Monday, March 30, 2020

ASICS MetaRacer Multi Tester Review: "Shaken not Stirred"

Article by Derek Li, Hope Wilkes, Sally Reiley, Michael Ellenberger and Sam Winebaum

ASICS MetaRacer ($200)
  Official Weight: 6.7 oz / 190 g
  Samples: men’s US8.5 190 g / 6.7 oz
                  men’s US9.5 200g / 7.05 oz
                  women’s US8  168 g /5.9 oz
      women’s US9 182 g/6.42 oz         
Stack Height: 24mm heel, 15 mm forefoot, 9 mm (may not include sockliner)
Available now in the US including Running Warehouse HERE

Sam: Two years in development by teams in Japan and Boston,  the ASICS MetaRacer is the brand’s carefully considered and distinctive entry into the super race shoe, race. Its midsole includes a bottom loaded (below the midsole) double wishbone shaped, front to mid foot carbon plate below the same type of cellulose nanofiber infused Flyte Foam midsole as the Nimbus Lite for bounce, lightness and durability yet with no plate at the heel for a softer landing and for decoupling to move the gait forward.

As with the Glideride and Evoride it incorporates ASICS Guide Sole technology to reduce ankle flexion and lower leg motion. The outsole is ASICS Grip.

The upper is a single layer, highly hydrophobic engineered mesh with a special emphasis in design on airflow. In a functional nod to ASICS heritage, yes they were creating state of the art marathon racers way back in the 1960’s, it even includes a front air circulation port as seen in the 1960's Magic Runner below which was created by the ASICS founder as over the years their research shows lowering foot temperature has a positive influence on reducing heart rate.
The result is a 6.7 oz, 24mm heel / 15 forefoot stack state of the art racing flat for the elite marathoner. Prototype results have been promising with Sara Hall clocking a 2:22 PR at Berlin and Emma Bates a 2:25 at Chicago.

The ASICS product and PR team were kind enough to give our review team a detailed briefing with Q&A via a video call after our testing was complete.

I titled the review "Shaken not Stirred" as, if James Bond needed a fast shoe to get away from bad guys, I am pretty sure he would select the classy MetaRacer with all its tech subtle and under the hood, as in his Austin Martin. Now the color. He might chose something more subtle but who knows!

Michael: The ASICS MetaRacer is perhaps the most elusive of all the next-generation carbon-plated super shoes, evading most leaks and appearing only in the biggest races. But now, we’ve been able to thoroughly test the latest and greatest from ASICS and - guess what? - they’ve made something really special. 

The MetaRacer doesn’t look like the Vaporfly or AlphaFly, or even really like many of its plated companions - it’s flatter, more traditionally-profiled, and slightly more aggressive looking (especially in the beautiful red “Tokyo” colorway). On the foot, it’s certainly my choice for the most comfortable 2020 racer, with a one-piece upper that I absolutely adore. But how does it perform? Read on to find out!

Derek: The MetaRacer is certainly the most elusive of the new wave of carbon plated racers. There have been a couple of photos circulating of various prototypes on the feet of ASICS pros, but there was very little info leaking out. It is almost certain that the shoe has gone through multiple revisions over the last 2 years. We can now say for sure that this is a carbon plated shoe, but just last year, Sara Hall was on record saying the shoe she wore at Berlin did not have a carbon plate. That said, read on to find out more about the shoe nobody seems to be able to say anything about!

Hope: Internally the RoadTrailRun team has referred to the MetaRacer as the “super secret shoe” -- and with good reason! Opting for hustle over hype, ASICS worked hard to build a new racer from the ground up that hasn’t featured in splashy marketing campaigns. I got stuck paying resale for a certain shoe a couple of years ago, so that’s fine by me. Having risen to the challenge, if improving biomechanical efficiency in its own way, the MetaRacer is a shoe that will speak for itself. (But not before we talk about it and ran it a bunch!)

Sally: I felt privileged to test this “super secret shoe” that we were sworn to secrecy about - show to no one, no photos, no discussion even amongst ourselves online. And what a privilege it is to run in this shoe! Asics has created something very special (and fast) behind closed doors!

Michael/ Sam/Hope
Upper is class-leading; 
Plated enough that you feel a “spring” without being overbearing; 
Midsole is impressively trampoline-y
Derek/Sally/Hope: very secure and comfortable upper; very smooth rocker.  
Very stable and forgivingly bouncy on downhills and flats despite low stack
Smooth, longer rocker with a touch of toe off snap
Easy to maintain stride flow at faster paces

Michael/Sam/Derek/Sally: May not be enough cushion for some marathoners Sam: especially at the forefoot.
Michael: flat outsole could lack traction.
Derek: Seeing some early accelerated wear on the forefoot blown rubber. 
Best run faster to activate its front plate, Slower paces are not as rewarding or pleasant
Steep uphills more a struggle if you lack knee lift, as I do, although moderate ones are fine
Drop off your marathon pace and good form, back on the soft heel here, towards the end of a race, and you likely will struggle to overcome the plate, more so than in some others
Hope: I’d love to see reflective trim on the heel. Probably not needed for most races, but nice for low-light training runs.
Sally: Open air vent at front of shoe, designed to keep feet cool, actually left me with uncomfortably cold feet on some late winter New England runs. 


Tester Profiles
Hope is in her 20’s and after several ultras is now more on the road. She has a marathon PR of 3:47. She trains about 50 miles per week with many of her runs in the (broad) 8:00-10:00/mile range. She is happy to hit 7:30 miles on tempo days.
Derek is in his 30’s and trains 70-80 miles per week at 7 to 8 minute pace in mostly tropical conditions in Singapore. He has a 2:41 marathon PR.
Sally is a mother of five who ran her first marathon at age 54, and has now run the past six Boston Marathons and one Chicago, with a 2017 Boston PR of 3:29. Along the way she has raised over $200,000 for Massachusetts Eye and Ear Hospital running with Team Eye and Ear. To commemorate her 60th birthday she ran the NYC Marathon in November, finishing 2nd in her age group with a PR time of 3:28:39.  Sally is a compact (petite) runner at 5’2’’ and 105 pounds.
Michael is a 2019 graduate of Northwestern University Law School in Chicago, with an interest in patent and intellectual property law. He competed collegiately at Washington University in St. Louis (10,000m PR of 30:21). He recently finished 2nd at the Chicago Half-Marathon in a PR of 67:43, and was the top Illinois finisher in the 2017 Boston Marathon (2:33:03, 82nd overall). He recently secured a 2:31 marathon PR at the Austin Marathon. 
Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 62 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. Sam has been running for over 45 years and has a 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the just sub 1:40 range training 30-40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah. He is 5'10" tall and weighs about 165 lbs.

