I love ASICS. I love the way their sneakers hug my feet with the just the right amount of hug. Like a hug from your sister. Not a hug from your best friend after a one-year separation and not a hug from an awkward male relative. I love the way they feel when you go for your first run in a new pair. The GEL® is one of my favorite features and, in a new pair, I feel like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, like I could bounce my way home on a 32km run.
Recently, the ASICS Speedstars (aka pink panthers) came into my life through amazing sponsorship by Aerobics First and ASICS. I ran my first race with them at the PEI Freeze Your Gizzard Half Marathon. The Speedstars are considered lightweight training shoes, not racing flats.
Advantages of Lightweight Trainers:
Training and racing in lightweight trainers can provide a few advantages. When running a race of any length, a weight drop of only a few ounces can make you run faster as you can cover more distance with less effort. Most experts agree that reducing the weight of your running shoe can shave 1.0-1.5 seconds per mile for every ounce of weight saved. For example, I train in ASICS GEL- 1160s, which weigh about 9.5 ounces per shoe. I now race in Asics GEL-Speedstar, which weigh about 7.5 ounces per shoe.
The difference of 2 ounces per shoe should help me shave 2-3 seconds per mile off of my race times. Not very much, you think? Over the course of a marathon, that amounts to a savings of about 52-80 seconds. Pretty much one full minute! Any runner chasing a BQ or PB knows how valuable one minute is.
Runners must beware though, the lighter you go (and the longer the race), the greater the potential risk of injury. If you are thinking about switching to a lighter shoe for racing, you should make sure that you don’t have any injuries and gradually get used to running in them. Before the Freeze Your Gizzard Half Marathon, I ran 3 x 15km workouts in the Speedstars. I’ll run up to 2.5 hours in my new Speedstars before Boston Marathon.
Let me tell you about some of the Speedstars’ Best Features
1. Tigger-bounce, aka GEL® Cushion System
In the rearfoot of the Speedstar you find the GEL® Cushion System which absorbs shock during impact phase and allows for a smooth transition to midstance. The GEL® Cushion System is the one feature that drives my Asics brand loyalty. Some racers feel really flat, like your foot is right on the road. I love feeling the GEL® in a lightweight racer.
In order to keep the shoe light, ASICS uses SoLyte® midsole material, a midsole compound that is lighter than ASICS standard EVA and SpEVA®. This keeps me loyal as it light yet provides cushioning and durability.
2. Super light = Fast!
The Speedstars tip the scale at 7.4 ounces. Factors such as the above mentioned SoLyte® midsole material keep them light. This may help me save as much as 80 seconds in the Boston Marathon. During the Freeze Your Gizzard Half Marathon, they felt as light as socks. In this, my first race with the Speedstars, I won the women’s field! Obiviously the Speedstars ARE stars! See here for more on that race.
3. Upper Mesh
The upper is open mesh, which provides excellent breathability so feet stay cool and dry. Let me translate this for you in Canadian winter running lingo. When it’s hovering around zero, snow melts into large sidewalk puddles. When you put your foot directly in a large puddle full of shocking cold water, it soaks your foot. As long as you’re wearing quality socks, the Speedstar mesh allows your foot to dry quickly so that you are not sloshing around in a cold squishy mess until you get home 12 km later.
4. 3M Reflective Material
I must include this for its comical irony. ASICS has kindly included 3M reflective material in the Speedstar- a thoughtful gesture to enhance your visibility on the road. Helping keep runners safe. However, let me now point out that the HOT PINK color pretty effectively guarantees your visibility on the road. In fact, the hot pink color has the capacity to stop traffic (evidence Saturday, Feb 19: 2 separate cars slowed, honked at me, pointed at my feet and gave me thumbs up while I was down at Maringal Rd Seaport). However, the Speedstars come in colors other than hot pink so this is an important safety feature.
Like many runners, I have a shoe saga. I originally ran in Asics Nimbus and was in Tigger-heaven. I ran in these for several pairs, left a pair in Africa with my running partner’s happy sister, and then began training in 2008 to qualify for the Boston Marathon. During this 2008 winter training cycle, I developed arch pain in my left foot. I learned that my left foot pronated (rolled inward) causing stress and strain along the muscles that lift my big toe, into my calf. The pain persisted through excellent physiotherapy treatment. So I switched to the Asics 1140s– a shoe with a medial post to control pronation. My arch pain improved. I qualified for Boston at the 2008 Fredericton Marathon.
In the fall of 2008, my arch pain returned. I added Arch Molds, over the counter running insoles that provided extra stability to prevent my left foot from rolling inward. I ran ok for a bit. Then the pain came back and was again unresponsive to physiotherapy- logical because the pain was originating from my pronation and treating muscles doesn’t fix pronation. I saw talented pedorthist (and Love4Gambia sponsor) Freeman Churchill and began to run in custom orthotics. I set a personal best of 3:32:36 at Boston Marathon that year.
During my 2010 Boston Marathon training cycle, I began to train with Coach Matt Sheffield through Aerobics First. Freeman had been trying to get me to clean up some aspects of my stride but I only saw Freeman for short periods in his office. Now Matt was with me 2 nights a week, watching me run. I worked really hard with him to improve a few aspects of my stride- running taller through the hips and landing on the balls of my feet. I began to run faster. And more efficiently. And then I began to notice new muscular problems popping up in my glutes. Curious, I took out my orthotics and the glute problems disappeared. But then my arch hurt. I put the Arch Molds back in and felt perfect. A puzzle. I went back to see Freeman and learned that I in fact no longer needed orthotics. I had cleaned my stride up enough, had improved my biomechanical efficiency enough, that I no longer required orthotics. He “blessed” sneakers with use of Arch Molds. Given my newfound efficiency, I was brave enough to try out the lighter weight Asics DS Trainer and I had the run of my life at Boston that year: 3:19:37.
I’ve been training and racing happily with a combo of ASICS 1150s/1160s and a lightweight trainer and Arch Molds since.