The Saucony Freedom 4 is a premium-level, neutral-oriented performance training shoe that inspires fast running, especially for short to medium-length runs. It’s light, cushy and energetic and comfortable with a flexible, low-to-the-ground feeling and a slipper-like feel.
The biggest improvement to the Freedom 4 is the replacement of the PWRRUN+ foam with the lighter, ever-so-slightly thicker and notably more energetic PWRRUN PB midsole.
There’s also a new engineered mesh upper and outsole, but it’s the lively foam that really upgrades the performance and experience of this shoe.
There are no stability mechanism built into the midsole of this shoe, but the nature of the PWRRUN PB foam is that it’s quite stable. So if you very mildly pronate, you’ll probably be fine wearing this shoe for everything except longer runs. But that stable sensation also makes this shoe a great shoe for the gym.
Another seemingly small but impactful change to the Freedom 4 is the overhaul of the outsole. Gone is the tacky, flexible crystal rubber and in its place is a firmer rubber in a new pattern that offers durability and traction but less softness.
FIT, FEEL, RIDE
The Saucony Freedom 4 fits true to size, and similar to other Saucony models with a mildly cushioned medium to narrow interior volume.
The step-in feel has been enhanced by the new upper, which, along with a gusseted, slightly padded tongue, feels snug and comfortable as it cinches your foot down to the midsole.
Although it’s not a minimalist shoe, the Freedom 4 gives off a decidedly low-to-the-ground sensation. This allows you to engage the ground as you touch down, roll through the gait cycle and toe-off again.
You can feel the ground, but the midsole foam sufficiently absorbs shock and cushions each stride without bottoming out. As you roll through the midstance phase, you get a boost of forward propulsion. This is created from the energy stored in the compressed midsole foam.
It’s a distinct ride that feels very smooth, slightly firm and extremely energetic.
WHO IT’S BEST FOR
The Saucony Freedom 4 can serve a wide range of runners from beginners to lifelong runners, but it’s best for those who are condition to run in shoes with low heel-toe offsets.
What is heel-toe offset? That’s the difference in height off the ground where the heel sits inside the shoe and the height off the ground of where the toes sit inside the shoe.
The 4mm offset of the Freedom won’t feel dramatically different than a 6mm offset. However, it will feel a lot different than a shoe with a 10mm-13mm offset. If 4mm works for you, you’ll probably love this energetic shoe for faster workouts and tempo runs.
It can suffice for long runs for some runners and recovery runs for most, but the nature of the foam is such that it inspires faster, quick-cadence running.
PROS: SAUCONY FREEDOM 4
PWRRUN PB is a high-performance PEBA-based foam that debuted in Saucony’s stunning Endorphin Pro and Endorphin Speed shoes. Those racer/trainer shoes have a much firmer demeanor because they’re built with rigid plates.
There isn’t a plate in the Freedom 4, so the foam offers a more pliable but almost equally energetic feel and moderately bouncy ride. If you have run in Endorphin shoes, you’ll sense some similarities but also enjoy the more traditional flex pattern in the forefoot.
The meshy upper is silky soft as it wraps the specific shape of your feet without any binding. There’s little structure to it, except some suede overlays in the rear and forefoot and a TPU Saucony logo. It seems to help lock down the foot as it works in conjunction with the firm interior heel counter.
Believe it or not, the upgrades to this shoe have actually given a runner’s feet less freedom. That’s not a bad thing at all, but it has a firmer feel than the all-way pliability of the Freedom 3.
CONS: SAUCONY FREEDOM 4
Overall, this is a really good shoe, but the stretchy, semi-round tube laces are a slight detractor. They can be a bit cumbersome and more constrictive than traditional flat laces.
It’s an easy fix, though, because you can just replace them with any other pair of laces.
The Saucony Ride 14 is a versatile and reliable neutral-oriented everyday training shoe with a soft, flexible demeanor and a do-everything mentality.
It’s a comfortable, smooth-riding workhorse with an accommodating fit and capable of high-mileage weekly volume and running at a variety of paces.
The significant changes include a new upper that’s more breathable and slightly more pliable, a cleaner look and a slightly updated shape.
But don’t take the lack of major updates as a sign that the Ride 14 is somehow a lackluster shoe. Much the opposite, the Ride 13 was so great that Saucony opted not to mess up a good thing.
FIT, FEEL, RIDE
The Saucony Ride 14 fits true to size with a comfortably snug but not restrictive interior feel. Once you lace it up, it feels supple, cushy and flexible. The gusseted tongue and the new engineered mesh upper help cinch up your foot in the medium-volume interior.
The ride is smooth, flowy and semi-soft, but not bouncy. The eye stays holding the laces are far more pliable in this edition and now the suede-like overlays on the upper are separated, contributing to the softer flex in the front end of the shoe.
In general, it fits, feels and rides very similarly to the previous edition of the shoe. It’s not too flashy compared to some other models, but it is very comfortable, reliable and consistent.
The new shape and upper, combined with the dynamic midsole properties, give this edition of the Ride a slightly more nimble and athletic sensation out on the run. Each of those elements contributes to the fit and security. This allows you to pick up the pace for high-cadence running and turn corners with more agility.
