MEAGHAN: Puma is in the driver’s seat right now. The American women’s marathon segment is on fire at the moment, and Puma is stoking the flames with its recent signings of elite runners. Every week it seems like a new elite is joining the Puma ranks, and so far they’ve racked up an impressive roster between Molly Seidel, Sara Vaughn, Dakotah Lindwurm, and Annie Frisbie. Capitalizing on Seidel’s successes in 2021, Puma has initiated the launch sequence for an exciting future in distance running. Of course, every distance runner needs an elite race shoe, and no company wants its athletes in a pair of blacked-out Alphafly on the start line. So it was only appropriate that Puma developed a shoe to complement these amazing women. Enter the Puma Fast-R Nitro Elite.
If it’s called Fast-R, it must be, right? I’ll admit that I have a love/hate relationship with the name of this shoe. Sure it’s a fun name, but remember when Hilaria Baldwin pretended to be Spanish? Just because you keep saying it doesn’t always make it accurate. Sometimes, trying too hard can backfire. Luckily for Puma, the performance lives up to the name.
THOMAS: Running shoes, for the most part, look pretty similar. Finishing details like colors, tooling, and logos usually are all that set them apart. After all, it’s risky to mess with a running shoe’s conventional shape as runners tend to shun the shoes that step out of the norm.
At first glance, the Puma Fast-R looks… odd. I wasn’t sure if it was more Lady Gaga-haute-couture odd or Reebok Zig/Adidas Springblade odd. The latter is a classic example of introducing a technical feature that didn’t improve performance. However, the design of the Fast-R is functional and performs better than you might expect. Sorta like Lady Gaga’s acting career. Mum-mum-mum-mah Mum-mum-mum-mah… okay let’s get into the review.
ROBBE: Like Thomas and Meaghan, I had some doubts when we saw the Fast-R for the first time back at The Running Event. Gimmicks abound in the shoe tech space and this one seemed like it was going to fall into that same category. A carbon plate section with a decoupled heel? What is this, a bridge for ants?
Gimmick or not, we were still excited to try the shoe, especially since Puma really came hot out of the gate last year with its new-gen running lineup. We thought their original carbon-plated racer, the Deviate Nitro Elite, worked more as a tempo shoe, but Molly Seidel said otherwise on her way to Olympic bronze. Unfortunately, that shoe was harder to procure than a stocking stuffer rapid test this past Christmas. (Word is a full supply of that shoe should be coming in the next two months). In any case, we were ready to see the evolution of the Puma racer, so here we are.
MEAGHAN: I have to start with the aesthetics here because the Puma Fast-R Nitro Elite looks and feels unlike any other super shoe. The main difference is the decoupled construction — the only other shoe with a similar design is the Brooks Aurora-BL (honestly, one of the better shoes from Brooks). While it looks like it would feel disjointed, it’s surprisingly smooth out on the run.
The decoupled construction is made up of two different foams. Puma used a less responsive EVA foam under the heel and the Nitro Elite, a bio-based Pebax foam, in the forefoot. The EVA absorbs energy and creates a more stable platform on landing, while the Nitro Elite propels the foot forward on toe-off. Of course, sandwiched between the two is a full-length carbon plate (Pwrplate) that gives you that propulsive pop feeling you’d expect in a super shoe. It’s not a soft, bouncy ride like you get with the ASICS Metaspeed Sky or New Balance RC Elite 2. In terms of firmness, it feels closest to the Saucony Endorphin Pro, but with a more evident plate. I found this shoe really comes alive when you’re pushing the pace.
The upper is a single-layer mono mesh that’s simple and sleek. I received a half size larger than my traditional (W8 vs W7.5), so I didn’t quite get the “sock-like fit,” but that’s what’s intended. My wide feet like a little extra room, so I was happy with the overall fit. The tongue, heel, and collar are designed with a very stretchy knit material. I’m a big fan of the tongue — it reminds me of the Asics Gel Nimbus Lite 3, which is an absolute treat. Also, there appears to be a small padded tongue grip, complete with a rocket design on the inside. It’s kinda weird, and I kinda love it.
