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New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Pacer: A New 5k/10k Challenger
By Contributor Andrea Myers

The New Balance Fuel Cell SC Pacer is New Balance's addition to the rapidly expanding 5k/10k racing shoe market. With the release of the Adidas Takumi Sen 8 and the Nike Streakfly over the past several months, the Pacer gives runners another option for shorter races and interval days. The Pacer features a FuelCell midsole, which is the same foam as the RC Elite. After testing the Streakfly, I was excited to test the Pacer for comparison. I found two very different shoes that are designed for the same purpose. 

New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Pacer
Price: TBD, arriving summer 2022
Weight: 6.9 oz, 198 g men, 5.5 oz, 156 g woman
Stack Height: unknown    
Drop: 8mm
Classification: 5k/10k racer


RUNNING SHOE SUMMARY

The New Balance FuelCell SC Pacer has that super shoe bounce to it, although it is definitely firmer than any others in the category. The lower stack height makes it feel more like a racing flat, but the FuelCell foam and the full length carbon plate give it that familiar super shoe feeling. I consistently noticed an increase in pace at a given effort level, even when running easy. The ride of the Pacer is what I originally imagined when I heard that running companies were coming out with 5k/10k super shoes.




FIT

New Balance sent me a women's size 10 in the Pacer, whereas I normally run in a 9.5 in the Beacon (which is known to run a little long). I am glad they sent the 10, because it gave me a full thumb's width at the front of the shoe and ample width in the toe box, particularly for a racing shoe. The upper is a very thin mesh that has holes large enough to see the type of socks you are wearing. The mesh does not stretch and is one of the most comfortable uppers I have tested. The upper completely disappears during runs and I really felt one with the shoe. There is a plastic overlay on the midfoot that gives the mesh some mild structure. The tongue is made of the same thin material as the upper and is not gusseted. This made it easy for the tongue to become folded over on the sides when donning the shoe, but this issue was solved by holding the sides of the tongue with both hands while sliding my foot in. Due to this feature, it would not be a good triathlon shoe if an athlete is aiming for a fast transition. The laces are thin and attach to the middle of the tongue with a loop, which also helps to hold the tongue in place. Once I got the tongue situated and the laces tied, I had no issues with tongue slippage and had excellent lockdown. There is a small, flexible external heel counter that I did not notice at all while running. The heel collar is very lightly padded and I found the fit of the heel to be extremely comfortable and secure. Overall, I was very pleased with the fit of the shoe (minus the mild issue with the tongue) and I was glad that New Balance sized me up 1/2 size. 




PERFORMANCE

The Pacer met all of my expectations for how a 5k/10k super shoe should perform. My first run in them was an easy 5 miles, and like other super shoes, my pace was 15-20 seconds faster than normal with the same HR and perceived exertion. I subsequently tested the Pacer for a variety of intervals, including threshold, 10k, 5k, and mile pace as well as hill sprints. The Pacer felt equally good at all of these paces and even had me wondering if this could be a half marathon shoe for me. Many of these workout were 10-11 miles in length and I did not have any issues doing these distances in the shoe, nor any foot discomfort during the warmup and cooldown. New Balance has found the right balance between responsiveness and cushion for this shoe. The ride is very much on the firm side, but the FuelCell gives it a firm bounce that feels like it propels me forward. The shoe has a late toe spring, which helps with pushoff without forcing me to initiate pushoff too early. The stiff sole and late toe spring does reduce demand on the 1st MTP and calf muscles. There is a small heel bevel that transitions into Energy Arc, which is a midsole cutout in the rear half of the shoe that partially exposes the carbon plate.

The outsole has strategically placed rubber at the medial and lateral rearfoot and the forefoot, but the middle 1/3 of the outsole in the midsole. As a midfoot striker, there is some wear on the lateral midfoot, but less wear than I typically experience in the midfoot of the Beacon. I have pulled out several small rocks that have become embedded in the exposed midsole, and this has resulted in some holes in the midsole. The holes have not affected the ride at all, but I have chosen not to use the Pacer in a race that includes a gravel road because of this issue. Durability may be reduced due to the amount of exposed midsole. Traction is normal in this shoe and I was able to use it on wet roads without any issues. 



STABILITY

The Pacer is definitely a neutral shoe and will not work well for those with true stability needs. It does have some mild stability features due to the stiffness of the plate and outsole as well as mild sole flare through the length of the shoe. There is slightly more sole flare on the medial aspect of the forefoot as compared to the lateral aspect, which may provide mild guidance in mid stance and push off. The stiffness of the plate and outsole in addition to the late toe spring reduces demand on the 1st MTP and the calf muscles.

THOUGHTS AS A DPT / FOOTWEAR SCIENCE

The Effect of Shoe Bending Stiffness on Performance

I have had the opportunity to test both the Nike Streakfly and the New Balance FuelCell SC Pacer. They are both in the 5k/10k category of racing shoes, but they couldn't be more different in terms of ride and performance. One of the main differences between the shoes is the sole bending stiffness. The Pacer has a full length carbon plate, compared to the Streakfly, which has a Pebax shank in the midfoot. This results in the Streakfly being pretty flexible, whereas the sole of the Pacer is quite rigid. Why would Nike and New Balance each set out to make a 5k/10k racer and the finished products be so different?