The outsole of the Ride 14 has segments of both firmer and softer rubber for traction and durability. We appreciated the grip running along wet roads and sidewalks and through lingering spring snowmelt. We believe it will be a long-wearing shoe that should hold its form for several months (or upwards of 400 miles of running) before showing signs of wear.
WHO IT’S BEST FOR
The Saucony Ride 14 has always been a great shoe for a wide range of runners. Beginners will love it for its comfort and fit, while more advanced runners will appreciate it for its versatility. It’s not overly cushy, but it’s not low-to-the-ground minimalist either.
If you want a jack/jill-of-all-trades for all of your weekly workout needs, the Ride 14 is a good choice. It’s a great long-run shoe, quick enough for tempo runs and could be a race-day shoe for a 5K to a half marathon.
It’s not an all-out speedster, so it won’t be as ideal for track workouts but it can get the job done in a pinch if called upon.
PROS: SAUCONY RIDE 14
The best aspect of the Ride 14 is the moderately thick PWRRUN foam midsole layer. The EVA/TPU blend gives it an energetic vibe. This allows it to offer just the right amount of softness and just the right amount of responsiveness. Soft but not marshmallowy, resilient but not bouncy.
The upper features Saucony’s FormFit closure design that includes a thin, lightweight internal construction under the sturdier outer layer of the upper for a comfortable, near-custom, sock-like fit. It’s one of those shoes that feels like it becomes an extension of your foot. There’s no sloppy wiggle room once it’s laced up.
The heel-toe offset is a moderate at 8mm. No matter if you’ve run in shoes with a higher offset (12mm or so) or lower slope offset (4mm) you won’t have any trouble adjusting to this shoe.
CONS: SAUCONY RIDE 14
The Ride is a great shoe, but it doesn’t have the technological bells and whistles of some other trainers — advanced foam or a nylon propulsion plate — so it might seem a little less inspiring during faster-paced running. But it gives good bang for the buck at $130.
The New Balance FuelCell Rebel v2 is a lightweight and responsive, neutral-oriented everyday training shoe. It’s a versatile shoe with an elite midsole foam and enough cushioning and bounciness to make it amenable to both running longer or faster.
But it’s important to note that this is not really an update of the original FuelCell Rebel VI. It is more of an entirely new shoe that just happens to have a similar name.
The FuelCell Rebel has been completely overhauled from the first edition. It’s built around the high-end, energetic foam that’s found in some of fastest New Balance racing shoes.
The upper has been changed from a knit design with a bootie constriction to an airy, engineered mesh with a unique padded, 3D structured heel cup. There’s a little bit more foam (2mm) in the midsole than the Rebel v1, while the flared lateral edge of the original has been toned down considerably.
The super-critical nitrogen-infused FuelCell midsole foam is made from a blend of TPU and EVA that’s similar to what’s found in the carbon-plated RC Elite racing shoe. But because there is no plate in the FuelCell Rebel v2, the foam performs much different and feels much more airy and much less dense. Compared to competitor’s foams, it falls in the middle of the bounciness/responsiveness realm.
The barely-there upper is sleek, supportive and comfortable, not to mention translucent and very breathable. The engineered mesh is soft and flexible without much in the way of support or structure. However, the silhouetted New Balance “N” logo, provides a bit of reinforcement in the toe cap, around the lacing eyelets and in the heel collar.
FIT, FEEL, RIDE
The FuelCell Rebel v2 fits true to size with a comfortable, low-to-medium volume interior. It has an athletic fit and feet that honor the shoe’s versatile, go-fast demeanor.
The asymmetrical lacing design provide good lock-down feeling. It compensates for the flat, thin, non-gusseted tongue that tends to migrate a bit. The interior is sparsely cushioned. It has modest padding around the heel collar and ankle — but overall it’s a comfortable even if minimally appointed shoe.
The ride is soft, flexible, smooth and mildly propulsive but not overly energetic. Although it is moderately bouncy, it doesn’t produce the extreme lively sensation that most performance trainers have.
Ultimately it’s a great everyday trainer capable of running faster. However, its comfort zone is between recovery pace and tempo pace.
WHO IT’S BEST FOR
Runners who appreciate lightweight, nimble everyday training shoes will love the FuelCell Rebel v2. It’s best for runners who are light on their feel and run with an efficient gait (as opposed to a heavy heel-striking gait).
It’s great for moderate-paced runs up to 10K race pace, offering quick-cadence turnover with a smooth, flowy ride.
PROS: NEW BALANCE FUELCELL REBEL V2
If you’re looking for a versatile shoe, the FuelCell Rebel v2 is a good one to consider. While it’s not an all-out speed burner, it has enough energy to run fast but is also soft enough to run slow.
The outsole has a blend of firmer carbon rubber for durability, softer blown runner for traction and a larger section of exposed foam that keeps the weight down without leading to excessively detrimental wear and tear.
With its combination of a good fit, a comfortable feel and a dynamic, smooth, propulsive ride, our wear-testers believe the FuelCell Rebel v2 is one of the best shoes of the spring. It’s one of the best non-plated training shoes based on its fun, springy ride and flexible construction.
CONS: NEW BALANCE FUELCELL REBEL V2
The extremely pliable demeanor and soft midsole doesn’t produce an entirely stable ride. In fact, it can feel downright unstable while cornering or running at faster , interval workout speeds.
