Thursday, June 2, 2011

Saucony Grid Type A4 Review

When it comes to running shoes, I'm a bit of a diva. When it comes to racing shoes, I'm an even bigger one. I have some fragile feet and if a shoe doesn't fit me well, I'll get some killer plantar fasciitis within a couple of weeks. And while I'm more of a natural midfoot/forefoot striker, if a shoe has too high of a heel, it will cause me to heel strike and overpronate. I've tried out nearly every racing flat known to man and have found something wrong with pretty much all of them. My focus for this spring was to just have some fun with running and do a lot of shorter races. So I needed a lightweight, flexible racing shoe, so I decided to get a pair of Saucony Grid Type A4's and I've been nothing but impressed with them.

When racing shoes approach 7 ounces, they feel too heavy and don't have that fast feeling for the shorter races. When shoes are under 6 ounces, they wreak havoc on my calves. The shoe weighs in at 6.3 ounces (size 9), which I feel is around the perfect weight. The A4's also have just a 4mm heel to forefoot drop off (13mm-9mm), which makes it much easier to run with a more "natural" footstrike. This 4mm dropoff is the same as my training shoes, the Saucony Kinvara but the Grid Type A4 sits much lower to the ground, which gives its a fast feeling and gives your feet a better feel for the road.

One of my favorite things about the A4 is that it's very flexible. Flexibility is very important to me because if a shoe is too stiff, it creates havoc for my arches. While most racing shoes have too much plastic running through the midsole, the A4 has primarily foam, which lets the shoe flex naturally. However, it does have a tiny bit of plastic in the inside of the arch but it doesn't interfere with the flexibility at all and gives the shoe a little more support.

The outsole of the shoe comes equipped with drainage holes that run the entire length of the shoe. In rainy weather, this helps drain water from the shoe, so your shoes don't end up weighing more than you do. This will also help during the brutal and sweaty Tennessee summers when the heat index is regularly over 100 during the afternoon. The only flaw to the drainage holes is that small rocks can get trapped inside them when I run on the cinder trails at Moss Wright Park but the rocks are easily removed and this isn't an issue when I run on the roads.

I raced in these shoes all throughout the spring, ranging in distance from 5k to the half marathon. While the Asics Piranhas I used in the fall gave me everlasting calf knots, I never once had any calf issues with the A4. About a month before the Country Music Marathon, I even flirted with the idea of using them for the full 26.2 distance. On most sites, they recommended the shoe for distances between 5k to half marathon. But just like most doctors usually tell you to rest for two weeks and come in again no matter if you sprained your ankle or got hit by a truck, I felt like the suggestion was too conservative.

When you race 26.2 miles, your muscles get beat up pretty badly and go through a lot of trauma. To make sure the A4's would take me through the whole distance, I tried them out on several longer runs. The first long session I used them on was my longest and toughest workout of the season, so I felt it would be the perfect test: 6.2 miles at 85% of marathon pace, 1:00 rest and then 6.2 miles at faster than marathon pace. That workout sounds somewhat tough but did I mention you have to repeat it again later in the day? And what really puts it over the edge is that once you wake up until you finish the second session, you can't take in any carbohydrates. This super-compensation workout mimics the marathon pretty well without putting you totally over the edge. After it was all said and done, I got in about 26.5 miles for the day and the A4's worked great. I also tested them out on two 22 mile runs and again, I had no foot or calf pain and I was really pleased with how they performed.

I decided to use them in the marathon and they worked perfectly. After the marathon, nearly everyone asked me if my feet hurt. While almost my entire body felt like it was run over by a tank, my feet were perfectly fine. For such a lightweight shoe, they offer a surprising amount of responsive cushioning.

The shoes now have almost 250 miles on them and show little to no wear. My Asics Hyperspeeds and Piranhas have almost the same amount of mileage and the tread is already worn out completely in some areas. Overall, I'm really impressed with them and I think they are a great pick for nearly any runner. They are the most comfortable shoes I own and I will gradually turn them into my everyday training shoes. If you're looking to knock several seconds per mile off your race time (which could give you that extra boost to knock out that Boston qualifying time), the A4's are definitely worth a look.

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