Article by Sam Winebaum, Michael Ellenberger, Peter Stuart, Sally Reiley and Ryan Eiler
New Balance FuelCell RC Elite ($225)
Sam: The long rumoured RC Elite is real and it is here! The early word was it would be the racing companion to the excellent FuelCell TC (RTR Review). Indeed with a weight at barely 7.3 oz / 207g with an “autoclaved” TPU/EVA blend FuelCell midsole, carbon plate and a wild Dynaride outsole of hard rubber nubs injected into a plate the RC is for sure the racing companion but could it also be thought of as a much as dramatic TC update as a racing companion?
It drops a full 2 oz/ 60g from the TC and has the same 32mm heel / 22mm stack height. Would it still have some of that luxurious bouncy yet carbon propelled ride of the TC? How would it “stack up” against the other super shoes we have tested and reviewed from Nike, Saucony, ASICS, and Brooks?
Michael: I think I’ve already said “finally!” to describe some super shoes this cycle but, in the case of the New Balance RC Elite, it’s certainly deserved. It feels as if we’ve been waiting on the RC forever, especially in light of the terrifically well-received FuelCell TC, which whet everyone’s appetite for the RC Elite. And - indeed, finally! - in September of 2020, New Balance has dropped its top-shelf marathon racer.
Sally: The NB Fuel Cell TC has been one of my top two favorite shoes of 2020 so far (along with Saucony Endorphin Speed), so I was also very much looking forward to the arrival of the RC. Let’s put some miles on this beauty and see if it lives up to our expectations!
Peter: I loved the ride of the TC and did a ton of miles in them over the past 6 months. They were the first shoe not named Vapor or Fly that had some really unique bounce and energy return. The idea that there was a similar shoe coming down the pike that might be lighter and more nimble but have some of the same DNA was very exciting.
Approx Weight:: 7.3 oz / 207g men's / (US9) :: 6.1 oz / 174 women's / (US8)
Samples 7.1 oz: / 202g US M8.5
6.1 oz / 174 g US W8
7.5 oz / 213g US M9.5
Stack Height: 32mm heel / 22 mm forefoot, 10mm drop (same as FuelCell TC)
Available Mid Sept $225
Sam/Michael/Sally: No plate harshness to be felt here. Less even than TC upfront and for sure less bottom heavy.
Michael/Ryan/Sam: You’ll feel the carbon plate in the pace, but not in the ride
Sam/Sally: Soft, forgiving cushioning with measured rebound and bounce
Sam/Ryan: Most “traditional” riding of the 2020 super shoes with a smooth roll (vs hard rock) easier any pace toe off with a last touch of carbon plate pop
Sam: Dynaride outsole provides a strike anywhere contact surface and additional cushion feel while masking carbon plate and to date appears very durable
Sam: A light do it all train and race shoe and a superior "update" to the excellent TC
Sam: Very stable on smooth pavement and downhills, strangely unstable on more undulating pavement
Michael: Even keeled and sufficiently soft and bouncy for a marathon
Peter: Looks amazing, rides great, good at any speed.
Sally: Incredibly comfortable and supportive upper
Sally: IMO Best looking shoe of the year (women’s colorway)
Sam/Michael: Soft cushion could be a bit more “taught” in feel, springier for short and fast.
Michael/Sam/Peter/Sally: Missing a little bit of that “edge” for the short stuff (5K and down). Doesn’t want to turn over as fast as some other shoes.
Sam: Somewhat loose unstructured mid foot hold.
Ryan: Midsole felt asymmetrically overbuilt on the lateral side.
Peter lives in Austin, Texas and has been a sub 3 hour marathoner as well as a 1:25 half marathoner in recent years
Michael is a 2019 graduate of Northwestern University Law School in Chicago, with an interest in patent and intellectual property law. Prior to law school, 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.
A hopeless soccer career led Ryan to take up running, and after taking a decade-long break from competing, he is back racking up mileage whenever he can. He calls the 2018 Boston Marathon the hardest race of his life, where he finished in 2:40, barely remembering his name at the finish line.
Ryan decided to forego his Wall Street job to be a gear junkie, and is currently the fledgling entrepreneur behind his company, Bridger Helmets. Most days, you'll find him loping along the Charles River in Boston. Of all the places he's run, Central Park NYC and the New Hampshire coast top his list.