The Reebok Floatride Energy 3.0 is an affordable, lightweight and versatile everyday trainer built for runners with a neutral gait pattern. It’s light and springy enough to run moderately fast, cushy enough to run long and durable enough to hold up for an entire summer of running.
The new engineered mesh upper is the biggest upgrade. It really changes (and improves) the fit, feel and ride of this shoe. The laces have also been improved and there’s a new heel flare to accommodate the Achilles tendon.
The single-layer Floatride Energy Foam is light and responsive. This gives the shoe a mildly energetic vibe in every stride even if nowhere near the lively pop of some higher priced shoes.
It’s cushy and moderately soft, but it tends to feel slightly more firm than some softer, bouncier midsole compounds. More than anything, it gives the shoe a do-everything, agile demeanor.
The new upper is durable, breathable and helps bolster the secure fit. When you lace it up and start running in it, you get the idea that your foot is anchored to a lightweight shoe ready for whatever type of running you plan to do.
The outsole is reliably grippy with a mix of firm, durable rubber and a section of softer, tackier rubber. This gives it the ability to provide good traction on wet and dry pavement. It also adds some softness and spring to the ride.
FIT, FEEL, RIDE
The fit of the Floatride Energy 3.0 is a bit long, you should consider a 1/2 size smaller than normal. The medium-volume interior feels sparsely cushioned and modestly comfortable inside, but it’s not notably plush or luxurious like some other shoes.
There’s a reliable locked-down feeling from the lacing system. Also, it has a partially gusseted tongue, which allows for an engaged, connective feeling out on a run. The firm heel counter and heel counter padding helped round out the fit and feel, providing a touch of comfort and confidence in every stride.
The midsole foam feels compliant and resilient even if slightly on the firmer side and not at all bouncy. It allows for smooth heel-to-toe transitions and is similarly comfortable running slow and moderately fast.
WHO IT’S BEST FOR
New and novice runners will love this shoe for its relative simplicity and versatility at such a budget-friendly price. The Floatride Energy 3.0 can certainly be the only shoe in your quiver, a model capable of handling your long runs, up-tempo workouts and recovery runs.
It’s not especially dynamic or comfortable or fast, but it’s definitely sufficient for running every day of the week if that’s what you’re looking for in a running shoe.
PROS: REEBOK FLOATRIDE ENERGY 3.0
Let’s be honest, there aren’t high expectations for a $100 shoe, especially with so many shoes in the $130 to $160 range or much higher. But the reason you should be interested in this shoe is what it offers for that price.
And quite honestly, yet it excels at everything our wear-testers asked it to do — it runs well and feels good and has the durability to get you through a season of running — so ultimately this shoe is a worthy purchase.
Looks aren’t everything, but the aesthetics of the Floatride Energy 3.0 looks much better than its predecessor. The improved engineered mesh upper gives it a speedier and more stylish look, a shoe that will inspire you to lace up and run more.
The tradition 9mm heel-toe offset make this shoe feel a bit chunkier in the heel than some shoes, but that just allows it to better accommodate for heel-striking gait patterns. That also makes it more conducive to slow and moderate paces, but the springy properties of the midsole foam also allow it to run faster.
CONS: REEBOK FLOATRIDE ENERGY 3.0
This shoe isn’t a glamorous top-of-the-line model. Compared to higher-priced shoes in the performance trainer or premium cushioned trainer categories, the Floatride Energy 3.0 isn’t as light, plush or energetic. But it’s still reliably functional as an everyday training shoe.
Welcome to the JackRabbit Journal, a digital (for now!) publication where we’ll be taking some deeper dives into what it means to be a runner, how to support your running lifestyle and exclusive interviews with runners from all walks of life.
This week, let’s talk running coaches with our resident journalist, Brian Metzler.
RUNNING COACHING FOR THE EVERYDAY ATHLETE
Do you have a running coach?
You’re a runner, which means you’re an athlete. And it’s well-known that athletes in all sports benefit from having coaches guide them to better performance. So yes, if you’re a recreational runner of any ability level, you should consider hiring a running coach to assist you on your journey.
No matter how long you’ve been running or how fast you want to run at your next race, hiring a running coach can be a huge benefit on the way to achieving your 2021 goals. You might be a first-time marathoner or an experienced trail runner or someone who wants to improve your personal best in the half marathon.
In any of those cases, a running coach can provide you with assistance in ways you might not expect — for example, assigning proper workouts, avoiding injuries, reducing stress, providing day-to-day support and assuring your body is optimally recovering.
You might be a new runner or a novice runner and are wondering if any of this applies to you. Should you get a coach if you’re just starting out? You can certainly benefit immensely if you do and avoid first-timer mistakes and challenges. If you were new to golf or tennis or skiing, you’d very likely considering taking lessons to get started, right?
Think of a running coach in the same way and you’ll be able to get through some of the unforeseen challenges that no one talks about when you buy a pair of running shoes or sign up for a race. At the other end of the spectrum, if you’ve been running for years and have reached a plateau in your training or just haven’t reached the goals you have hoped to, then you should definitely connect with a coach for your upcoming running objectives.
Sometimes as runners we tend to get complacent or are adverse to making changes or are afraid to try new things. “And those are the things that might be able to make a difference in your training,” Diboun says.
