Among Slowtwitchers: It's Saucony Gaining at Nike's Expense

I traveled to The Running Event in 2019 for one reason: My friend Sharon Barbano, longtime PR fixture at Saucony, convinced me I should pay attention to the new Saucony Endorphin series, to be unveiled at that show. She divined wisely that this shoe platform would mean a lot to our community of readers.

A couple of months ago we ran a poll – as we do from time to time and have done since 2007 – asking which shoe brand our readers prefer. “Race for show; Train for dough. What is your most important shoe brand for training?” That's what we asked, just as we did 13 months beforehand.

Turns out Sharon was right. The big mover between those two polls of our readers was Saucony, and very specific Saucony models as it turns out. Juggernaut HOKA remained in the top spot, it did not gain or lose in our polls, and is still at 26 percent user preference among Slowtwitchers. HOKA is still the biggest dog in this house.

Among our readers Skechers, Mizuno, Newton, ON Running, Adidas, Altra, Brooks all lost barely a tick over the past year. New Balance remained in place and ASICS gained a tick, which doesn’t surprise me because the MetaRide collection looks really intriguing to me (I think ASICS may be onto something).

But Saucony! This brand was the big gainer. Saucony moved in a short span of time from 12 percent to 19 percent among the 1300-plus Slowtwitchers who took our two polls. While I knew that the Endorphin line was something special, I didn’t expect Saucony to increase its user preference margin by north of 50 percent in only a year. I asked on our Reader Forum a number of questions. If you switched to Saucony, what brand did you switch from? And what model of Saucony did you switch to? Below is what I've learned so far, and with about 70 of reporting on their move from *something* to Saucony I think we have enough to spill from anecdotes over and into the beginnings of relevancy.

It’s the Endorphin Speed

When I asked what it was you switched to, by a wide margin it was the Endorphin series that drew you to (or back to) Saucony, and it was the Saucony Endorphin Speed that our readers most preferred. The Speed is in between the Endorphin Pro, a lightweight trainer which could work as a racing flat for a lot of triathletes; and the Endorphin Shift, which is a light-to-midweight trainer without the PEBA foam that's in that new class of energy-return foam so many of us like. The Speed seems to have that magic mix of cushion, support, and liveliness.

This follows a pattern among Slowtwitchers that has been evident for as long as I’ve been polling you all, which is to favor lightweight trainers in the 7 to 8 ounce range. For this reason, if you go back a dozen years, Saucony had a real hit with the Kinvara among our readers. We first wrote about the Kinvara in 2010, and that shoe at that time weighed 7.7oz. Saucony’s Endorphin Pro weighs 7.5oz, and the Endorphin Speed weights 7.8oz. What has drawn a number of our folks back to Saucony is that the Endorphin Speed marks a kind of round trip. User Nate Thomas wrote, “I'm definitely a Saucony => Hoka => Saucony convert.”

I think you can see the pattern here. But a lot of Saucony users moved to HOKA between 2012 and 2020 and a significant subset chose the Clifton or shoes in that weight and performance range. A number of our readers have voiced displeasure in recent years at the migration of the Clifton line, from a lighter to a progressively heavier shoe. The Clifton began its life, in 2014, at 7.9oz, and the Clifton 8 – the current model – is 8.9oz. One can see why that set of Slowtwitchers drawn to this plus-or-minus 8.0oz shoe might move out of the Clifton if something compelling came along.

The Clifton is still a huge seller for HOKA, but our readers tend to be at the leading edge of road shoe purchase behavior. They were the earliest road running adopters of HOKA beginning in 2011, and while our readers might not influence buying behavior, I think they foretell it pretty well. HOKA has kept a lot of former Clifton runners happy with a terrific shoe – the 8.2oz Mach 4 – and, yes, they are always on the lookout for their next Cliftonesque shoe. Out of several hundred articles we published last year, the news of the Mach 4 was the 3rd-most-highly-read among them. (Our Bondi X review was #5.)

Notwithstanding the continued success of the Clifton, and the surprise hit of the Mach 4 (so much better than the Mach 3), a number of our readers decamped HOKA for the Saucony Endorphin Speed, according to the responses in our Reader Forum thread. And overwhelmingly the Speed (and to some degree the Pro). Saucony’s other models just weren’t a compelling reason to change as you see in the pie chart above.

Still, as noted, HOKA got as good as it gave; HOKA did not lose any ground in user preference. The success enjoyed by the Endorphin line appeared to come out of Nike’s hide in particular, as judged by the responses in our Reader Forum thread, as of the date of the publication of this article you're reading.

More of Saucony's Adopters Are Coming From Nike

While roughly a quarter of Saucony’s rise in Slowtwitch user preference came from HOKA, half came from Nike based on the responses so far in our Reader Forum thread. A particular victim was Nike’s Pegasus Turbo. A number our users noted a specific move from that shoe to the Endorphin Speed.

Other folks responding to our questions chose the Endorphin Speed and Pro over Nike’s Zoom, Flyknit, Vaporfly series. I get the sense reading these responses that the migration is from Vaporfly to Endorphin Pro, and from Pegasus to Endorphin Speed. But that’s simplistic, and it would be wrong to draw too much of a straight line.

Also, there are some takeaways for Saucony, not all rainbows and sunshine. Its Freedom, reviewed favorably here, should be a winner among Slowtwitchers with its 7.5oz weight, but you can see from our inquiry what captured the hearts and feet of our readers and it wasn't that model. Nor especially the Endorphin Shift. The PEBA-foam Pro and Speed are magic in a bottle for Saucony, at least among our cohort. I can only assume the folks at Saucony know they've got the tiger by the tail, and have been asking themselves how best to leverage it.

But the line you can safely draw, limited to our readers, is the movement toward Saucony, and specifically to the Endorphin Speed. That shoe has struck a nerve. Our two polls asking user preference for shoes used in training were held 13 months apart, used the same language, offered almost exactly the same options from which to choose, and each were answered by more than 1,300 readers.