Sally is a lifelong runner and mother of five who ran her first marathon at age 54, and has now run the past seven Boston Marathons and one Chicago, with a 2017 Boston PR of 3:29, good for 8th in her age group. Along the way she has raised over $240,000 for Massachusetts Eye and Ear Hospital running with Team Eye and Ear. A relative newbie to road racing, she has achieved All-American status in the 10K (44:04) and 5K. 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.
Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 63 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 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 163 lbs.
First Impressions and Fit
Sam: Bright neon green with black and blue highlights and a black to white changing “New Balance” on the heel and the now familiar NB with flames logo over the toes, the look is complex, a bit busy and says fast!
The Dynaride outsole of lugs injected into a plate wraps over the center of the toes with a few lugs and partial lugs providing a distinct black over white and green highlight.
The fit is true to size for me with copious (too copious?) mid foot room from the soft pliable unstructured mid foot upper with no bootie. No question a marathon, swelling feet kind of fit at midfoot. The stout toe bumper and more performance type shoe front fit is more noticed than in some of the other recent free and easy toe box super shoes but has not been an issue. Front lockdown is great.
Michael: We had a lot of leaked photos (or perhaps prototype photos) of the RC Elite leading up to the official launch, and only very late in the hype cycle did I learn of this neon green beast but, man, I’m glad New Balance went this direction! With such a striking visual presence, the RC Elite will turn heads at the start line of any race - I prefer it to, say, the more subdued (and white) appearance on the launch day Endorphin Pro or Hyperion Elite 2, though I suspect we will continue to see more colors launch of those models.
It’s also striking just how much the fit here is reminiscent of the FuelCell TC - I shoe I didn’t review at launch, but came to love as a performance trainer over time. It’s comfortable and accessible - perhaps the opposite of the AlphaFly (a shoe I’m yet to try) - and simply familiar.
Ryan: The styling is a little noisy for my taste, with a variety of colors, textures, and angles mixing about, but it still manages to look like a fun, racy shoe. The Dynaride construction caught my attention right out of the box, since it’s a departure from the norms of building a super-shoe outsole. How would a bunch of triangular nodules covering the entire forefoot compete with the thin, strategically placed rubber strips of its competitors?
The midsole shape also caught my eye, since it seemed to bulge much further back on the lateral side of the foot than is traditional. Underfoot, it immediately throws a wink that it’s a low-inertia, high-energy stack of foam, ready to rip. My 9.5 fit pretty true to size, if only a touch short.
Peter: Great fit, true to size, feels terrific on the foot and reminds me of the TC and of the first time I put on VaporFlys. I think they look terrific.
Sally: I am a real fan of the NB Fuel Cell TC so I was very excited for this shoe. The early leaked photos of the women’s version of the RC were a disappointment for me - the colorway left much to be desired. So when I opened the box that arrived at my doorstep, I was quite pleasantly surprised. The shoe is a gorgeous light blue/royal blue colorway with a kelly green/neon green NB flame logo across the top. And right out of the box it felt great on the foot, similar to the TC. True to size in a W8, perhaps just a bit short on the big toe (I added this observation on my first 10 miler, and attribute this to the noticeable toe bumper), it feels comfortable, and yet secure in its wrap of my foot. And oh so soft yet springy underfoot.
Sam: The upper is a very pliable, soft and relatively thick 3D engineered mesh with no structuring elements beyond the heel counter and a relatively stout toe bumper.
The fit is true to size and in keeping with other recent marathon super shoes (except for me the overly snug in front Vaporfly FK) in being relatively generous for a racing shoe especially at mid foot as there is no bootie type tongue ( as say in the Endorphin Pro) or underlays (as say in the Alphafly), or combination of a medial strap and sewn lateral side tongue ( as in the adios Pro) with the fit most closely resembling the Hyperion Elite 2 at midfoot.
Upfront the fit is also generous but more performance shoe oriented with a quite firm and substantial toe bumper ( the firmest and most substantial of any super shoe).
The result is a very comfortable overall fit, one that should favor a wider midfoot. While the heel hold is secure and the toe bumper locks the foot to the front for the toe off, I wished for a touch more mid foot lockdown. Clearly New Balance was thinking of foot swelling during a marathon here. The sockliner is removable and replaceable.