First Impressions and Fit
Michael: I’ve tipped my hand a little in the introduction, but I really like this shoe at first impression. That is, I think it’s probably the most comfortable of all the carbon racers - yes, including the old king, the Saucony Endorphin Pro, and the old old king, the Nike Vaporfly 4% Flyknit. It’s just such an easy and comfortable shoe to slide on, it feels like an old school spike or flat in the best way (compared to something like the New Balance Fuel Cell 5280, which feels like a track spike, but sort of in the ‘tight and minimalist way). My men’s 8.5 (or 8H, as labeled from the factory) fits my foot absolutely perfectly. 

Sam: A thing of elegant simple and functional beauty! True to size with relatively but not super thin or medium socks. Relatively snug midfoot especially over the top of mid foot due to low volume, extensive lacing and medial underlay. Narrower but extremely comfortable fitting toe area due to materials as there are no overlays and the diagonal ventilation slots have some give. 

Derek: This color really pops and it is indeed as orange in your hand as it looks in the photos. ASICS has produced a similar colorway for their Tarther Japan beforet. The step in feel is really nice. No obvious rough seams in the upper, and it is easy to achieve a snug slip-free fit. The last is a bit on the narrow/long end of the spectrum. Sizing is true to size with medium thickness socks for me, but with thin socks, I feel like I could have gone down a half size.

Hope: I agree with what’s been said -- the upper is gorgeous and contributes to a no-fuss fit. I’m impressed with how well it wraps my feet and how securely it holds them. Derek’s impression that last on the narrow and long side of the spectrum seems spot on, but fit is perfect for me in the 9H sample pair. 

Sally: Yep, one can’t help but be struck by the simple elegance of this race shoe. It doesn't look like the other carbon-plate marathon shoes: where is the huge stack of foam? It looks more like a traditional race flat - yet it does indeed have a carbon plate. The fit is perfection for me with a medium sock (TTS Women’s 8) and the comfort, supreme, with great hold. 

Michael: ASICS can be quite hit-or-miss with their uppers; something like the EvoRide or even NovaBlast are well-designed and constructed, with breathable materials and good fits, but the DS-Trainer’s knit offering missed the mark for me, and the most traditional offerings in their lineup - say, the current GEL-Kayano or Nimbus - are a little too built up for most runners. 
With the MetaRacer, ASICS has hit it out of the park, with an upper that takes me all the way back to the mid-2000’s “Japan Thunder” track spike. The MetaRacer offers a dense-knit, well-ventilated upper that, even without overlays, is plenty supportive, even for track work (and I tried!). Some shoes feel great at easy paces, but really get unsteady when picking it up - when you feel like you’re really pushing hard into the edges of the shoe. No problems here. Even without overlays, the MetaRacer is supportive and comfortable, from 6:30 to 4:30 pace.
And let’s not forget that USB port! No, that isn’t a place to charge your new  MetaRacer - ASICS has added a front drainage/ventilation hole to clear the shoe of excess moisture and promote airflow. I won’t lie - I don’t know that this added anything, but I also didn’t run in any conditions that necessitated drainage. I will say, to the extent this reflects on the upper, or the midsole (or neither!), I had two really solid workouts in this, one a longer, 10 mile tempo, and the other mile repeats around 5K pace, and I never felt as if my feet were hot or wet or anything.
Sam: The MetaRacer has an upper carefully designed to maximize airflow. 
ASICS has research saying reducing foot temperature can lower heart rate 1-3 beats per minute. The only overlay/underlay beyond the Tiger logo overlay is a medial mid foot underlay. The diagonal venting lines helps cool the foot and I think also has a touch of give for different foot volumes, and my bunion. Venting and such aside, this upper is one of those rare ones you just forget is on your foot once you figure out the extensive lacing. Tip: no need to over tighten as while things may feel a bit loose while the mid foot is a bit snug walking around, once underway it all works together magnificently: lacing, upper, and heel achilles support as the “give” and “take” of the upper is like a symphony!
The front ventilation hole is inspired by the classic Magic Runner of the 1960’s.
There is even ventilation through the heel.

Derek: I almost never have issues with ASICS uppers, and this one is no different for me. The shoe wraps around the foot very well, despite being fairly unstructured. There is actually a lot of thought going into the upper design that might not be so obvious to most runners. I think it’s worth highlighting, because I almost feel like the upper holds as many secrets as the midsole for this shoe. 

To better explain all the features of the upper, we shall start with the end in mind. That end, is to produce a shoe that out-performs the competition in the heat of the Tokyo Olympic marathon. As far as the upper is concerned, they focused on 2 areas. 
  1. To reduce water retention in the shoe. This allows the shoe to minimize weight gain as the marathon wears on. Dry feet also reduce the risk of blisters and other problems a runner might encounter with soaked shoes. 
  2. To reduce the foot temperatures during the run. ASICS found that by reducing the foot temperature in the shoe (presumably in a hot marathon), one could achieve a HR reduction of 3 beats per minute. What this translates to in terms of % speed improvement is hard to say, but any runner who trains by HR will tell you, 3bpm is significant, especially at race efforts. 

First up, the whole upper has a sort of hydrophobic treatment to the materials, and you can easily feel this as a sort of silky texture to the mesh that you don’t see in any of the prior ASICS models. This primarily serves to reduce water retention in the upper fabric. 

Secondly, the ventilation slits in the upper are arranged diagonally, and deliberately, so as to direct air through the shoe in an efficient manner. 
Thirdly, the air vent in the front of the shoe funnels air through to cool the whole foot. As an aside, some aerodynamic time trial helmets (e.g. Rudy Project Wingspan) in cycling also sport a front central vent that channels air over the top of the head and through to the back. 

