Brooks Ravenna 3 – a trainer to rave about?

I was recently offered the opportunity to try out a pair of Brooks’ new Ravennas – the third incarnation. I took the opportunity to ask a friend and training partner if he’d like to try them out and this is what he had to say…

Once in a while you find a shoe you really get on with, a happy match of features, fit, and performance.  For me, the original Brooks Ravenna was just that: an everyday trainer with enough cushioning to absorb plenty of miles, a touch of support to protect against mild over-pronation, yet a responsive, fast feel.

And then the manufacturer updates it.  Sometimes the new version is an improvement.  Sometimes it’s…different.  I didn’t like the Ravenna 2.  No doubt it was a good shoe, with plenty of glowing reviews and magazine awards – but extra cushioning and new materials, while adding little weight, made it feel too much shoe for my tastes.

The ‘new’ Ravennas

So I was looking forward to trying out the Ravenna 3.  Would Brooks have come up with another great do-it-all shoe?
Brooks pitches the Ravenna as a ‘guidance’ trainer.  It’s the sort of shoe to look at if you can’t quite get away with training in neutral or more minimalist offerings (for me, miles plus neutral shoes equals shinsplints), but don’t need a full-on support or motion control shoe.  The guidance comes from a modest medial post (denser material on the inner side of the midsole), and Brooks’ “Diagonal Roll Bar”, a piece of plastic that adds rigidity to the arch and midfoot of the shoe.  Cushioning comes from Brooks’ BioMogo midsole, and their new “DNA” gel material.  According to Brooks, the way DNA responds to the different forces applied by different runners’ size and stride provides “soft comfort when you want it, firm support when you need it”.

First impressions count

You can't say he didn't really test them!

First impressions were… a pair of running shoes.  They look good, if unspectacular, and have a quality feel about them.  They felt comfortable from the off, and the fit should suit a lot of people: fairly supportive through the midfoot, and generous in the toebox.  (It is a slightly different fit from earlier Ravennas, which had a slightly curved last and a snug wrap around the midfoot).
So far, so good: these look and feel a decent pair of trainers.  My concern was that they seem bulkier than the original Ravennas.  There is nothing in it for weight (10.9oz vs 10.8oz according to Brooks – par for a light-to-moderate trainer).  However, the new shoe has a thicker midsole in both the heel and forefoot (keeping for a 9-10mm heel-toe drop).  This is not bad per se – the Ravennas are still at the lighter end of the market for a shoe with a bit of support – there just feels a bit more shoe here than the original I’d got on so well with.

First run, and – to be blunt – I wasn’t overly impressed.

They felt on the bulky side underfoot, especially in the heel.  The DNA cushioning also had an odd feel to it: footstrike felt a bit like landing on a rubber ball, with a bit of give to it but quite an aggressive return.

Fortunately, I wore the Ravenna 3s for more than one run.  And I came to quite like them.

Second impressions count more!

Perhaps it was all imagination to start off with; by the third time out in them the bounciness had calmed down, and the cushioning felt really good, without feeling unduly mushy.  I’ve now worn them a lot as a day-to-day trainer for easy and steady runs.  They are comfortable, and the touch of guidance does its job.  They are also wearing well, with little wear on the outsole after a couple of hundred miles (past personal experience is that the MoGo midsole stands up to 5-600 miles before it starts to feel tired).

They don’t immediately feel a fast shoe – so I was pleasantly surprised that picking up the pace wasn’t an issue, and they proved up to the task of some tempo blocks in longer runs without feeling too clunky.  Perhaps that is the DNA living up to the promise of being more responsive when needed?  That said, they wouldn’t be my first choice for tempo running or sessions – I just prefer something less bulky.  By comparison, I felt the Ravenna 1s had nailed a sweetspot here.

Final thoughts

And that, for me, is the only issue with these shoes: they aren’t quite the same as the original.  Not many shoes fall in between an out-and-out performance trainer (something like the Asics DS Trainer) and more run-of-the-mill training shoes – for me at least, Brooks were onto something with the original shoe in this line, which the later versions haven’t quite carried forward.

Still, the Ravenna 3s are very good day-to-day trainers.  If you’re looking for a touch of pronation control in a shoe that isn’t unduly heavy, they’re well worth checking out.

Three is the magic number…

Three generations of Kinvaras... in a bowl

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.