Michael: The neon green mesh is certainly thick for a racer - between Nike’s AtomKnit and VaporWeave, Saucony’s FORMFIT, Adidas’s Celermesh, and Brook’s Hyperion Elite material, the New Balance easily has the thickest upper of the bunch. The only close comparison would be on the ASICS MetaRacer and, truthfully, the two are similar - I think I slightly prefer what ASICS has done, but both are comfortable, breathable, and relatively supportive.
Material aside, I found the fit to be adequate, if even slightly generous in its composition. Contrast the RC Elite with something like the Endorphin Pro, and you can see how manufacturer’s approach lockdown differently - the RC Elite has considerably more room for the midfoot, whereas the midfoot band in the Endorphin Pro (and sister Speed) limit the accessibility of the shoe slightly, keeping it more compressed under the laces. For someone with a fairly normal-width foot, I had no issues in either, and generally I do appreciate a little extra space, but for short distance racing, I would have appreciated a bootie construction upper.
Ultimately, I think it almost has to be one or the other, though - an accessible platform built for the marathon, or a ratcheted-down platform that can handle tight cornering at short-distance paces. It’s extremely tough to have both, and New Balance’s deliberate decision to target the marathon is no problem at all. Plus, if you really want to feel locked into a shoe, New Balance will happily sell you a FuelCell 5280….
There were reports (including from our tester, Derek Li) of the FuelCell TC blowing out on the lateral side. It’s been moderately well-reported, at least enough to make me think it wasn’t a fluke, and while I didn’t experience it myself, I’m hopeful New Balance has fixed that here, either by widening the platform a hair, or reinforcing the lateral side (the upper is a new material, so here’s hoping!). This isn’t a knock against the RC Elite in any way - but is just to say, if you’re a runner who took issue in the TC, you may want to wait for the RC Elite to make its way onto the marketplace before diving head on. With all the significant successes NB has had this year, I’m extremely optimistic it won’t be a factor here.
Peter: The upper looks and feels great. Foot hold is excellent and lacing and lockdown are great. The only issue I have is that the tongue is not secured to the sides of the shoe and therefore has a tendency to fold over when I first put them on. I had some issues with the TC tongue actually slipping down the shoe as I ran--that isn’t an issue here.
Ryan: I’m in agreement with my colleagues on the midfoot fit, in that it’s roomy and is complemented by a fairly plush engineered mesh. It amounts to a super hospitable feel, with impressive ventilation. Overlays on the mesh help a bit, especially near the heel, and it clearly targets comfort over ironclad foot hood, lacking the aggressive lockdown of some of its competitors (Endorphin Pro, Adios Pro).
Sally: The other testers have summarized the upper very well. Like Peter, I had issues with the tongue on the TC slipping down and was wary of it in this one, but New Balance seems to have solved the problem.
On close inspection, the tongue on the RC Elite is a bit more padded than the TC, and they added a lace loop on the RC to lock the tongue in place.
Sam: The outsole is described by New Balance as a low density, high rebound, autoclaved TPU EVA formulation of its FuelCell collection of foams.
It is a softer foam very, very close to the FuelCell TC’s in feel but a touch firmer at the heel for me when combined with the rest of the construction. Upfront I actually found it more forgiving with less of a sense of the plate and is less bottom heavy than TC but think this may be due to the differing outsole and a lighter carbon plate. And recall in this comparison of two identical in stack height of 32mm heel / 22 mm forefoot very similar feeling and cushioning midsoles that the RC is very close to 2 oz lighter. You might note the 22mm forefoot stack is somewhat lower than some competitors who are over 30mm but the cushion is there from the midsole (and unique outsole) and some ground feel is also at the party unlike the others.
The midsole feel blends soft bounce and measured response. So far I am feeling it is closest to the Flyte Foam in the ASICS Metaracer in being bouncy and forgiving but here lighter and less dense but also less bouncy with has more front cushion and considerably less sense of a plate in the mix.
It is not quite as springy and silky as ZoomX in the Next% and overall is a bit softer and bouncier. Not as dense tightly pulled together (those CO2 processing bubbles) a feeling as Hyperburst. Actually quite similar in feel to Lightstrike Pro in the adios Pro which despite the shoe weighing more due to its differing front rods geometry and outsole feels lighter and springier but less stable than the RC.
Michael: Visually, and when poking and prodding, the midsole of the RC Elite is immensely similar to that of the FuelCell TC. It even has some of that shimmering appearance present on the FuelCell TC and 5280.