I consulted the running shoe literature to see what has been written regarding shoe bending stiffness and performance. A systematic review on the role of shoe construction on running biomechanics looked at this particular feature of running shoes (Sun et al 2020). The authors identified seven studies that examined the relationship of shoe bending stiffness and running biomechanics and performance. Five of the seven studies concluded that "increasing bending stiffness could improve running performance and economy, as indicated by the reduction of energetic cost, maximum VO2, energy lost at metatarsophalangeal joint, and sprint time in stiffer shoes." Another systematic review specifically focused on shoe longitudinal bending stiffness also found an increase in running economy for shoes with higher longitudinal bending stiffness (Rodrigo-Carranza et al 2021). The authors noted that the improvement in running economy was greatest at higher speeds (16-18km/h) and with lower shoe mass. Increased longitudinal bending stiffness is thought to improve running economy due to its effect on the 1st MTP joint (increased shoe bending stiffness reduces the total amount of motion required at the 1st MTP during stance and push off) and gastrocnemius and soleus muscles (increased bending stiffness reduces the muscle-tendon unit shortening velocity). Personally, I found the Pacer to work better for me at a variety of race paces and I would use it in races from 5k to the half marathon. I would use the Streakfly for races 5k and below and I think it would be best at the mile distance. The difference in shoe bending stiffness is a key reason for my preference. There are some runners who prefer a more flexible racing shoe, and those runners may do better in the Streakfly.

Interestingly, the authors of the 2021 systematic review noted that ideal longitudinal bending stiffness for a given runner will vary based on runner weight and running biomechanics. Part of my work as a bike fitter deals with providing fit data to custom frame manufacturers, who then design a bicycle frame for that individual rider's biometrics and riding style. Perhaps runners will someday be able to have racing shoes tuned to our weight and individual gait characteristics in a similar manner.

References:

Sun X, Lam WK, Zhang X, Wang J, Fu W. Systematic Review of the Role of Footwear Constructions in Running Biomechanics: Implications for Running-Related Injury and Performance. J Sports Sci Med. 2020;19(1):20-37.

Rodrigo-Carranza V, González-Mohíno F, Santos-Concejero J, González-Ravé JM. The effects of footwear midsole longitudinal bending stiffness on running economy and ground contact biomechanics: A systematic review and meta-analysis [published online ahead of print, 2021 Aug 8]. 
Eur J Sport Sci. 2021;1-14. 



RECOMMENDATIONS

Overall, I was very pleased with the fit and performance of the Pacer. My main recommendation would be to improve the tongue so that it does not fold over at the sides when donning the shoe. This could be achieved by making the tongue partially gusseted. Otherwise, I think that the Pacer excels at its stated purpose and I hope that they will keep the minimal upper, plate design, and FuelCell cushioning as is. 

WHO THIS SHOE IS FOR

The Pacer is for runners with neutral mechanics who are looking for a lower stack racing shoe that still has that familiar super shoe bounce. The Pacer will excel at 5k-13.1 distances and also is an ideal option for interval workouts. Due to the lack of true stability features in the Pacer, runners with stability needs may need to look at other options. Personally, I love the Vaporfly Next%, but it does feel like too much shoe for races shorter than the half marathon. I think the Pacer may be just what I have been looking for and I can't wait to take it out in shorter races this summer.


GRADING

Andrea
Fit: A- (incredibly comfortable upper and heel counter that disappear on the foot, only negative is the non-gusseted tongue)
Performance: A+ (New Balance hit the nail on the head with this 5k/10k super shoe - exactly what I have been looking for in terms of lower stack while maintaining the super shoe bounce, will excel at 5k-half marathon distances)
Stability: B- (not a stability shoe, mild non traditional stability elements provide mild guidance)
DPT/Footwear Science: A (a lower stack racing shoe with increased longitudinal bending stiffness, which may improve running economy, particularly at faster paces)
Personal: A (exceptional fit and performance, will be an exciting addition to my racing shoe lineup)
Overall: A (best addition to the 5k/10k racing shoe category so far)



SHOP | SUPPORT DOR

New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Pacer
Price: TBD, arriving summer 2022

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FURTHER READING

Find all our carbon plated shoe reviews here.

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All About Trail Shoes | DOR Podcast #85
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Editor's Note: As always, the views presented on this website belong to myself or the selected few who contribute to these posts. This website should not and does not serve as a replacement for seeking medical care. If you are currently injured or concerned about an injury, please see your
local running physical therapist. If you are in the Los Angeles area, I am currently taking clients for running evaluations.

***Disclaimer: These shoes were provided free of charge in exchange for a review.  We thank the people at New Balance for sending us a pair.  This in no way affected the honesty of this review. We systematically put each type of shoe through certain runs prior to review. For trainers and performance trainers, we take them on daily runs, workouts, recovery runs and a long run prior to review (often accumulating anywhere from 20-50 miles in the process). For racing flats we ensure that we have completed intervals, a tempo or steady state run as well as a warm-up and cool down in each pair prior to review. This systematic process is to ensure that we have experience with each shoe in a large variety of conditions to provide expansive and thorough reviews for the public and for companies. Our views are based on our extensive history in the footwear industry and years testing and developing footwear. If you are a footwear rep looking for footwear reviews or consultations on development, we are currently looking to partner with companies to assist, discuss and promote footwear models. Partnership will not affect the honesty of our reviews.

Please feel free to reach out, comment and ask questions!
Contact us at doctorsofrunning@gmail.com

NEXT:
Reebok's Push Towards a Sustainable Future | DOR Sustainability Project, Vol. 1

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