The rest of the features are more common. An internal semi-rigid toe bumper lifts the toebox up to create good volume in an otherwise fairly snug fitting shoe especially in the midfoot and heel. There is a single overlay on the medial side to give some support to the arch. 
A semi-rigid skeletal heel cup runs low around the heel where it is most rigid then up the rear of the shoe vertically in a thin band to give some support. More pliable wings extend from the top of the achilles collar towards the front with an opening below for ventilation, weight reduction, and give. The ankle opening is quite snug and typical of ASICS racers. The sockliner is glued down, and given the volume of this shoe, it is unlikely to be able to accommodate any orthotics. 

Overall the upper is simplistic but has some very subtle clever tricks built in that are hiding in plain sight!

Hope: I don’t have much to add here. The upper is gorgeous and conformed perfectly to my feet right out of the box. If I have to nitpick, I’d trade the plain fabric strip at the heel seam for reflective trim. I never ran in the rain or through big puddles, so I can’t speak to the wonders of the upper’s hydrophobic treatment. Temperature regulation seems outstanding and I was comfortable in temperatures from 40-75 degrees F (it’s no longer wintry where I am, so did not run them in serious cold).

Sally: The others have described the features of this unique upper in depth. I will simply say that this upper simply disappears on a tempo run: the sensation must be similar to barefoot running, but with a fantastic midsole. The upper holds your foot snuggly yet comfortably, mile after (quick) mile. The only caveat I found regards winter running: the intended ventilation makes for cold feet in the colder climates (but won’t this shoe be awesome for the now September Boston Marathon!)

Sam: MetaRacer has the same flavor of Flytefoam as the Nimbus Lite. It is a foam with cellulose nanofibers made from repurposed sugar cane leftovers. The nanofibers lighten the Flyte Foam, provide bounce, and add durability. it is maybe a touch firmer than Nimbus Lite but certainly has that bouncy feel particularly at the heel. The heel landing is very dynamic and relatively forgiving for such a low heel stack of 24mm. Forefoot cushion gets increasingly bouncy at faster paces (if still thinner than shoes such as the Nike and Endorphin Pro) for a distinctly felt if thinner bounce and rebound in the mix with the plate.

There is clearly less bounce at slower paces up front if you don’t load the midsole and plate. The midsole is not bouncy, bouncy or springy in feel but there is a distinct bounce within the sandwich especially when compared to more conventional flats. 

Guide Sole as in Glideride and Evoride is present to reduce ankle flexion and lower leg movement

The Meta Racer has a double “wishbone shaped” (wings to rear and to front)  mid foot to forefoot carbon plate with wider wings on the medial side than on the lateral side. It is bottom loaded meaning it above the outsole with the midsole between it and the foot. Result is no harsh carbon plate feel, especially so as pace picks up, less so at slower paces.

Sketch by Sally Reiley
We have seen the plate and were able to sketch it but are not allowed to show photos of it.

Michael: The Flytefoam midsole on the ASICS MetaRacer is unlike others, not only in its feel underfoot (to be covered), but also in its feel to the touch - it’s sort of a beige in color and firm when pressed, most reminiscent (to me) of ZoomX. It’s denser and thicker than Hyperburst, but not as dense as Brook’s DNA ZERO in the Hyperion Elite. In fact, it has almost a matte clay-like look and feel, which immediately drew me in.  

Of course, embedded in the FlyteFoam is a carbon plate, extending from the midfoot forwards. As with its peers, you’ll notice the plate’s presence, but I didn’t find the firmness of it jarring or unpleasant. Instead, I actually found the ASICS plate to be the least obtrusive of the recent carbon racers I’ve tested - with the caveat that, at faster paces (including some repeat miles on the track), you can really notice yourself engage with the propulsion mechanism as you turnover. I want to be clear on this - I think that the way ASICS has integrated the plate into their midsole is perhaps the most seamless of all (and certainly of all non-Nike) offerings. The density of the midsole foam is proper in that you feel you can “push down” into the plate (unlike, perhaps, the firmness of DNA ZERO), but not so proper that you “squish” down there without rebound. It’s a very kinetic feel - a word I also used to describe ASICS’s GlideRide - but one that’s undoubtedly smoother than the plastic or harsh feel in the GlideRide. 

Derek: This is a single density midsole design, so the underfoot feel is very uniform across the shoe. ASICS decided to bottom-load the carbon plate in this shoe based on feedback from their testers, i.e. the carbon plate is not sandwiched in the midsole but rather under the whole midsole and sits just above the outsole layer. The reasoning was that by putting all the foam between the feet and the carbon plate, the harshness of impacting the rigid plate was maximally attenuated. It should be pointed out that the carbon plate only extends from midfoot to forefoot, and its primary role appears to be to accentuate the forefoot rocker and reduce ankle flexion/extension as the foot rolls through the stride. 

The shape of the rocker in this shoe is flatter compared to the GlideRide and EvoRide, the logic being that we are naturally more efficient at race paces and so we do not need as aggressive a rocker in this shoe. (Unspoken in all this is the fact that there is only so much rocker you can incorporate into a shoe with a 24/15 stack and anything very aggressive would risk putting the matatarsophalangeal joints in a permanently extended position, a scenario that effectively prevents any force generation through the natural Windlass mechanism of the running gait.)

Hope: My impressions generally echo Michael’s and Derek’s. The “squish down” needed to activate the plate(s) in some competing shoes isn’t a factor in the MetaRacer. The activation and response from the plate is faster for it. This also seems like a very ASICS way to put a carbon fiber plate in a shoe: runner comfort is front and center, so you’re running on the foam midsole layer directly under foot and with the plate beneath that. I’m a huge fan of the exaggerated toe spring. It encourages a smooth gait and fast turnover, but is perfectly pitched so as to prevent foot/toe fatigue.   

Sally: I love Michael’s use of the word “kinetic” to describe this midsole. The shoe is designed for running fast, and at speed, the midsole provides just the right amount of bounce to naturally transition your foot forward to toe off. At slow speeds... well, don’t wear this shoe -  Asics did not intend for runners to wear this shoe at slow, easy paces. 

