Why Saucony Fastwitch?
During the Thanksgiving break, I ran across a Saucony discount code ("26STRONG" good through 12/31/15) & obviously had to at least LOOK and see if they had anything I couldn't live without. (Obviously.) None of the clothes did much for me, but I decided to check the shoe section just to see if by some miracle there were any Kinvara 5s or Type A5s left in my size. (There weren't.) Still, they had some pretty big sales and Sauconys usually fit my foot pretty well, so I perused the selection just to see if there were any models on sale that sounded like something I could maybe use.
Which is how I ran across the Fastwitch 6. The Saucony page described it as light and stable (just a hint of stability) and easy on the cushioning ("fast and responsive"), and most of the reviews I read called it a solid racing shoe up to the marathon distance. Given my disappointment with the new Kinvaras, I was intrigued.
The reason I like both the Saucony Kinvara (my favorite long run/marathon shoe) and Saucony Type A (my current go-to track/speed shoe) is because a) they fit the shape of my foot, b) they're 4mm drop, and c) they're made like a traditional running shoe, but on the lighter, more stripped-down side. Normally I wouldn't buy an unfamiliar shoe without at least trying it on, but the Fastwitch seemed to have a lot in common with the Kinvara & Type A & like it probably slotted right in between them in terms of weight & cushion. Plus, the new version is out, so they were on a big sale, and with 20% off on top of that, I think I ended up paying like $50 out the door.
Saucony Kinvara 6
Saucony Fastwitch 6
Saucony Type A5
Realistically, having gotten them home, the Fastwitch is actually pretty similar to the Kinvara weight-wise as different pairs and different versions of the K's I've owned have run between 6.4 and 6.6 (though it's worth noting that I took the internet's advice & ordered the Fastwitch up a half size, so it's not exactly apples to apples).
From what I've gathered, it seems to me that the Fastwitch is Saucony's attempt at a light-weight racing shoe for those who don't *quite* want to go full neutral.
The upper is made mostly from lightweight breathable mesh. The midsole is made from Saucony's Super Lite EVA blend which they say "maximizes rebound and durability while minimizing weight."
There is a plastic heel counter (for stability?) but I haven't even noticed it while running.
The outsole is made from XT-900, a "premium carbon rubber outsole material that offers exceptional traction and high-wear properties." As always, it's hard to evaluate this before you've got at least a few hundred miles on the shoes, but there is more carbon rubber (read: hard, as opposed to the softer, lighter blown rubber) on the Fastwitch than on the Kinvara, so I'd expect the soles on the Fastwitch to last longer because of that.
LEFT: Fastwitch 6 (green = hard carbon rubber; white = soft blown rubber). RIGHT: Kinvara 6 (teal/yellow = carbon, white = blown) & 5 (dark = carbon, orange = blown)
The added stability is achieved by means of a Midfoot Support Bridge, which runs from the heel through up to the midfoot.
It's a little hard to tell in the picture but the striped purple part is the hard plastic bridge.
It's worth noting that most running shoe companies (I'm told) are moving away from this method of providing stability & instead looking to denser foam materials which they can stack strategically through the midsole in order to provide a little pronation control without as much added weight or the stiffness that a plastic post or bridge can cause.
It's also potentially interesting to note the drainage ports, which, from the Saucony site, seems like it's intended as a perk for triathletes (you soggy things you).
(Though part of me hearkens back to the Mizuno Wave soles that mostly just seem to get little rocks stuck in them. We shall see.)
Sizing & Comfort
Like I said above, after reading some reviews online, I got the impression that the Fastwitch tends to run a bit small as most reviewers ended up going with a half or whole size up, so I ordered a size 8 rather than my usual 7.5. The 8 feels maybe just a *touch* big (like, maybe I really needed a 7 3/4?), but not at all sloppy or uncomfortable, and I always prefer slightly more room in the toe box than slightly too little.
My first impression was that the toe box was super roomy (in a good way), and after a little A/B testing with both the Kinvara & Type A, I'm solidly convinced this is just a roomier shoe in general (with the Kinvara being slightly narrower both in the midfoot and toe box, and the Type A fitting like a typical racing flat). Definitely a plus in my opinion.
