Not long ago we raced and did speed training in fast shoes. Fast shoes were light, flexible and responsive, and helped us get on, and quickly off, our toes. Then came super shoes with their seemingly magic mix of hyper-bouncy foam and curved, rigid plates that improved performance. But fast shoes haven’t gone away, and these models have qualities super shoes do not: they are light, lively and fluid for a more classic ride that lets your feet flex, engage and connect with the ground during high-cadence, up-tempo training or racing. They also have price tags $50-$100 less than the super racing models, making them perfect for putting on miles that will strengthen your stride while feeling fly.
Weight: 8.2oz M, 6.9oz W
Minimalism, meet racing flat; racing flat, minimalism. The lightweight, naturally-running, lean, responsive — yet comfortable — Rivera is new to Altra’s line, bringing a pithy performer that falls between the Escalante and the Torin. The incredibly resilient AltraEGO foam provides ground feel and more protection than cushioning. The refined yet trimmer FootShape is narrower and lower volume than past Altas, with the ball of the foot moved back toward the heel so the shoe widens earlier along its length, providing a more stable platform under all the met heads and allowing the Rivera to flex earlier as the foot rolls toward the toes. The stable stance is enhanced by soft contoured support around both sides of the arch. The Rivera really resonates with efficient runners and our test team found them smooth and stable for balanced transitions and roll-through, the natural ride assisted by grid-like grooves in the midsole that let the sole flex independently in all directions.
Asics GEL-Nimbus Lite 2
Weight: 9.1oz M, 7.8oz W
Offset: W 13mm; M 10mm
A long-distance, neutral, lightweight trainer, the Nimbus Lite 2 brings welcome changes while retaining the FLYTEFOAM midsole and clean, eco-friendly upper of the first Nimubus Lite. The platform was re-engineered using biometric testing, with Asics sculpting the midsole into a leaner and meaner, more flexible and performance-oriented shoe. Testers especially appreciated Asics’ attention to gender differences, with more stability and durability for men and a lighter weight and higher heel-toe drop for women. The overall comfort and performance of these neutral trainers, with outstanding energy return and strategically-placed shock attenuation, make them ideal for half and full marathon training. The fit is snug-to-very-secure with a heel-hugging ankle collar well known by Asics fans. The midfoot saddle is better suited for those with higher arches and the forefoot is more open than in many Asics models. The upper, like the first Nimbus Lite, is constructed with a majority of recycled materials, and was updated with a pliable engineered knit and thin, soft and supportive overlays.
New Balance FuelCell Rebel v2
Weight: 7.3oz M, 5.8oz W
Offset: 6 mm
New Balance’s second round of the FuelCell Rebel is an almost completely different shoe than the initial Rebel with its prominent outrigger and responsive plate. This version boasts plenty of cushioning without compromising responsiveness for a fluid, yet propulsive ride. The asymmetrical construction and wide forefoot work with the foot’s natural motion in a breathable and comfortable upper that neither pinched nor chafed. The high-rebound FuelCell midsole is soft but not so much that it bottoms out and it matches the outsole for being remarkably durable, serving our test team well over many test runs at a variety of speeds, including speedy tempo days. The Rebel v2 felt pleasantly plush but not so much to detract from the performance or feel disembodied from the road. The beveled heel has a slight cutaway on the lateral to help you transition from initial ground contact through to toe-off.
Weight: 9.95oz M, 7.76oz W
With the strategic shaping of On’s Clouds, deployment of its Speedboard midsole rigidity and a rocker shape, the Cloudswift has elements of a super shoe but the rocker more full-foot and tailored to be friendly to heel strikers, a quality seldom seen in speed shoes of any style. The shoe even sounds like a super shoe, as the midsole “clouds” release a sort of “quock, quock, quock” as they compress, then firm up for push-off, helping to keep a metronomic pace and pick up the cadence. The upper mesh has a cage-like saddle overlay that really hugs the midfoot securely. To assure traction on wet surfaces, On integrated rubber grip pads into the outsole. While the Cloudswift isn’t as light as some other speedy shoes, the rather firm, responsive foam kept the ride fast with short ground contact time, and our testers didn’t feel any heft or, if they did, it was offset by the comfort and security.
Skechers GOrun Horizon Vanish 2
Weight: 5.5oz M, 4.4oz W
In a classic scene from John L. Parker’s novel “Once a Runner,” Quenton Cassidy explains that the “Secret” is nothing more than the “most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms” of one’s running shoes. The Vanish2 would fit Cassidy’s speedy trial of miles, miles of trials — as they are old-school style racing flats that are extremely light and perform well at a quick clip, with Goodyear rubber carefully placed in strategic location on the outsole for weight savings, that is very tough, indeed. The flex grooves in the mid- and outsole provide a smooth transition to toe-off, a transition that probably starts mid or forefoot, given that most Vanish2 wearers will be moving fast enough that they won’t be doing a lot of heel striking, despite the security of the shoe’s molded heel counter. Unlike most Skechers fast shoes, the Vanish2 doesn’t use Hyperburst, but a TPU-based, resilient midsole material that gives the Horizon Vanish2 a pleasant, responsive yet cushioned feel. Up top, the lightweight, almost seamless mono mesh upper has a secure midfoot hold providing a longer, skinnier fit reminiscent of traditional racing flats.
Saucony Kinvara 12
Weight: M7.5oz, W6.5oz
“Go-fast trainer” best sums up the Kinvara 12, a neutral up-tempo trainer that can double as a racer while gently connecting runners to a pure version of our sport. For fans of the agile, versatile and responsive shoe, the changes from version 11 are subtle: this version lost less than half an ounce in weight and got a new tongue that is thinner, perforated, gusseted, and made of incredibly soft, stretchy suede-like material that treats your instep and ankle like kid gloves. The midsole continues to use PWRRUN but, due to the new shape, it feels firmer, making the ride a bit more rigid, with more snap. The re-sculpted midsole also provides more ground contact, delivering what one tester called a classic “second generation minimalist” feeling, given the low heel, wide platform, flexible forefoot and closeness to the ground for proprioception, yet with enough cushion to not beat you up. The upper, with its internal stretch bootie, lightweight printed adaptive mesh provides an ideal amount of structure and security without weighing you down.
Under Armour Flow Velociti Wind
Weight: M8.5oz, W8.02oz
With more of a stack height than the most of these speedy shoes, it is Under Armour’s use of a single foam sole, with no outsole, that makes them so simple and clean, providing a flexible, responsive ride with surprising traction. The energy return and impact absorption of this newly introduced midsole material makes the Flow Velociti Wind a great, natural-feeling, yet protective training shoe for almost any distance. It also serves well as a cross trainer, handling lateral motion with aplomb, possibly because the rubberless midsole technology came to the Flow Velociti Wind by way of Under Armour’s basketball category learnings from the Curry Flow 8. The eye-catching, moccasin-like upper provides a locked-in foot hold with supportive tapes that are strategically placed to eliminate pressure points — providing a tailored fit as one might expect from what began as an apparel company.