Michael: The outsole here is actually pretty interesting, if nothing else in just how flat it is - a near antithesis to, say, the new AlphaFly (and its scalloped forefoot). Indeed, the MetaRacer outsole has only very faint score marks for the frontmost three-quarters of the shoe! 

Outdoors, I didn’t notice any substantive lack of traction - but this isn’t the first shoe I’d look for on a rainy or icy day, either. Durability-wise, I put a little over 25 workout miles on these, and haven’t noticed a single instance of wear - there aren’t even marks in the medial forefoot where I often see some toe-off wear.
The rubber is ASICS Grip.
Lateral only heel rubber leads to a mild and short pronating sensation transition as it decouples the gait with the foot then engaging with the place 
Front coverage leads to forefoot stability. Very front flex grooves seem to aid toe off as there is a slight very front of shoe flex. Traction is surprisingly good on “dirty” pavement, wet sand left over from winter.

Derek: I actually found the outsole to be very effective in terms of grip. The forefoot blown rubber seems to be quite soft and tacky and really grips the road well. To be clear, this is not the first time ASICS has gone with extensive outsole rubber coverage. The Skysensor Japan and Sortie Japan come to mind. In the case of the MetaRacer, I think the main reason for extending the rubber so far back was mainly because of the positioning of the carbon plate and it was easier to just cover up the plate with rubber than to try and cover it with anything else or leave it exposed over the midsole foam. Early prototypes actually had the plate visible. I am a little concerned about durability in the forefoot blown rubber. After 23 (fast) miles, I am seeing some beveling of the previously flat outsole at the lateral forefoot. 

Hope: I’m often quite hard on shoes and I’ve been dazzled by the grip and durability of the MetaRacer’s carbon rubber outsole. Grip has been stellar on wet roads, inclines, and roads strewn with small rock like Sam mentioned. I’ve put a little wear in the midfoot area after ~45 miles of mostly tempo paced running, but nothing extreme or worrying.

Sally: My last run was in the rain, and the outsole provided plenty of grippiness and traction on the wet roads. The flex grooves at the very front definitely help the transition to toe spring. The rubber makes for a pleasantly quiet stride.


Michael: The MetaRacer has some carbon-plate feel to it, to be sure, but it’s not drastic or harsh - it’s actually quite a smooth ride with a definite “rock” at the toe-off. If I were to rank “carbon feel” of the non-Nike racers, I’d do as follows (from most “carbon-plate feel” to least: Hoka One One Carbon X > Brooks Hyperion Elite > Skechers Performance Speed Elite > ASICS MetaRacer > Saucony Endorphin Pro. Note, of course, that this does not correlate to which shoes are the best, or even the most effective - that’s a different list entirely, but I think ASICS and Saucony do the best job of blending cushion to plate. And while I have the ASICS ranked above the Saucony on the above list, I think that the ASICS is actually the best blend in melding the midsole foam feel with the carbon rocker sensation. It’s a delicate balance - one I may not be effectively conveying in words - but one that ASICS undoubtedly does right. 
In practice, the MetaRacer is a responsive ride owing to both the plating and the relatively low stack height (in comparison to other marathon racers). While there’s undoubtedly some cushion to it, the ASICS threads the needle between a “bouncy” racer (i.e. Next%) and a stiff, plate-driven ride (i.e. Hyperion Elite). So while there’s definitely some ground feel, especially when running fast, you never lose the propulsive sensation provided by the carbon fiber plate.

Sam: A fast smooth rocker with more than adequate cushion for a half for me. Not an explosive rocker (Speed Elite) or a forward one at toe off (Endorphin Pro). or a more lengthy flat continuous feeling from heel to toe off (Carbon X), or a distinct drop in a midfoot (Vaporfly 4%) or a more vertical pop (Next%)  

Meta has a long lasting curve feel to the plate, and its propulsion, with an engagement at midfoot due to non plated rear decoupling after landing then a very smooth longer propulsive feel from the plate, sort of like riding a smooth but big wave with at the end a touch of front toe off, flexibility and pop which has gotten better with runs. At speed there is very little sense of a plate harshness in the mix but more so when run slowly. The ride gets bouncier and more fluid the faster you go.  Exceptional cushion on steep downhills, “shocking” really for only 24mm of stack with a very decent but not super wide stability. Steep uphills were more of struggle but on my test loop compared to the fast climbing un plated Accelerate I took 1.5 minutes off my time for the 5 mile loop with over 300 feet of climbing.
Derek: This is a pure racer. There will be no easy running for this shoe. It is incredibly stiff and transitions really well at fast paces. It’s not that it feels excessively harsh at slower paces, but the transition just feels a little off when you slow things down. It’s hard to pinpoint why, for me. I think it’s probably because I land and transition differently at slower paces. One of the first things I noticed is how much torsional stiffness there is in the shoe. This is a result of the carbon plate sitting just under the outsole rather than being sandwiched in the midsole. For midfoot and forefoot strikers, there is no midsole deformation on first impact to smooth the transition from supination to pronation at mid-stance. To that end the first couple of miles can feel a bit slappy until you figure out how to work with the shoe. After that things tend to be smoother. At the same time, the torsional rigidity also creates a very stable forefoot so you really don’t have to worry about taking a hard turn in this shoe; it will be able to handle it. 

As others have alluded to, the ride isn’t the maximalist bouncy ride that some of the other brands have come up with. Instead, ASICS went with a more transitional racing stack, and relied on a different approach to achieving economical gains (see my section on the upper). The result is a smooth transitioning shoe with very pop at the toe-off. 
Beyond that, the shoe does not feel particularly unique in terms of ride. The overall balance of the weight in the shoe is really good, and you feel like there is no efficiency lost as you roll through the stride. I always like my shoes to have a transitional drop, and the 9mm drop of this shoe works well for me. And really, the only catch is you need to have the fitness to carry that speed for long enough. The cushioning is on the firmer side, and while there is a noticeably soft-ish heel, the rest of the shoe does not have a whole lot of “give” to it. Personally, I like this shoe for 5-10k efforts best though it would work fine for up to 20 milers. I don’t think it would work for a full marathon for me. Maybe if they added 5mm across the board...

