Guest Post by Lindsey
Racing Flats as a Minimalist Alternative
I'm no marathoner (far from it!), but lately I've been looking for the best alternative to Vibram Five Fingers. I've been running in VFFs for several months now and throw in a little barefoot running as well.
Since I have to wear a conventional looking shoe for my upcoming military training, I needed to find something that would suit my needs. I wanted a shoe that was light, flexible, and as minimalistic as possible. I had long considered the Mizuno Wave Universe 3 flat, but its price tag made me consider other options first. So instead, I decided that perhaps cross country (XC) flats would be a good substitute as I could find them cheaper than the Mizunos. I tried the Saucony Shay XC 2 first as it met all the basic requirements. Unfortunately, I had to send them back twice for the proper size (they run small), and once I did get the proper size, I disliked the molded sole around the arch, and the general narrow fit of the shoe. I can imagine the Saucony Shay XC 2 as a great trail shoe, one that excels in its purpose, but the aggressive tread and fit of the shoe made it inappropriate for my needs.
I also purchased a pair of Saucony Kinvara on a whim. Unfortunately, these are more like reduced running shoes than actual minimalist shoes. They do promote more of a midfoot strike as advertised, but I didn't really enjoy running in them. I think they might be a decent transition shoe (akin to the Nike Free, perhaps), but they are somewhat stiff and way more shoe than I want to run in. I believe that their cushioning might be beneficial for me as a marching shoe. I found if I took the insole out, the shoe felt much flatter, more neutral, and more along the lines of what it should have been in the first place. I will be playing around with these more to see if they will fill the role of a marching/drill shoe while I am in training. Unfortunately, they just don't suit my needs as a running shoe. Nevermind the fact that that they're fluorescent pink. Yikes!
Enter the Mizuno Wave Universe 3
I decided to just purchase the Mizuno flats. I'm glad I did! I went for a three mile run in them as soon as they came in, and I was very pleased with them as an alternative to Vibram Five Fingers. The shoe is exceptionally light, weighing in at a whopping 3.6 oz. The mesh upper seems to be constructed well, contributes to the lack of weight, and is very breathable. The thin sole (6mm forefoot) offers excellent ground feel for a shoe; it's not far off from the VFF Bikila in that aspect. There is a heel drop, but I honestly could barely feel it, and it did not affect my gait whatsoever. The toe box is very roomy, and I enjoyed how I felt my toes being allowed to move and foot working in a similar manner to barefoot or in VFFs. I found myself immediately striking as I do in VFFs, with little to no transition time to get used to the new footwear. They felt like part of my foot, much like the VFFs do. The Mizunos offered me protection without getting in my way.
Photos of the Mizuno Wave Universe 3 racing flat
The Importance of Running Form
This is certainly the shoe I will be running in during training, and until I can return to VFFs full time. I felt perfectly comfortable in the Mizunos. My test run in them was on concrete; a surface I had previously avoided for the better part of a year in favor of grass, dirt, and running tracks. Why? Because before (in my cushy running shoes and poor form) I had always managed to get injured quickly when running on concrete. The test run went splendidly, with no pain in my shins or feet. I honestly think it's less about what you wear on your feet, and more about how one runs that contributes to one's success. Thanks to barefoot and minimalist running, I have that form, and can go barefoot or in a shoe like the Mizuno over hard surfaces with no issues. I also enjoyed a short barefoot run on the concrete afterward. It was a fun day!
So to anyone considering the Mizuno Wave Universe 3 as their next racing flat, I would highly suggest them. They are wonderfully light, neutral flats that (in my opinion) are just slightly more muffled than the Bikila in terms of ground feel. They compliment BR/MR form beautifully, and running in them is as effortless as it should be.
About the author —
Recently, Lindsey shared her collection of Vibram Five Fingers with us, but mentioned that she would be running in Mizuno Wave Universe 3 (Find'em at Zappos for about $120) racing flats (also mentioned by marathoner Edward Edmonds) while going through Officer Training School for the U.S. Air Force. Thanks for the review Lindsey!
Future Racing Flat Reviews —
Though it veers a little off the path of being a barefoot purist, lightweight racing flats, with small heel to toe drops, are an interesting alternative for a forefoot strike runner. For those logging big miles, they can provide a little extra padding not found in Vibram Five Fingers or barefeet. So, we will be blogging reviews on various racing flats from time to time.
I (blog post publishing guy Britt) have also begun to alternate between my Bikilas and Saucony Grid Type A4 flats (The A4 sells around $95 at Endless.com) on my runs. I chose the Saucony because of its very small heel to toe drop which makes it easier to maintain my forefoot strike. Though not a truly flat shoe like the Evo, it has just a 4mm drop. For comparison, The Mizuno Wave Universe 3 has a 9mm drop. Check back, I will be publishing a review of my impressions of the Saucony Grid Type A4 soon.