A couple of months ago I received a pair of shoes that easily could have been mistaken for ballet slippers – except for the black on red stylized flame design adorning them.
The shoes in question, Mizuno’s Universe Wave 4, are the company’s lightest trainers to date. They weigh in at a scant 3.8 ounces. Picking one up is a little like lifting a sheet of paper: there’s nothing to it.
I received the shoes through Mizuno’s Mezamashii project, a brilliant marketing plan that dispensed with much of the company’s advertising budget in favour of placing shoes directly into the hands of runners and letting them decide word-of-mouth the value of the footwear.
Mezamashii is the Japanese word for eye-opening or brilliant and Mizuno’s been clever enough to ensure their shoes live up to the expectation.
The Universes are almost flats. A breathable red mesh upper joins a soft gel compound sole. These are true minimalist runners, but the heel has been slightly built up to offer a modicum of protection.
Nonetheless, the forefoot is a flat and is extremely flexible, offering little cushion from the road. I learned very quickly to adjust my running style to the shoe.
They’re not made for slow running – literally. The first time I wore them I ran the first kilometre conservatively, feeling my feet connect with the pavement. Within 500 metres, I knew unreservedly that I’m a forefoot striker; every foot fall received a ton of feedback – no sludgy cushioning here.
But you don’t want to feel every foot strike to that degree either. Instead, as I picked up the pace, I discovered that landing forefoot to mid-foot at speed offset the strike. In other words, if you’re efficient and light on your feet, this is an incredible pair of shoes in which to run.
If, like me, you haven’t spent a lot of time running in minimal shoes, then don’t go out and do 10 km. You won’t likely run again for another two weeks after. I ran three km on my first run and built up to five km thereafter.
Really, these aren’t distance shoes anyway. I wouldn’t use them for race training. Rather, I’ve been saving them for indoor track work this winter and for five km racing flats. An extremely efficient runner, someone who wears Vibrams and is used to that style of running, could get away with using these for a half-marathon or even a full.
The same attention to detail extends to the tread. You wouldn’t expect any sort of tread on such a minimal shoe, but the Universe has a series of tiny lugs on the forefoot that are good at shedding water – not that you’d want to use these in terribly poor weather.
And there’s the rub: you’re not going to be plunging through puddles, slush and so on in these. That’s not their purpose. Also, the soft gel in the heel wears quickly, so bear that in mind. These are light, but not built for high mileage.
Beyond the feel of these fleet speedsters, I love the design. They look fast. Their black and silver on red colour scheme brings to mind Spiderman’s costume. Bring on the Lizard. You can take him in these.
In sum, if you’re not fast enough wearing these, don’t blame it on the shoes.