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You really couldn’t miss them could you? After seeing the pictures in my race report of the Smuttynose Marathon, many people asked me what I had done with my VFF’s (Vibram Five Fingers). You couldn’t miss the fact that I was wearing the bright radioactive orange Saucony Kinvaras for the marathon. Rest assured, I still have my Vibrams and I still use them.

Still, I know, it’s confusing. I’m “the Vibrams guy”. I’m the one who has been preaching the benefits of barefoot-style running. Every marathon I had run before Smuttynose, in fact every race save my very first, a 10k, has been in some model of the VFF’s.

So what gives? Why the switch?

Here’s the deal.  They don’t call the marathon a marathon for nothing.  It’s a long race.  I am still a novice at this running thing both in time and in skill.  Do I know more than the average Joe?  Sure.   Am I faster than the average runner?   Maybe a little.  But the bottom line is that my body and mind are still learning how to do this thing called running.

When running a 26.2 mile footrace, things start to break down, both mentally and physically. It can happen early or it can happen late, but inevitably, for me, it happens.  Somewhere along the course of 26.2 miles, my focus will wander and my form will break.  Old habits will kick in, and bad form will simply happen.

In shorter races (5K to Half-Marathon) I can get away with that. But at 26.2 miles, it’s hard to reel it back in.

What in the world does this have to do with the Kinvaras?

I love my Vibrams.  I do.  And I will continue to wear them and race in them at shorter distances. However, if I am going to be completely honest, I have to admit that in all three of my marathons where I wore the Vibrams, at some point, I was thinking about my feet.

Did my feet hurt? Not particularly.

Were there hotspots?   Definitely.

My problem was NOT with the Vibrams.   It was with me.  Physically and mentally, I am not good enough yet to maintain the focus and form necessary to run the way I want to for the marathon distance.

That’s where the Kinvaras come in.  They are Saucony’s entrant into the minimalist shoe arena. They are extremely light and have a minimal heel-to-toe drop (4mm I believe), and encourage a mid-foot strike.  They help you run the right way.

BUT they are soft underfoot. There is just enough cushion underneath to let you get away with bad form late in the race without encouraging it early on.  They are forgiving.  They also handle the road very well.  Tight turns or straight aways, the shoe has held up.

The one drawback of the Kinvaras may be that they want to go fast.  I found that from the moment I put them on the first time they simply wanted to go.  I initially struggled in keeping my pace down when I ran my long, slow runs.  I have since tamed the shoes somewhat, but I have discover that my perceived pace is actually much slower than my actual pace.  To have that feeling in a marathon is priceless, especially if you have the discipline to stay at your goal pace.  That feeling allowed me to have a nice kick at the end of Smuttynose.

I have found in the 8 weeks I have been running in the Kinvaras that I never, NEVER think about my feet.   As a runner, that is a huge luxury.  Even when my form began to break down at the Smuttynose Marathon, not once did I think of my feet.  My legs eventually grew tired, my energy ebbed, but my feet didn’t ask for attention at any point.

If you’re looking for a shoe that will encourage you to run with what I believe is proper form and let you forget out your feet, this is the one for you.  My personal favorite is the bright, radioactive orange, because you friends and family can spot you from a half-mile away.

The result at Smuttynose? The Kinvaras carried me to an 11 minute PR of 3:19:19.  An 11 minutes PR and a BQ.  A pretty convincing endorsement for a marathon shoe.

Team Kinvara at the Smuttynose Marathon 2010 - 3 PRs, 2 BQs

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[tweetmeme source=”luau” only_single=false http://www.URL.com]

Yesterday I picked up a pair of the new Vibram Bikila. They weren’t supposed to be in the stores until this morning, but when I called to find out what time they thought they would be coming in, I was told they had just received a small shipment. They had received one pair in my size. I asked the salesperson to hold on to them and that I’d be there in 10 minutes.

I was there in 5.