On foot, the RC’s midsole does approximate that of the TC, but I found the RC Elite to be a touch softer - the TC, for all its amazing bounce and cushion, does feel sort of dense underfoot, perhaps due to the embedded plate or its fuller coverage outsole… but I didn’t come off with this sensation in the RC Elite.
The forefoot is soft and, besides the fact that your pace and effort will reflect some mechanical “spring” helping you along (no judgement - this is the way racer work now!), I think most runners won’t notice the carbon fiber here at all. As Sam analogized, I think the most comparable midsole material is ASICS’s Flytefoam blend in the MetaRacer, though the plate is better “hidden” in the New Balance. An extremely well-done midsole.
Peter: Fuel Cell has been a hit and miss foam for me. I guess it all depends on the formulation and integration in the shoe. While I love the feel and ride of the TC (and the RC), I’ve found FuelCell to be clunky and uninspiring in some other NB shoes (I’m looking at you Fuel Cell Propel 2). Anyway, it’s a sublime feeling midsole here and, as mentioned above, the carbon plate is pretty much invisible in the ride. It’s snappy when you speed up, but it never feels overly stiff or harsh.
Ryan: Here’s a well-engineered, high performing midsole that does its job without the feeling the need to constantly remind you how great it is. So soft that you’ll want to incorporate some in-place bouncing into your warmup routine, the FuelCell blend here impressed me, even as I pushed these through a hard 5k workout. I definitely noticed its low inertia, and I felt closer to the ground than I did in any of the other super shoes I’ve tested. The midsole feels far less stiff when running than you’d think it would after trying to flex the shoe in your hand. This is a pleasantly mellow and versatile choice as compared to some of its other recent competitors, that is tuned so that your feet won’t even notice all of its inner workings.
In terms of personality, the most similar feeling I’ve had was from the Adizero Adios Pro’s Lightstrike Pro foam. The one knock I have on the midsole is the way that it flares out laterally at the midfoot, which to me felt like it was trying to prevent my natural level of pronation.
Sally: I am in agreement with the others that this is a splendid feeling midsole that makes for a smooth, comfortable, springy, quick, yet somehow still subtle ride. You know it is stiff, yet you never feel the carbon plate.
Sam: The Dynaride outsole is a special part of this shoe providing not only of course traction but significant positive effects on the ride.
The front of the outsole is made up of hard rubber injected into a TPU plate very similar to the Reebok Fast Pro’s. This approach obviously reduces weight but I found, as in the Fast Pro, the multitude of lugs provide a pretty much infinite landing areas adaptable to any strike and with full contact anywhere as needed and with deflection also exactly as needed. Each lug has a small hole in it which I assume is the reducing water suction.
As in the Pro this design also contributes to cushion feel up front and I think is a big factor in almost completely masking the carbon plate’s presence, beyond its propulsion that is! In addition to way lighter foam with almost the same feel the outsole is a clear star here.
The TC (bottom above) and for that matter MetaRacer with their full surface of rubber up front make for a relatively firmer and bottom heavy front of the shoe. Not so at all here. The RC outsole makes the shoe at the road only moderately responsive but after all the prime elite purpose here is marathon racing where it is the balance, so to speak, of response and cushion that is key not a highly dynamic firm pop off the road.
The rear patches are firm but thin. I found the rear outsole excellent as a balancing and stabilizing element to the soft FuelCell foam.
Grip has been excellent on dry road. The individual lugs really secure the toe off. On a short stretch of hard packed very fine sand/gravel road while the front gripped just fine the rear areas of exposed foam and smooth rubber did not do so well.
It is early to fully judge durability but so far at over 15 miles of up tempo running there is zero wear at all. Each of the tiny lugs is completely intact with no wear of scuffing seen even on close inspection. The blue heel rubber areas I often wear are also totally like new. While the overall weight is way down there New Balance seems to have paid close attention to long term durability but longer term testing will determine and we will update the review with those results.
Michael: Another pleasant surprise here - New Balance has done the outsole extremely well. When I first saw the press photos of the RC Elite, I was heartened - it uses the same rubber nubs from the FuelCell 5280, which I found to be quite durable, and a pretty decent array of rubber on the heel. And indeed, while I never ran the RC Elite in pouring rain, it handled damp and wet roads without issue - even better, indeed, than the rubber outsole of the FuelCell TC.