First impressions

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).

The differences

There are differences from the first and second generation of the Kinvaras that I could feel however.

Snugger but not sweaty-er

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.

Put a sock on it…

Up to November last year, I never really thought much about my feet, much less the socks I was wearing when I went for a run. Generally I’ve been blessed with low maintenance feet and aside from the odd toenail lost though a lazy lack of adequate trimming, I have not suffered from blisters of dry skin or athletes foot or any other afflictions that seem to blight runners so commonly. Lucky me.

However last November, as I stood in the start pen waiting for the gun to signal the start of the Florence marathon, I didn’t know that my feet would become an area of deep concern and long-standing contemplation just 26.2 miles later. In case you are interested, my race report is here, but the salient point for this piece is that it rained very heavily for most of the race and I, along with every fellow runner, got soaked. Not least my shoes.

When feet become an issue

Needless to say, by the time I finished soggy socks and shoes had conspired to give me some pretty whopping blisters. My area of concern was not actually anything to do with the effect of the blisters in the race – they didn’t slow me down at all. But 10 days after the race, when I started running again, there were still some rather sore spots and this got me thinking. What would I do if I got bad blisters during a crucial training phase? How do you continue to train if your feet become increasingly painful? So suddenly I decided to focus a little more on socks in order to make sure that my feet were in the best possible shape they could be.

I bought decent socks but often with a sense of resentment that I was shelling out what I felt was quite a lot of money for something as uninspiring as a pair of socks. And I didn’t always get the right thing; some socks would be too small, some a big baggy. Some were rough after being washed while other seemed to shrink while I was on a long run. Some were too hot or thick for my racing flats. Socks became an annoying complex subject that I had to concentrate on.

RunBreeze – sock saviours?

In light of all this, I was rather pleased to find out about RunBreeze from a forum that I and one of the two-man team behind the brand had both posted on. Here was a company that seemed to offer a no-nonsense approach to socks and a promise of good quality at an affordable price. A few days after contacting Richard and Jamie, I was invited to their offices/distribution centre in south London to meet them and learn more about their aims.

You can read about the team behind the brand here. What I discovered is two individuals who are extremely driven and passionate, with clear goals in mind. I must admit that initially I was a little skeptical about their stated aims which coalesce around helping to motivate people to run more or faster or longer (in their words):

If we can help you make your runs more enjoyable, a little less painful, snip a bit of time off your personal best and save you some money, we will have met our objective and will be very happy with ourselves

But on reflection I think RunBreeze is absolutely right to have such lofty aims. The more runners I get to know, the more I realise that inadequate kit is a barrier to personal success. I must admit that on the one hand I am slightly disdainful of those who seem to think that they can buy their way to better performance simply through the power of their credit card, but I also know that not having the right kit can be enough to stop people enjoying their running and that without enjoyment, training becomes a chore, which itself becomes a limiting factor.

Kit test

So given all that, I was intrigued to put the RunBreeze kit to the test. Would it be as good as I hoped? Would it lift me to a new level of effort in my training? Well, I can report that whilst I am always of the opinion that no kit, however good, is going to make up for inadequate mental toughness or a lack of hard-won fitness, the socks I tried did have a pretty positive effect.

The lightweight sock

I remember reading once that some pro-athletes find that if they have a psychological dip in training then a new pair of shoes or a new t-shirt will give them the tiny boost they need to make the extra effort required to nail a session. Well for me, the RunBreeze lightweight socks that I pulled on for my track session were just the boost I needed to get over the malaise that had descended on me thanks to a tough day at work and the thoughts of Christmas just round the corner. The ‘liner’ style socks were really light weight and comfortable in the very light racing flats that I was wearing for the session. I really liked the tab of material that protects the achilles tendon from the shoe rubbing on a very low-profile sock (which looks pretty cool as well) and the socks didn’t slip around or ruck-up at all. I had comfy, dry feet for the duration of the session.

The anti-blister sock

The next day I went for an hour’s run in the anti-blister sock. This time the benefit of a lovely new pair of socks was less psychological – after all I love longer runs! – but I did really enjoy the feeling of the double layer. Unlike other double layer socks I have tried, my feet did not get hot and sweaty which was the thing that put me off double layer socks when I first tried them. Again, despite taking on quite a bit of muddy trail during the run, there was no slipping and my feet felt really snug without the socks feeling tight in any way.

