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Puma Fast-R Nitro Elite Review

Puma Fast-R Nitro Elite Introduction

As a running brand, Puma has improved in leaps and bounds over the past 2 years. Puma now has a really solid lineup of training shoes with no major weaknesses. The Deviate Nitro 2 was my favourite carbon-plated trainer of last year, however when it comes to marathon racers, the Puma super shoe has been good but not spectacular.

When I reviewed the Deviate Elite 2 (and the original version), I found both of them to be really durable, decently stable and very versatile super shoes, however they lacked propulsion- I didn’t find them aggressive enough. I craved more speed assistance and more punchy toe-offs.

The Fast-R Nitro is Puma’s second super shoe and it’s priced above the Deviate Elite. It has a really radical design with a decoupled heel and an exposed carbon plate.

The Fast-R Nitro Elite isn’t a new shoe. It was launched in very limited quantities early last year but since then, it has been one of the hardest super shoes to acquire due to Puma’s manufacturing issues.

I finally managed to get a pair at the Singapore Marathon Expo in December. This is a limited edition version that has the Singapore Marathon logo printed on its insole. This version has a number of differences from the early version that was seeded to reviewers early last year.

This production version weighs 7.9 oz (224 g) compared to the preproduction version which weighed 7 oz (198 g) for a men’s US 9. The outsole of this version is also different. It has flatter outsole rubber on the rearfoot and forefoot compared to the preproduction version. It costs $250 which is $30 more than the Deviate Elite 2 it and has an 8 mm drop.

Puma Fast-R Nitro Elite First Impressions

My first run was a 9 km workout consisting of a warm up and 7 x 1 km repeats. My first thought after the first couple of strides was that it felt unlike any other shoe I’ve tried. The firm heel combined with the super soft forefoot felt unique and interesting.

It felt as if there was a small, round rock wedged underneath my heels. This was the decoupled EVA heel. It took a while to get used to and by the end of the workout, the sensation didn’t seem so prominent anymore.

The upper felt noticeably narrow, especially in the midfoot but it wasn’t uncomfortable. Heel lockdown was very good and I was surprised how performance-oriented the semi-bootie construction felt.

I was impressed with how fast transitions felt. Transitions weren’t smooth because of the contrasting densities of the midsole but the shoe felt really aggressive and it was easy to increase my speed. The average pace of the workout was faster than I was expecting it to be.

Interestingly, the shoe that reminded me most was the Mizuno Wave Rider 25 from 2021 because that shoe also had a really firm heel with a super soft forefoot.

Puma Fast-R Nitro Elite Upper

The upper of the Fast-R has a design which is just as interesting as its sole. It’s made from mono-mesh (unlike the Deviate Elite 2) which is engineered mesh. Mono-mesh is thinner and more breathable than engineered mesh but it feels harder and doesn’t conform to the foot as well.

It has a semi-bootie construction with stretchy, knitted material forming the collar, tongue and inner gusset. Normally I’m not a fan of bootie-constructions because of the sub-par lockdown but the Fast-R has no foot lockdown issues. The tongue also stays in place during runs because of the knitted gusset.

There’s a hard TPU heel fin which is there to provide external heel counter support. I’m not a fan of the heel fin because it gets in my way when I’m taking the shoes off. I find heel lockdown to be excellent although I do have to use a runner’s knot.

The Fast-R fits true to size with a narrow heel, midfoot, and toe-box. If you have flat feet, you can feel the narrow midfoot cradle your arch but it’s not painful, just noticeable. It’s definitely not a shoe designed for wide feet.

Puma Fast-R Nitro Elite Sole Unit

The ride of the Fast-R Elite is one of the most interesting that I’ve felt in a long time. I have to give Puma credit for the design because it has potential gimmick written all over it but after trying it, I admit that it’s an incredibly unique design which actually works (at certain speeds).

The Fast-R Elite has a dual-density midsole with firm(ish) EVA foam in the rearfoot and soft, NITRO Elite nitrogen-infused PEBA foam in the forefoot. A rigid, carbon PWRPLATE connects the rearfoot to the forefoot and there is no foam in the midfoot section.