2. WEEKLY GUIDANCE
Why hire a running coach? “Because a running coach can help you reach your goals better than you’re able to on your own,” Mohror says. “They can assist you and guide you with workouts, advice and things can come up.” Unless you’re a veteran runner who’s been training for years — and heck, even if you are — a running coach can help you smartly build your fitness, inspire you to train to your fullest, keep you motivated during difficult lulls and help you avoid overtraining. Y
ou might think training for a marathon is a tall order — and it is! — but having a coach guide you can take some of the pressure off, especially on a long-term basis. The guidance and training plan you get from a coach can help turn your long-term goal into short-term tasks that can be approached day by day, piece by piece.
3. RUNNING SMARTS
Hiring an experienced running coach will allow you to benefit from his or her experience. Those coaches have been through all sorts of scenarios in their own training, but also with the many runners they have already coached. That coach understands they type of workouts and mileage you should be running in your fitness build-up and can adjust for your own personal needs as injuries, fatigue or work stress impedes your training.
Without a coach, you’ll likely do your own types of runs and workouts based on whatever you feel like doing or based on what your friends are doing or, gulp!, based on workouts you read about on your social media feed. “An experienced coach knows what works and how to adapt workouts to your personal fitness and abilities,” Fitzgerald says. “That’s so much more effective than a trial-and-error approach on your own.”
4. INDIVIDUALIZED TRAINING
How much you spend per month and what you get out of the coach you hire depends on the level of service you want or need. Generally speaking you might pay as little as $20 and as much as $250 per month for a coach. (Or you can pay even more for truly personalized training if you have the budget for that.)
At the more affordable end of that spectrum, you’ll get training plans and coaching input that’s generally geared toward a group or a specific goal race (for example, the Chicago Marathon) in somewhat of a one-size-fits-all approach with a limited ability to reach out to that coach with questions.
But if you’re paying slightly more every month, you should be able to get more individualized coaching that includes weekly adjustments and adaptations based on your fitness or fatigue levels and the ability to have direct interaction with that coach (even if it is by email). The best way to ensure you’ll get personalized coaching and some sort of individualized attention is to hire a coach in your region that has a training group you can run with on a semi-regular basis.
Having a coach watch you go through workouts and the ability to engage face-to-face can provide numerous benefits. Going with a local coach instead of an online coach shouldn’t necessarily increase the fees you’re paying.
When you’re training for a big goal like a marathon, you sometimes need an extra bit of accountability to keep you focused and motivated. When you’re training on your own or even with friends, it can be relatively easy to inadvertently reduce hard workouts or shorten a long run without any recourse.
But when you hire a coach, you give yourself an extra layer of accountability. Sometimes it’s necessary to adapt workouts (and a coach can help you do that), but hiring a coach can create a certain pride and accountability tied to following a training plan.
It’s natural that sometimes you might wake up feeling unmotivated or perhaps you’re having a hard work day or traveling. “Having a coach to report to and a training plan to follow can help you get through those challenges,” Mohror says. “I tell all of my athletes, ‘I’m here to help, support and keep you going!’”
6. IMPROVING PERFORMANCE
If your goal is to break 3 hours in the marathon or run a sub-40 minute 10K or qualify for the Boston Marathon, a running coach can help immensely, Mohror says. Not only can the coach provide a good training plan that provides both long-term and short-term development markers, but he or she should be able to guide you to a proper training vs recovery balance, she says.
Having a coach will keep you in check from working out too hard too often and overtraining with too much volume. But a running coach will also make sure you rest and recover so the proper training effect can take place. Your muscular, cardiovascular and neurological system adapt to training during rest when your body is recovering, Diboun says.
The continued stress of training without proper rest breaks will lead to overtraining, fatigue, illness and injury, he adds. “There’s a basic equation for growth, whether you’re an athlete, artist, or businessperson, etc., and that’s Stress + Rest = Growth,” he says. “I like to take on challenges and make myself uncomfortable (stress), and then follow those challenges with recovery & reflection (rest). Then rinse & repeat, with a slightly greater or different challenge or goal.”
7. REDUCING INJURY RISK
As runners, we often keep on running despite small bouts of soreness or pain. While sometimes that’s OK, sometimes it’s not, Fitzgerald says. And when it’s not, it can lead to serious, long-term injury.
Having a coach to talk to about those bits of soreness or pain can be helpful to understand how to proceed. Should you keep running? Should you see a physical therapist? Are there additional things you can do — for example, icing, stretching, cross-training — to help keep a serious injury at bay? How do you know when and what to do? Those are all things your coach can advise you about to keep you as healthy as possible.
Overuse injuries are common for runners but often they can be avoided or reduced in scope and intensity. A coach isn’t meant to be a doctor or medical professional, but their experience and understanding of running injuries can be a valuable resource, Mohror says. Sometimes it might just come down to taking more rest and seeing how your body reacts in a few days.
A good coach will sometimes have a better long-term perspective than an athlete because it’s not vexed by the eagerness to reach goals, she says. Avoiding those injuries and staying healthy is a key factor in the ability to make it through your training plan to the starting line of your goal race. “The ability to understand what a runner is going through during any given week is one of the key benefits of having a coach,” Fitzgerald says.
