Saucony is making news once again on the low-profile shoe front. I’ve received a few messages from readers over the past few days about a video on the Running Warehouse website featuring the upcoming Fastwitch 5 lightweight training/racing shoe. In the video, a representative from Saucony confirms that they have dropped the heel in the Fastwitch 5 by 8mm in the forthcoming version, making it a 4mm drop running shoe. This puts it right in line with the Kinvara and Grid Type A4 in Saucony’s lineup (both of which are 4mm if you remove the insole, which adds a few millimeters to the heel). It’s a fairly major modification to a shoe that has been around for a bit, and I very excited by the implications of the change. Essentially, the Fastwitch is going from being a heel masher that I would no longer consider wearing to a shoe that I can probably run in comfortably on my midfoot (though, to be honest, I much prefer the more aggressive look of the Fastwitch 4 – see below – to the considerably more conservative styling of its sequel – picture also below).
Saucony Fastwitch 4
Saucony Fastwitch 5 Image via RunningShoesGuru.com
So what’s the big deal here? Well, while New Balance is set to release it’s 4mm drop Minimus line of shoes with a great degree of excitement and caution (word is they will initially have to be bought in store so that proper transition methods can be discussed), Saucony has had shoes with a similar level of heel to forefoot drop on the market for most of 2010, and nobody would argue with the fact that the Kinvara has been one of the hottest running shoes around in 2010 (my Kinvara review is consistently one of my top three posts in terms of blog traffic). Saucony has likely accumulated a lot of consumer feedback based on the success of the Kinvara, and my suspicion is that if they were receiving a rash of injury reports, this move with the Fastwitch 5 would not have occurred. Rather, I suspect that the success and popularity of both the Kinvara and Grid Type A4 have allowed Saucony to see that lower drop shoes sell, and that it’s a feature that many runners now want. Hence the decision to slice a good chunk off the heel off the Fastwitch 5 and go more aggressively after this section of the market.
I’m excited about this development because it suggests that we are continuing to see a push toward more minimalist style shoes. Saucony was an early adopter in the minimalist market, particularly compared to companies like Asics, Brooks, and Mizuno, who have largely relied on existing racing shoes to appeal to minimalist runners. The benefit of this early movement into the niche is that Saucony now has a one-year jump on much of the competition when it comes to marketing minimalist-style shoes (i.e., they have a lot of market data and consumer feedback to work with), and they are going to be the first of the big players to put out a true zero-drop shoe, the Saucony Hattori, in the not too distant future (other players like shoe giant Merrell and upstart Altra will be jumping in with zero-drop options next year as well). All of these companies deserve some credit for being a bit ahead of the game.
I must also confess to having a soft spot for Saucony shoes. The Fastwitch 2 was my first ever racing shoe, and it is the shoe in which I ran my 5K and half-marathon PR’s. Those PR’s still stand today, mostly because I haven’t raced those distance much lately, but I should honestly point out that the heel didn’t seem to get in my way when it came to running a fast race. However, I have moved away from that type of heel-lifted shoe for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is my determination to make my retooled midfoot stride stick and see how it affects my running going into the future – in other words, I’m planning for the long term. My Fastwitch 2′s are still runnable, but they are now collecting dust under a table in my office (they are my backup in case I forget to bring shoes with me on run days at work). My past experience with the shoe is probably part of the reason why I’m excited to try out the new Fastwitch. My other Saucony success story is that my marathon PR came this past Fall in the Saucony Kinvara, a race in which I also qualified for the Boston Marathon. I’m not naive enough to credit my performance in those PR races to my shoes, but PR shoes earn a special place in a runner’s psyche, and Saucony happened to be the brand on my feet on those triumphant days.
I’ve said this before, but 2011 is going to be a very exciting year for minimalist style runners, and news like that about the hacked heel of the Fastwitch 5 makes me ever more confident that variety in shoe design and choice is only going to increase. Minimalism has found a firm place in the running shoe market, and though it might not be for everyone, it’s nice that those of us who are proponents of a less-is-more approach to footwear will have even more options going forward.