It feels as if your foot is sitting on a steep downward slope and even though it’s only an 8 mm drop, it feels like much more than 8 mm due to the big difference in density between the heel and forefoot.

This setup is designed to stabilise your heel when you land and then to quickly roll you through transitions from your heel to your forefoot. In reality, the shoe does exactly that. The transition from heel to forefoot doesn’t feel natural or smooth but it’s very effective at allowing and encouraging you to increase your speed and cadence.

The Fast-R is most enjoyable and most effective at short, threshold runs and fast bursts. The longest run I did in it was 30 kilometres and it didn’t feel great at those slower paces above 5 minutes per kilometre. The slower you run, the more prominent the firm EVA heel feels and during my long run, the heel felt kind of harsh and I didn’t enjoy it as much as other super shoes.

At slow paces above 5 minutes per km, the midfoot gap also becomes more noticeable so the Fast-R isn’t as versatile as the Deviate Elite 2 which can handle slower paces better. The Fast-R is a shoe designed for fast running only. At faster paces, transitions are more seamless and it feels more special.

Something that the Fast-R geometry is missing is the high-toe spring. A higher toe would make the shoe feel more fluid at toe-offs and more efficient. It currently feels very flat compared to the fastest super shoes.

The carbon plate is a unique one which has transparent sides and longitudinal grooves. Just like the plate in the Deviate Elite 2, the PWRPLATE in the Fast-R is more flexible than most carbon plates so the Fast-R isn’t very rigid. It’s interesting that the plate comes with a breakage warning attached to it. The middle of it isn’t surrounded by foam so it’s more susceptible to snapping than other carbon plates.

The Fast-R uses PUMAGRIP-LT outsole rubber which is lighter but less durable than regular PUMAGRIP. The entire forefoot is covered with rubber and most of the rearfoot. The rearfoot EVA wedge has 3 thick flex grooves which allow the outsole rubber to wrap around the rounded heel unit.

The Fast-R Elite isn’t as durable as the other shoes in the Nitro range. The chunk of EVA foam in the heel of the Fast-R isn’t as resistant to scuffs and chips as Puma’s supercritical Nitro/Nitro Elite foams so it wears down faster. My Fast-R pair is showing noticeable wear on the outer lateral heel, in between the flex grooves where I naturally strike the ground.

Traction is decent but nowhere near as grippy as the Deviate Elite 2 and the Deviate Nitro 2 which both have forefoot lugs which protrude outwards. The Fast-R outsole rubber has a flatter design.

Puma Fast-R Nitro Elite Conclusions

I don’t think the Fast-R Elite turned out to be the flagship, long-distance marathon racer that they designed it to be. The fact that Puma-sponsored marathon runners such as Molly Seidel and Rory Linkletter are still choosing the Deviate Nitro Elite 2 over the Fast-R to compete in is proof of this.

I would personally also choose the Deviate Nitro Elite 2 over the Fast-R for racing a marathon in. It feels more efficient over long distances and it’s more comfortable because of its smoother ride transitions. The Deviate Elite 2 is also much more durable so you don’t have to worry about wearing it out during training runs.

The Fast-R is however faster for short distances. Intervals, short threshold runs and short races are what the Fast-R excels in. The aggressive sole setup makes it feel propulsive and the Nitro Elite forefoot foam makes it feel energetic. I’ll still continue using the Fast-R for workouts because it’s such a fun shoe.

Then there’s the price. At $250, the Fast-R is a really hard sell and I wouldn’t recommend you spend your hard-earned cash on it at its full retail price. It’s not an S-tier marathon racer and its lack of long-distance comfort limits its versatility. For the same price, you can get a more cushioned, smoother, more efficient, first-class marathon racing shoe.

You could get the Fast-R and use it for 5K/10K/half marathon races but at 7.9 oz (224 g), it’s on the heavy side and you’ll be paying the price of a full marathon racer.

In order to improve the Fast-R, Puma needs to change the EVA heel to a more forgiving, softer foam (such as Nitro foam) and they need to smoothen transitions through the midfoot for better long-distance comfort.

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