Running events are slowly starting to return to India, so many runners would be looking to buy new race day shoes. And the most hyped of the lot are shoes with the game-changing carbon technology that has helped athletes smash several records across all distances. These include a marathon world record and the first-ever sub-2-hour marathon for the reigning Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge.
The two shoes with carbon plates featured here, were worn by various athletes at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and even had podium finishes. For the purpose of this review, they have been put through a prolonged road test of over two months. However, I haven’t raced in them because the running events haven’t completely returned just yet. Here’s how these two pairs fared during my runs and other workouts.
Puma Deviate Nitro: The Puma Deviate Nitro shoes are among the most affordable racing shoes that make use of the carbon plate technology. The American long distance runner Molly Seidel competed in these on her way to winning the bronze medal at Tokyo 2020 women's marathon. Of course, the shoes that most elite athletes wear are highly personalised to their needs, but the shoes’ DNA remains the same even when you buy it off the shelves or from an online retailer.
Compared to the regular racing flats such as Adidas Adios Boost or Asics Gel Noosa Fast, the Puma Deviate Nitro’s sole is almost twice as thick giving the shoes a lot of height. The brand has inserted a carbon fibre plate into a relatively affordable, albeit slightly firmer, foam that makes up the soles of the shoes. The upper is made of a dual layer fused mesh and is extremely breathable. While that works like a charm in our Indian weather conditions, winter is coming and those in the north might want to get some cold weather socks along with this pair. Staying with the upper, I love the subtle, neon-rainbow-coloured stripes on a white background (the pair I received and what Seidel wore in Tokyo 2020) and I suspect the designers knew what they were up to and this was their subtle way of showing where they stand on gender issues. There are plenty of solid colour options available as well. Like most of the new carbon-equipped racing shoes, Deviate Nitro doesn’t have any sock liner (that cushioning around the back and side of your foot).
Coming to the performance, they do feel pretty bouncy the minute you start moving in them but the sole is firm enough so that your heel doesn’t sink in with every stride. The shoes provide a lift-off greater than any other regular running shoes I have used thanks to the carbon plate. It almost feels like as if the foot isn’t doing all the work it is supposed to. The minimalist uppers and lack of sock-liner doesn’t take away from the functionality of the shoes and the feet don’t slip around at all. There are elastic wrap-arounds on which the shoe tongues are built, and these keep your feet in place while in motion. The big difference from traditional racing flats and these new racing shoes is the heel to toe drop, which is a significant factor. If you prefer a lower drop or use barefoot shoes, the Deviate Nitro will take a bit of getting used to. I used these shoes during the monsoon on the streets of Kolkata and the grip was just about decent, but not great. A natural heel-striker, these shoes felt very comfortable to me but I did try mid-foot and forefoot strike running styles and the shoes responded just fine. However, to get the most of the carbon plate push back during lift-off, I feel mid-foot and heel-strike runners are likely to find these shoes a lot more effective.
I even tried some regular HIIT sessions and Olympic lifting with these shoes. While the shoes are good for skipping, jumping and body-weight exercises, including lunges, the high heel-to-toe drop throws you off balance while doing squats. While using weights, the shoes do not feel steady at all especially when I was doing squats.
I have been running since 2009 and have used plenty of shoes but have never come across a decent pair for running from Puma. This is the first that I actually like and find fit for long distance running. In fact, Runner’s World magazine says that the Deviate Nitro “marks the brand’s serious return to road running shoes.” And to add to that, these are the most affordable carbon tech running shoes on the market today.
Asics MetaSpeed Edge: Though not first in the carbon tech race (Nike beat everyone), Asics adopted a slightly different approach to the. It broadly divided runners into two categories--those who depend on longer strides and those who depend on cadence (number of steps) to go fast. The Japanese brand developed two very different but identical looking carbon-plated shoes for these two types of runners. For the “stride” runners they created the MetaSpeed Sky. The MetaSpeed Edge is for those with a “cadence” style, one that involve smaller steps made while hovering over the ground with minimal up and down motion. These runners increase their speed by both extending their stride length and increasing the number of steps they take per minute. The winners of the men's and women's triathlons at Tokyo 2020 wore the MetaSpeed.
I had received a pair of Tokyo 2020 MetaSpeed Edge in a stunning red-bleeding-to-black colour. These shoes have full length carbon plates sandwiched somewhere inside the soles, which are made of a new nylon-based foam. This is a lot softer than the Puma Deviate Nitro and feels a lot more bouncy. So much so that at every foot-strike my heels felt like they were sinking slightly into the shoe beds before getting a push-back off the floor. When you transition to the forefoot, the carbon plate comes into action and gives a huge lift-off. These shoes made me feel like I had springs under my feet. They were that bouncy thanks to the softer nylon foam (called FF Blast) which also returns to its normal shape quickly. The MetaSpeed Edge are about 30 grams lighter than Puma’s Deviate Nitro but have a similar toe drop at 8mm despite having slightly thinner soles.
These shoes take a bit more getting used to than the Puma pair because of how soft the soles are, but once they do, they are fantastic. Asics claims these shoes improve performance by 1.2% and though I do not have enough data to back up that claim, they do feel much faster than one of my favourite and quickest racing flats: the Asics Gel Noosa Fast. They are definitely faster than the Puma pair. The uppers are wonderfully thin, yet sturdy and feel like socks. However, these are not as comfortable as the woven sock-like uppers used in Adidas Ultraboost, Nike Flyknit or Reebok Floatride of the past. The shoes run half a size smaller, so it’s best to try them on before buying. These are the fastest and brightest shoes I have in my cabinet today.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.