8. RACE-DAY PREPARATIONS
Are you already nervous about the race that you just signed up for, even though it’s still months away? That’s normal, no matter if it’s a 10K, marathon or an ultramarathon like a 50-mile trail race, Diboun says. The ability to manage that stress and excitement is important as you start to train toward that goal, he says.
If you hire a coach who has a lot of races under his or her belt, you’ll be able to benefit from their personal experiences and reduce the stresses of race weekend. Getting tips and insights about tapering, rest, travel, nutrition and preparation will go a long way to achieving your racing success, Diboun says.
Even if you’ve been through the motions before and have run several half marathons or marathons, having a coach serve up those reminders can be a huge benefit. (The nerves and excitement of race weekend often cloud our thinking!) Most of all, having your coach help you develop a smart race strategy appropriate to your level of fitness and expected race-day conditions will be enormously helpful.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brian Metzler has run races at every distance from 50 meters to 100 miles. He has wear-tested more than 1,500 pairs of shoes, is a three-time Ironman finisher. He occasionally participates in the quirky sport of pack burro racing in Colorado.
He’s the founding editor of Trail Runner magazine, is a former senior editor at Running Times. He was and editor in chief at Competitor Magazine.
As an author, he has penned “Kicksology“, “Running Colorado’s Front Range” and the co-author of “Natural Running: The Simple Path to Stronger Healthier Running” and “Run Like a Champion: An Olympian’s Approach for Every Runner.”
One of the classic legacy shoes in the ASICS line, the ASICS GEL-Cumulus 23 is a neutral everyday trainer with sufficient cushioning, a comfortable ride and a versatile, do-everything vibe. It’s been updated slightly from the previous edition, with a slightly softer feel and a more forgiving ride.
The previous edition of this shoe was pretty good, so ASICS smartly didn’t change it too much. The biggest changes are that there is little bit more Flytefoam cushioning in the midsole and a new gender-specific construction. The gender-specific construction allows the shoe to more optimally flex and adapt to men’s and women’s footstrike patterns.
FIT, FEEL, RIDE
The ASICS GEL-Cumulus 23 has a classic ASICS fit. It is perfectly true to size length-wise and not too narrow and not too wide. The step-in feel is comfortable and moderately cushy, but not overly plush.
It has an easy-flexing demeanor in the forefoot, but the slightly lower-to-the-ground forefoot provides good feel for the ground. The shoe feels slightly firm as you transition to the toe-off phase of a stride. That allows it to run at moderately fast speeds, although it isn’t quite as plushy and comfortable as a result.
The ride is smooth, semi-soft, natural and consistent, but not exceptionally energetic or bouncy — especially compared to other shoes out there with more advanced foam midsoles.
WHO IT’S BEST FOR
This is a great entry-level shoe for new or novice runners, but it can also be a reliable everyday trainer for experienced runners who log modest mileage every week. It’s one of those shoes that does everything pretty well without having one exceptional feature, and that’s a good thing.
Its wheelhouse is slow and moderate paces, but it’s versatile enough to handle faster paces for shorter distances, though not quite peppy enough for speed workouts or racing.
PROS: ASICS GEL-CUMULUS 23
The new, one-piece engineered mesh upper is smooth, soft and comfortable, wrapping the forefoot while accommodating for a wide variety of foot shapes. It really helps dial in a connective, comfortable fit and makes up for the lack of a gusseted tongue.
The rear of the shoe is comfortable, secure and supportive. This is thanks to a rigid internal heel counter and copious amounts of padding around the heel and ankle collar. Also, it has a slightly softer, and more shock-absorbing GEL component.
The outsole has been reconfigured with more segmented narrower bands or soft rubber in the forefoot and a lateral decoupling groove pattern of firmer, more durable rubber in the rearfoot. The new configuration contributes to the softer more accommodating ride without giving up traction or sturdiness in every stride.
CONS: ASICS GEL-CUMULUS 23
This shoe actually got slightly heavier — by about a half ounce — compared to the Cumulus 22. That might not seem like a lot, but it was enough to put at the higher end of the everyday trainer category. It’s not heavy, just heavier than last year’s edition.
Brian Metzler rounds up the best of the best for your virtual race months.
There still aren’t many races in the U.S., but they’ll be back! However, you can still create your own opportunities to run fast on your own — either through virtual races, personal time trials or simulated race efforts with your running pals.
To run your fastest, you’ll need a lightweight, speedy pair of shoes. Here are five of the best shoes in a variety of price categories that will keep you on pace for fast times and inspiring new goals for 2021.
The HOKA Carbon X returns after the successful first edition won races and set records. It proved itself among the best of the initial crop of long-distance racing shoes built with carbon-fiber plates embedded in thick, cushy midsoles.
The Carbon X 2 is a maximally cushioned neutral-oriented speed shoe. It has a staunchly rocker profile and an energetic vibe that promotes fast-cadence running ready for race day and tempo runs ahead.
A $100 running shoe? For racing a half marathon or marathon? Is that a mistake? Heck no! The Brooks Launch 8 is an energetic and well-cushioned shoe that also comes with an affordable price tag. With a relatively light and snappy demeanor, the Launch is somewhat of a unique ‘tweener. It falls between the category of performance trainers and the wide range of high-mileage trainers that are about a full ounce lighter. But if your race goals are modest or just want to complete a 10K, half marathon or marathon at your own goal pace, this can be an ideal shoe is for you.