So there you have it: I think that the bah-humbug old-skool attitude that I have to running gimmicks will remain in force and I think that no bit of kit will ever replace hard, consistent training. However I really value having comfortable feet and I know that every care should be taken to ensure that hard-earned fitness does not leak away while waiting for blisters to heal. And most importantly, in these times of austerity measures, at £7 (for the lightweight sock) or £8 (for the anti-blister version) I think that every runner can now afford to treat their feet as well as possible, while they get on with becoming the best runner they can be.

The Adidas AdiZero Adios (and a new love affair)

As I have admitted before I have never really run in Adidas shoes. In the case of Adidas it was a big sulk caused by a bad retail experience, the impression that Adidas shoes are too narrow for my rather wide feet and the fact that with so many other brands to try, I never had the need to buy Adidas.

However, after being invited to the launch of the new Adidas range for 2012 and then being sent a pair of the new AdiZero Adios, I am converted. In fact I would go so far as to say, I am really impressed with the shoes.

The new Adidas AdiZero Adios

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are the shoes worn by Patrick Makau in Berlin a couple of weeks ago when he broke the world record and I can certainly see why they would be his choice for the marathon. They are light and flexible. The upper is really breathable and whilst the fit is snug (bear in mind I do have wide feet) they seem to hug my foot rather than restricting it.

Three test runs

Low profile and yet just enough cushioning

I have worn the Adios for the last week on three runs and they performed superbly on each.

On Wednesday night I had a progressive 10 mile run on the canal towpath in the gathering gloom. This was my first run in the Adios and I was delighted by how light they felt despite providing a good deal of cushioning on a relatively long run on the hard concrete towpath. The grip was excellent despite some dampness on the ground and I really felt like I was floating along in the Adios. I was also really happy that the upper of the shoe is very breathable and as I pushed the pace I could feel the cool evening air through the top of the shoe which was great for cooling my feet.

The second outing for the Adios was a speed endurance session on Saturday. This involved extended threshold periods and multiple short fast hill reps in between. Again the Adios were perfect, with just the right balance of lightness and cushioning to ensure that I finished the session with my feet feeling great.

And then I took the Adios out for a long run today. I always try to do at least part of my long run off-road if I can but today that wasn’t possible. However despite the lightness and low profile, the Adios were great even after 16 miles and I didn’t miss my usual, much more cushioned shoes in which I do most of my easy running.

Features

Continental rubber provides excellent grip

The Adidas AdiZero Adios have quite a few features that I really like;

  • they are really ‘grippy’ – this is in part thanks to the section of Continental rubber at the front of the sole – this rubber from the famous German tyre manufacturer, it is claimed, can save up to 1mm of slip every meter, which I guess over 42,125 meters adds up. I’m not sure about that, but I do know that the shoes had great grip even when I was running on wet canal towpaths
  • the shoes have a very low profile – I’m not sure what the heel drop is, but these – to me – are real racing flats with no sign of a thick heel. As a result they really encouraged me on to my mid-foot as I ran
  • the Adios are really light – 217g according to my scales
  • comfortably wide toe-box aligned with a snug mid-foot means that the shoes were not restrictive but at the same time didn’t feel that there were slopping around as I ran. I would however suggest trying a half size bigger than usual especially if you are not used to racing flats
  • the Adiprene material under the fore-foot provides great, light-weight cushioning, which makes them ideal for the marathon in my opinion

Conclusion

My conclusion is simply this; for many of us the search for the perfect shoe is a long and arduous one, especially the search for the perfect race-day shoe. I have known for almost as long as I have been running that many of the greatest runners in the world wear Adidas shoes and yet I stubbornly refused to give them a try for a rather petty reason. That was a mistake. I really like the Adidas AdiZero Adios. It is a great race-day shoe and one that will have a permanent place in my shoe rack. It is a shoe that for me combines all the things that I am looking for – lightness, breathability, flexibility and cushioning – with the fewest possible compromises. And it is very, very orange (which I like). I’m glad I have finally got over my jilted-lover syndrome and embraced the Adios – I think we’ll have a long life together.

