Monday, February 27, 2012

Gear Review: Mizuno Wave Ronin 4

You know that boy (or girl, substitute if you wish) who keeps trying to get your attention and keeps failing? He asks you out, and you accept to be polite, and then he brings you to a Chinese place, except Chinese food makes you sick. Then a few years later, he tries again, now armed with the knowledge that you like Italian, and he brings you to Fazoli's, which is okay, but not exactly your Italian restaurant of choice. Then the morning of your goal race, there's a knock on the hotel room door, and there he is, holding a bagel, a jar of peanut butter, a Powerbar, an apple, a Sugar-Free Red Bull, and a Powerade Zero. And nevermind that you normally drink a Monster Lo-Carb instead of a Red Bull, because it's so close to perfect that you just melt. (And yes, I eat a lot before races. DON'T JUDGE ME). That's Mizuno for me. The first shoe I was put in was the Alchemy, way back in my senior year of high school, which was just wrong for my biomechanics. The second shoe was the Rider, which wasn't terrible, but not really what I wanted. Well, with the Mizuno Wave Ronin 4, Mizuno has finally won my heart.

The Mizuno Wave Ronin 4 is Mizuno's neutral racing flat (they also offer the ultralight 3.9oz Wave Universe 4, but the Ronin is their more versatile neutral flat). The Ronin weighs in at 7.0oz for a men's size 9 and 6.0oz for a women's size 8. It has a stack height of 25/15, giving it an H delt of 10mm. Running Warehouse describes the Ronin as such:
The Wave Ronin 4 is a minimum feature, minimum neutral shoe deigned for speedwork or racing. It is built with a semi-curved shape.
  • Mizuno Wave consists of an elastic, thermal plastic wave running from the heel to the midfoot, creating an incredibly springy and well-cushioned ride.
  • AP+ is Mizuno's top of the line full length midsole copolymer material for a lighter, more resilient ride.
  • Smooth Ride is a gender specific network of grooves that minimizes the rapid acceleration and deceleration of the foot to create a smooth heel to toe ride.
  • AIRmesh covers the entire upper and provides breathability to keep the foot cool.
  • Standard Sockliner provides underfoot comfort.
  • Dynamotion Fit creates optimal fit with stretch material in the forefoot and a collar construction that prevents the heel collar from buckling under load.
  • Flex Controllers placed in high flex areas on the outsole act as miniature wave plates for increased flexibility and reduced weight.
  • X10 located in the heel and forefoot is made of durable carbon rubber for enhanced traction.
  • G3 Sole is a lightweight rubber dot pattern in the forefoot for increased grip and flexibility.

The Ronin is a highly responsive shoe. There's not a lot of cushioning there, and the little cushioning that is present is very firm. The Wave plate is pretty shallow, and seems to do more with aiding the transition onto your toes than providing much in the way of cushion. There's not a lot of forgiveness there, but I really don't expect much forgiveness in a racing general, if someone wants a lightweight shoe to race in with some forgiveness, I'd recommend them a performance trainer. This shoe is responsive to the point that it almost feels like a more substantial Adidas adiZero PR, which was an ultralight, super responsive flat that I wore a while ago, before it was discontinued. This very minimal firm cushioning makes the Ronin feels fast. No superfluous cushioning to slow you down. You also get a fair amount of groundfeel if that is of concern to you.

Mizuno Wave Ronin has a shallow Wave plate to give the shoe a fast transition

The ride of the Ronin is super smooth. This holds true whether you're midfoot striking or mildly heelstriking (sorry forefoot strikers, I don't have any real-world experience for you, but due to the nature of the transition, I'd assume it works well for forefoot striking). Probably not forgiving enough for a heavy heelstriker, but it's a racing flat, so I kind of doubt you're going to be smacking the ground at that extreme of an angle if you're running fast enough to warrant a racing flat. The transition is fast and smooth, and they almost feel like they snap you onto your toes. I'm definitely using my calves more in the Ronin than my other shoes (which includes the low-drop PureProject shoes), which I believe is at least in part because they seem to get you up onto your toes so quickly. However, this means that you probably don't want to just jump into wearing the Ronin unless you want your calves to explode. Make sure you wear them for some speedwork before you all of a sudden decide to race in them. Additionally, they're a very light shoe, which also aids in their feeling fast.

Mizuno Wave Ronin has plenty of forefoot flexibility, though it stiffens up at toe-off

Mizuno Wave Ronin has a lot of torsional flexibility, and the Wave plate provides very little lateral support

The Ronin has a pretty good amount of flexibility to it, as you'd expect from a shoe with a thin midsole, but its forefoot is still stiff enough that it makes for a fast toe-off. That probably sounds like I'm contradicting myself, but it's almost like the shoe flexes, and then quickly snaps back for toe-off, which definitely helps the shoe to feel fast. Interestingly, the most anterior flex groove (which is positioned where your toes flex) is very flexible, but the flex groove further back in the midfoot has Mizuno's Flex Controllers over it, and it doesn't really flex there. Instead, it flexes just behind the Flex Controllers. This characteristic didn't really impact the ride of the shoe at all, but I kind of question why Mizuno bothered to put a flex groove there at all if they were just going to bridge it with inflexible Flex Controllers. Lateral flexibility is about what I would expect for a racing flat. Surprisingly, the Wave plate is thin enough that it flexes and doesn't make the Ronin a lateral board, which was my complaint about the Rider.

