for you, please let me know – I am always curious to know what people use when they are running.
At the moment I am having a great time in Chamonix, spending time running in the mountains and exploring all the trails on offer. Just before I left to come out here, the lovely folk at Saucony UK sent me a pair of their Peregrine 2s to go running in and I recorded a video review of what I think of them:
I actually have had a couple of pairs of the Peregrines before and I really like this shoe, mainly because it is:
has a 4mm heel-toe differential
provides a decent amount of toe protection
I think that the Saucony Peregrine feels fast thanks to the fact that it has so little bulk. Other trail shoes that I have run in seem to be massive. There is an increasing trend, as with road running shoes, towards less bulky trail shoes, but I would say that the Peregrine was one of the first to be so stripped back and light. That said, there is no compromise on cushioning or grip… so you have a comfortable, responsive, light shoe which has enough grip and a decent amount of toe protection: what’s not to like? The shoe even has a ring at the bottom of the laces for a gaiter to clip on to if you are running in very wet conditions or on trails where there is masses of loose debris. Small gaiters can mean the difference between a lovely run admiring the views and pushing your limits versus stopping every 400m to remove another stone or piece of wood from your shoe!
Anyway, I hope you like the video and please give me any feedback you can… good, bad or otherwise! And let me know what your favourite trail shoes are. I am out here for five weeks so maybe I will get to try them out too!
A while ago, the good people at ASICS invited me to go to Berlin with them for the launch of the new Gel Lyte 33 shoe. Unfortunately work commitments meant that I couldn’t go, but my friend and collaborator Catherine Wilding was able to take my place and enjoy some Germanic hospitality. Her write up of the weekend is here.
The whole focus of the weekend was to promote the new Gel-Lyte 33 shoe, which is ASICS’ offering to the natural running sector of the market. Unashamedly targeted at the more serious runner, I was very excited to get my hands on a pair (at least that might make up for not getting to go to Berlin!)
This is actually quite a deceptive shoe. It looks very simple and feels very light, but there is more to it than meets the eye.
The main thing that impressed me from what the ASICS team have told me, is the way that the sole has been developed to take into account the way the foot moves. This is the antithesis of the shoes that are available which try to counteract pronation or supination. This is a shoe designed to go with the flow. There is a groove running all the way along the length of the out-sole which ASICS calls the FluidAxis, which means the shoe allows the subtalar joint to move in any way it wants.
How do they feel on the run?
Catherine and I met up once my shoes had arrived for a run around the Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park. It was a really beautiful morning and being a weekday, not too busy.
Catherine was looking elegant and very sporty in her new ASICS gear (lovely jacket for any of you looking for a new one for running this winter) and she said immediately that her Gel-Lyte 33s felt great. I must say that mine did too, but at that stage I had only walked in them.
As we headed off on the run, we started chatting about all the things we had to catch up on. It was probably only after a mile or so that we both thought we should probably think about the shoes we were wearing. And here is the rather pleasing thing for me…
Why I really like the ASICS Gel-Lyte 33s
… I hadn’t really noticed the shoes at all. They are really lightweight so there was no feeling of clumpiness that I often feel with more traditional built-up running shoes. The upper is very light and open, so there was no hot-feet feeling. There is no heel-counter (the rigid plastic bit that sits around the heel in most running shoes) so nothing to irritate the Achilles tendon.
And the FluidAxis groove in the sole meant that there really was no interference with my foot strike. The shoe is cushioned so I didn’t feel like my feet were being hammered by the tarmac we were running on, but not so cushioned that I couldn’t feel the ground.
So my review is this, really: the ASICS Gel-Lyte 33 is one of the few shoes I have run in that does nothing to interfere with my natural gait.
To compare it to other shoes I have run in: the Saucony Kinvara (especially the most recent third version) has a very similar feel to the Gel-Lyte 33 and I love the Kinvara. The Nike Free always felt to squishy underfoot to me and has been relegated to a shoe that I wear when I’m out and about, but not when I am running. The inov-8 Road-X 233 is really hard underfoot – almost too hard for anything longer than 45 minutes for me. And racing flats? Well I think they are something different.
The ASICS Gel-Lyte 33 is going to become a staple of my running shoe collection – a shoe that might not be for beginners or heavier runners, but for those of us looking for a light shoe with some cushioning but not too much, this might be the shoe for you.
But don’t take my word for it, what does Catherine think…?
Asics Gel Lyte 33 Review by Catherine Wilding
With the trend for lightweight minimalist running shoes it’s no surprise that all the running brands are competing with each other to launch a revolutionary shoe with the most innovative technology.