The new Adidas AdiZero Adios will be available in the UK from January 2012.
If Carlsberg made running shoes...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Postscript, here are some official notes from Adidas about the technology built into the AdiZero Adios:

The Spider and the Fly

The famous poem, The Spider and the Fly, was written by Mary Howitt (1799-1888) and published in 1829. It is the story of a spider using flattery to capture and eat a fly, which has become blinded to the dangers the spider posed, by its own vanity. It is a tale that a designer I used to work for would have liked, because he was obsessed with the phrase ‘form follows function’ which was coined by the American architect Louis Sullivan in 1896 to describe his approach to architecture. Sullivan and my ex-boss were not people who would be blinded by vanity – it was all about function for them.

Form follows function

I think that the same should apply to running shoes and apparel; form should be secondary to function. It is all well and good looking cool, but that is less useful than feeling good and having the right kit for the conditions. That said, heaven for me would be kit that is functionally excellent which also looks great and I know that all the major brands intend to produce great looking functional kit, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and in my experience, the stuff that is the best to run and race in, is the stuff that I am least likely to want to wear in the rest of my life. However sometimes form and function seem to come close to being aligned in perfect harmony and I might have discovered something like that in Nike’s Gyakusou range for end-2011/start-2012.

I have been excited about some news that I heard at a recent Nike event about the launch in the UK of a new racing shoe – the LunarSpider. What I didn’t know was that I would get my hands on them in the form of a Gyakusou shoe. This could be the perfect combination of function (the LunarSpider) and form (from UNDERCOVER LAB which heads up the Gyakusou International Running Association).

Nike LunarSpider

My initial trial of the shoe is really positive. I was worried that the shoes are quite narrow but the flywire technology does seem to allow a bit of ‘give’ to the upper although the sole is not going to feel any wider. Overall this gives the shoe a real race-y feel. The shoes are very light indeed – 201g according to my scales – and they are very low profile. There is a really good amount of grip, but if you are looking for support or cushioning, this is probably not the shoe for you. These shoes compare favourably with all the racers I have tried recently – the ASICS Tarther, Mizuno Wave Ronin and the Brooks ST5 Racer – although I think that whilst they probably have a little more under the foot than the Mizunos and therefore might not offer enough cushioning for the marathon, they are a perfect shoe for everything up to the half marathon.

I was also lucky enough to get my hands on a very lightweight running jacket with a zip-off hood and sleeve unit which leaves a gilet for those cool autumn days that we are enjoying now. The jacket is not water- or even shower-proof and I must admit that I have only very, very rarely worn a hood whilst running, but I think that very lightweight jackets are great especially for long runs when the weather might be changable. And again, thanks to the UNDERCOVER LAB input, I think the jacket looks great.

The Gyakusou range

The whole range will soon be available and the video at the bottom showcases quite a few of the pieces whilst firmly positioning the brand in its cultural homeland; it is worth checking out.

And so I am left thinking about Nike’s Spider and how the new range might help you to ‘fly’ (sorry, I couldn’t resist!) I have only been able to try a couple of pieces – the LunarSpider shoes and the jacket. But I am impressed. These are both highly technical pieces and the LunarSpider shoes are a really great addition to the Nike racing shoe range and I will enjoy running in them, purely from the point of view that they are racing shoes. The fact that in my opinion they also look great is an added bonus. I would still say, however that we should still always choose our kit based on practicality first and foremost. But if you are not convinced, I’ll leave the last word to Mary Howitt;

And now dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly flattering words, I pray you ne’er give heed:
Unto an evil counsellor, close heart and ear and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale, of the Spider and the Fly.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=–sJnZmvJis

Adidas’ new range for 2012

First of all a confession – I haven’t ever really run in Adidas footwear before (I did have a pair when I very first started running, but I can’t really remember them and they were consigned to the bin fairly quickly after I discovered I had bought a size too small for me). The reason for this is rather ridiculous, but is something that I hope many runners will understand; I had a bad retail experience and then never went back to the brand I was annoyed by.

After I started running I always went to a specialist running shop for my shoes, but after a few years, I started to think that I knew what felt good on my feet. So I went to a huge Adidas shop on Oxford Street, in London’s West End, with the intention of trying on, and buying, some Adidas racing flats. After all these were the shoes that Haile Gebrselassie had worn when he and I ran the Berlin marathon earlier in 2008; he set the then world record of 2:03:59 and I ran a PB in 2:51:52.