The moment I slipped them onto my feet, I knew this was going to be my new favorite shoe. I have run in Vibram Sprints, KSO’s and Treks. All were great for running in, but these Bikilas fit nice and snug. They feel fast. I jogged lightly from one end of the store to the other, “testing” them out. I really didn’t need to…I just wanted to show them off. Now that they were on my feet, I didn’t care if someone else with my foot size showed up. I mentioned to the salesperson that I was happy that I had called because I knew had I waited until this morning, I would have been told that they had just sold the one pair they had in my size. These shoes are selling like hotcakes. On Thursday, CitySports put about 150 pair up online. They were gone in 20 minutes.

I brought them home and showed them to my family. They were unimpressed, and quite honestly, I guess I could understand. I never was into the Air Jordan craze. I never understood the hysteria. Now I do. I’ve been itching for a pair of Bikila since I first heard about them. The fact that I could play with but not purchase them at the Boston Marathon Expo killed me.

Anyway, after dinner I went for my first run in them.

Over the course of my 3 mile run, I took them over a variety of terrain, including road, sidewalk, grass and brush. The Bikila performed perfectly in all conditions. The only place I might hesitate taking them is on truly off road terrain, but quite honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised it they handled that decently as well. During my run I was able to feel the ground beneath as well as I could in my Sprints, but still get some traction like I do in my Treks. One of the reasons why I had switched to Treks in my long runs had been the fact that after 5 – 6 miles in my Sprints I would often feel the bottoms of my feet heating up a bit. That doesn’t happen in my Treks (at least not in runs 26.2 miles or shorter) and based on the feel of the Bikila, I don’t anticipate that happening with them either.

As I mentioned earlier, these Vibrams feel fast when you put them on. These truly feel like a second skin to me, unlike my previous Vibrams that in comparison, feel like loose fitting gloves. The tread on the Bikila is like a cross between the KSO’s/Sprints and the Treks. Thick enough to feel like you’ve got some traction and protection, but light enough to feel the road completely. As I went out for my run, I told myself to go slow. My legs are still recovering from my 2 Marathons in 2 Weeks Adventure and I had originally planned on waiting until Monday to start running again. Of course, with the Bikila in hand, I wasn’t about to NOT run. So I went out with the intention of running a slow 3 miler.

These shoes don’t want to go slowly. Your feet just want to go in them and mine did. After starting off with an 8+ minute mile, I covered the last 2 miles in 15 minutes, without any realization that I was running that fast. Had you asked me to guess my pacing, I would have told you I ran 8 minute miles the whole way. For those of you who are not runners, but have made it this far in my review, a 30 second difference per mile is NOT insignificant. It is huge.

When I arrived home, I didn’t do my usual routine of ripping off my shoes immediately after the run. I had to leave them on. HAD to. That’s because not only do they feel fast, and not only do they have the perfect balance of tread on the soles, they are comfortable. I mean cozy! The feet feel great in them. If I wasn’t moderately self-conscious, I would wear then 24/7 – from dropping off the kids at school, to going to the grocery store, taking the kids to their various activities – I would wear them everywhere – and then I’d run in them. Unfortunately, I am a little shy when it comes to wearing them for anything but running, but that’s a Luau problem, not a Bikila problem.

I feel bad for my other Vibrams. I haven’t worn the Sprints since last fall, and the KSO have only been pulled out a couple times over the last few month. I thought I had found my perfect Vibram in my Treks. They are a great running shoe, especially during the cold winter months up here in the Northeast, but they too are about to be relegated to being a back-up player. The Bikila’s have taken the best from each of the previous models and improved upon them. These shoes were obviously made with the runner in me in mind. The Bikila are truly the runner’s Vibram Five Finger shoe. I am sure you will feel the same.

My new favorite running shoe – The Vibram Bikila!

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I need YOUR contributions to a project that I’m working on. Interested?

All you need to do is send me a paragraph or two telling me why you run and/ or why you think others should run. E-mail it to me at “runluaurun at gmail dot com” (written out so the bots don’t start sending me spam).

If you can, please include a picture of your favorite running shoes and tell me what kind of shoes they are. Also, please let me know how you would like to be referenced (real name, nickname, pseudonym, etc) just in case this project actually ever sees the light of day.

The more responses I get, the sooner I can put it all together, so please don’t be shy about forwarding this to your running friends and spreading the word.

Thanks!

Luau

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