The Asics Gel Lyte 33 is the latest of these minimalist shoes from Asics and they are promising a revolution in natural running with the launch of their Fluidaxis.
To find out more I was privileged to be asked to test the shoes ahead of their launch this month. I considered myself the ideal person. Firstly, in my eight or so years of running I have been loyal to only one shoe brand. I have tried different types of shoe but they have all been Nike. I stuck with what I knew, liked and looked good. Secondly, having had many foot and ankle injuries – all on the same foot – I was interested so see if Asics technology could be the solution to an undiagnosed problem.
The one thing the Gel Lyte 33 (and other minimalist shoes) does is allow the foot to move in every direction and therefore pronate. The Fluidaxis that Asics have developed and introduced with this shoe is based on the natural movement of the foot. Most running shoes allow the ankle joint to move only in an “up and down” movement, however the foot also rotates around different angles and the subtalar joint in the foot controls the side to side movement. When both these movements are combined the ankle and the foot are allowed to move completely naturally. The Fluidasxis is designed around a deep groove in the sole of the shoe which is aligned directly with the subtalar joint axis. This allows the foot to pronate naturally and give the runner a more natural movement in the foot. The design of the Fluidaxis is also based around the re-design of the mid and outsole, where the deep grooves fan out allowing the foot to strike the ground more naturally.
So with the technical stuff out of the way, I was keen to try the shoes – especially as I was easily convinced that there was some intuitive sense to allowing the subtalar joint to move.
The shoe immediately felt nice and light on the foot and the lower heel drop of just 6mm was instantly noticeable. The foot felt much lower to the ground and even just walking around there was a feeling that the foot was moving more naturally. Being a lightweight shoe with no support, I was sensible enough to test the shoe with an easy, recovery run. My running mate (aka: Simon Freeman) and I went for a jog around the Serpentine in Hyde Park. At an easy conversational pace we were able to compare notes.
The Gel Lyte 33 has enough cushioning to enable runners to feel that they have adequate protection and also a little bit of support for the foot, whilst still being able to feel the ground. This gave me more confidence for running in the shoes. Having already been schooled in the motion of the subtalar joint by Asics, I was aware that there was noticeably more movement in the foot and ankle. Rather than being scared by this, I actually liked the more free movement. On a 30 minute run I felt no twinges from any muscles that may have been activated by a change in running gait. However, I would caution any runner and certainly a less conditioned runner to be wary of using these shoes for distance. As with any minimalist shoe with a low heal drop, there is a risk of aggravating the Achilles.
These seem to be a good shoe for training perhaps once a week to transition to a more natural running style. I certainly liked the feel of them and having felt no adverse affects in my foot or ankle following the run, I would be inclined to think that allowing the movement of the subtalar joint is a positive thing. I would happily add these as an additional pair of shoes to my collection. Interestingly, or unsurprisingly, my running companion drew the same conclusions.
My only other minimalist shoe is the Nike Free which I consciously choose not to run in. However, I definitely feel comfortable running in the Gel-Lyte 33. For long training runs, I wouldn’t be tempted to veer from my heavy stability shoe – certainly not yet, but maybe it’s a process of adaptation.
Finally, we compared notes on appearance. There was no debate. The light silver-grey and blue of the women’s shoe definitely scores more highly than the men’s for aesthetic appeal. But when it comes to aesthetics, the Nike Free wins hands-down.
There is only one running shoe that I have ever owned every iteration of: Saucony’s Kinvara. I was given a very, very bright pair of the first release of the Kinvara to try out – they were my first foray into a more minimalist shoe. I then bought a pair of the Kinvara 2s, based on the fact that I really did like the original Kinvara. And then three weeks ago I received a very special box in the post – one of only 100 pairs of Kinvara 3s in the world (though don’t worry, they go on general release in the UK in May!)
2% of worldwide Kinvara 3s in Vilamora, Portugal
I was very lucky to get the shoes two days before I went to Portugal for a two week training camp, so I really was in a position to give them a thorough road-test. As it turns out, one of the other two pairs in the UK were also in Portugal at the same time adorning the feet of the incredible Ben Moreau, who is undoubtedly more worthy of testing shoes (he ran a 143 mile week while I was out there with him!) so I can incorporate some of his thoughts here.
The main thing about the Kinvaras for me, is that they are part of Saucony’s minimalist range. The shoe has a 4mm heel-to-toe off-set which means they have a pretty similar profile to a racing flat. However every version of the Kinvara has been aimed firmly at the runner who either wants to begin the transition from ‘normal’ shoes with a 12mm or 15mm heel-drop or runners who are biomechanically efficient and are looking for a shoe that is a little more cushioned then their out-and-out racing flats. The Kinvara is the latter for me.