Mizuno Wave Ronin has a firm heel counter to provide a small amount of rearfoot support

Mizuno Wave Ronin has a fairly wide heel cup. (Ronin on left, Brooks T7 Racer on right) WHY, MIZUNO, WHY?!

The Ronin has a fairly firm heel counter that provides a very small amount of rearfoot support. However, the heel cup is my one issue with this shoe. Simply put, it's wide, doesn't hug my heel very well at all, and I get a little bit of heel slippage when running fast. It's been fine at marathon pace, but as I approach half-marathon pace, my heel slips a little. I've messed with the lacing, but I can't quite get it to work for me. Obviously, this is a fit issue with the shape of my calcaneus versus the shape of the heel cup, so this won't be a problem for everyone, but I feel it's worth mentioning. Also, I am unable to lace lock because, no matter what the shoe, that particular style of lacing bothers my anterior tibialis tendon (the thick tendon in the front of your ankle), so if you can lace lock comfortably in other shoes, you can probably lace lock the Ronin and this may not be an issue for you. The wide heel cup is probably the biggest obstacle standing in the Ronin's way from being my flat for short distance races (well, that and the monster known as the Brooks T7 Racer, considering I've been in love with that shoe since 2007...but if the Ronin's heel fit me better, it would be a much tougher decision!).

Mizuno Wave Ronin has a semi-curved last. You can also see the grey Wave plate and grey Flex Controllers.

Other than the heel counter, there's not a lot of support to the Ronin. There's a little bit of arch support, but nothing significant at all. The Wave plate provides a little bit of structure, but since it's flexible, you're not getting much there either. However, since it is built off a firm base, it also shouldn't exaggerate any existing overpronation. Also, the Ronin is built off of a semi-curved last, unlike the radically curved T7 Racer, which is why I give it a slight edge over the T7 for longer races (and why I wouldn't hesitate to use the Ronin as a marathon flat, but keep going back and forth on using the T7 for that purpose). This is definitely a shoe for the neutral, biomechanically efficient runner, though the fact that the last is semi-curved rather than extremely curved may make it appropriate for the very mild overpronator for short races (though many overpronators may be happier with the Musha).

Mizuno Wave Ronin has a sock-like upper

The upper of the Ronin (minus the heel) is fantastic. It breathes well, and the fit (again, minus the heel) is sock-like. The fit through the midfoot is great, and the toebox is roomy without being sloppy (to be fair, roomy for me is probably not very roomy at all). It also feels like it's made to be worn without socks. It's very comfortable against bare skin. The tongue is a little weird in that I have to play around with it to get it centered right, but once I get it adjusted, it's comfortable and padded enough that the laces don't dig into my instep. Also of note, the heel collar is a little lower than that of the T7, since I know that the height of that collar has dug into some people's skin over their Achilles.

I don't have enough miles on these to truly say much about durability. However, the Ronin uses that super hard carbon that several racing flats seem to use, so I would assume the outsole will last for a while (the Nike Katana Rac3r used it and those have good durability, for example), and there's not much cushioning to compress and degrade. However, they are still a racing flat, and oftentimes racing flats aren't made to last quite as many miles as trainers. I'll update this as I get more miles on them, but so far, they still look almost the same as when I got them, minus the dirt.

Other things to note: there is a shallow groove in the heel of the sole that the "Mizuno rock" (as I described in the Rider review) could potentially get lodged in, but it's not nearly as deep as the groove on the Rider, and I've only had it happen once so far (and I've been running in this shoe quite a bit since I've gotten it). Also, I love the aesthetics of this shoe. Not that that has any bearing on the ride whatsoever, but whatever, it looks cool.

The Ronin is a solid racing flat that I wouldn't hesitate to wear for a marathon. It's responsive, smooth, and low-slung, just as a racing flat should be. It's also versatile enough that I've been wearing it for regular easy runs, something I probably wouldn't do in many of my other flats. I would recommend it for the neutral, biomechanically efficient runner looking for a fast-feeling racing flat for speedwork and longer races, and perhaps even the slightly less efficient runner who wants a short-distance racing flat. And as for me? Well, I won't be dropping the T7 any time soon, but let's say that between the Ronin and the T7, I'm pretty happy with my shoe collection as far as racing flats go. And I've found my marathon flat (for whenever I decide to run another marathon, which will happen, just not yet). Oh heck yes.

The Mizuno Wave Ronin 4 retails for $105 and is available on Mizuno's website, as well as at many retailers that carry Mizuno products. I have found that they run true to size, and I bought the same size that I wear in other Mizuno products (as well as the same size I wear in most Brooks).

Full disclosure: I received the Ronin free of charge in exchange for a review. The opinions expressed in this review are mine and based on my experience, and do not reflect the opinions of Mizuno or anyone else.


  1. My PR at 5K, on pavement, was barefoot. (Yeah, it's only like 17 minutes. I'm not super fast.) I just finished in the top 10% of a gnarly trail 50K wearing Hattori. Which isn't to brag, really, just to point out that I'm a pretty staunch minimalist (whatever the heck that means these days). And I like the Musha 3. It's the only shoe-y shoe I wear routinely. So if you (by which I mean readers who may not be as neutral) actually like stability shoes, I imagine it'll feel fast and free, while still comfortable.

  2. Shoe-y shoe...I like that. Does that make the Hattori a sock-y shoe? ;)

    Thanks for the input on the Musha. Haven't worn it myself, but a friend of mine who wears the Ronin for short races wears the Musha for marathons. He's no minimalist though, so it's interesting to hear your point of view on it too!


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