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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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