The last thing to note about the upper is the pointy chunk of hard plastic on the heel, aptly named the heel spoiler. If I’m being honest, this feels a little extra (I mean that in the way the cool kids use it), but it also adds some stability to the heel and overall fit. I guess if you’re going to go crazy with a decoupled design, you might as well add a spoiler. It’s also well suited for a self-defense class.
And, of course, the outsole is covered in PumaGrip, my favorite grippy rubber.
All this fancy stuff comes in a really light package — my W8 came in at 6.5 ounces. While it’s not the thickest of the thicc bois, there’s some decent stack: 37.5mm in the heel, 30mm in the forefoot, for a 7.5mm drop.
THOMAS: I wasn’t sure what I’d get out of the Puma Fast-R, but the minute I strapped it on, I wanted to move. Not just jog across the living room, but sprint from one end of the house to the other. So, like a 10-year-old fresh out the door of the local mall’s Foot Locker, I did.
The sensation of the decoupled oddity is more stable than the high-heel-looking architecture would suggest. Landing midfoot, I was treated to the soft feeling of the forefoot’s Pebax foam and just a tiny bit of the firmness of the heel. Later, when I did my speed work in the shoe, I noticed how the firmness of the heel cued my subconscious to roll forward as quickly as possible to get the springy toe-off from the forefoot and spatula-shaped carbon plate. Don’t get me wrong, the heel of the Fast-R isn’t rock hard, but it’s not soft and bouncy like the forefoot material.
The second surprise was the fit of the upper. Last year when Puma Running came back to the scene, the uppers were a secondary story to the Nitro foam. They worked but weren’t show stoppers. The upper on the Fast-R is exceptional, especially in the race day shoe category. The fit wraps your foot securely with an airy mono-mesh upper reinforced with felt soft underlays and one of the best tongues in the game. With your foot securely locked over the midsole, you’ll be able to rip it down the road and corner with confidence.
ROBBE: I was shocked at how much I loved this shoe. My first run was a 10-mile long run, but after three miles I kicked it into marathon pace and finished out the entire run, loving every second of it. The shoe really starts to sing at faster paces, and when you hit that levered plate just right, it’s a Rice Krispie-level pop into the next step. It’s just a lot of fun, and that’s been hard to come by these days.
The upper is maybe the best part about this shoe. Super breathable, pretty much see-through, and by far the best lockdown of any racing shoe right now (though the Saucony Endorphin Pro+ is pretty close). You can tell it comes from a company that knows a thing or two about soccer cleats. From heel to toe, you feel strapped in, allowing your foot to harness all the energy from the midsole and plate propulsion.
Speaking of the midsole, I was surprised at how stable this shoe felt on the run, because it didn’t feel that stable walking around on account of the heel section. But when the pace is pushed, that sensation disappears. The feeling of the ride is a bit on the firmer side (of race shoes, anyway), but by no means is it dead or flat. Quite the opposite. It’s just the right amount of energy return and ground feel, and as I’ve already said, the aggressively cantilevered carbon plate creates a sensational pop off the toe. The partially integrated tongue at the top and bottom creates a semi-bootie structure that provides a super comfortable wrap around the midfoot. Last thing about the upper– the reflective Puma tape around the medial and lateral sides are a nice touch and ad a bit of structure and durability to the shoe.
As far as outsole grip, the shoe features a generous layer of PumaGrip in the forefoot, which may be our favorite outsole rubber on the market (for a road shoe, anyway). The grip is fantastic, and again, takes the top spot in the racing shoe segment.