The problem is that I am not good at shopping. I don’t like hanging around and I don’t like what I perceive to be bad service. So after waiting for a preposterously long time to be served and for the shoes I wanted to try to arrive, the sales assistant dropped the shoes on the floor at my feet and started serving another customer… and I left and walked straight into the arms of ASICS, where I remained until earlier this year.

But I have always liked the idea of Adidas. My favourite racing shorts are Adidas. My favourite t-shirts, long- and short-sleeved, are Adidas. And so many runners I know love their shoes, I often felt I was missing out. But I can be a bit stubborn and there wasn’t really a good reason to stop racing in my ASICS.

But now I might relent and finally succumb to the lure of the three stripes. Why? Well I have stopped wearing the ASICS that I was so faithful to and started trying different brands. And the new Adidas range looks pretty interesting.

Shoes for racing

Being shown around the Adidas shoes today by Kirstyn from the KTB PR agency, I finally grasped the different ranges that Adidas have and who they are aimed at. There is the Response range, aimed at the beginner and designed to provide a choice of entry level shoes. Then there is the Supernova range, offering slightly lighter and rather sleeker-looking shoes with lower profiles and an overall racier feel, aimed at the ‘improver’. These shoes include Adidas’ torsion system in the sole along with a larger area of Formotion cushioning but without any extra weight. Next up is the adiStar range, which is considered to be for the serious runner with further technical additions and even lighter weight. And finally there is the adiZero range which contains Adidas’ racing flats, as worn by Gebrselassie and, perhaps more significantly, Patrick Makau in this years Berlin marathon, when he set a new world record for the marathon: 2:03:38.

The Adidas adiZero range

There are two shoes in the new adiZero range that I am really keen to try; the adiZero Adios and the Feather.

The Adios is the shoe that I think could become one of my favourites. Handling the shoe, it is undoubtedly light and feels well balanced and with just the right amount of flex. The innovation in this shoe that I think is really interesting is the link-up between Adidas and the tyre manufacturer Continental, who have supplied rubber that has been incorporated in key areas of the sole to aid grip. The areas of rubber are quite small to ensure the shoe remains extremely light, but the rubber is exactly where my racing flats always wear the fastest – mainly at the front of the toe-box – and if the Continental rubber adds traction (the KTB PR team informed me that some boffins somewhere have estimated that the rubber saves 1mm of ‘slip’ per 1 meter, which over a marathon adds up I guess!) and longevity, then I think Adidas could be on to a winner.

The other interesting shoe in the range, that caught my eye, is the Feather (see right). As the name would suggest this is a very light shoe indeed and has something that I haven’t seen in a long-distance shoe before. The ‘sprint frame’ that the shoe is built around is a full-length rigid plastic base – similar to the sole of a track spike – that the upper is bonded on to (thereby saving stitching which might make the shoe  more attractive to those who prefer running without socks) and onto which is stuck the adiPRENE cushioning material. I must admit that I am not convinced that a shoe that has such rigidity in the sole is going to be a good idea, but I hope I’ll get a chance to try them out and report back.

Adidas adiZero and Supernova apparel

The other things that caught my eye were the adiZero clothing range and the official London marathon apparel.

As I have said before, I really am a big fan of the Adidas adiZero clothing range. The latest offerings feel really great; super-light, well made with body-mapping technologhy which means that different materials are used in key areas to aid moisture management or improve ventilation. Oh and they are orange (and I mean really orange – see left!) I know that personally I am highly likely to end up adding to my already considerable collection of running wear with some items from this range and as soon as I do, I will post some reviews.

The final items I had a look at were the Supernova pieces that will make up the official London marathon range (at the time of writing this they are not available, but you can have a look by following the link). Again, orange is the colour of choice – see right – and I think that the collection looks good and really is high quality, so if you are keen to show-off that you have run the London, then this kit is the way to do it and is also pretty good technically.

So I would say that from what I have seen, Adidas have some pretty exciting products coming out in the next few months. I hope that I will have a chance to try at least a few out and I will put something in the review section. In the mean time if anyone reading this wants to add a review of some kit they are currently using please let me know (and that goes for any brand, not just Adidas) whilst I am going to pull on my new trusted Mizunos and head out for a little run.    

The Saucony minimalist range; Kinvara2, Mirage and Hattori

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.

The Mirage

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

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.