Hope: My feelings about the ride somewhat echo Michael’s in terms of how much the MetaRacer feels like a shoe with a carbon fiber plate in it, so I won’t rehash too much. Quite possibly my favorite ride on a running shoe of any type in quite some time. The ride is smooth, snappy, and propulsive. When I want to stomp on the gas all of a sudden, there’s no lag. I took these out for recovery miles just to see how they’d do and there was none of the “sports car in traffic” feel you get running a racer at relaxed paces. The smooth running encouraged by the midsole shape kept things moving comfortably and even faster than I expected. 

Sally: Asics designed this shoe to be a race shoe for elite runners. It succeeds in providing a fast, efficient, and comfortable ride when you push the pace. I found that the faster the pace, the better the shoe feels. It wants to run fast! 

Michael: With ASICS now joining Nike, Hoka One One, Skechers, Brooks, and Saucony in the carbon-plated racer wars, it’s becoming increasingly more useless to say “this shoe is fast!” - true as that may be - as let that be the takeaway. All of these shoes are fast, and while it was great to have an alternative to Nike’s offerings in the Carbon X or Rocket, we’re at a stage now where each shoe can be critically reviewed and each runner can select the approach they want to take in regards to aggressiveness, styling, race distance, and more. 

With that lens, I am still pleased to report that the ASICS is an excellent - and in some ways class-leading - racing flat. The upper is top-notch; breathable (including via the port in the front) and airy, but still constrictive enough, even without overlays, to keep my foot in place when cornering or running at high speeds. The midsole is also excellent; it’s soft and bouncy yet dense, not unlike Nike’s ZoomX material, and though not highly stacked (the World Athletics committee won’t need to get their rulers out for this one), the combination of midsole foam and plate are among the most harmonious I’ve seen.  

It’s not a perfect shoe, of course; the lack of “beefy” midsole may cause some runners to think twice on covering 26.2 in the MetaRacer, even though I imagine it will be sufficient for many (I don’t want to draw a strict cutoff, but mid- and forefoot strikers should have a better go with it than those landing on the heel). But ultimately, ASICS has struck a really strong balance here. The MetaRacer slots in-between the Speed Elite (5K/10K) and the Hyperion Elite (pure marathon) with regards to aggressiveness, which I think is really the sweet spot. 

Even in the absence of any competitors, the MetaRacer is just a damn compelling racer - beautiful in its simplicity and balanced in its approach. Many runners who have scoffed at the ASICS offerings over the past 5 years will be relieved to find that, as with the NovaBlast and Glide and EvoRide, ASICS has once again found its form in the MetaRacer.
Michael’s Score: 9.8/10.

Sam: The MetaRacer is a thing of beauty! It is polished and perfected for its elite carbon plate powered racing flat purpose. Distinctive in looks, with a fantastic fitting and functional upper, these two elements are perfect 10’s for me. It is somewhat traditional in geometry given its “relatively” low, classic flat stack height of 24/15 yet, somehow, ASICS packs carbon and more than adequate cushion into a 6.7 oz shoe. Although while bouncy and energetic, this flavor of FlyteFoam is not the lightest foam out there so some stack height had to give to get to the sub 7 oz weight where the super cushion Nike sit.   

When run fast, as intended, it has a smooth, longer and very dynamic flow with no abrupt edges, harsh plate feel or abrupt pop. The bottom loaded front carbon plate is hardly “felt” at all as a harsh stiff element at all in the mix through the bouncy but thin cushion. It is far more dynamic and forgiving on the legs at pace than any other traditional race flat I have run with similar stats, and at shorter than marathon distances I suspect,  some of the other more cushioned super shoes. I have not been beat up after fast workouts on hilly terrain, always a good sign It is more dynamic at my marathon pace and especially faster than run slower (say for me 8:30 mile pace or slower), or when tired or back more on the heels-say for me towards the end of a marathon or on very steep hills where knee lift also becomes an issue and where its softer well cushioned heel may start to get in the way of the more rigid front geometry if you can’t drive it forward energetically . 

The faster you go the more dynamic it runs with a stable very directed propulsion and with more than adequate cushion and well controlled bounce for such a low stack ride.  And that is perfectly fine as this is a shoe that doesn’t pretend to accommodate a wide range of paces or distances for the more average runner but I do wish that with more cushion stack, particularly at the forefoot.  Its range and value (after all this is a $200 shoe) could be enhanced with more cushion and my Value score reflects this.

I hope and expect ASICS will develop a complimentary somewhat more marathon oriented sibling for those elites and especially the rest of us. 

ASICS is to be commended for “doing it their way” here. This is not an imitation of some of the new super cushioned racers, fast but sometimes “odd” in feel if not looks, and lacking in character and connection to the road. Neither is it rehash of the traditional rough riding race flat which punishes as it delivers. We have the most elegant and effective balance here between the two extremes of carbon plated super cushion and low slung race flat than any shoe I have run to date
Sam’s Score: 9.4 /10
Ride: 9.3 (50%) Fit: 10 (30%) Value: 8.5 (15%) Style:10  (5%)

Derek: I think this is a really good execution of a racing flat and yet another big innovative step for a company that has historically been known for being mired in tradition. It’s more of a short course racer for me, up to half marathon. I have no doubt that faster or lighter runners would have no issues with it for the full marathon. Hopefully this trickles down to a slightly more cushioned version that more people can tolerate for longer races. I have some durability concerns but it may be too early to say. The biggest competitor for this shoe, for me, is the Skechers Speed Elite. They are so similar in many ways, and yet noticeably distinct in underfoot feel. 
Derek’s Score: 9.01 / 10
Ride 40% 8.5, Fit 40% 9.9 Aesthetics 10% 8 Value 10% 8.5

Hope: I can’t be too coy and give a score like this of 10/10. I think the shoe is extraordinary. Totally flawless. That said, I think it just plain works for me and that might not be the case for all runners. I’m in possession of a fairly efficient stride and moderately low bodyweight. A recent study came out which suggests that there’s not necessarily one carbon plate configuration that will please all runners. I think ASICS has created a shoe that will nonetheless please a lot of people because the carbon plate is a co-star alongside an efficient midsole geometry, yielding a smooth, responsive ride that isn’t too harsh. I admit that I haven’t tried the MetaRacer for anything approaching the marathon distance, but I share Michael’s sentiment that forefoot striking runners should find this shoe more than up to the task.
Hope’s Score: 10/10

Sally: I echo Sam’s comments here: this is a beautifully elegant shoe with a fantastic upper that fits like a dream. It is a shoe intended to run fast, and it excels at fast paces. It has a smooth, dynamic, forward rolling flow without the vertical “pop” of the existing more heavily cushioned carbon plated racers. The faster the pace, the better it feels. I likewise would be excited to see Asics offer a more cushioned version of this elite runners’ marathon shoe for us mortals who take more than three hours to run 26.2. But boy, this shoe is a joy to run fast in! 