Plus, it can also double as an affordable, do-everything trainer shoe that’s versatile enough to endure long runs and also quick enough to run faster, shorter workouts like tempo runs, fartlek runs and track intervals.
$115 While Hoka One One’s Carbon X is an exceptional long-distance racing shoe, we’ve chosen to focus on the fast and light Rincon model for this roundup of racing shoes instead.
Why? First, it’s a great shoe for running fast over all distances from 5K to the marathon. It’s also because it’s much more affordable too. The Rincon 2 is unfettered and fast, but it still has a lot of cushioning in every stride thanks to the full-compression EVA midsole.
The Rincon doesn’t feel like a stripped-down racing flat, but the soft, smooth and energetic demeanor allows it to perform like one when you want it to. It’s light and fast enough to be an energetic performance trainer for fast workouts. It also enough cushion and protection to be a long-run shoe or even an everyday trainer.
$120: New Balance has several racing shoes with carbon-fiber plates embedded in their midsoles. But the 890 is the brand’s tried and true featherweight performance-oriented trainer/racer. It has always been known for its light, agile and very energetic vibe.
The New Balance 890 has been overhauled in recent years. It now includes a high-rebound FuelCell midsole, a supportive yet comfortable knit upper and a gusseted tongue for a snug, race-day fit. It has a semi-firm feel and a slightly lower to the ground geometry. This gives it excellent feel-for-the-ground proprioception and a lively feel in every stride. The 890 is fast, light, versatile and capable of taking you race-day goals. Even if your race is a virtual event or your own personal time trial!
$200: The Saucony Endorphin Pro is a top-tier long-distance racing shoe. It features a carbon-fiber plate embedded in a soft, very resilient midsole foam. It debuted on the feet of Saucony pros at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in February in Atlanta, including women’s second-place finisher Molly Seidel. It represents the best of Saucony’s engineering and design efforts. It’s built on SpeedRoll technology, a forward-leaning geometry that propels you forward. It has a feeling of continuous momentum, so you can run faster and more efficiently without running harder. It feels light, firm, energetic, efficient and smooth, especially at faster speeds.
Weights: 7.5 oz. (men’s size 9.0); 6.3 oz. (women’s size 7.0)
Maurten sports fuel is easier to tolerate for athletes. The pioneering sports-fuel company has found a way to encapsulate high concentrations of carbohydrates in hydrogels.
Anyone who has experienced ‘gastric distress’ due to excess sugar in an endurance event will know nutrition is key to how a race will unfold.
Incidentally, the winners of the last twenty major marathons have all grabbed a Maurten bottle at on-course drinks stations. Think they might be on to something? With the mantra, never try anything new on race day, pick up some Maurten hydrogels and sports drink mix and give them a try during training.
Puma returns with a vengeance in 2021 with a new line of advanced, performance-oriented shoes, starting with the Deviate Nitro.
It’s a lighter-than-average, neutral daily trainer that offers maximal cushioning with a lively and forgiving sensation. This offers a good blend of softness and energetic pop with a smooth ride and a secure fit.
Read on for all you need to know on the key Deviate Nitro.
Every aspect of this uniquely constructed shoe is new. The PUMA Deviate Nitro has moderately thick single layer of advanced foam enhanced with a premium footbed plus a rocker geometry.
It’s punctuated by a stabilizing plate embedded in the back half of the midsole plus a carbon-composite propulsion plate in the forefoot.
FIT, FEEL, RIDE
The PUMA Deviate Nitro fits true to size with a narrow heel, medium-volume midfoot and slightly wider forefoot. It’s all brought together with a locked-down, wrap-around sensation. This is made possible by the lightweight, flexible upper, fully gusseted tongue, cushy footbed and unique heel-locking system.
There’s only a little room for the toes to wiggle and splay, but enough to make it functionally comfortable. The step-in feel is a combination of comfortable softness and wrap-around security. It gives an immediate sense of firmness in the chassis of the shoe.
The firm feeling stems the stability-enhancing plate in the heel and the forward-momentum plate in the forefoot.
WHO IT’S BEST FOR
The PUMA Deviate Nitro is a lightweight, energetic modern training shoe serving up loads of long-haul comfort and modest capability for up-tempo running.
Runners who appreciate the coziness of maximally cushioned trainers and the energetic pop of their go-fast racing shoes will really appreciate what Puma has created in the Deviate Nitro.
It’s not quite fast enough to bring out your top-end speed, but it’s agile and versatile enough to tackle long runs, recovery runs, tempo runs and other quick-turnover training runs.
PROS: PUMA Deviate Nitro
What makes the Deviate Nitro special is the unique combination of the midsole foam, dual-plate system and the locked down upper feeling from comprehensive fit system. The nitrogen-infused foam is super soft, slightly bouncy and compliant. The rigid plates give the shoe a semi-firm, structured feel. This contributes to the propulsive feeling that emanates from heel-strike to toe-off. This combines for a comfortable, stable and controlled ride that’s ideal training and slow, moderate and slightly faster paces.
There’s a unique heel-locking system in the rear of the shoe. This is comprised of a small, semi-firm internal heel counter and thick wedge of foam padding on each side of the heel just below the thin, form-fitting collar line. It keeps the foot in place while maintaining a plush feeling around the ankle. This tie nicely into the overall comfort and security of the upper.