I’ll echo Sam’s durability findings - after my first 2 runs, I genuinely could not see signs of wear to the rubber nubs. I’m sure that on tricker terrain will have an effect (I’ve been entirely on asphalt or light crushed rock), or perhaps heavier runners will see more severe wear but.. I am quite bullish on the durability on the RC Elite. Another box New Balance has checked effectively.
Peter: Fun and grippy outsole. The nubs really grip and rip the road. I haven’t put enough miles on them to judge lifespan.
Ryan: The Dynaride construction does a lot to shape the character of this shoe. It works well to assist the FuelCell foam in providing a nicely distributed mid foot compression. While it’s relatively thick for a racer, the pattern used saves considerable weight while allowing copious coverage of the midsole. The compound has phenomenal grip, and so far seems exceptionally durable.
Sally: This outsole works incredibly well, providing good traction on wet roads and gravelly roads alike. Attracting stones between the lugs/nubs was NOT an issue. I now have over 50 miles on them and see absolutely no signs of any wear.
Sam: I have done 4 x1 mile intervals, tempo runs, and an easier pace run in the RC. The two words that come to mind are versatile and clearly a marathon shoe. The carefully constructed ratio of light weight at 7.3 oz to cushion to dynamism is a big part of the magic here.
There is no real sense of a plate in the mix, the first super shoe to pull this off in my experience except the adios Pro (not really a plate but rods) and the Alphfly where the air pods below the plate mask any harshness. Not to say you can’t feel the plate “working” as there is clearly a relatively strong but not overwhelming or severe ( say as in Endporpin Pro) impulse from its presence but with a more gentle but still felt toe off pop.
The ride ends up more traditional in feel, more natural, less harsh than any super shoe to date with more than enough cushion for me for a marathon. The feeling is more of a smooth and moderately (compared to some super shoes such as Endorphin Pro) decisive roll to toe off after a relatively soft landing than a very aggressive and stiff rocker effect.
The combination of ride feel and generous upper leans the RC of course to the marathon in ride but also training at most faster paces but it is not so much a 10K type ride as half and above for me If I had to pick one ride for versatility including some training, it tops the super shoe class.
Michael: As Sam suggests, the RC Elite is a marathoner first and foremost - and the ride dictates that. It’s very smooth - those who have run the FuelCell TC already know it - and dictates speed without much of a hint of aggressiveness.
I think we’ve all long moved past weight as the barometer for racing shoe aptitude (though I sure do miss those days of the 3.X ounce racing flats - New Balance RC5000 included!), but reading the press specs of the 7.2 ounce RC Elite, I did have a slight pause… which running the RC alleviated entirely.
Unlike the FuelCell TC - sensational trainer it may be - there is no excess here. New Balance has nearly perfect the weight-to-cushion on the RC Elite. It’s undoubtedly a racer - you’d make no mistake, even if not neon green - but it’s sufficiently soft and springy that a marathon shouldn’t be a problem (well, relatively speaking, of course!).
I’ll cover more in the Comparisons section, below, but the toe-off here is likely the most gentle of any of the recent racers (at time of drafting this section, I haven’t sufficiently worn the Adios Pro - but will close that out before writing the Comparison!). The nearest competitor is the Hyperion Elite 2, I think, but even on the Elite 2, there is a distinct stiffness from the plate that isn’t quite as present here. Some runners may prefer that leveraged sensation, but the nearly “silent” plate of the RC Elite is a feat to behold.
Peter: Smooth, smooth, smooth. It’s bouncy and smooth. I’ve done easy runs and easy runs with a marathon paced close in them and they’ve been great. They don’t snap and pop like a 10k shoe, but I’d run a half or a full marathon in them for sure. Th plate remains a subtle guide and helps firm up the ride without being harsh at all.
Ryan: I hardly noticed the stiffness of this shoe until I really wound them up at 5k pace. Having said that, I wouldn’t actually reach for these for a hard run of 10k or less, as they’re aimed at longer distances. I only make this point to highlight their versatility, as they handled any pace that I could muster during my road testing. The bounciness of the FuelCell noticeably reduces fatigue on longer runs, and makes running feel a heck of a lot more fun.