 Sally’s score: 9.6/10

 Ride: 9.5 (50%)  Fit: 10 (30%) Value: 9 (15%) Style: 10 (5%)


Comparisons Index to all RTR reviews: HERE

Skechers Speed Elite Hyper (RTR Multi Tester Review)
Derek: I wear US9.5 in both shoes. The MetaRacer has the more secure racier fit, and the smoother transition, and better outsole grip. The Speed Elite has more cushioning, but minimal outsole rubber can compromise grip and durability under certain conditions. It is a big toss-up between the 2 shoes for short races. I think 5k and below and non technical, I would go Speed Elite. For longer stuff I would go with the metaracer which seems to hold a smooth transition more easily at tempo efforts. 

Sam: MetaRacer has a less abrupt, longer and smoother, more cushioned feeling and less harsh mid to forefoot take off and has a somewhat more cushioned similar but bouncer heel. While Speed Elite is fine there is no contest with the MetaRacer's upper which is smoother and softer feeling yet just as secure.  I agree with Derek as to the race and pace range of each. MetaRacer will take you further but for me not all the way to a marathon and that’s OK as I ain’t no elite!

Michael: As noted in my full review, the Speed Elite is a slightly harder and more “carbon-fueled” ride, compared to the smooth and even MetaRacer. The upper on the ASICS is also considerably better. The Speed Elite facilities a more toe-centric footstrike as well, with a rocker that keeps you forward as opposed to slightly more centered in the ASICS. The ASICS is a more competent marathoner, especially for lighter or more efficient runners, but I think 10K is the distance where they’re really close; the aggressive geometry of the Skechers may be faster, but the comfort of the ASICS may lead me to pick it. Close call at 5K and 10K, but ASICS all the way for anything longer.

Skechers Go Meb Speed 6 (RTR Multi Tester Review)
Derek: I wear US9.5 in both shoes, though I could conceivably do US10 in the Speed 6. No question the MetaRacer wins on all fronts. The carbon rocker transitions a lot faster and underfoot cushioning is better in the MetaRacer. 
Michael: I went up to a 9.0 in the Speed 6, and even then, it’s a little tighter than ideal (but certainly workable). As with Derek, I’m taking the ASICS at all distances; the Skechers is a snappy performer, to be sure, but just can’t compete with the smooth ride of the MetaRacer. Plus, the upper in the Speed 6 is problematic; the upper in the ASICS is perfect.

Skechers Endorphin Pro (RTR Multi Tester Review)
Sam: The Pro is clearly more cushioned and sprightly bouncy all around with a more forward rocker feel at toe off. The Meta has a longer more continuous flow through the stride and smoother curve feeling to its rccker. As a racing duo these two make a strong pairing: Pro for the marathon and half for me, MetaRacer for anything shorter where its more dynamic low slung ride outweighs the lesser cushioning.

Hope: The Pro is far bouncier -- feels like a cross between the Next% and and an ultralight version of an Ultraboost. While the Pro’s upper does work for my foot, I can anticipate runners with wide or narrow feet having a really tough time with lace pressure given the Pro’s thin tongue. If you like a bouncy feel and want more stack height, go for the Pro. Otherwise I prefer the MetaRacer.

Michael: This is a close call for me. Hope is right, in that the Endorphin Pro is considerably bouncier (think up-and-down) compared to the MetaRacer. But - the MetaRacer has a very smooth blend of forward propulsion and comfort with its midsole and plate composition. Most runners will prefer the Pro at the 26.2 distance - it’s undeniably a more cushioned shoe. At 13.1, it’s really close. Both shoes have exceptional uppers. Both have exciting and poppy carbon plates. I think I’d take the ASICS at half and the Endorphin Pro at the full marathon, but it’s extremely close.

Sally: Two shoes I have LOVED to run in! The Endorphin Pro has a beefier midsole and more bounce, and more full-length rocker smoothness. Both TTS at W8, though the E Pro ran a little short. Both have amazing uppers and encourage speed. I would definitely run 26.2 in the Endorphin Pro, but I worry that the Metaracer does not have enough cushion for me for a full marathon. I would definitely run in a Half in the Meta, with high expectations for a PR!

Nike Vaporflly Next % (RTR Review)
Sam: Not as flat feeling (at speed) the Meta.  Smoother more flowy take off but firmer and less cushioned than Next up front. I worry that when tired I will get too far back on the heel in the Meta whereas the full plated Next, while not particularly more stable is more forgiving and consistent at slower paces  Those with strong consistent form and a preference for a smoother a more horizontal rocker and more road feel should prefer the MetaRacer, particularly for sub marathon distances 

Derek: I wear US9.5 in both shoes. The MetaRacer has a more prominent rockered feel and the heel to toe drop difference is much bigger than the 1mm that is advertised! Next% feels quite flat because of the softer heel, but has the more dynamic bouncy sort of ride. The MetaRacer has the better racier fit (I get a little bit of heel slippage in the Next if I don’t lace it real tight with a heel loop lacing). The big differentiator is the forefoot cushioning, which is a lot better in the Next% and makes it a better candidate for marathon racing. For shorter distances, the MetaRacer actually feels faster, even if the cushioning is noticeably less. In terms of grip, it’s a wash. Both shoes have very good forefoot platforms and outsole grip. 

Hope: I think the Next% has more universal appeal and may turn out to be more durable. Runners can expect more knee lift and vertical responsiveness from the bouncy Next%. I think I’d give the slight edge to the MetaRacer for its more ground-connected feel. I’ve run a marathon in the Next% and it was incredible, so this is entirely a matter of finely-tuned personal preference, not quality. Both shoes are “super shoes” worthy of your time.

