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Shoe Review: Space-Age Tech in the Puma Fast-R Nitro Elite 2 ($260)



In case you missed it, Puma made a big splash in the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon two weeks ago. Their shoe that got most of the attention – and rightfully so – was the yet-to-be-released Puma Deviate Nitro Elite 3, which was on the feet of winner Fiona O’Keeffe and third-place finisher Dakotah Windwurm. But the other new Puma shoe worn by a few athletes – and what I suspect will be one of the best marathon supershoes released this year – is the soon-to-be-released Puma Fast-R Nitro Elite 2, an updated version of last year’s high-tech, avant garde maximally-cushioned racing shoe. That Nitro Elite version was well received and had some good marathon results, including three top-12 finishes in last fall’s New York City Marathon. 


But as with all shoes – especially for a marathon racing shoe with such a bold design – the original Nitro Elite wasn’t perfect, so Puma made some tweaks to it and it came back much better. (It will hit stores on Feb. 22.) While it might have temporarily fallen into the shadow of the Puma Deviate Nitro Elite 3 (which is a very good shoe with a more traditional design), the Fast-R Nitro Elite 2 feels like what I imagine it feels like to drive a Porsche 911 GT3 or some other high-end race car on curvy open road. I’ve never driven a Porsche, but I have run in just about every marathon racing shoe that’s been released in the past few years, and the Puma Fast-R Nitro Elite 2 has as much of a hi-rev, energetic vibe as any pair I’ve tested. With a lean, very snug fit and enormous energy return, it feels ready to race the moment you lace it up – even if you’re not. 


Among the high-stack racing shoes you’ll find at running stores this year, the Fast-R Nitro Elite 2 feels like one of the most stable and lively models. Despite having a 40mm stack height in the heel, the rocker geometry of the bottom of the chassis produces a streamlined ride that makes the heel-to-toe transition feel simple and seamless as if it’s one quick motion.


What’s New: The Fast-R Nitro Elite 2 retains the unique decoupled construction – essentially two NitroFoam Elite midsole segments united by a partially exposed carbon-fiber plate and the engineered mesh upper – but the NitroFoam compound is now made from a hyper-responsive material known as Aliphatic ETPU (an engineered thermoplastic urethane-derivative compound) in both the rearfoot and forefoot midsole units. The carbon-fiber PWRPlate is thicker and larger than the previous version, and has been lengthened to extend through the forefoot midsole unit and past the tip of the toes for increased surface contact and greater forward-levering action. There’s also a new, lighter Ultraweave engineered mesh upper and a similar version of PumaGrip rubber on the outsole.


Fit/Feel/Ride: The Puma Fast-R Nitro Elite 2 fits snug and secure, like a very tight but functional pair of compression socks. It has a low-volume interior with an elastic bootie construction that serves up a very secure heel and a narrow toe box that doesn’t give too much room for toes to wiggle or splay. It definitely feels more compact than the fit of most marathon racing shoes, but it’s a comfortable, foot-wrapping sensation. While I was a bit caught off guard by how tight they felt when I initially put them on, I appreciated the snug fit more while running because it seemed to provide a touch of added stability that contributed to the propulsive feel and proprioceptive feel for the ground. The moment I laced them up, they felt like bouncy pogo sticks for my feet. The springy, propulsive sensation was undeniable, even running at slower paces. But once I ramped up to 7-minute pace or faster, it felt near-effortless, like the shoe was doing the work for me. 


Why It’s Great: Although the shoe retains its unique construction and aesthetics, it runs a lot smoother than the first version. The new Aliphatic ETPU midsole compound is a lightweight, high-rebound polymer that feels as bouncy and responsive as any midsole material I’ve ever run in. (Puma says it consistently graded out to a 93% energy return score, which is higher than most Pebax foams, and the brand is confident it will be durable enough for several hundred miles of wear.) Not only does it feel more resilient, but it also provides more of a consistent ride without any of the lateral wobbling that some mushier foams produce. (Also, the previous version – which had a modified EVA compound in the heel and a standard Pebax in the forefoot – felt awkward and slightly unbalanced, even though it was responsive.)


Specifications:

Weights: 7.4 oz. (women’s 8); 8.5 oz. (men’s 9) Heel-Toe Offset: 8mm (40mm at the heel/32mm at the forefoot)


Why You’ll Love It: The new plate certainly looks unique the way it extends past the toe box, but Puma says it will also extend a runner’s stride length enough that it can save about 40 to 60 steps in a marathon. That might not seem significant until you think about the metabolic cost savings. In other words, that’s potentially less energy expenditure during a race, which could mean a runner might have fresher legs over the final miles – something we can all appreciate. I haven’t raced in the Fast-R Nitro Elite 2 yet, but I have done two longer tempo runs and I definitely felt like it was as energetic and poppy in the final miles as it was when I started.


Pro: Puma says the new midsole and plate allows for up to 22% more energy storage and up to 46% more raw energy return compared to the original version, resulting in a lighter, more efficient and economical ride. That, the brand says, could translate to an average time savings of 2 minutes, 28 seconds for a 3:30 marathoner and 1 minute, 23 seconds for a 2:30 marathoner. 


Con: The biggest drawback to this shoe that I found is that it’s very hard to get into it. The snug, elastic bootie construction is excessively constrictive as you try to slide your foot into it. It takes both hands stretching the opening and a nimble foot movement to get it on without having the heel collar get snarled under your foot. It’s not a huge problem – and not an issue at all once you get it on and lace it up – but it does take some additional effort to put it on, and that can be momentarily frustrating.

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