I found the weight to be pretty perfect and just kept falling in love with this shoe the more I wore it. I can confidently say that this puts Puma in the top-tier of race day shoes. I will likely try this out in a half marathon the next chance I get, with marathon potential definitely on the table.Shop Puma Running – Men Shop Puma Running – Women
MEAGHAN: This shoe is obviously intended for racing, but I was surprised by how different it felt for “easy” running. Unlike the Nike Alphafly, which feels like a fun trampoline at just about any pace, the Fast-R lost its spark on easy miles. I know Puma considers this a marathon shoe, but I think it’s better suited for the half marathon distance and below. The stable platform, which provides a bit more confidence at those fast paces, paired with the substantial full-length carbon plate, really pops when you’re running all-out.
THOMAS: There isn’t much to complain about with the shoe. If we could squeeze in a little more pop off the toes, I’d take it, but that’s about it.
ROBBE: I think the only thing I’ll say here is that maybe it’s too snug in the forefoot? I actually loved the sensation and had no issues with it over 10 miles, but some people may feel a little constricted. This is definitely not a shoe for the #widefootfam.
Kind of weird since I was running on roads and gravel trail, but there were definitely some little chunks out of the sides of the Pebax section in the forefoot, and the painted part of the Puma logo wore off almost immediately. Not sure how that happened, but it did.
As with other Puma shoes in the past, it may run just a tad long, but thanks to the snug midfoot, I really didn’t notice it.
Lastly, the availability of their racing shoes (or, really, lack thereof) is… frustrating. Not so much with the Fast-R, but we still have yet to see an adequate drop of the Deviate Nitro Elite, and it’s been almost nine months since Molly won in the shoe. While we saw a very limited release of the Fast-R this week (more than likely a placeholder to ensure the Fast-R can be used at Boston and the World Athletics Championship), it’s very possible we don’t see a wide release of the Fast-R until the end of 2023. Originally it was slated for a June release, but we’ve been taking every brand’s original timeline and adding at least 3-6 months to it.
Most of this is of no fault to Puma, as the shipping delays, factory shutdowns, and carbon fiber sourcing have all created a rat’s nest of distribution snags.
Oh, also the price tag went from $220 to $250, which is disappointing, but again, we’re saying everyone jack their prices up across the board.Shop Puma Running – Men Shop Puma Running – Women
MEAGHAN: The Puma Fast-R Nitro Elite is absolutely a contender in the super shoe world. I personally didn’t love the original Nitro Elite, so this addition to the lineup was a warm welcome. I should also note that Puma has made some updates to the production model of this shoe (I received an early sample). Most notably: shortened PwrTape (overlays) on the upper, an altered texture to the outsole, and some new heel slits (to slow down and stabilize the heel further).
I’ve put about 50 miles on my pair of Fast-R, and they’re holding up well. This is one of those shoes that will stay in my rotation for workout days, even after writing up the review. And I may even lace them up for race day next month. That is a rarity.
THOMAS: This bad cat fits into my top-tier shelf of race day shoes. You’ll see it lined up next to ASICS Metaspeed Sky, Nike Vaporfly Next% 2, and the Nike Alphafly. The Fast-R will make many runners’ lists as it becomes more widely available. It fits great, is fun to run in, and delivers the speed we’re all chasing.
ROBBE: If this is the direction Puma is heading, I’m here for all of it. I’m happy to report that I was genuinely shocked at how much I loved this shoe. I can’t wait to take it out for more speed workouts and race day throughout the year. It’s definitely giving my favorite race day shoe, the ASICS Metaspeed Sky, a run for its money.
You can pick up the Puma Fast-R Nitro Elite for $250 in late 2022 at the buy button below. In the meantime, you should probably get into a pair of the Puma Velocity Nitro 2, which is also a great shoe and you can actually pick up right now (or in the very near future).Shop Puma Running – Men Shop Puma Running – Women
For more information about the design process of the Fast-R and Puma’s future in racing, check out our interview with Todd Falker, product line manager at Puma Running, in this episode of The Drop podcast (21:49):
Want to learn more about how our review process works? Check out this guide.
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