By Brian Metzler
In the modern world of running shoes, the new (and expensive!) models with carbon-fiber plates seem to be the only ones highlighted on the marquee with neon lights these days. And for good reason. Not only have carbon-plated racing shoes changed marathon running by helping us run faster and recover more quickly, but also now everyday training shoes with carbon-fiber (or even high-rebound nylon) plates are also a hot commodity. That fancy plate technology, however, comes with a fancy price tag of $170 to $250.
But what about shoes without plates? Does the mere suggestion of wanting to buck the system suggest a regression back to the early to mid-2000s when shoes didn’t provide such a notable spring in your step? Believe it or not, there are a lot of great lively training shoes available without plates, starting with the Saucony Triumph 21. Compared to some of the modern everyday trainers with plates, it’s less expensive, more durable and considerably more comfortable. Compared to a lot of non-plated, high-mileage trainers you’ve trained with in the past – maybe even the shoes you wore last year – they’re a godsend of comfort.
As far as high-mileage workhorse training shoes go, the Triumph has always served up a premium fit, feel and ride, and the latest edition, which just hit running stores this month, is one of the plushest daily trainers ever made. It doesn’t have the same hyper-energetic pop in every stride that the Saucony Endorphin Speed 3 or Endorphin Pro 3 provide, but as a daily trainer built for long runs and slow to moderate midweek recovery runs, the Triumph 21 feels like you’re cruising around town in a luxury SUV with leather seats, tinted glass, a boss stereo, and an aroma therapy system.
What’s New: The biggest update to the Triumph 21 is a stretchy, flat-knit upper made mostly from recycled polyester and a new lacing system that does a much better job of securing the foot to the midsole/outsole chassis while also providing breathability and some cushy comfort. The PWRRUN+ midsole and segmented-rubber outsole remain the same – and that’s great – but the enhanced upper has really boosted the fit, comfort and overall performance of this shoe quite a bit.
Fit/Feel/Ride: The Triumph 21 fits true to size with a narrow to medium-volume interior and a little bit of wiggle room in the toe box. (It’s also available in a wide version, too.) The plush interior, which is enhanced by a PWRRUN+ sockliner, gives it a very comfortable step-in vibe and a cushy internal feel – and decidedly not the cavernous or stark sensation of some other daily trainers. Once I laced them up, I found the ride has a similar plush and easy vibe to it. The PWRRUN+ midsole and rocker geometry combine to create a juicy and mildly energetic sensation that make for easy running with effortless heel-to-toe transitions. It’s definitely not as bouncy or propulsive as daily trainers with nylon or carbon-fiber plates, but it’s not supposed to be.
The key to the Triumph 21 is all about providing buttery smooth, long-haul comfort that will support and energize your legs when you would normally start to feel fatigue 75 to 90 minutes into your 2-hour long weekend training run. It’s a neutral-oriented shoe, but it also provides a good amount of inherent stability, thanks to the subtle support of the internal heel counter and the slightly wider footprint of the forefoot. When I say it’s mildly energetic, it’s because there’s still a noticeable spark of lively propulsion in every step. And as much as we take the hyper-energetic vibe of modern plated shoes for granted, if this version of the Triumph 21 was available 10 years ago – or if you’re used to running in mid-level shoes with a more basic EVA midsole – your stride would feel turbo-charged like never before.
Why It’s Great: Rarely does a new upper change the feeling and performance of a shoe the way this one has. The new lacing system and stretchy upper provided one of the best, locked-down and connective fit sensations I’ve ever felt in a shoe, and it made me wish all of my running shoes fit and felt that way. I dug out my pair of Triumph 20s from last summer and ran a few miles in those, then transitioned back to the Triumph 21s for a few miles, and it was a night-and-day difference. Last year’s shoe was very good but not great, so the enhanced fit and feel of the Triumph 21 make a world of difference and allow it to hearken back to the premium opulence that previous models of the Triumph were known for back before modern foam midsoles came into play.
Saucony Triumph 21 Specs
Weights: 8.8 ounces. (women’s size 8), 9.8 ounces (men’s size 9) Heel-Toe Offset: 10mm (37mm in the heel, 27mm in the forefoot)
Why You’ll Love it: This might be one of the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever laced up. And that’s saying a lot, given how many shoes I’ve run in. The new lacing system and upper provide a really secure fit, but it feels so good it’s hard to believe this is a model for high-mileage running and not some kind of modern recovery shoe. Why can’t everyday casual shoes feel this good? Why can’t formal dress shoes feel this good? It would be hyperbole to suggest that it feels like someone is giving you a foot massage when you run in these shoes, but, honestly, it’s such a comfortable fit and ride that it’s not too far from the truth.
Pro: If you’re looking for a high-mileage daily trainer as you prep for a fall marathon or half marathon, this is definitely one to consider. I’ve run my two longest road runs of the summer in this shoe and have no complaints at all, given that I’m still early in my marathon build-up phase. It’s not a featherweight shoe, but it’s light enough to feel good and never heavy or clunky. The smooth, consistent ride felt responsive enough for the 9-minute mile pace and, perhaps most importantly, my legs felt fresh and recovered the next day. I’ll continue to keep this shoe in my quiver as my longer runs get slightly longer in the coming weeks.
Con: OK, so the one thing this shoe doesn’t have is the next-level propulsive bounce that shoes with plates all seem to have. While it still feels great on long runs and can easily rev-up to run long tempo runs, it’s not a shoe that’s conducive to faster race-pace efforts or long intervals. I’d still opt for the Saucony Endorphin Speed 3 for those kinds of workouts. But the Triumph 21 definitely holds its own as a modern, long-run trainer.