Michael’s comparison to the Hyperion Elite 2 is accurate, and the direct comparison of these two shoes shows how well NB has integrated the carbon plate without disturbing a buttery ride. I’d summarize the ride here as traditional in balance, but with a side of (legal!) performance enhancing supplements to heighten its capabilities.
Sally: I find no need to wax poetic and find new words to say what the others have all said so well! Buttery smooth with a subtle firm boost. Fun shoe to put the miles in without screaming race performer.
Recommendations and Conclusions
Sam: Loved the deluxe, dynamic bouncy ride of the TC. Over the moon with the much lighter and for me even more forgiving, better balanced and faster RC.
New Balance has carefully tuned every aspect of the RC to provide the most shoe at the lightest possible weight creating a most versatile, solid, dynamic and fast new marathon oriented contender which can also easily serve as your uptempo trainer.
In the realm of the super shoe and super priced shoe it is actually a very solid value due to its versatility, and at $25 more a better “value” than the excellent TC in a much lighter package.
The very light forgiving and decently dynamic FuelCell midsole, “invisible” smooth rolling yet effective carbon plate and the ride benefits (grip, additional cushion, full contact) of the Dynaride front outsole are the defining features and outstandingly executed.
My only qualms are with the upper. A thinner, lighter mesh and a bit more midfoot lockdown might be in order. That’s it.
This is not a radical, machine like riding shoe, as say the Alphafly with its almost complete sensation of no road in the mix at all or for that matter feet working away to move you along. And it is not a firm plated race flat 2.0 either. It sits right between those two extremes.
The RC feels more familiar and more conventional yet when you realize how light it is, how smooth and carbon harshness free it rides, and how cushioned it is you will smile! I could easily see running a marathon in it as well as races down to say a 10K where I might reach for a shoe with more response and pop such as the Metaracer or the OG Vaporfly.
Sam’s Score: 9.7 /10
Ride: 9.85 (50%) Fit: 9.5 (30%) Value: 9.5 (15%) Style: 9.4 (5%)
Michael: We waited months for it - New Balance teased it - and finally, in September 2020, the RC Elite was unleashed. If you’ve read the review, you know the story - it was worth the wait. I don’t know if we’re still using the term “Vaporfly Killer” - I think probably not, because we’ve learned there’s more than one way to skin a cat - but either way, the RC Elite is class-leading in many elements: comfort, outsole performance, and seemingly durability.
Whether or not you’d take it over a Next%, Hyperion Elite 2, MetaRacer, adios Pro or Endorphin Pro is now a question more of personal preference than necessity to compete. A little more lockdown in the midfoot would be welcomed in v2 but… don’t let that hold you back from the RC Elite this generation.
There is still one more super shoe to come (at least!), in Hoka One One’s Rocket X, but from where I’m sitting, the game has been broken wide open. Even if we concede that Nike’s AlphaFly Next% is the leader of the group (it has the credentials to back it up!), I don’t think competitive racers will feel significantly disadvantaged stepping to the line in the RC Elite. Once racing returns, I’ll be on the line in the RC Elite - and I expect to see many other line green pairs in the near future!
Michael’s Score: 9.7/10
Peter: It’s exactly what I want it to be, a lighter faster version of the TC. Retains all of the fun of the TC in a more nimble package. A great marathon racer or uptempo trainer.
Peter’s Score: 9.5/10
make that tongue a bootie and we might have a 10.
Ryan: This was perhaps the most satisfying dose of shoe doping I’ve ever done. It’s shoes like these that leave me spoiled and yearning for more of the bottomless/bouncy, but lightweight/snappy ride quality. The RC is a demonstration of how lovely a stiff carbon plate can feel when enveloped in lush, low density foam. It’s already proven to me that it’s fast and will never be the wrong choice for any given road run.
If you demand a throttle-mashing, guns-out racer there are other shoes that fit the bill. But if you’re looking for world class performance wrapped in a friendlier package, this one is hard to beat.
Ryan’s Score: 9.7/10 Detractions only for midfoot fit and extra lateral midsole foam
Sally: I am now going to have to switch up my Best Shoes of 2020 list to include the New Balance RC Elite at the top! This is a beautiful to look at, fun to run in, smile-inducing shoe.
