Shoe addiction? Well maybe. The Saucony Virrata was my first love and although this review is long overdue (I’ve owned a pair of Virratas since I began running in 2014), it’s certainly warranted. This shoe has brought me across the finish line of many a half marathon and, despite the number of alternatives I’ve tried on, nothing has fit quite as well as this shoe.
Despite my personal fondness towards the shoe, it wasn’t initially well-received by the market. Its inception came from Saucony’s extremely popular ‘Natural Running’ model, the Kinvara, and designers thought to shave down the popular marathon shoe to make a more minimalist, racing-type one. They took off a lot of the weight and some of the cushioning, they made the shoe more flexible, with a tighter fit, and they changed the heel-to-toe offset to 0mm instead of the previous 4mm… and thus the Virrata was born! There is no other shoe like it on the market – not quite a training shoe, not quite a racing flat – the Virrata is a true hybrid.
Like other firsts of a kind, there wasn’t much of a market for the Virrata at the beginning and its popularity didn’t truly pick up until the release of its second iteration. Finally, critics started realizing that this was an excellent transition shoe, helping runners adjust from heavily- cushioned to more minimalist running. Unfortunately, just as this shoe began to find its place in the hearts of many, Saucony decided to discontinue it – despite now being well reviewed on various well-regarded websites.
So, where did Saucony excel in making the Virrata series?
Flex – The shoe is extremely flexible. The pattern of the outsole cushioning allows the foot to bend from side to side as well as from front to back. Because of the shoe’s superior flexibility, it has a glove-like fit, making the shoe seem like an extension of your foot. Most zero drop, cushioned shoes on the market are much more rigid (think Altra), causing the ride to feel sloppier and the foot not locked in.
Cushion – Looking for a racing shoe but not ready to commit to a racing flat? The Virrata has cushioning in all the right places. Despite shaving 50g of weight off of the Kinvara, it retains the essentials. The midsole and outsole’s EVA material is firm, providing a responsive ride, but well-cushioned relative to its overall weight. An efficient runner with proper form should have no problem completing half to full marathon distances in this shoe.
Speed – The build of this shoe encourages a forefoot strike pattern and brings the runner’s mass to their toes. Tipping a runner’s equilibrium forward causes a faster turnover and results in an overall faster pace. This, coupled with the firm, responsive cushioning and light weight, makes running fast seem effortless with the Virrata.
Why did Saucony seemingly abandon the Virrata line and discontinue the shoe? Some critiques claim that it wasn’t a quality shoe, topping out at just over 300km of use, but for the price point (2200NT) it seems reasonable. Other reviewers mention it causes injuries; but to be fair this can happen in any shoe, especially those requiring strong feet. Or perhaps, for Saucony, this line just wasn’t making the cut profit-wise. But for those of us who have fallen in love, it will be tough to find another shoe exactly like this one.
If you haven’t tried this shoe before you’re missing out. There are still a few stores in Taipei that might stock them, or try Ruten for excellent prices on a discontinued line.