The Hattori

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!)

 

Review of the Mizuno Wave Ronin 3

I read recently that it is more complicated buying running shoes than it is buying a car. I whole-heartedly agree (despite the fact that I gave up owning cars a few years ago and now rely on running, cycling and public transport to get around). One of my on-going personal missions is trying to find the perfect racing shoe.

What I am looking for

My requirements are fairly simple; low profile but not zero heel drop*, wide toe-box, snug heel, light-weight. I spent a few years racing in ASICS Tarthers which certainly did the job for me, but recently I have been looking around at other shoes. I have raced in the Brooks ST5 Racer which I like a lot, but which has quite a plush heel – more than I think I want for racing – and a medial post that I don’t think I need. I have also raced in the Saucony Mirage (a review on them is in the pipeline).

Mizuno Wave Ronin 3

The shoes I love at the moment are the Mizuno Wave Ronin 3’s that I bought from Toby at Alton Sports. They tick all the boxes as far as I am concerned, although the toe-box is a little narrower than on the Tarthers, but not so much that it causes me a problem.

Mizuno describes the shoes as “Fast and dynamic with great flexibility and cushioning” and I tend to agree. There is a very lightweight and highly breathable upper made from a mesh material that is bonded to the G3 outsole which is described by Mizuno as being made from a lightweight material “which provides awesome grip without weighing you down”. Actually the only issue I have with the Wave Ronin 3 is the same that I had with the Tarther; the durability of the outsole. Made up of a million little dots (actually it might not be a million, but I’m not going to count them), the outsole does tend to wear pretty quickly, especially at the front of the toe box. On the other hand, these are racing shoes and there has to be a compromise between weight and durability, so really my issue is not one that will stop me buying the Mizuno Wave Ronin 3 in future.

So in conclusion, I would say that the Mizuno Wave Ronin 3 is a great racing shoe. I have raced 3,000m races on the track in them, 5k park-runs and a half marathon. So far they have been really comfortable, especially for such a light shoe, weighing 210g according to the kitchen scales, which means they are in the same weight category as the Adidas Adizero Adios (209g) or the ASICS Gel DS Racer 8 (219g). They could just be the shoe that gives you the extra ‘pop’ you need for that ever-elusive PB.

* Heel drop is loosely defined as the difference in thickness between the front of the shoe – the midsole and the outsole – and the heel. In theory a drop of zero would mean that the when wearing the shoe the heel and the ball of the foot would be at the same level. In a shoe which is described as having a drop of 10mm, the heel sits 10mm higher than the ball of the foot. As for why we worry about these things, the normal answer is that with a small or zero heel drop it is easier to land on the mid-foot which is considered by many to be more efficient. For me, I prefer racing in a shoe with a minimal heel drop but I suffer more when I run in those types of shoes so for training I run in a shoe with a more cushioned heel and therefore a bigger differential.

 

 

 

There’s no ‘arm in trying something new

I am afraid to say that the weather is turning towards autumn. It is September and now, during early morning runs or late evening runs, there is a distinct chill in the air. It is not cold, not by a long stretch, but I am tending to find that I want to add a little bit of warmth without breaking out the winter gear. This is why I have dug out and started wearing my arm-warmers.

What are arm-warmers or arm-sleeves?

Basically a tapered tube of technical fabric, arm-warmers cover the arm from the armpit to wrist, gently gripping the arm at the top. They provide an effective barrier against the wind and cool temperatures, whilst having the enormous benefit of being removable. A pair of arm-warmers gives me a little bit of extra comfort when I head out of the door, but can be pulled down to the wrist or removed completely and shoved in a pocket when I warm up.

When I started wearing arm-warmers it was during cycling training for triathlons. But soon enough I was wearing them for chilly runs and now that I am focused completely on running, I still pull them on when it is too cool for just a t-shirt, but not cold enough for a long-sleeve top or even a jacket. They can also have other uses, when it comes to pure fashion, which Ben Moreau wrote about here, but I am not sure that is what they are intended for!

What sort of arm-warmers are available?

For such a simple piece of kit, there is quite a wide range of arm-warmers on the market. By far the most extensive range is amongst the cycling stock. However due to the higher speeds that cyclists tend to achieve (because they use wheels which is cheating, but that is a different story!) the arm-warmers designed for cycling tend to be made of thicker and more wind resistant material. They also tend to have rubber or plastic grippers at the top and sometimes at the bottom, which most running-specific versions don’t have. That said, they are easy to find and therefore might be a good option, certainly if you are thinking you might use them for cycling and running.