The first thing I noticed about the Kinvara 3 when I slid open the very, very cool looking box and removed the (rather large) Kinvara 3 t-shirt and USB stick that had been sent with the shoes, was the look. These shoes are very consciously stylish. There is undoubtedly performance benefits in the FlexFilm material that covers the upper of the shoe (which I’ll come on to in a minute) but from a purely aesthetic point of view, it is stunning. A big departure from the original Kinvara and the Kinvara 2.
The shoes felt typically light in my hand – Saucony say that they weigh 218g and that is what my scales at home read – but the FlexFilm gives them quite a robust feel. The sole is flared as with all the previous versions, but there are changes to the sole which are supposed to improve durability (I can’t comment on that yet and the shoes feel no different from the point of view of the sole material as far as I can tell).
There are differences from the first and second generation of the Kinvaras that I could feel however.
The first is the development of the Hydramax lining. When I was out in Portugal it was warm (I suppose that is the point of a warm-weather camp!) and yet the Kinvara 3s felt cool and dry even on the longest runs in the hottest part of the day. The new lining seems to make the shoe snugger, which is a real bonus as far as I’m concerned in a shoe with such a flexible upper, without making the shoe hotter or restrictive.
This combines with the FlexFilm, whose introduction has mean that the upper can be thinner than the mesh material that the first two Kinvaras were made out of and at the same time feel more robust. This all adds to the feel that this is a fast shoe, more like a racer-trainer then before.
The second noticeable difference is one that Ben and I both commented on – the sole feels firmer. I think that the Kinvara 2, whilst a really great shoe, suffered somewhat from being a bit squishy. I even felt that its usefulness as a racer was compromised by the softness of the sole. The new Kinvara deals with that perfectly. The sole is still flared and there is still plenty of cushioning to ensure that my legs don’t feel wrecked after a long run in them, but the shoe feels more accurate and punchy than earlier versions.
So there you have it. The Kinvara 3 from Saucony is still a shoe that I love. It is light-weight, low-profile and minimalist with the benefit of some cushioning and it looks great. I think that Saucony have done a good job of improving the responsiveness of the sole and the snugness of the upper whilst retaining the good things that all of the Kinvaras have shared so far. It will be my tempo session and long-run-with-faster-bits shoe for the foreseeable future.
In running terms minimalism is the new black. Everyone is talking about it and many, many runners are now trying out footwear with less and less… well, less everything really. From standard footwear that is being de-engineered to have fewer bells-and-whistles to the thinnest, lightest foot-coverings (I hesitate to call things like the Vibram FiveFinger a shoe) there is a noticeable trend towards less.
And where the athlete goes, the manufacturers and retailers follow (or is it the case that the consumer is led by the manufacturers? In this case I don’t think that the trend is manufacturer-led, after all minimalist shoes don’t cost as much as mainstream ones and that is counter-intuitive for the manufacturers and retailers, surely?) In the case of Saucony, in what appears to be a typically smooth transition, a small range of three shoes has been launched to appeal to the new market of runners looking for more minimalist shoes that are not just used for racing.
Earlier this week I had the opportunity to see the range of shoes up-close (although one of the range has been on my feet for quite a few months – more on that in a minute), meet Spencer White, the director of the Saucony Human Performance & Innovation Lab in Boston and the brains behind the development of the range, and meet an exponent of minimalist or indeed no, footwear – Caballo Blanco, the star of Chris McDougall’s book Born to Run (which you can read about here).
The range that Saucony have produced covers a gamut of requirements. At one end there is the Mirage, with the Kinvara sitting in the middle and the Hattori at what we will call the extreme end of the scale.
In my opinion the Mirage is a great shoe. This is the shoe that I have been running in for a few months now, since Toby at Alton Sports suggested I try a pair. I must admit that my first reactions on seeing them were ‘Wow! They’re white!’ and then a concern about the splayed sole that looked very wide. However from slipping them on for the first time, I loved them. They are the shoe that I most often reach for because there is some cushioning but that is combined with a lightness (only 252g) that my other, more regular high-mileage trainers don’t offer. The ‘supportive midfoot arc’ has not interfered at all with my running style and indeed until the presentation by Spencer at the Saucony event, I didn’t know it was even there, which is great for a neutral runner like me, but might suggest that the shoes are not ideal for someone used to a large degree of stability in their shoes. As far as the rest of the shoe is concerned, I found the upper to be really comfortable and breathable. And from a durability perspective, so far, with probably around 200 miles of use, they are in great shape (albeit a little less white!)
