A bit over a year ago I asked the question When Will There Be a Trail Version of the Nike Vaporfly?
There still isn’t a trail Vaporfly. And so far, the few carbon fiber plate race shoes designed specifically for the trail, are less than impressive. Fortunately, there is a carbon fiber plate road race shoe that works surprising well for trails.
The New Balance Fuel Cell RC Elite is light, fast, stable, protective, comfy, cushy and offers good enough traction for most trail running situations. At the end of 2020, I did two trail races and lots of training runs with the Fuel Cell Elite. They were terrific and made running enjoyable.
Fuel Cell Elite Compared to Saucony Endorphin
Earlier in the year, before I got a pair of Fuel Cell Elites, I did a lot of trail running and one trail race in the Saucony Endorphin Speed. It worked okay as it was fast and protective with a nylon place (not carbon). It is 1 ounce heavier than the Fuel Cell Elites and not as grippy traction wise. The Endorphin Speed’s biggest drawback is that it is not near as stable as the Fuel Cell Elites. The Endorphin Speed is prone to rolling or twisting an ankle where the surface conditions are uneven. I also tried the Saucony Endorphin Pro that has a carbon plate as opposed to the Nylon plate in the Speed. The Pro is slightly lighter than the Speed, but the Pro did not work for me. They felt very hard. They lacked cushion compared to other ultra-cushioned plated race shoes. It may be they were just a bad pair from a production run where the foam was denser. Or perhaps they got over cooked in a shipping container sitting in the hot sun coming over from China. Or were stored improperly. Who knows, but the foam was very hard compared to the Endorphin Speed or the Fuel Cell Elite. So I returned the Endorphin Pros.
Stability Comes from Sole Shape
The stability of the Fuel Cell Elite comes from the lack of sole material on the inside (medial) side of the foot and the protrusion of the sole on the outside (lateral) side of the foot. This makes it much more difficult for the foot to roll to the outside (inversion). That is how most ankle twists or sprains occur. One steps on uneven terrain with the inside of the shoe tilting it to the outside. If there is less material on the inside, there is less leverage to tilt the foot. Likewise if there is more material to the outside, the shoe resists rolling to the outside. Some people have complained about the odd appearance and feel having the sole sticking out on the outside of the shoe.
It maybe odd, but it certainly makes the Fuel Cell Elite one of the most stable shoes on trails I have ever experienced.
The outsole consists of rubber nubs embedded in a hard thin plastic coating over the soft midsole. When first running in the shoes over rocks, the plastic coating will crack and crunch and some of the rubber nubs get pushed in a bit. It will even make a crunching sound. Think stepping on cornflakes. At first it was a bit worrisome, but they seem to be holding up. Small rocks can get trapped in between the rubber nubs. The grip the Dynaride Outsole offers is good for most trail conditions. The exception being mud where the little gaps between the nubs get filled in with dirt.
The portion of the sole that is not covered with the Dynaride outsole is soft and vulnerable to tearing on sharp rocks.
Some shoes are certainly faster than others. Especially in this era of the carbon fiber plated ultra-cushioned super shoe. I have a 2 mile road loop near where I live that I use for all out time trials. It works well to compare my times on it when I run it all out in different shoes. My fastest shoes are the Nike Next% in which I can cover the 2 miles is just under 13 minutes (about 6:30 a mile). The Fuel Cell RC Elites are my second fastest shoes only a few seconds slower than the Nikes. A traditional trail shoe on this road loop feels slow and clunky. For example, I have time trialed this 2 mile loop in a pair of Hoka EVO Speedgoats. These are supposedly light trail racing shoes but an all out effort yields a time of around 15 minutes (about 7:30 a mile). That is a huge difference. Granted the Speedgoats are 2 ounces heavier than the Fuel Cell Elites and the Speedgoats lack a carbon plate. It does illustrate how much harder one has to work in a heavier more traditional shoe compared to a new technology carbon plated light weight race shoe.