Amongst running-specific arm-warmers, the price is often lower than that of cycling arm-warmers, simply because there is less work involved in manufacturing them if they don’t have arm-grippers and as mentioned before, the material is often thinner. However I have found that it is more important to make sure that running arm-warmers need to fit really snuggly in order to ensure they don’t fall down, which can happen if there are no grippers.

My favourites

With a plethora of products on the market, I am not going to attempt to provide a comprehensive review here. However of the arm-warmers I have, my favourites by far are my Nike ones. They fit, ahem, like a glove. They are quite thin but give just enough protection on a cool morning run and, despite not being in any way water resistant, they are great for reducing the chill when I wear them in the rain. They are also pretty good value in my opinion.

My other favourites are the Assos pair that I wear. I did initially buy them for use on the bike, but they are great for running. The extra weight of material, which means they are the ones I reach for when the temperatures really drop, is off-set by the grippers at the top which are just enough to hold the arm-warmers up without being irritating. The only downside is that, like all Assos kit, they are pretty expensive.

Other products that it is worth considering include those made from wool, which many runners believe are more comfortable, warmer and more perma-stink resistant than technical fabric versions. One example of this is the product from Smart Wool which you can see here.

And if you want to avoid the ‘long cocktail gloves’ look that I was rocking at the Florence marathon last year (see left) there are arm-warmers that are not black, although there don’t seem to be many interestingly designed options in the UK at the moment. However if you can find some or you have a trip to the US planned, these ones look great. Finally, I really like Kalenji kit from Decathlon stores because it tends to be so simple and good value. Their offering might be worth checking out which you can do here.

As I have written before, being comfortable is crucial when it comes to training and racing well and for that reason I would recommend arm-warmers as a useful and practical addition to any runners’ kit-bag. And just ignore the odd looks you might get wearing them with a vest; your arm-warmers simply mark you out as a serious runner!

 

 

How to tackle the perma-stink with Halo Proactive Sports Wash

It’s true that most people training for a marathon will run several times a week. There are people I know who are training for a chance to run for their country who manage twelve runs per week and even I have nine or ten runs a week. One of the challenges we all face is keeping on top of the laundry, especially in winter when the pile can grow at an alarming rate.

The issue of laundry mountains is made worse in my case by my tendency towards frugality – put simply I quite like to get the maximum possible wear out of my kit (except for shoes which I do replace regularly). This miserliness however leads all too often to the dreaded perma-stink, where kit never really loses the pungent odor that builds up. By the middle of last year I was finding that almost every item of kit I owned has a musty smell even straight after washing. The worse bit of this was that the kit that I liked the most and therefore wore the most, suffered the most.

That is where Halo Sports Proactive Sports Wash came in. I think this stuff is great! I must admit that the first time I used it, I was a little disappointed because the kit that I washed, whilst definitely more palatable, still retained a background whiff. But I washed it all again and the second time was a revelation! Gone was the perma-stink and in its place there was a light, fresh fragrance, which is even better than the floral smelling regular liquid detergent I had been using. Even when holding the armpits of my favourite tops close to my nose, there was not a trace of lingering perma-stink. It seems that after the first double wash, the years of ingrained pong have gone and I now use the Halo Sports Proactive Sports Wash every time I wash kit. The kit always smells great and comes out completely clean, even the dirtiest vests, shorts and socks from cross-country races.

I always like to give a balanced review and that often means finding a downside or two. For Halo Sports Proactive Sports Wash the only things I can think of are; one, the relative difficulty of getting hold of it (but there is a link to stockists on their website) and two; it is relatively expensive – £5.50 for 1 liter vs around £4 for a normal liquid detergent.

However I don’t think that either or indeed both of the negatives that I have mentioned outweigh the benefits of Halo Sports Proactive Sports Wash and any extra cost will almost certainly be saved by extending the life of those items of kit that you thought would have to go in the bin (or if you’re really mean to the charity shop!) that will now last for several more seasons. If like so many of us runners, you are dealing with a weekly laundry-mountain, I’d say give it a go (for everyone’s benefit!)