It does not scream high performance racer with crazy innovation and flashy gimmicks, but it delivers high performance in a more understated, subtle way. The carbon plate does it magic subtly without shouting its presence, and the wonderful soft cushioning lends to a smooth and yet incredibly peppy ride. I chose my already proven Nike Next % (my “magic slippers”) for running the virtual Boston Marathon last week, but that was mostly because I hadn’t run a long run yet in the RC Elite (I remain concerned about the possibility of my big toe hitting the toe bumper in front after many miles), and because of a crazy superstitious mind game that I need all the help I can get (and in the past few marathons the Next% has delivered). But yes, I would run a marathon in these shoes, as I am sure many runners will! And I would do my long runs in this shoe. Besides, I love it when people tell me my shoes are gorgeous.
Sally’s score: 9.7/10
Index to all RTR reviews: HERE
Peter's collection lined up for A/B testing.
New Balance FuelCell TC (RTR Review)
Sam: Much lighter.. close to 2 oz / 56g lighter, a tiny touch firmer at the heel and more forgiving and less bottom heavy at the forefoot, $25 more and voila you get the RC. Upon reflection, the much earlier released TC can be thought of as a test bed for the RC. It feels like it just took more time to lighten the midsole, incorporate an outsole whose purpose is not just grip but also weight reduction and cushion and still deliver a similar (and improved) ride. While there may be concerns about outsole durability in the RC compared to TC so far not seeing it. The RC in the super priced, super shoe category is for me a better value as it is more versatile from racing to training.
Peter: Lighter and faster and just as much fun. I like them as both a training shoe and racing shoe. Both are terrific.
Michael: Sam’s got it - both are terrific. I think the best case is owning both; a combination of the TC and RC rivals (if not outright trumps) the AlphaFly/Tempo Next% and Endorphin Pro/Speed combinations. Between the two, it’s just down to what you need - yes, the RC could fly as a trainer, but I think most runners would find more usability in the TC. Two home runs from NB.
Sally: The RC Elite is a lighter, faster, more nimble version of the TC. Both are fantastic shoes! It comes down to how many shoes can you afford in your quiver, RC is more versatile for racing as well as training. And the women’s colorway of the RC takes it over the top...
Saucony Endorphin Speed (RTR Review)
Sam: The Endorphin Speed reminds me in many ways of the RC. It has a quite soft heel, not particularly obtrusive plastic plate, easy fitting upper, and similar versatility. At $160 it is a better value and its 0.5 oz weight penalty is not really noticed. All of this said if you can swing it the RC is a more polished shoe with a smoother transition, superior softer midsole feel and overall faster ride.
Michael: I’ve been a lone dissenter on the Endorphin Speed - I think largely related to how the shoe fits my foot, specifically - and for me, it’s no contest. The RC Elite is markedly softer in the heel, with a more plush midsole and relaxed heel counter. Again, I don’t know that many people should pony up to train in the RC Elite - so the Speed is a better choice there - but I’d take the New Balance for practically any race distance.
Peter: The Speed feels like more of a training shoe when directly compared with the NB RC. It’s stiffer, doesn’t have the same bounce and is heavier. It’s a shoe I like, but I’d do day-to-day training in it. The RC feels like a great shoe to pull out for race day or serious tempo training days. So for a daily trainer--Endorphin Speed. For a racer, the New Balance.
Sally: Both great shoes! Both size W8. I found them quite similar in many ways, but the RC Elite is just that much smoother. The Speed is clearly more affordable at $160 vs $225, making it a more versatile training shoe for many, but if you can swing it, go for the RC Elite because you can race in it as well.
Saucony Endorphin Pro (RTR Review)
Sam: The Endo Pro is clearly a more aggressive ride with a sharper more decisive Speed Roll final rocker to its plate, a plate which is for sure noticed even with all the copious and lively PEBA cushion of the firmer variety. Many would and have marathoned in the Endo Pro but I find it a bit too rigid and stiff for that purpose and my paces. Preparing for the review, I ran the Endo Pro again and was left far more beat up than after similar workouts in the RC.
A pioneer of sorts as the first super shoe after the Nike’ VF series, the Pro is in my view already dated due to its harshness and stiffness of its plate geometry. Let’s just say the RC is a touch more mellow and forgiving and more versatile for me as I can train and race long in it more than I would the Endo Pro.
