Our house has a total of three closets: a coat closet, a closet for our clothes, and then a closet full of my running gear; or, as I like to call it, the closet of shame. Why shame? Well, until a recent trip to the Salvation Army, it was crammed with an absurd amount of running shoes—not to mention clothes, watches, hydration packs, etc.—most of which have been worn a few times and then relegated to the shelves for a variety of reasons, but mostly because of my transition from heel striking to fore/mid-foot striking last year.
It took about three days of looking at empty shelves before I started fantasizing about all the sleek and light shoes I could fill them with. This time around I decided to be more methodical and only audition shoes that represent something I’m missing from my rotation. What I haven’t had luck finding has been a pair of racing flats that fits on the battleships I call feet; that is, until I tried Saucony’s Grid Type A5 flat.
I have somewhat flat, wide, and full-volume feet; they’re ideal if you’re Fred Flinstone and need to push your car home from the rock quarry, but otherwise they’re a downright nuisance. The A5s are the first racing flat I’ve tried that feels downright comfortable by any standard. That’s not to imply that you need possess the pedal equivalent of a Humvee to appreciate these flats, but if you have a full-volume foot then you’re in for a special treat, assuming you size up the right amount.
I usually wear a size 12, and based off this Shoefitr recommended a size 13 in the A5s. Just to be safe I ordered them in a 12.5 and a 13, and actually found the 12.5 fit better, with ample room in the toe box and width in the midfoot, while still securely and comfortably locking down my heel and gripping the top of my foot. I was surprised at just how comfortable the A5s felt out of the box, as the other flats I’ve tried have always felt very slightly stiff and awkward to walk in (not that you should be walking that much in them, but they’ve got to pass this basic comfort test). Off the bat, I loved the combination of the A5′s snug heel counter and well-balanced lacing system. At no time did I feel uneven pressure across the top of my foot, my heels never felt like they would slip out, and the laces seemed to maintain their tightness throughout each run without causing any hot spots.
The only fault I can really find with this shoe is in the sizing, and it’s a problem I have in most flats. Wearing my usual size 12 meant my smaller toes felt a little restricted, and the midfoot felt too narrow; however, in a size 12.5 the toebox does seem a little too long. Still, this is a worthwhile trade-off for having a nice wide toe box that allows my toes to splay more naturally. This is the first time I’ve experienced a toe box like this in a racing flat and I hope it’s a trend that catches on.
The A5′s weigh in at a svelte 5.8 oz. in a size 9, and are relatively low to the ground (12mm forefoot; 16mm heel; 4mm drop) which helps them feel more stable to me. The comfy EVA in the midsole also means they manage to feel adequately cushioned despite this low stack height. The overlays are made of Saucony’s FlexFilm, also featured in their popular Kinvara 3′s, which is welded as opposed to stitched on, making for a more seamless upper that manages to feel invisible and secure at the same time. Since most of the upper is mesh, the A5′s are also highly breathable, and I imagine these flats will stay nice and coo in warmer weather. I did find them a bit breezy as the mercury has started to drop in Brooklyn, but I always prefer my feet on the cold side, so I don’t have concerns about this upper in the winter. I think if your feet are prone to getting chilly then you might want to invest in some warmer socks for winter use.
The outsole (seen above) is fantastic for a racing flat and they grip much better than my daily trainer, the Brooks PureFlow (noted for being a little slippery when wet). None of the rubber nubs has fallen off (~55 miles as of this review), the wear is even, and there is no evident compression to the EVA in the midsole, so I expect to get a decent number of miles out of these. There are drainage holes on the bottom and while that means your soles can get a little damp running on rainy days, I think it’s a worthwhile trade off for the extra cooling and fast drying times.. The way I look at it, on wet days my feet are going to get wet no matter what, so it’s better to have a shoe that is prepared to deal with drainage.
From an aesthetic point of view, I’ve never been particularly drawn to Saucony’s colorways (I’m probably in the minority of people who don’t like the looks of the Kinvara 3′s) but I actually like the look of the A5′s in royal blue. If you’re looking for something with more flash, they also come in Slime Green (seen below; yes, that’s what the color is actually called).
The way I tend to audition shoes is by making a list of anything I notice while I’m running in them, and to that end, the A5′s have performed very admirably. Generally speaking, the more I notice during a run, the less I like the shoe. The biggest praise I can give the A5′s, besides that they make me want to run fast, is that I don’t really notice they’re there. For a comparison: I have enjoyed running in Newton’s Distance S, even at over half marathon distance, but as my runs progress I tend to notice the pressure of the overlay on the lateral side of the toe box and the activator lugs can sometimes make me feel a touch unstable when I’m turning. The A5′s, on the other hand, feel like an extension of my foot. I had a fairly conservative progression run on schedule for today and the A5′s were more than up to the task. These flats do seem to reward you for landing mid-foot, and my form felt effortless and fluid throughout my run (by comparison, the Newtons sometimes leave me feeling a bit too up on my toes). The combination of the grippy outsole, the low stack height, and the light-weight EVA midsole makes for a smooth ride that has a decent amount of cushioning, while still preserving an ample amount of proprioception.
I highly recommend the Saucony Grid Type A5′s to anyone looking for a racing flat or a minimal trainer. The upper feels very secure and comfortable, the outsole has fantastic grip, and the midsole provides enough cushioning to take the edge off the pounding, while still preserving some road feel. As I continue to refine my form, drop weight, and build my foot strength, I can imagine these becoming an every day trainer; however, until that time, I’m going to just have to settle for pushing the pace on my speed days.