The upper fabric provides both firmness to keep the foot in place and stretchiness to allow the foot to move naturally during the gait cycle. There’s a smooth interior mesh layer in the forefoot integrated into the fully gusseted tongue, creating a quasi-bootie system. This keeps the foot from slipping while still allowing maximal breathability.
The outsole has a bit of a split personality with durable rubber at the high-impact areas of the heel, exposed foam under the arch and an expansive section of soft, energetic blown rubber. The sole features 18 low-profile lugs for advanced traction. These are separated by a matrix of flex grooves and small cutaway sections for optimal flexibility.
Our wear-testers give Puma high marks for making its noteworthy comeback with this shoe. It’s a uniquely constructed shoe, but the fit, feel and ride are exceptional. If this is the first of several new shoes from this venerable brand — and, wink, wink!, we know it is — Puma will be worth keeping an eye on in 2021!
CONS: PUMA Deviate Nitro
Unlike some shoes with carbon-fiber propulsion plates, the Deviate Nitro is perfect for training. It’s not however for all-out racing or speed workouts. It’s probably not going to be a race-day choice if you’re aiming for a PR. However, there is more than plenty to like in this shoe as an everyday trainer on your way to your next race.
PUMA’S LONG HISTORY OF INNOVATION, SPEED AND SUCCESS
In the beginning.
It’s hard to believe that two of the world’s major running shoe brands could evolve from the same family. Or that a dispute among brothers could cause a rift that would shake up and invigorate the athletic shoe industry.
Believe it or not, Puma got its start when a falling-out came between German brothers Rudolf and Adi Dassler. This resulted in Rudolf (or “Rudi”) leaving their family’s successful athletic shoe business (the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory, aka “adidas”) to start his own brand in Herzogenaurach, Germany in 1948.
A LEGACY OF SOCCER SUCCESS
Although Rudi had to start from scratch, it didn’t take long for Puma make its mark. They launched new soccer shoes that were smartly functional, innovative and fashion forward. Known as the Atom, that first Puma shoe was proudly worn by many of West Germany’s players in the country’s first post-World War II match against Switzerland. When they won 1-0, the new brand began to soar.
Puma would dominate the soccer world in the 1950s and the brand’s popularity eventually exploded outside of Europe. When Brazil beat Sweden to win the 1958 World Cup, the entire time was shod in Puma soccer cleats — including a young budding superstar named Pelé. Brazil would repeat the World feat in Puma shoes in 1962 and win it again in 1970.
With Rudi at the helm, Puma would continue to be an international leader in soccer footwear. It would also go on to develop innovative shoes for basketball, tennis, golf, auto racing and sailing. But it’s true calling was always in fast, efficient running shoes.
OLYMPIC SPEEDSTERS IN PUMA SHOES
All along, Puma had been developing new track and field spikes that had always been close to Rudi’s heart. When West German sprinter Armin Hary set a new world record of 10.25 seconds in the 100-meter dash in the spring of 1960, he was wearing a pair of Puma’s innovative leather spikes that had sections of vulcanized rubber for support. The world’s fastest man lived up to his billing at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. He took home the gold medal in the 100-meter dash and anchoring West Germany’s victorious 4×100-meter relay.
At the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, three athletes wearing Puma shoes took home gold medals — Belgium’s Gaston Roelants (3,000-meter steeplechase), Great Britain’s Mary Rand (long jump) and Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila (marathon). Bikila, of course, became famous for winning the marathon at the 1960 Olympics while running barefoot. Four years later, he repeated his title, lowering his own world record to 2:12:11. He was wearing a pair of featherweight and flexible Puma Osaka running shoes.
TRACK INNOVATION AND DOMINANCE
Puma athletes turned the track and field world upside down wearing innovative Sacramento “brush” spikes in 1968. The pioneering brush soles had 68 tiny plastic bristles under the forefoot and they were fast! Just a few weeks prior to the Olympics, numerous American runners set world records wearing the shoes.
Although those shoes were eventually banned from competition by the IAAF, American superstars Tommie Smith, Lee Evans, Willie Davenport and Bob Seagren cleaned up at the Mexico City Olympics that fall wearing other fast, next-generation Puma models.
In the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Mary Peters, Great Britain (pentathlon), John Akii-Bua, Uganda (400m hurdles), Randy Williams of the U.S. (long jump) and Klaus Wolfermann of West-Germany (javelin) all won gold medals to help solidify Puma’s position as one of the most dominant brands in track and field.
1970S: PLAYING A BIG PART OF THE FIRST RUNNING BOOM
Puma’s Easy Rider training shoes provided cushioning through the brand’s innovative knobby outsole and soft EVA midsole cushioning. The sole worked well as a shock absorber and was often used for cross country and marathon running.
Another shoe, the SAAS1, earned international patents for its unusual double-cone studs arranged in V-formations. As the foot hit the ground, the studs splayed out displacing energy and reducing the shock which your body would normally have received during foot-strike. Then as the foot lifted back off, the studs sprang back to their original shape returning stored energy and giving the runner’s foot as extra burst of forward momentum.
1985: UNVEILING THE WORLD’S FIRST DIGITAL SHOE
The engineers at Puma were so ahead of the game in 1985, they developed the world’s first digitally interactive running shoe decades before smartphones and digital training apps.