The Kinvara2 is a much newer shoe for me; I only got my hands on a pair earlier this week. However my first impression is that I am going to like the Kinvara2 even more than the Mirage. From a looks perspective, the shoe is very similar to the Mirage (still very, very white!) but slipping the shoe on, there is a noticeable difference in the feel. The Kinvara2 and the Mirage are supposed to have the same 4mm heel drop, but the Kinavara2 feels more low-profile. The upper is even more flexible than the Mirage and feels really well made with very few irritating stitched areas or rough bits to worry my delicate little feet. At the back of the shoe there really isn’t a heel counter worth the name, which to my mind is a good thing. The shoe is very light – only 218g – with a very light, cushioned sole incorporating diamond-shaped rubber pads to aid traction and durability. I’ll update this review after a few hundred miles in the Kinvara2, but from my early impressions I think this will be one of my favourite shoes for a wide range of sessions; from short easy runs, quick threshold and tempo sessions to races from the half marathon distance upwards. As my coach Nick Anderson* said, the new Saucony range allows runners to use a lightweight shoe most of the time and without the pressure to run at full tilt, as used to be the case with racing flats.
Then finally there is the Hattori… which I haven’t tried. OK, sorry for getting you to read this far on false pretences but really – the Hattori is a crazily minimalist shoe. It is like a sock welded onto a thin, flat piece of rubber, almost with the profile of a piece of car tyre. Wait a minute – isn’t that what the Raramuri wear when they are running! And as for weight, a pair tips the scales at 125g, which is about the same as a Weetabix.
Spencer at Saucony was at pains to point out that while the Kinvara2 and Mirage have minimalist qualities they are intended for runners who want to run most of the time in a light-weight, low-profile shoe, the Hattori is a training tool. Intended as something that the runner learns to run in and limited to occasional use, over shorter distances and on forgiving surfaces (at least at first), the Hattori is not the shoe that Saucony envisage many runners will pull on for anything other than a few special occasions. For me, I think that the almost total lack of cushioning and the zero heel drop, means that I would have to spend quite a while getting used to the Hattori and that is time that I would rather dedicate to more running or strength and conditioning work. However the Hattori does finish off Saucony’s minimalist range nicely and I know from the reactions I have seen at the London marathon expo and other events where the Hattori has been on show, that there are a lot of people ready to make the leap to true minimalism.
My thoughts on Saucony’s minimalist range are pretty positive overall. I think they have created a small range of shoes that would allow someone to progress (or should that be regress – I don’t know) from ‘normal’ running shoes, to total minimalism step by step. However for me the real benefit in the range is that with the Kinvara2 and the Mirage there are now really light shoes that are a joy to run in and which afford a degree of comfort that racing flats don’t. I’m sure I’ll be enjoying these two for the foreseeable future.
*disclaimer: Nick’s company RunningWithUs provides training advice and consultation to Saucony. Personally I am not in any way linked to Saucony (indeed I rocked up to their event wearing Nike trainers and a Brooks t-shirt – that made me popular I can tell you!)
It is commonly said that the opening of a book is the most crucial thing that the author will write. I have found that to be true; in every great book I have read the opening lines have been captivating and exciting. That is absolutely true of Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run which I have now read twice and started again last night. Why have I started it for the third time? Well, last night I met the hero of the book, Caballo Blanco, at an event set up by Saucony to promote their range of minimalist footwear. The opeining paragraphs of McDougall’s book describe him meeting Caballo Blanco for the first time like this;
“For days, I’d been searching Mexico’s Sierra Madre for the phantom known as Caballo Blanco – the White Horse. I’d finally arrived at the end of the trail, in the last place I expected to find him – not deep in the wilderness he was said to haunt, but in the dim lobby of an old hotel on the edge of a dusty desert town”
My meeting with this mysterious man was much less dramatic and lacked the poetry that Chris weaves into his tale. But it was nevertheless quite an experience.
Saucony minimalist footwear
The event that Saucony invited me to was one of the best product launches I have had the opportunity to attend. Everyone from Saucony was friendly, knowledgeable and clearly enthusiastic. The products that were on show make up the range that Saucony have developed to appeal to those runners looking for minimalist shoes; the Kinvara2 and Mirage, with 4mm heel drop, flexible yet cushioned soles, unstructured heel-counters and minimalist uppers. And the Hattori, a sock-like shoe with zero heel drop (i.e. no more material under the heel than under the ball of the foot). I’ll write about these in a future post.
