Friday, July 3, 2015

Shoe Review: Saucony Type A5

I bought these shoes back in November at the same time as my New Balance 1400 v2s (another shoe I've been trying out for that 10-20K, middling fast range) because they were on a huge discount. Which should immediately alert you to the fact that this review will be just as useless as most of my others since I mostly buy my shoes on super discounts, ie, when they are about to be discontinued or replaced with a new model. (And surprise! At this point the Type A6 has been out for over eight months).

Because I was pretty much only doing base training last fall & winter, these shoes sort of showed up & then got tossed, box & all, into the back of the closet. But lo! Actual marathon training is upon us, which does involve at least *some* actual speed & tempo work for which these shoes are appropriate. So in the last couple of weeks, I've been taking them out for a spin once a week or so to see what I think.

Why Saucony Type A5?

One of these days (soon! I really feel like it might be soon!), I will be ready to race the hell out of 10Ks & half marathons again. And while I love my Kinvara 5's for every-day easy running & long runs/marathons, at the time that I bought the A5s, I didn't have a shoe that I loved for those distances. I'd read a number of fantastic reviews of the A5 (and the A4 before it) from bloggers whose knowledge and opinions I trust, and while I wasn't quite ready to shell out for the brand-spankin'-new A6, I figured the clearance prices on the A5 made this a good time to try it out & see if there might be something there. Saucony shoes also seem to fit my feet well, so that was also a plus.

Some basic info about the shoe:

The A5 is categorized by most running stores as a "performance neutral" trainer though some places have it listed as a racing flat. At 5.4 ounces (women's 7.5) and 4mm drop, it is indeed a pretty stripped-down offering.

You can tell how long ago I bought these because this is the countertop from the old house.


Both midsole & cushioning (what there is of it) is SSL EVA, what Saucony describes as their "premium material for lightweight comfort, rebound and durability." The upper is breathable and lightweight, with a thin layer of mesh as well as overlays of Flex Film (which I was always a fan of on the Kinvara 3s and 4s).

According to the specs, the outsole comprises XT-900 ("a carbon rubber material that offers durable traction") and XT LITE in the forefoot ("provides lightweight, durable traction").

Heel counter is a heel counter:

Sizing & Comfort

I ordered this pair in a 7.5 since that's what I wear in Kinvaras, and they fit perfectly. (For context, I default to a size 8 in most brands & 7.5 in Saucony and Mizuno, & can do 7.5 or 8 comfortably in most Brooks.) I don't know if Saucony used the same last for the A5 as they do for the Kinvara, but just like my favorite marathon shoe, this one seemed to mold around the shape of my foot flawlessly.

Kinvara 5 on the left; Type A5 on the right.

This is where you can really see the difference between
a marathon shoe/trainer & a racing/performance shoe.

You can see that there appears to be a pretty big difference in toe box width between the K5 & A5, but weirdly, it hasn't bothered me (and squished-up toes is usually one of my first complaints). I don't know if it's because I'm pretty much only wearing them for speed/track work where I want a snugger fit anyway, or what, but it hasn't been a problem, and if I just saw this picture & hadn't worn them, I'd predict that it would be.

If you want to talk cushiness, these guys are not *quite* as comfortable as the 1400 v2s in that they feel more like a racing flat (stiffer, less cushion), but still way more comfortable than most racing flats I've worn.

Flexibility & Support

You can definitely see that the A5 has a good bit of flex, thanks mostly to the svelte mid & outsole.

Another reason this is such a flexible shoe is the outsole pattern:

A few weeks ago I did a focus group with Nike Running, & their head shoe guy explained that if you want to make a more flexible shoe, one thing you do is make the articulated bits in the outsole pattern smaller (like the forefoot of the A5), and if you want to make it feel stiffer, you make the articulated bits larger.

Aside from some pretty basic shaping in the arch, there are no support features to speak of. The midsole is stiff enough that it does feel like a flat & not a glove, but flexible enough that you're definitely going to have to use your foot.


One of the best things about my right leg feeling better lately is being able to get back out on the track & justify wearing stripped down, faster-feeling shoes. For a while I was afraid to wear anything less stable/cushioned than Kinvaras because the impact & extra foot/lower leg work involved felt like it made the problems in my hip/adductor/etc. worse; taping up my left foot (more on that in a future post) seemed to make a big difference, though, so on my first for-real track workout of the training cycle, I threw them in my bag.

Personally I think one of the coolest running feelings is putting on flats at the track for the first time in a while, especially after warming up in trainers. Like, you feel pretty much ready to run, but then you put on flats & it's like, "Ohhh shiiiiiiiiit, *now* I'm ready to run." That prior feeling of readiness? A mere shadow of the glorious experience of standing on the track in flats!

And in my humble opinion, the A5s absolutely, 100% delivered in every way a track shoe should. They are thin and flexible enough for excellent ground feel, stiff and snug enough to be responsive at speed particularly on the curves (no feeling of the shoe slipping around on my foot), and with just enough support so that my feet don't hurt after a speed session (whereas truly minimal offerings like the Mizuno Universe or Brooks Pure Drift usually leave them achey).

The A5's also have more grip on the bottom than most flats I've run in (I think), and I like that--it's a little like a mellower version of the effect you get from spikes. (I actually think this might make them more durable on concrete than most flat/performance shoes, since there is actually a good bit of carbon rubber & not just the soft stuff.)

I've done some faster running in them on concrete, and they do feel good for that, but I'm not sure right now that I'd personally go more than an hour, purely from a foot strength/impact perspective. Slower running on concrete? Forget about it. I did one easy 8-miler in them & the whole time it's as if the shoes were like, "Whyyyyyy? Don't you know what we are? I can feel my soul dyyyyyinngggg...." No; these are fast shoes meant for fast running, and they don't really feel good for anything else.

I don't know how much of a technical difference there really is, but the A5 feels more to me like a racing flat than just a stripped-down trainer; they're a bit stiffer than several other pairs I have that are sort of built on the same profile, which makes them very responsive and snappy coming off the ground. These are all things I love in a road shoe (for short-to-mid-distance runs), and I also like that those characteristics allow/force me to actively engage my foot and use it correctly, which is something I've been working on a lot.

Of course, the flip side of those qualities is that there really isn't a ton in the way of support or cushioning. If you like a stability or motion control shoe or shoes that feel like slipping your feet into fluffy pillows, the A5 is probably not for you. Likewise if you have a lower cadence, significant over pronation issues, or weak/finicky feet/ankles, it may just exacerbate problems you already have and/or get you injured. I would also guess it's not going to be a great shoe for someone who's more of a heel striker because there's so little cushioning there.

Bottom Line

I'm really enjoying these shoes on the track & they seem made to race 5K or 10K on the roads. I actually think I *could* potentially even do a half in them, but my intuition says the 1400 v2 would be a better choice because it's almost as light and has just a little more cushion, which I feel like I might find myself wanting at the 10-11 mile mark.

I don't think I personally would wear these shoes for runs much over an hour & a half. There's just no reason to wear them for a long run, and racing a marathon takes me long enough that I want more protection from the pounding. But, I have read reviews from folks who have run marathons in this shoe & it works for them. (I suspect they are faster & lighter on their feet than I am.)

Re: the A6, it seems like most reviewers feel like it's a good update, if less aesthetically pleasing. It looks *slightly* beefier & looks like it has maybe a very slightly different shape, but reports seem to agree that it's still a really light, responsive, fast-feeling shoe that makes you feel like you're flying, so that's good to know.

1 comment:

  1. Man, it's actually been well over a year since I've been on the track. I still have some hoarded Mushas for if/when I ever go back.