Kickin’ it minimalist old school – Asics Piranha SP 3 shoe review

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I PR’d (3:11:03) at the Garmin Marathon in these shoes last weekend, so my opinion of them is obviously going to be a little skewed. (“Money it’s gotta be the shoes? You sure it’s not the shoes?”) Actually I think it’s probably the course – less elevation change than my previous three marathons.

About two months ago I started thinking about using some racing flats in this marathon. I had tried on the Mizuno Wave Universe a few years ago and really liked it – but the store I was at didn’t have them in my size. When I started searching for a pair this time around I wasn’t finding anything that wasn’t in triple digits. I did find the Piranhas on closeout though. Billed as the lightest racing flat out there, (4.7 oz size 9), they also fit my minimalist sensibilities with a 5 mm drop (22 down to 17). I suppose “racing flat” predated the term “zero drop” by several decades. Being a fan of the “Instinct” I would like to try a pair of Altra’s “The One” – their take on a minimalist racing flat – but they had just come out and the price was right for the Piranhas.

One of my requirements is a shoe that won’t crowd my toes. I am really careful about this after a very scary experience with the Newton MV2 a few months back. Despite a somewhat pointy appearance, the Piranhas do have the roomy toe box some reviewers actually complained about (I know – seriously?). I had zero problems with friction on the sides or top.

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Btw, check out that sweet “Japan” reference just below the laces. I can feel the Fukuoka vibe.

Mainstream wisdom is that the marathon is too long of a distance for a racing flat. For most people, that is probably excellent advice. I have run a marathon in less shoe than this though, so I knew what to expect. I also tested this shoe 5 times prior to the race (total distance 36.68 miles, but who’s counting). I used it for most of the speedwork I did in the last month, and also put in a middle distance goal pace run of 9 miles in them. I was pretty confident they wouldn’t present any major fit issues on race day.

The shoe feels so light in your palm it’s almost imperceptible. This translates to a great feel on your feet. I tried on my true size and a half size up and found they ran true to size. If you’re expecting cush, don’t. There is cushioning material in the forefoot, and more at the heel (more on that in a minute). The mesh is whisper thin.

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I was pleased with how these shoes performed in the race. No significant blistering or foot pain. I did have a minor blister just to the side of the ball of my left foot. It wasn’t a concern during the race. I’m not sure what shoe would have been blister free on this course – the entire second half is on a creek trail, the kind that doesn’t show hills on an elevation map, but in practice has lots of little ups and downs and tons of curves.

I am a devoted but apparently not dogmatic forefoot striker. These shoes easily accommodated my forefoot striking stride. However, with about 3 miles to go I was keeping a very nervous eye on a right calf cramp (which I attribute to the really watered-down gatorade at the aid stations). I got to a nice flat stretch of wide concrete sidewalk where the trail runs through the campus of a small university, so I decided to stretch it out by going about a quarter mile heel-striking. Thanks to the 5mm drop of the shoe and some cushioning in back, I was able to do this fairly comfortably. It seemed to help quite a bit and I got back on stride and back up to speed. I did get the distinct impression that I must have looked like a race-walker though.

It’s hard to rate durability at 63.06 miles, but the shoes are holding up pretty well. I think they might have a few more speedwork sessions and races left in them.

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After I recover I’m going to try to decide whether or not to attempt the Hospital Hill Half barefoot. If I’m not barefoot, I’ll almost certainly be wearing these.

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