Super shoes for normals.
The onslaught of super shoes with advanced foams and stiff plates in 2020 has given runners a myriad of race-day choices. While above average in performance, they are also above average in price. It makes it expensive to use these shoes for everyday high-volume training miles. Rather than featuring a single top-tier halo model, Saucony has released a three-shoe lineup for its Endorphin series – the Endorphin Pro, Speed and Shift.
The Saucony Endorphin Speed is the middle child of the lineup. With a Pebax (Polyether Block Amid) based midsole and plate, it has more in common with the top-tier Pro than the Shift, which has more conventional EVA+TPU foam.
The standout feature is that the Speed costs $200 CDN, which very much in the middle of the premium trainer segment and less than the $250+ cost of super shoes from virtually all other manufacturers. The question is does the Speed give up too much to get to this price point?
The upper is comprised of a thin dual layer engineered mesh with a fairly large hole pattern for breathability. There are no plastic overlays on the upper, save for the Saucony logos and some trim. This allows for quite a bit of stretch and compliance to accommodate larger volume feet. The overall toebox width is slightly wide and of medium height. The gusseted tongue has a slight amount of padding and features an elastic loop to tuck the shoelace loops and ends into. The Speed has slot-shaped eyelets, which allow the flat laces to flow easily through the eyelets as the foot moves and flexes. The heel collar has a moderate amount of padding, allowing it to conform nicely to the ankle, without feeling overly puffy. There is an external plastic heel counter of mild stiffness. It features a stiffer T-shaped spine at the rear centre, which provides additional support.
The midsole is Pebax foam with a nylon plate embedded in the middle. Taken on its own, the foam has a very compliant feel. The nylon plate provides some structure, but it’s not nearly as stiff as the carbon plate on the Endorphin Pro. Sitting atop the whole thing is a thin sockliner with a medium-high arch molding. Unlike some of the other super high stack models, the Endorphin has a more typical stack height and feels more stable and lower to the ground, in this respect.
The outsole is a very thin layer of high abrasion rubber bonded to the midsole. It consists of a series of segments which combine to form the standard chevron-shaped lugs. While not very thick, it does provide decent traction and protection for the midsole. I tested the Speed on mild gravel and dirt trails and there was acceptable grip. even with barely any effective lug depth. The stack height didn’t prove to be much of a problem on canted terrain, either.
My US mens 9.0 weighed 229g / 8.1oz for one shoe. The stack heights are 33mm rear and 25mm forefoot, for an offset of 8mm.
I’m convinced most of the special sauce in these super-shoes is the foam. The plate plays a secondary role. It primarily provides structure and stability to a thick slab of foam that would otherwise feel like a marshmallow. The trampoline bounciness and energy return plays the most important role in making these shoes feel faster.
Stepping into the shoe, there is a really substantial amount of cushioning to be had. The plate is not immediately apparent and the shoe feels very natural and flexible through the gait cycle. The plate does provide a surprisingly amount of stability and the shoe doesn’t feel nearly as tall and tippy as its 33mm rear stack would suggest. That said, there is a bit of roll instability at the heel. The compliance of the foam allows it to compress and rock from the lateral to the medial side. The effect is partly mitigated by the plate, but it is still present for those without a perfectly neutral gait.
Taking some steps, there is a steep drop off and roll forward, your weight shifts towards the front of the shoe. The front drop-off geometry helps with the toe-off mechanic.
Running around, the Endorphin Speed is shockingly springy. There is unquestionably a lot of energy return from the foam. The Speedroll geometry remains apparent as well. Unlike the Endorphin Pro, the more flexible plate allowed me to maintain my regular gait and the toe-off felt very natural. The shoe has a decent amount of foam under the heel and I found I was gravitating from my normal forefoot strike to a very mild heel strike to really take advantage of the cushioning and energy return in the foam.
Versus Endorphin Pro
The key difference between the Pro and Speed is the plate material and stiffness, with the Pro have a carbon fibre plate that is very stiff against bending, whereas the Speed has a nylon plate that is considerably more flexible. The Speed’s upper is has slightly more structure and padding than the Pro’s, but is still very reduced, compared to conventional trainers. Apart from those differences, the midsole that gives these shoes their characteristic ride and efficiency is virtually the same between the two models.
To make sure I wasn’t imagining this, I ran a test run with one foot in the Endorphin Speed and the other in the Endorphin Pro. I then switched feet to ensure I wasn’t biased on a particular side.
The Pro’s plate is noticeably stiffer and the Speed. The result is the Pro stays on the ground longer during the gait cycle and relies on the Speedroll geometry for the toe-off mechanic. It does pop off the ground a bit harder. In contrast, the Speed has a more natural transition with the flex point and toe-off in a more conventional location. To summarize all the differences I noticed:
- The Speed is ever-so slightly more cushioned.
- The Pro is a little more stable on the roll axis.
- The Speed’s upper is slightly roomier and more compliant. Though I prefer the fine texture and single-layer mesh of the Pro
- The Speed has more padding on the tongue and throat area. It also lacks the Achilles flip of the Pro. This results in a better heel lock, as there is more foam to cup the heel with.
- The heel counter is slightly stiff in the Speed, although I found the Pro to be more laterally stable, thanks to the stiffer plate.
- The toespring is slightly higher on the Pro.
The key question is not what you give up vs. the Endorphin Pro, but whether the Endorphin Speed is better suited for a particular type of runner. The flexible nylon plate is key, allowing for a more natural flex point and toe-off. For many runners, I think this might be preferable to the unconventional mechanics of a stiff plated shoe. The extra 0.4oz of weight is negligible, but results in more substantial upper, with better heel lock.
The Endorphin Speed delivers practically all of the super shoe performance at normal shoe price. For many runners, the more flexible plate also makes it a more accessible shoe, while trading off a bit of performance. An excellent shoe overall.
I purchased the Saucony Endorphin Speed at retail for this review.