Most runners know Saucony from the Lexington-based company’s best seller, the Kinvara. The Kinvara continues to work well for me, having worn it for 2 of my best marathons to-date. It offers lightweight responsive cushioning in a 4mm drop configuration that’s neither too minimalist nor overly engineered monstrosities.
But Saucony has a few stalwarts in its stable of shoes too, from the dependable workhorses like Ride, Guide, Hurricane to the Triumph (review by CY here). On the lighter end of the scale, there’s the Endorphin Racer, Fastwitch (both of which unfortunately aren’t sold in this country) and Virrata. And now, there’s another which is a little harder to peg, the Zealot ISO.
Released as part of the 3-shoe ISO series (the other 2 being the Triumph ISO and Hurricane ISO) in early 2015, the Zealot is a completely new shoe. Some say it replaces the Cortana (not related to a certain IT company from Redmond!) but I’ve no experience in the Cortana to comment on that. It’s a harder shoe to define, since it’s a little of everything – it doesn’t appear as performance-based as the Kinvara, yet the Zealot is lighter than Ride (and just 0.2oz heavier that the Breakthru). Plus, it has an offset of 4mm, similar to the Kinvara. Let me try to break it down as simply as I can, starting with the upper.
ISOFIT, if you’re unaware, is Saucony’s fitting technology, an inner sleeve or bootie that wraps around the foot. The sock-like fit is then complemented by the external cage which functions like fingers extending upwards from the midsole providing a semblance of structure and support to the shoe. The ISOFIT sleeve has a soft spine running down the middle (in blue) and ventilated mesh on either side of it. The construction and choice of material of the ISOFIT allow for a fit that’s just right, never constrictive nor overly snug. The use of mesh means ventilation isn’t compromised either. The vamp sports a zigzag patterned mesh and the upper is held together by soft PU and welded overlays, as well as harder plastics towards the rear.
The cage looks like a stencil cut-out. Since the material used isn’t as thick as those from Salomon or adidas, the weight of the shoe is kept low. The Zealot’s flat laces are minimally stretchable and secures the shoe well in all my runs without coming undone. I’ve tested this via single or double knotting and I always ended my runs not having to stop to re-tie my shoes.
Although the fit is near perfect for me (forefoot is a little roomier than the Kinvara), some could experience minimal bunching of the ISOFIT spine should they cinch the laces a little too tightly. When auditioning the shoe, just try out several sizes to be sure you get your best fit.
At 8.95oz (254g) for my US10, the Zealot would be in the sweet spot for many runners as their marathon shoe. In contrast, Asics Nimbus 17 and Cumulus 17 weigh 11.4oz and 12.6oz (US9) respectively. Each ounce of weight saved without having to compromise on the support and cushioning counts a lot over the course of 42KM. Running light is even more crucial if that 42KM comes after a tough swim and an energy-sapping bike ride.
The all-round padding isn’t excessive. Saucony wisely left the plusher treatment to the Triumph ISO. So what we get on the Zealot feels just nice. RunDry material around the collar is standard in the ISO Series and Kinvara, so you can find the same here as well. Since the tongue is part of the ISOFIT system, you won’t be annoyed by any slippage.
Around the back, an external heel counter cups and locks the heel down nicely. I like the fact that the piece of plastic is configured differently – broader near the base for support and in strip form towards the collar. Again, weight savings without compromising the support.
Still on the upper, there are plenty of large reflective elements all over the shoe, even on the outsole. Added to that is the ViziOrange colorway that will ensure you stand out under all lighting conditions.
There’s a considerable amount of midsole flare here, just like what you would see on the Kinvara.
The perforated sockliner is removable and sits on top of a layer of thin foam.
The task of support and cushioning falls on the PWRGRID+ (Powergrid+) midsole. The crash pad, the yellow section in the photo below, is made of SRC (Special Rebound Compound), and it’s meant to offer a smoother heel to toe transition.
The outsole is largely a full contact one. As you can see, the instep is filled in (blue triangular foam in the arch area) resulting in a pretty stable shoe. While there are scuffing marks there – it’s made of foam anyway – other sections of the outsole are without a doubt durable. The yellow lugs, interspersed with deep flex grooves, from the front to midsection are made of IBR+ (Injection Blown Rubber) which is the firmest form of blown rubber I’ve experienced. The orange bits at the heel section are Saucony’s XT900 carbon rubber, which are even harder to the touch. So how does it all come together?
I’ve logged over 50K in the Zealot and one of the reasons why I nearly always reach out for it is because of its versatility. It’s built like a traditional shoe, but has a 4mm drop similar to that of the Kinvara (my favorite marathon shoe). At the same time it’s at least 2 ounces lighter than most trainers in the market today. It has a plush step-in feel but takes on a different character the moment you take your first steps, which is when you’ll notice the firmness of the outsole. Thankfully, that initial jarring effect is tempered by the softer Powergrid+ midsole, so the firmness never gets into uncomfortable territory. The same could be said of the heel where the slight stiffness goes away once you get into a groove.
This is a shoe that will be enjoyed running at a brisker pace due to that responsive nature. Toe spring is moderate but enough to get you a smooth and snappy toe-off.
The longest distance covered in the Zealot was a 21K of varied pace and elevation. It’s light enough that I’m able to get into a quick cadence going up the hills and protective enough to dampen the shocks coming down the other side. I encountered no hotspots nor any irritation of any sort from the ISOFIT sleeve. A friend has even worn it for a 60K road ultra and raved about it.
The Zealot is, without a doubt, one of the most versatile shoes out there. Some may feel that not having a standout quality is a sign of weakness but just look at the football giants and their utility players who can play in any position, covering end-to-end and plugging holes in the team. There’s always room for such players in the clubs. And there’s always room in the crowded shoe cabinet for a shoe like the Zealot.
Disclaimer: The Saucony Zealot ISO is a sample pair provided courtesy of Saucony Malaysia. It is available now from Running Lab and Stadium outlets for RM469.