Saucony Endorphin Shift: a Bondi Alternative?

Here is what a user recently posted on our Reader Forum: “Going to start running more again as the past year has been mostly focused on cycling. Looking for new shoes for training on roads. I used to love my Altra Escalante for the large toe box but the zero drop causes issues for me with plantar fasciitis. What shoes do you love that have a decent toe box, 4-6 mm drop, decent cushion but nothing crazy. Do HOKAs have bigger toe boxes now?”

In the 15 (to date) responses to this post you’ll see Nike mentioned, and Topo Athletic, and then someone endorsed the Saucony Endorphin Speed. What I’m reviewing today is the Endorphin Shift, which is the slightly heavier, not-PEBAX, training cousin to the Speed. I chose this shoe rather than the lighter Endorphin family cousins because I’m an overpronator and I run in an orthotic. It’s why I run mostly in HOKAs: cushion, low drop, and that bucket-seat architecture, where the midsole cradles the foot (and the orthotic if the runner so chooses).

The Endorphin Shift may be a trainer, but I guess it’s relative. HOKA’s Bondi 7 weighs in at 10.7oz, and the Bondi B reissue – in which I run with replacement laces – is a svelte 10.3oz (svelte for a Bondi). The Endorphin Shift weighs 10.1oz so, for a supportive trainer, you can see why I consider this a reasonably light shoe.

It’s especially light when you look at how tall it is. The Bondi 7 has a 4mm drop heel-to-toe, and that’s from 33mm in the heel to 29mm in the forefoot. The Endorphin Shift’s heights are 38mm and 34mm respectively. So, this is a plush shoe, yes? Well…

…not exactly. It’s acceptably plush in the forefoot, possibly more so than HOKA’s Elevon 2 (which would be my go-to shoe if it had more forefoot cushion). Where the Endorphin Shift is noticeably lacking in Bondi-like cushion is in the rearfoot. That’s not a bad thing, depending on who you are. Take for example this member of our reader forum, who settled on HOKA’s Rincon because, in his words, most other HOKAs were “overly cushioned; you couldn't feel the texture of the road.” This is a complaint from those who don’t like HOKAs: too cushy.

About the forefoot volume, Saucony has changed a lot since I worked there (I ran its bike division in the late 1990s, which included the company I sold to them). The Saucony footwear brand was sold since then (twice, I think), and many of the folks who worked there moved on. But there is one thing that never seemed to change about that company, which is its fit profile: wide in the forefoot, narrow in the heel. The Endorphin Shift is absolutely this shoe.

And I think that’s partly why the shoe is not quite as plush as the Bond B in which I’m running. It is taller, yes, but the rearfoot is narrower, and it’s easy to see from the rear of the Bondi B against the Endorphin Shift, but not quite as easy when you look at the footprint of each shoe (above). The outsole of the Endorphin Shift is demonstrably narrower in the rearfoot when you measure it, and demonstrably wider in the forefoot of the shoe. Where it’s really obvious is inside the upper, when you lace up the shoe and when you run in it.

You might think this shoe has a stability issue, what with its narrow heel and tall midsole profile, however I find the shoe quite stable, even when I ran on trails. I do run in an orthotic in this shoe, with no trouble. I pop it out of the Bondi B and into the Endorphin Shift, and back again. No prob.

There is a HOKA that shares the width profile of the Endorphin Shift: the Carbon X. This shoe – which is my favorite racing flat of all time, even if it isn’t designated a flat – shares the outsole width of the Endorphin Shift both in the forefoot and in the rearfoot. Almost to a millimeter. Those shoes are pictured against each other in the image above.

The end game – the way the designer gets the shoe to perform the way he or she wants – seems more or less the same with the Endorphin Shift and the HOKAs with which I’m familiar, but the process is different. What I want is a soft shoe up-and-down, but a firm shoe side-to-side. In other words, I want cushion, but I also want lateral support. Here is the Endorphin Shift bookended by the HOKA Bondi B (left) and HOKA Carbon X.

You can see in both HOKA models the massive midsole wrap, inside of which the foot is nested. This supports the foot, and the orthotic if one is used. There is a stiff plastic semi-transparent heel counter in the Endorphin Shift that spans both the midsole and the heel, with the same goal in mind.

Also, you’ll note that both the HOKAs and the Endorphin Shift eschew that carve-out in the arch that seems like a good idea but in my experience never is.

I have not been a fan of plastic inserts and other medial posting gimmicks: dual density midsole foam and what have you. However, most of those gimmicks – and Saucony and others have been guilty of deploying them if you go back far enough – failed to do the one thing HOKA succeeded at – tying the midsole to the upper. If you look at what Saucony did here, and in the image below you can see what I’m writing about, if it was unclear by the image above…

… the upper and the midsole are connected. Let me put it this way. If you put a shipping container on the flatbed trailer, it doesn’t matter how good the suspension of the trailer if you don’t tie the container to it. The container will just tip over the side. (Actually, this brings up a bad memory, as we once lost an entire shipping container full of wetsuit rubber when it fell off the ship and into the ocean. But I digress.) It’s the same paradigm. This is my problem with a lot of shoes today. I tried to explain this to the On Running folks. It’s why I can’t run in Nike. If you don’t tie the fate of the upper to the fate of the midsole, it doesn’t matter how medial-compression-resistant you make the midsole: your foot will simply tip over the medial side, especially if (like me) you’re using an orthotic.

This is one big reason why, in my opinion, the Endorphin Shift, though a tall shoe, is a stable one.

I have to really snug this shoe down to work for me, because it’s so forefoot roomy. In point of fact, it’s just a little too roomy for me (but not by much, and I have to do the same thing with my Carbon Xs). But look, while the aggregate "you" have HOKA way out in front when we ask you all what you’re training in...

...HOKA is still just at 26 percent user preference among us all. That means 74 percent of us are training in something else, and a large reason why is that many don’t think HOKA has enough forefoot volume (in particular, forefoot width). So, there you go.

The Saucony Endorphin Shift is priced at $140. It comes in men’s half sizes from size-7 to size-13, and then in size-14 and size-15. It comes in 5 colorways thankfully (the black you see here would be perfect for me if I was still waiting tables). The women’s version also comes in 5 colors and is available in half-sizes from women’s size-5 to size-12.

The Shift is the “trainiest” of Sauconys the 3 Endorphin models. The raciest is the Endorphin Pro, and in between is the Endorphin Speed. I may try the Speed at some point. But my approach – and my I’m reviewing the Shift now – stems from my 50 years of competitive running, and the “competitive” part of competitive running is the least important. In fact, one’s competitive career will be shortlived if one doesn’t take care of oneself during training. We have endured the era of the high-ramp shoes, the minimalist shoes, and I have come to the following conclusion: I’m not a Tarahumara Indian; he can’t eat my diet (successfully); and I can’t run in his sandals (successfully). While it does not precisely tick off all my fit and function imperatives, Saucony has finally made a shoe I can run in. This shoe is, I hope, the first of a broad range of Sauconys that caters to runners like me.