The RW Takeaway: A springy, durable trainer that gives you a soft landing and a stable ride.
- A carbon-fibre plate adds stiffness for extra propulsion.
- The foam is the same as used in the FuelCell 5280 racing flat.
- Has a lot of rubber underfoot for durability.
Weight: 9.3 oz (M), 7.3 oz (W)
With the new footwear guidelines from World Athletics (formerly IAAF) released, we expected to see a slew of new shoes with carbon-fibre plates launch. That’s because, before any shoe can be used in competition, it will have to be publicly available for purchase for at least four months.
One of the first such model to hit the shelves this year was the New Balance FuelCell TC. Though, to be honest, there really shouldn’t be a rush to get this one out based on that ruling because it’s unlikely you’ll ever see a pro runner lace these up in a race. (Amateurs can wear any shoe they like, so that April 30 deadline doesn’t matter.) Instead, the FuelCell TC is most likely to be used as a training shoe—it’s too squishy soft and heavy for any real speedwork—or for relatively quick marathons. It’s essentially New Balance’s equivalent of the Nike Zoom Fly, a training shoe that closely mirrors the pricier, faster ZoomX Vaporfly Next%. Unlike those shoes, NB doesn’t have a tall-stack racer for sale just yet, but sneakerheads have spotted elite marathoners racing in similar-looking shoes.
In designing the FuelCell TC, New Balance looked at the competitive-level runner who’s shooting for a sub-three-hour marathon. They’re quick, and want a fast shoe, but also need a little extra comfort and support since they’ll be on their feet longer than elite runners. So it delivered a similarly fast sensation we’re seeing from this new wave of high-tech products, but with better durability and comfort.
Of course, it has carbon fibre
What good shoe in 2020 won’t boast a carbon-fibre plate in the midsole? Such is the world in which we live. The TC has one, and it shares some of its DNA with the FuelCell 5280, a racing flat designed exclusively for a road mile, that launched last summer. In that one, the carbon-fibre plate flexes laterally, bending as the outside edge of your foot touches the ground, but is stiff along its length. But, since your footstrike isn’t quite as pronounced at marathon speeds—in fact, all but a few percent of us will land heel first—this carbon-fibre plate is tuned without that lateral flexibility. It stiffens the shoe overall and gives extra stability to that thick slab of foam, plus gives you a snappier toe off than you’d otherwise get from a marshmallowy shoe.
Soft foam atop a heavy sole
One knock on this shoe is that it feels exceptionally bottom heavy. That’s largely due to the thick, solid rubber that covers the entire forefoot. It’s a curious design choice, because you just don’t see that much rubber on a running shoe these days—many trail shoes have less coverage. By comparison, the back half of the shoe has just two patches of white rubber, largely limited to around the perimeter.
All that rubber covers a squishy soft midsole foam much like what was used in the 5280 racer. New Balance says it’s the same compound, with the same density and hardness. So the result is that you get an exceptionally well-padded landing, with some spring back for a responsive ride. The sole is 30mm thick under the heel and 22 at the forefoot—nearly identical measurements to the light, soft Fresh Foam Beacon that we already love.
How it performs
Jeff Dengate, Runner-in-Chief, Runner's World
In my limited testing time, I’ve found the mix of foam and rubber to fight against my stride a little more than I’d like. I sink too far into that soft heel foam, and then the transition through midstance feels a little too abrupt and jarring. On one particular lunch run with RW staff, we averaged 6:57 pace, so it wasn’t exactly an easy jog. That’s still about 30 seconds per mile slower than my marathon pace yet I was struggling to hang on for a few miles. Wondering whether it was just my legs that day, not the shoes, I gave them another shot on an easier run a few days later. Then, at an 8:30-pace jog, I still felt like I was working harder than I should have been. On both runs, my heart rate was hovering right around where it should be for that pace, so perhaps it’s just an early annoyance and requires some more testing time.
Kit Fox, Special Projects Editor, Runner's World
Kit, on the other hand, has loved this shoe’s mix of features in early testing. “Soft and springy shouldn’t go together, but the TC makes that happen,” he said. “It lacks contour in the sole, which makes the ride more comfortable for my medium arch. Plus the upper, while stretchy, is still secure, so my foot doesn’t feel like it’s sliding all over the place.”
Jane McGuire, Deputy Digital Editor, Runner's World
Jane had to agree with Kit on this one - she found the shoes comparable to the Nike Zoom Fly's in their responsiveness and speed. "Heading out for an 'easy' long run, I soon found myself increasing the pace, with my heart rate staying steady. A Hoka fan at heart, I loved the amount of cushioning the Fuelcell TC offered. The upper has a bit more give in it that the Fuelcell Rebel and the Fuelcell Propel, which is ideal for longer training runs or marathons."
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