Another thing I noticed right away was the difference in cushioning between the Fastwitch & Kinvaras. I've never thought of the Kinvara as a particularly squishy shoe (I tend to avoid those like the plague), but next to the Fastwitch, they felt like soft little pillows. This isn't to say the Fastwitch was at all uncomfortable; they're just more intended as racing shoes I think, which almost always means less cushion => more ground feel => (hopefully) more snap/responsiveness.
In terms of cushion, the Fastwitch felt more like my Type A5s, which I wear mostly on the track. But as I said before, whereas the Type A5s are pretty snug & form-fitting (see: racing flat), the Fastwitch is a bit roomier, particularly in the toe box. (The Type A5 is also just closer to the ground in general, where I think both the Fastwitch and Kinvara are 14mm/18mm.)
Flexibility & Support
Besides the snappier ground feel, the first thing I noticed when I hit the pavement in the Fastwitches for the first time is that they're a fairly stiff shoe, which isn't surprising, given the plastic Midfoot Support Bridge running from the heel to the midfoot for pronation support. Reviewers seemed torn on whether this was a good thing or bad. Some felt it left something to be desired in terms of smoothness of the ride and also made toe off feel not quite as clean at faster paces. Others felt the stiffness added to responsiveness/snap off the ground. My feeling is that it probably just comes down to personal preference.
Definitely not super flexi, though if you really work at it, you can get a bit of movement there.
Type A5 for comparison.
Not a ton of torsional flex either, FWIW. Type A5 on the right for comparison.
I used to run in stability shoes, but in the last four or five years I've gradually come to prefer a neutral shoe most of the time. With this whole left foot issue I've been dealing with lately, though, I'm not sure a little extra support would go amiss, and I have to say that I found these a little more comfortable than most of the other pairs I've been wearing lately.
Far and away, what stood out to me the most with these shoes as appeared to the Kinvaras was the difference in cushioning. If ground feel (though maybe not racing flat levels of ground feel) is your jam, you might enjoy this shoe a lot. If you prefer running on soft, squishy pillows, you're probably going to hate it.
In addition, I can also say I've definitely noticed the traction from the copious blown rubber (I've been running on rain-soaked sidewalks lately) and also the lighter mesh uppers (there's a bit of a noticeable breeze).
But guys. I've been wearing these shoes almost exclusively lately in order to be able to write about them with some small amount of familiarity. There is one small problem with this when it comes to ride/feel, though, and that's that a few minutes into my run, they completely disappear off my feet. Like. They become completely invisible to my brain, and I just totally forget to pay attention to and think about them at all.
For me, this is pretty much the highest compliment I can give a shoe that I've only put a few dozen miles on. If I'm thinking about the shoes while I'm running, that's a bad sign. In that way, the Fastwitch reminds me a lot of the Mizuno Wave Musha (may it rest in peace) and more recently the New Balance 1400 v2s I was wearing a lot this past year. We'll see how they hold up for faster & longer running when I get to that point, but for now, I've been super happy with them and look forward to doing some low-stakes racing in them once my legs are up to it.
For me, the Fastwitch does kind of feel like the perfect cross between a racing flat and a lighter-yet-traditional distance shoe like the Kinvara. They are light and responsive enough to be a great option for the track or racing a 5K, but substantial enough to be a solid call for day-to-day training or racing a half (provided you're a ground feel-kinda-gal/guy & not a foot pillows-kinda-gal/guy). The support bridge makes it potentially viable for folks who live in that in-between realm of not quite wanting a neutral shoe but not wanting something with a giant medial post in it either. Personally I would not race the mile or a marathon in it, but for the super-efficient, biomechanically elite among us, marathons are probably not out of the question.
For a while now, I've been pretty staunchly of the opinion that I prefer completely neutral, more flexible shoes, but you can't really argue with performance, and I have to say the stiffness of the Fastwitch has not bothered me. In the long-term I've also felt like stiffer shoes are probably not great for day-to-day use because it means you're using your foot muscles less, but maybe while I work on getting my left foot in order, wearing a stiffer shoe with more stability from time to time is not the worst idea anyone ever had.
Not photoshopped, I am not even joking.