Shoe of the Week: New Balance FuelCell RC Elite
New Balance's long awaited entry into the marathon racer super shoe category, the FuelCell RC Elite, provides an accommodating fit with a bouncy, fast-rolling ride.
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New Balance FuelCell RC Elite Review
Weight: 7.3 oz. (men’s size 9), 5.7 oz. (women’s size 7.0)
Heel-Toe Offset: 10mm (32mm heel, 22mm forefoot)
The long-awaited FuelCell RC Elite has finally arrived. New Balance was one of the first brands to delve into shoes with built carbon-fiber plates embedded in the midsoles, but it chose to start with the FuelCell 5280 middle-distance trainer/racer rather than a half marathon/marathon racer such as we’ve now seen from multiple other brands. New Balance released the FuelCell TC in early 2020 as a cushy long-distance trainer, but this late-summer 2020 debut of the FuelCell RC Elite finally brings the brand into the speedy long-distance racing conversation. A few elite runners raced in a pre-production prototype model of this shoe at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Atlanta in February, but there wasn’t a lot of buzz about it prior to its release, partly because New Balance did some fine-tuning to it in the spring and also because there haven’t been any big road races since then.
The FuelCell RC Elite borrowed learnings from the FuelCell 5280 and the FuelCell TC and adapted from the sleek, lightweight 1400 racing platform. First things first, the magic sauce of the FuelCell RC Elite is its new, low-density, high-rebound FuelCell midsole compound made from a featherweight blend of EVA and TPU. The other special element in this shoe is the curvy carbon-fiber plate that works in concert with that foam to provide optimal energy return as a runner’s foot rolls through the gait cycle while also reducing foot fatigue from less intense muscular engagement at the toe-off phase.
This Shoe Is For You If…
you’re looking for a high-end long-distance racer (10K to the marathon) with an accommodating and exceptional fit, feel and ride. It’s made for the up-tempo cadence of running at half marathon and marathon pace and not as viable for shorter, faster workouts or races.
When you first slip on the FuelCell RC Elite and start running, you immediately feel an extreme softness in the midsole cushioning — especially when you stand or land on your heels. But as you start running faster, you get a slightly better proprioceptive feel for the ground because of a lower forefoot stack height and what feels like a slightly firmer density of foam under the forefoot. When you’re running at up-tempo race pace, you’ll definitely notice the bouncy resilience in each stride, with a responsiveness that seems to quickly crescendo from the initial impact to the toe-off phase. The softness remains, but instead of a noticeable decompression of the midsole followed by a snappy engagement of the plate and forefoot that you feel at slower paces, the sensation you get when running at race pace in the FuelCell TC is a semi-firm, very fluid, rolling and vibrant motion. The rocker is not as invasive as in other super shoes, allowing for a stable stance before hurrying your stride off your toes with a bit of flex and propulsive rebound.
We found the FuelCell RC Elite to be very, very light, exceptionally smooth and noticeably energetic. The airy mesh upper (including the lightly padded tongue) is simple, form-fitting and effective for a variety of foot shapes, holding comfortably if not quite as securely as other racing flats — but you don’t want to be doing sharp, fast cornering in these shoes anyway. The array tiny hard rubber lugs on the outsole of the forefoot helps keep the weight down and provide exceptional traction on both wet and dry surfaces. It’s also important to note that the FuelCell RC Elite is not only lighter, but also more stable than the FuelCell TC, despite similar stack heights. They’re similar but entirely different shoes.
The Bottom Line
The FuelCell RC Elite was worth the wait. It’s a modern race rocket of a shoe, stripped down to offer just what you need to run fast as efficiently as possible over long distances. It offers the right amount of cushion and structure without adding any extras you don’t need, with a ride that feels like it will accommodate a variety of strides. While none of the modern super shoes are designed for daily running or even long-wearing use, we’re fairly confident, based on the materials and the construction techniques, that the FuelCell RC Elite is one of the more durable of the bunch. And like a lot of those shoes, the faster and more efficient you run, the more stable this shoe will feel.