Meeting Caballo Blanco
So after an introduction to the science behind the minimalist range with Spencer White, the director of the Saucony Human Performance & Innovation Lab in Boston, I found myself momentarily alone, looking at a display of the shoes I had just learned about. I glanced to my right and there was a tall, upright, lithe gentleman, dressed in Saucony gear but wearing a bright green pair of Hattoris, standing all alone, seemingly lost in thought and sipping a glass of water. “That can’t be…” I thought. But it was – the man who started out as Mike Hickman, became Micah True and ended up as Caballo Blanco running with the Raramuri Indians in the Copper Canyons of Mexico’s Sierra Madre. So I pulled myself up tall (Caballo Blanco is well over 6 feet tall) and strode over to introduce myself and then I said something stupid:
“So what are your thoughts on the trend for barefoot running” I said…
Caballo Blanco thought for a moment and said “I don’t know anything about a trend, man. I just do what I do” That pretty much sums up what I now know about his philosophy and his approach to running.
Running and philosophy
I won’t spoil the story for anyone who hasn’t read Chris McDougall’s book, but suffice to say that Caballo Blanco ended up in the Copper Canyons living with the Raramuri and adopting their approach to running. No training, no warm-up, no fancy gadgets or technical gear. Just go out and run. The Raramuri run for survival, for honour and for the sheer hell of racing for dozens or even hundreds of miles in footwear made from cut-up tyres and leather thongs. I got the impression that Caballo Blanco was less than impressed with the glass and steel building that we were meeting in, the busy PR people, the DJ spinning cool tunes for the assembled journalists and writers. He seemed out of place and I don’t doubt that what he really wanted was to go for a run, probably back home in the canyons that he loves. But he didn’t betray any of that; he was engaging and happy to answer questions and signed a copy of Born to Run for me (despite then telling me that he hasn’t had any contact from Chris McDougall for a very long time, which I thought was rather sad). Ultimately I doubt that Caballo Blanco worries about whether he has a message for someone like me, but he did have an effect. I left the event and rushed home along busy, concrete streets through London traffic thinking that it is very, very easy to forget that at the very core running is something totally natural for human beings and something that we should love doing, whether that is in minimalist shoes or not, in the Copper Canyons of Mexico or on the streets of a major city, for 2 miles or 200 miles. That brief meeting has reminded me to focus on the running and forget all the other stuff… a very important lesson delivered without pomp or pretence. Just get out there and run. Run Free!
I read today that my favourite brand of running shoe, ASICS, plans to launch a $60 dollar shoe in the US in the near future, as part of its programme to double sales by 2015. This story, which seems to have made more of an impact in the business pages than the running forums, interested me because the price point they have chosen has been described as: the price they can sell entry level shoes at. The implication being that once someone has shelled out $60 for an entry level shoe, they will start to work their way up ASICS evolutionary scale until they are evenually rocking a pair of Kayanos, which retails for around $140.
However I think that ASICS might shoot themselves in the foot with this idea, especially if some of the comments I read are true. Toshiyuki Sano, an executive in charge of finance at ASICS, said that they are pitching the shoe at $60 because that allows certain aspects of the higher priced shoes to be retained, but others will have to go to save costs. And it is exactly this stripping back that ASICS might live to regret.
The barefoot running movement is really starting to gather momentum especially in the US and the UK – only last night a girl arrived at the Mornington Chasers in a pair of Vivo Barefoot shoes – and caused quite a stir with certain older members of the club… but that is another story. And whilst I don’t know many people who I think are likely to go the whole hog and ditch their shoes, amongst my friends and peers there does seem to be a trend towards more minimalist shoes – racing flats if you like. I run in ASICS Tarthers. Others I know favour the Adidas Adios range or the Saucony Fast Twitch. Now please don’t misunderstand me – I know these are not barefoot running shoes in any sense of the word, but I do think that one of the residual effects of the popularity of barefoot running is that the rest of us are increasingly looking for shoes with less built into them.
I would certainly look at a cheap ASICS shoe if one were produced and sold in this country. Most of the time I want a really basic, light shoe and I accept that at the level I run at I will need to replace my shoes every few months, so no big deal. I am not a heavy runner and I don’t have any biomechanical issues that mean I need stability built into my shoe. So from a business perspective this could be a problem for ASICS if they find that it is not just first-timers who buy their stripped-back $60 shoe, but experienced runners who think that less is more and who don’t want to pay for technology with dubious benefits. And I think I might be one of them!