A Minimalist Alternative

Back in April, I started running consistently after about, uh, a 30 year layoff. I learned about barefoot running here on Birthday Shoes and I decided to give it a try. I had tried running on and off through the years, but was an old school heel striker and always gave up due to back and knee pain. These days, when I run “barefoot” in Five Fingers Bikilas I don’t have these problems and running is fun again.

Starting out, I focused on taking it slow and developing a proper forefoot strike. All went well for the first couple of months and my perfectly fitting Bikilas are just great. However, due to either pushing myself too hard lately or perhaps the inherent frailty of my middle aged body, I have developed a mild case of achilles tendonitis.

So, what follows is my search for a shoe that I could alternate with my Bikilas to relieve some of the stress on my achilles tendon…

Saucony Grid Type A4

I looked for something lightweight, with a small heel-to-toe drop and low profile that would allow me to maintain my forefoot strike. Also, I was hoping some very slight cushioning of the heel would help with my achilles problem.

After reading about Edward Edmond’s use of racing flats in his training, I looked at the specs of various racing flats and narrowed it down to a few possibilities. Initially, I was leaning toward the Mizuno Wave Universe 3, but after talking with Greg at DailyMile, who likes alternating runs with his Bikilas and the Saucony Grid Type A4s, I decided to give them a closer look. I found that the Sauconys have a smaller heel-to-toe drop, less cushion, and cost less. So, I decided to give them a try. (Endless carries men’s and women’s here.)

This shoe has a very low profile and a small 4mm heel-to-toe drop making it a great option for forefoot runners.

Overall Engineering of the A4

The A4s have a very low 4mm heel-to-toe drop, run close to the ground with a 13mm heel and a 9mm forefoot and weigh in at just 6.3oz. 4mms is low enough to let me maintain my forefoot strike while also minimizing the impact to my achilles as my heel touches down. However, even at just 4mm, I find that I have to focus on staying on my forefoot. It is very easy to become lazy and let my heel strike first. If the drop was larger, I don’t think I could do it. The overall height being just 13mm is nice too. It doesn’t duplicate the awesome feel for the road you get in Vibram Five Fingers, but there is a definite tactile feedback that I have never felt from cushy running shoes. The weight is comparable to a pair of Bikilas.

The roomy toe box leaves my toes space to do their thing, a loop is on the heel for quick changes, and an orange racing stripe let’s people know you mean business.

The Upper

The A4 has a lightweight white mesh upper with orange and black accents. They are very airy and have a roomy toe box. They don’t have the toe gripping ability that Five Fingers provide, but my toes are free to move around unencumbered. Also, they have some nifty little loops on the tongue and heel for triathletes to quickly slip them on. The holes for the black laces are reinforced by a pressed on plastic strip. The orange/black racing stripe on the side seems a little cheesy to me. The shoe looks good to run in, but as casual wear it is pretty ugly.

The carbon rubber outsole grips the road and has holes for drainage. I had to pry little pebbles out with a screwdriver after running on a rocky path.

The Sole

They have a EVA midsole that Saucony says “maximizes rebound and durability while minimizing weight”. But don’t expect a lot of cushioning here. These are not a marshmallow shoe. The midsole is thin and much firmer feeling than your typical running shoe. The bottom of the sole has cool little carbon rubber triangle shaped grippers. Although this shoe is designed for the road, it handles light trails well. Another interesting feature for long distance runners, who like to dump water on their heads, is the drainage holes built into the soles. They allow water to drain through the shoe. The downside to this is that little rocks can get stuck in the holes when trail running. Also, dirt and water will come up through these holes so they have to be washed and aired out regularly.

The insoles are not glued in and are easily removed. There is also an ultra thin lining, elastic tongue holders and “hydrators” pad the heel.

Under the Hood

Inside the shoe there is a very thin backing to the mesh upper. The A4s don’t have much of an arch support(which I like a lot), just a thin insole that is not glued to the shoe and . It can easily be removed and I tried running without it once. I found the surface under the insole very hard and recommend keeping them in. There are a couple of little padded “hydrators” on each side of the heel pod that give a firm but cushioned fit. I got a blister on my heel the first time I ran in them, but switching from cotton socks to moisture wicking socks fixed that. The tongue has a couple of elastic strips to hold it in place.

Thumbs Up!

Overall, I give these shoes a thumbs up.. While not giving me a true barefoot feel, they are as close as I can imagine in a running shoe (I haven’t tried the Evo) and they seem to relieve some of the achilles stress. The biggest challenge is maintaining my stride that is so effortless and fun when running in my Bikilas.

Another added detail, the words “GET SOME!” are emblazoned on the outside of the heel. If you decide to get some, please throw us a bone and visit Endless for the Men’s Saucony Grid Type A4 and Women’s Saucony Grid Type A4.

Photos of the Saucony Grid Type A4 (click to zoom):