I ran in the Karhu Steady3 Fulcrum for a little longer than two months prior to this review, with an average of 20 miles per week (there were a few weeks while I was doing the ADAPT Training Cut Camp, when I ran less). My “usual” trainer is the Brooks Adrenaline, a stability shoe, which I started wearing about six years ago to respond to a recurring knee issue.
I was a little hesitant to be the reviewer for a shoe brand I wasn’t previously familiar with, after finding a model that “worked” for me. After on-and-off pain in my knee, a runner’s knee diagnosis, physical therapy, and some awesome customer service and expertise from a specialist at Portland Running Company resulting in pain-free running, I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk it. I know I’m not alone in this tendency to stick with what works, but I was intrigued by this stability shoe that didn’t really “look” like a stability shoe.
Despite my ignorance of the brand, Karhu has been around for nearly 100 years. Founded in 1916 to craft skis and javelins out of birch, the company also created running spikes. Those spikes propelled Finland and many notable “Flying Finns” – including Olympic Champion Paavo Nurmi – to the forefront of competitive running in the 1920’s and 30’s. They even had “Air Cushioning” in the 1970’s … like another company you might have heard of!
The “Steady3” of the shoe’s name is the identifying feature. All of the Karhu Fulcrum shoes are designed to give you a more efficient stride, thanks to the “fulcrum” itself – a key piece of the shoe’s structure that varies by model to work for different types of runners. According to the FAQ on the Karhu Running website, “All the test results have shown that Karhu shoes produce less vertical and horizontal oscillation and a better midfoot landing position than both traditional running shoes and barefoot running.” In other words, the shoes are designed to help position the way your foot hits and responds to the ground.
The “Steady3” has an injection-molded EVA midsole, which works with a compression-molded EVA fulcrum. What this means to someone that doesn’t work in shoe engineering, is that the two different materials work together to create the support, cushioning, and even guidance for a runner needing a support shoe (me). It is important to note that while foot strike isn’t the sole factor in determining a runner’s efficiency, other elements – posture, alignment, and breathing – are all influenced by this impact.
That’s why my primary questions before the test started were:
1. Would the shoes provide the stability needed to keep me injury-free?
2. Would I become a more efficient runner?
I also tend to plan my running routes to include some road and some trail – even if the trail is just running on wood chips or grass near a trail, so it’s important to me that shoes work on all surfaces. Finally, I wanted to test the shoes out on my longer runs, some speedwork, and even a little cross training. These considerations were secondary, though, since even though I tend to ask my shoes to multi-task, I know not all runners do.
After running in the shoes for about six weeks, I have put nearly 125 miles on them. I have worn these shoes for running routes of 3-8 miles, fartleks for speedwork, and to my ADAPT training class which included some running and sprint elements.
Stability and Efficiency
It took me a few runs to be convinced these shoes offered adequate stability, but in the end I think they are comparable to other mid-level stability shoes. I did not experience any knee pain, even on my longer runs and the weeks when most of my mileage was accumulated over only 3-4 days. They have less cushion and a lower profile than many other stability shoes, and don’t have the larger, multi-colored midsole that is a key feature used to identify many stability shoes.
The shoes have a lower profile than most stability shoes, which took some getting used to. I tend to be a mid-foot striker, but the first few runs in the Karhu Steady3 I noticed that I needed to adjust my stride ever so slightly with more of a forward lean. I’m a very upright runner – think Michael Johnson without the gold shoes (or speed) – and forward lean* is an area I could work on. I noticed the difference because I could hear my feet hitting the asphalt while wearing these shoes – slap, slap, slap … but if I adjusted my lean, I no longer sounded like Ronald McDonald running down a steep hill. In other words, I was a mid-foot striker in my Brooks Adrenaline, but needed to adjust my form with the Karhu Steady3.
After a few weeks of wearing the shoes, I can’t say whether or not I’ve become more efficient, but I am more aware of my running form. Had I not been committed to putting 100+ miles on these shoes before sharing my review, I may not have noticed this – because I was very self-conscious of how loud I was while running! However, when I start hearing my feet hitting the ground over the low volume of my music – or during speedwork, the not-so-quiet sound of me sucking wind breathing – I know I need to relax and adjust my form. Therefore, I would suggest any runner trying these shoes out give them at least a few weeks.
Fit and Comfort
The Karhu Steady3 Fulcrum are not a highly cushioned shoe. Have you ever tried on a shoe that is instantly comfortable and soft to walk on? This is not that shoe. This isn’t a bad thing; because “soft to walk on” isn’t always indicative of the right running shoe for you. Remember when Birkenstock sandals were all the rage? They weren’t cushiony, but did more to support someone’s foot than squishy pair of flip-flops. That’s because it’s support, which comes from structure, that makes the difference.
Normally, I wear an 8.5 in running shoes and a 7.5 or 8 in dress shoes. I wore a size 8 for this test, and probably could have also worn a size 7.5. I did the “lace lock” technique where you loop the laces at the top back from the last eyelet; and then pull each end through the resulting loop, which removed any heel slippage. (I have found this to work with any shoe that feels slightly bigger than I need.) I got a hot spot and small blister on the “inner big toe mound” (thanks, Google) after my first run of four miles, but my callouses quickly adjusted and my next run of over four miles resulted in no blisters.
This shoe feels light (8.9 oz compared to 9.4 oz for the Brooks Adrenaline), which could also be a function of a thinner upper and less bulky midsole. In other words, they look lighter than your typical stability shoe.
The tread is what I’d consider suitable for summer trail and “easy” trail; I would not wear this for an actual trail shoe (because it isn’t one). If your route usually includes a rocky or muddy trail, save this shoe for road runs.
You could, however, wear this shoe on the track or for speedwork. I actually think this would work well for someone serious enough about speedwork to do it, but not ready to buy racing flats – the less-bulky midsole not only is lighter, but I didn’t clip the inside of my ankle with the opposite heel once over my miles in these shoes. Normally, my medial malleolus (thanks again, Google) is always marked up and sometimes bruised after speedwork or a race.
Finally – the appearance. This shoe is PURPLE. I personally like purple, so this worked out great for me, but if bright and bold shoes annoy you, you might have to check out the other stability options, the Strong and the Stable. But if you’re a PSU fan, and Portland Pilot supporter, or just like fun colors for running shoes, the Karhu Steady3 Fulcrum would be right up your alley. The actual appearance of the shoe is rather understated, with the Karhu logo in a lighter shade of purple the primary decoration outside of the variation in material of the upper.
Based on this experience, I would recommend the Karhu Steady3 Fulcrum to runners that need a stability shoe and are interested in becoming more efficient. What I liked most was that these shoes encouraged me to have better form, but didn’t alter my stride or running form. You can learn more about Karhu’s running shoes and order them online here. The Steady3 are listed for $124.99; most of their shoes are between $109.99 and $139.99.
*Side note on forward lean: Look up “Chi Running” and Alice Peters Diffely to learn more about forward lean while running. Diffely offers day-long running seminars in the Portland metro area, one of which I attended a few years ago. While forward lean takes time to perfect, I found that the one-day seminar gave me tools I can still use when I start tightening up and need to check my form.