Sally: These are both amazing shoes, and I know that the Next % works for me at the marathon distance (PR at 2019 NYC Marathon with Next %). The Next % is bouncier with more vertical pop; the Meta is firmer, lower to the ground, less cushioned. The Next % has proven for me to be quite forgiving to the legs. Until Asics comes out with a more cushioned version of the Meta, I would choose the tried and true Next % for 26.2, but likely the Meta for a shorter race up to 13.1.

Nike Vaporfly 4%  (RTR Review)
Sam: Less cushioned lower but more stable heel for Meta. Similar feel of plate just above outsole but less cushion for the MetaRacer upfront but not by that much. For the marathon Vaporly (either type) still leads for me and is close at the half. I worry about getting back on soft unplated heel when tired and slower in the MetaRacer and not being able to drive the plate. For half and below the half the MetaRacer is a clear new choice. 

Derek: I wear US9.5 in both shoes. I am going to have to go with the 4% for anything that isn’t wet. The 4% is just a better rockered shoe that propels you forward and the softness is just a bonus for cushioning. Disclaimer: the 4% works better than the Next% for me. 

Michael: I found the original 4% and the MetaRacer to have similar feels regarding stack height and overall cushion; as noted above, the ZoomX gives a “springier” sensation than the FlyteFoam on the MetaRacer, but it’s not markedly “better” at this point. Even though we’ve seen people take the Vaporfly down as short as competitive 5Ks, I’d take the MetaRacer for anything at and under 13.1, and probably trust the classic 4% for the fully 26.2.

New Balance FuelCell TC
(RTR Review)
Sam: About 2.5 oz / 71g heavier, the TC has a carbon plate and 5mm more cushioning front and back, clearly felt.  All of our testers loved the bouncy softer heel and energetic ride and didn't penalize the shoe for its weight for training and even potentially  racing. The TC is a more versatile option for the runner seeking a do it all carbon plated shoe than the Meta or for that matter any of the other options but it does lean more training more than racing. It is not the low slung rocket the MetaRacer is, a clearly more race focused shoe. If you are seeking a pure racer clearly MetaRacer.

Hoka Carbon X  (RTR Review)
Derek: I wear US9.5 for both shoes, although the MetaRacer is noticeably longer than the carbon X by about 0.25 inch. The low drop of the Carbon X is a bit hard for me to palate for runs longer than 13 miles and as my form falters, I am missing that higher heel of other shoes. The forefoot toe spring also doesn’t give me as much efficiency as the rocker of the MetaRacer. (Yes toespring and rocker are two different things) 
Overall, I prefer the ride of the MetaRacer, even though it is less cushioned than the Carbon X. 

Sam: The Carbon X is broader on the ground, more stable and more cushioned. The lower drop, cushion, and full length carbon plate deliver a less dynamic flatter feel to the ride with its plate more noticeable, one more suitable to training paces and the elite purpose of the shoe: road races longer than the marathon. The MetaRacer is clearly a faster shorter distance race shoe for most.

Hope: The Carbon X is much too stiff for my liking. I felt like I wasn’t activating the plate, rather relying on its stiffness and the sole geometry to get up to speed. The MetaRacer is a much faster, more forgiving shoe.

Michael: It’s been a while since I’ve worn the Carbon X (and have not tried its slight variant, the SPE) but the Carbon X is definitely a firmer, harsher ride than the MetaRacer. Where it wins is really long distance - anything over 26.2 should be a near unanimous win for the Hoka. For those of us without the urge to run for hours on end, I think the MetaRacer is a more compelling shoe to add to your arsenal. Yes, the Carbon X functions as a pretty decent upbeat daily trainer, but the MetaRacer has such an impressive range - and a smoother feel - that the ASICS should be a go-to.

Brooks Hyperion Elite (RTR Review)
Michael: The Brooks is a definitively firm racer, with a strong toe-off sensation and a misole-carbon plate interaction that rolls forwards, rather than propel upwards. It comes with some built-in stability, which the ASICS lacks (though owing to a firm midsole and low stack, it’s not an unstable platform). Despite a harsher ride, I think the Hyperion Elite would function as a more competent marathon racer for most runners, while conversely lacking the short-distance speed that the MetaRacer brings. If you’re only racing 26.2, I think the Brooks is probably worth your buck, but for anyone who will drop under 13.1 (or prefers a more aggressive take), the ASICS is a no-brainer. Brooks is bringing a softer, refined version of the Elite to market that may slot up more directly against ASICS’s offering, but for now I think the MetaRacer will have a broader appeal.

ASICS Gel 451 / Hyperspeed 6/7  
Derek: I wear US9.5 for all the shoes. The Hyperspeed 6-7 midsoles were the same geometry and durometer of around 43, with only changes to the outsole (full carbon rubber for HS6, blown rubber forefoot for HS7). Gel 451 went to a BOA locking upper, with a slightly firmer EVA compound but essentially the same midsole last and geometry. None have carbon plates of course. These racers were very popular, for their softer bouncier midsole, with the downside for Hyperspeed being that the EVA durability was not great. The big difference is clearly the rigid forefoot rocker of the MetaRacer, and the firmer midsole foam (durometer ~47 by feel). With Flytefoam vs conventional EVA, we can definitely expect better midsole longevity. 

Overall, the MetaRacer is more efficient, even though it feels firmer and less cushioned. The weight difference is not noticeable (Hyperspeed ~6.0oz vs MetaRacer ~7.0oz for my size). The MetaRacer is an improved more refined racer for me, and definitely worth the price premium from a performance standpoint. 

ASICS Evoride  (RTR Review)
Derek: I wear US9.5 in both shoes. The EvoRide is more cushioned and more forgiving and actually a bit bouncier. The rocker is less rigid, so it is less efficient in terms of transition to the MetaRacer and I think therein lies the key difference. MetaRacer holds speed better, and not just because it is significantly lighter, but because the rocker is more effective. I would go with EvoRide as a daily trainer or uptempo trainer, but I would definitely go with the MetaRacer over EvoRide for racing, even over the marathon distance. 