Based on the RS100, Puma unveiled the high-tech shoe with a built-in circuit board, microprocessors and an inertia switch that was triggered by the impact of a runner’s feet hitting the ground.
The $200 shoe could be hooked up to a Commodore 64 or an Apple II using a 16-pin cord to upload speed, distance and calorie burn data.
1991: REVOLUTIONARY DISC TECHNOLOGY
In 1991, Puma launched the game-changing PUMA Disc technology on a running shoe, the first lace-less sports shoe with a system of internal wires that tighten the upper for a perfect fit.
The technology proved successful as Heike Drechsler (long jump), Dieter Baumann (5.000m) and Linford Christie (100-meter dash) all won gold medals wearing Puma Disc spikes at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Following them was Colin Jackson who won the 110-meter high hurdles at the IAAF World Championships the following year in Disc spikes.
2000s: USAIN BOLT, THE FASTEST MAN IN HISTORY
At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt wore Puma Complete Theseus spikes to win gold medals and set new world records in the 100-meter (9.69) and 200-meter events (19.30) while also helping Jamaica’s 4×100-meter relay to a record-setting victory.
That began Bolt’s amazing nine-year run as the world’s most dominant track athlete, a span in which he won eight official Olympic gold medals, lowered the world records to 9.58 and 19.19 and won 11 sprint and relay titles at the IAAF World Championships.
Along the way, he helped Puma recreate the Faas line of shoes. These were developed around a three-part system that allowed for a more natural running rhythm while improving strength and flexibility in the lower legs. With Bolt as the brand’s front man, Puma also relaunched the Disc system in 2016 with the Ignite Disc running shoe and EvoSpeed Disc racing spikes.
2021: WHAT’S NEXT?
Coming soon Puma has some exciting new tech to share with the running world with JackRabbit as their lead partner in the US.
We’ll be sharing more news soon. Be sure to follow JackRabbit on social media to be the first to know.
The HOKA Mach 4 is lightweight, smooth-riding, neutral-oriented everyday training shoe that gives off a soft, lively vibe. It has enough comfort, versatility and giddy-up to handle the rigors of all types of workouts.
Based on the improvements, overall design and our wear-testing experiences, we believe this will to be one of the best models of early 2021.
There’s a new engineered mesh upper on this shoe, an updated midsole foam formulation (a new swallowtail design at the back) and a smoother, softer and more energetic ride. The updates have taken this shoe in a much better direction than the firmer and clunkier previous edition. The HOKA Mach 4 is now a stellar shoe in every regard.
Combined with the rocker geometry and the swallowtail design at the back of the heel, the Mach 4 provides easy landings and smooth transitions into an energetic boost at the toe-off point of a stride.
The midsole/outsole structure of the Mach 4 has flared design that results in a slightly wider footprint. It adds a touch of inherent stability — though not enough for overpronating runners. The swallowtail cut in the rear of the heel creates a decoupling effect to provide semi-custom foot strike force attenuation.
FIT, FEEL, RIDE
The Mach 4 fits true to size with medium-width interior in the heel and saddle but a tiny bit more room in the forefoot. The step-in feeling is soft and secure with a very noticeable lightweight sensation the moment you start running in them.
You can feel the cushioning, but there’s a hint of proprioceptive feel for the ground in the forefoot. The relatively thin, gusseted tongue contributes to the snug, glove-like fit. The padding in the collar and a flared heel tab are creature comforts typically found in more expensive shoes.
The Mach 4 features a Meta-Rocker design geometry and a slightly beveled, swallowtail heel that create a rolling effect as the foot transitions from touch-down to toe-off.
The ride is incredibly smooth from heel to toe, but the step-in softness gives way to a slightly firmer sensation and a noticeable pop of energy in the forefoot.
WHO IT’S BEST FOR
Runners who enjoy light, soft and lively shoes will really enjoy running in the Mach 4. It’s not quite a maximally cushioned shoe, but it’s not quite a lightweight performance-oriented trainer, either.
It’s versatile enough to run long, run fast, run slow and just about everything in between. It could also be a good choice for racing from 5K to the half marathon. For runners who like Hoka’s Clifton shoes, there’s a good chance you’ll like this model even more because it’s lighter and livelier.
PROS: HOKA MACH 4
The juice of this shoe is in the dual-density midsole. The top layer utilizes Hoka’s ProFly technology, which is softer in the rear and firmer in the forefoot. The bottom layer is Hoka’s rubberized EVA foam that’s provides a little bit of stability and a little bit of bounce.
The new upper does an amazing job of providing a glove-like, contoured fit for just about any foot shape. It’s a tad bit thicker than some upper materials so the breathability isn’t as optimal as some other models, but it won’t be an issue unless you’re running in very hot conditions.
The outsole is devoid any rubber at all and instead is comprised entirely of exposed midsole foam. That means it’s a lot lighter and more agile, but it also means the durability and traction isn’t on par with shoes with rubber outsole treads. It’s a trade-off you have to consider, but as a light, performance-oriented shoe we think it’s an ideal makeup.
CONS: HOKA MACH 4
There are no noticeable negative marks for this shoe. If we’re being picky, we’d suggest that the biggest detractor is that the shoelaces are excessively long.