New Balance Fresh Foam Zante (RTR Review)
Derek: I wear US 9.5 for the original Zante v1/2/3, and this shoe reminds me a lot of it. Hope felt the same way. The big difference is the very harsh heel of the Zante is replaced with a softer more forgiving package with the Flytefoam. Of course, NB needed a rigid outsole to achieve its rocker, but ASICS is able to circumvent that need with their carbon plate. The MetaRacer is a worthy upgrade for Zante lovers, because it has just made it so much better.

Hope: This is a worthy comp, despite being an uptempo trainer and not a racer. If you can get your hands on the OG Zante (probably heavily discounted at this point), I think its feel comes closest to that of the MetaRacer minus the plate. You’ll recognize the low-slung upper and high toe spring of the Zante. Naturally the dedicated racer is a much faster, more dynamic shoe, but these two shoes would make a killer combo for training and racing.

Nike Zoom Streak 6 (RTR Review)  
Hope: Resin mid foot plate vs. carbon forefoot plate. The Zoom Streak is a pared down racer with a distinctly firm feel. I can’t comfortably take it past the half marathon distance. The MetaRacer is smoother and more forgiving -- more likely to suit more runners for up to 26.2.

Reebok Floatride Fast (RTR Review)
Derek: I wear US9.5 for both shoes. I had some fit issues with the Floatride Fast but beyond that, the ride is somewhat muted for me. The MetaRacer is easy to fit, and gives a more efficient ride by virtue of its rocker design. Even though the Fast has more cushioning, I feel that both have comparable vibration dampening properties. They are near identical in weight so it really comes down to whether you like carbon rockers or not. I know some people don’t. They are a minority though. 

Adios Boost 5 (RTR Review)
Derek: I wear US9.5 for both. There really is no contest here. The MetaRacer is lighter, has better cushioning, and has that excellent carbon rocker. The Adios probably wins out in terms of durability, but it is very hard for non-carbon plated shoes to compete with carbon plated shoes in 2020. It simply isn’t a fair fight. 

Hope: I agree with Derek, except I found the rubber on the Adios 5 far less durable than the Continental rubber used in previous iterations of the shoe. Hardly fair to put a super shoe up against a traditional shoe. Easy win for the MetaRacer.

adidas SL20 (RTR Review)
Sam: The SL20 is a strange shoe. It has a firmer more responsive non plated midsole and the distinct adidas forward flex point. Despite its weight, its super snappy ride might actually be superior to the MetaRacer for a 5K to 10K for me but not for beyond where the Meta will shine.

Sally: I will take the Meta over the SL20 anyday. I found the SL20 to be stiff and unresponsive, a chore to get moving in. 

Salomon Sonic 3 Accelerate  (RTR Review)
Hope: The Accelerate is smooth and fast, but I still think of this comparison like a stock sports car going up against a highly-tuned race car. The Accelerate performed incredibly for me in a recent 10-mile race over hilly terrain -- I appreciated its vibration attenuating foam on the punishing downhills. Give the Accelerate 3 uptempo training duty and lace up the MetaRacer for race day.
Sam: If you like a low slung denser training ride or need a protective uptempo shoe the Accelerate is a great companion to the MetaRacer. It is also a better choice if your routes and races are very hilly as they have greater flexibility and superior downhill shock and vibration absorption. They are clearly a trainer that can race, so more versatile and $70 less but they are heavier and have no plate.
The ASICS MetaRacer will be available April 17, 2020 in Japan & elsewhere June 26, 2020

Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
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Nils said...

Thanks guys for the amazing and detailled review! Maybe you could add the NB FuelCell TC to the comparison section as another carbon plated racing option?

Michael said...

@Nils - Good idea; I haven't worn the FuelCell TC (trying to order a pair, but they're hard to find!) but others have. I feel confident that the ASICS will be a more aggressive platform than the TC (as it's more of a trainer/racer hybrid) but I'll let others add more!

Now following, if others have questions.

Unknown said...

Nice review for a nice shoe!
My size is 8.5, but I usually need wider size than usual, depends on the brand and on the shoe. Sam, as we have the same shoe size, can you mesure you feet at the widest, to give me an idea of the toe box's room, which is as important as the length to me. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Im interested in the metaracer but have been running in the adidas boston and the saucony kinvara series for a few years now. is the meta comparable to those shoes in terms of cushioning and softness (with a carbon plate)? or is it firmer?

Michael said...

@Unknown - I'm also an 8.5 and if Sam doesn't see this, I can give it a go. I didn't find the MetaRacer particularly narrow.

@Anonymous - I've never worn the Boston (shame on me, I know) but purely in terms of cushioning, I would say it feels akin to the newer Kinvara line, but with some added firmness (or rigidity) at the toe-off. I think if you can run 26.2 in the Kinvara, it's likely you can readily do it in the MetaRacer, unless adding the carbon plate changes your gait sufficiently that you end up using new muscles, etc., in which case you may need some longer training runs to suss it out.

Tris said...

Great review. How easily removable is the glued in sockliner?

Anonymous said...

How does it compare with the adidas adizero pro? The adidas will release next week In Europe @ 175€ (-15% discount this month), so it is cheap compared with other carbon shoes. But I can not find even 1 review, and maybe they sell out quickly.



Sam Winebaum said...

HI Luc,
Despite many efforts we do not have test pairs of Pro. I suspect that it will be somewhat similar to MetaRacer with a similarly softer bouncy heel but I think forefoot will be firmer as Lightstrike is firmer than FlyteFoam based on our testing of the SL20.
Sam, Editor

quilling said...

Anyone got an update on how the Metaracer holds up with a more significant amount of mileage?

Since the new 25mm track racing rule these shoes just got more relevant again for 5k+ track races.

Unknown said...

World Athletics produced a list of shoes that can be worn for different events as of 23rd September 2020. These shoes are showing as not being allowed for 800m+ races even though the stack height is less than 25mm. Anyone know why? (Oddly they are listed as ok for triple jump)

Unknown said...

I have heard back from Works athletics and it was suddenly just a mistake in the chart, which has now been corrected 👍

quilling said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
quilling said...

To clear it: Metaracer is not allowed for track. Probably the 24mm stack height is incorrect and WA must have messed up their first measurements. :/