Michael: It’s close! The refined upper on the Endorphin Pro does feel slightly more “competitive,” especially at shorter, faster paces. The Saucony is more aggressive, to be sure - and I think many runners will prefer the comfort and softness of the RC Elite over 26.2. But for athletes looking to run the ladder, from 5K to marathon, I think the Endorphin Pro might just edge out the New Balance - simply because it has that aggressive edge in the <10K range. Ultimately, it’s a lot of personal preference - you really can’t go wrong here.
Peter: Just ran with one on each foot and they are pretty different! It’s interesting that all of these plated and cushioned shoes can feel so different. I’d say the Endorphin pro is a little stiffer, a little less bouncy and a little firmer. They both ride well, but for a marathon or half marathon I’d definitely prefer the New Balance RC.
Ryan M9.5: I can’t say I disagree with the thoughts above. Both of these shoes are targeted to accomplish the same goals, but they go about their business in very different ways. The Endorphin clearly lacks the fatigue-reducing abilities of the RC Elite, but it’s definitely snappier with a firmer PWRRUN PB midsole, and a more telegraphed carbon plate. The upper of the NB is more forgiving in the midfoot with its thick engineered mesh, and provides a smoother, seamless ride. Contrast this to the Speedroll shape of the Saucony’s forefoot, which coaches you through transition and aggressively prods you along. But here again, we’re talking about the difference between two fantastic, highly refined shoes, so like Michael said, it comes down to your particular use case.
Sally W8: Ryan’s summary of the differences is spot on. As a “mature” (age 61) female runner, I personally weigh the comfort and fatigue-reducing qualities of the RC Elite more heavily. Definitely the RC for me for a long run or long race/marathon.
Brooks Hyperion Elite 2 (RTR Review)
Sam: Copiously cushioned, more stable yet with a similar more unstructured and I felt slightly more secure upper at midfoot, the Hyperion Elite 2 does quite pull off the front ride as well as the RC does. It’s rocker takes more “work” and while there is a final toe off impulse before that things aren’t nearly as smooth and easy as RC.
Michael: The RC Elite’s upper is a big determinant in what settles this race for me - despite running some fast workouts in the Hyperion Elite 2, I found the lockdown a little spotty, through the midfoot and the heel. As discussed above, the RC Elite isn’t perfect, but it is better and more comfortable than the Brooks. Additionally, while both racers “hide” the plate well, I think New Balance remains the smooth rolling king. Once again, you really, truly can’t go wrong… but I think by a hair, I’m taking the New Balance.
Ryan M9.5: The stability of the HE2 was a bright spot in my testing, and it’s certainly more stable than the RC Elite due to its massive footprint. But overall, I think the comfort crown goes to the New Balance, with its plush upper, and seamlessly blended foam and plate midsole. The outsole of the RC Elite also feels much more robust and has considerably more grip than the HE2’s thin rubber. Both feel wonderfully light on foot and provide that extremely soft rebound that I’m starting to develop an addiction to. In terms of fit, I didn’t have issues with either in a M9.5. It’s nearly a tossup for me here, so maybe I’ll wear one of each for my next marathon and get back to you.
Sally: I will withhold comment until I hear how Ryan’s next marathon goes! Again, both fantastic shoes (both W8), but the RC Elite is just that much more comfortable and smoother for me.
adidas adizero adios Pro (RTR Initial Review)
Sam: Truly different rides which end up in the same place: a highly cushioned softer marathon oriented ride. The adios Pro has a truly minimal “cushioned traction” outsole under a similar to RC feeling midsole foam. It uses 2 plates: one in the midfoot heel area to stabilize the very narrow landing and five Energy Rods in the forefoot which interact more noticeably and softly with each of the toes than any plated shoe I have tested including the RC. There is noticeably more spring off the front in the adios Pro and as with the RC due to the soft outsole and midsole it is more spring from the stack and plates/rods than response from the firmness of the outsole or the foam. Pro has an overall a softer ride than the RC but a shakier one due to that narrow softer heel landing. .
A totally unique and fun ride it favors faster paces and mid to forefoot striking somewhat more than the smoother “rolling” RC. Its upper is truly the best for me of any super shoe with a perfect very secure hold everywhere (including midfoot unlike RC), plenty of toe box room and of course breathability.
All said and done for longer racing and training the RC should prove more versatile and due to its outsole more durable even though the adios Pro’s unique ride is more fun and potentially faster if it suits your strike pattern and pacee.
Ryan: Sam and I had the pleasure of running together when he first tested his adios Pro out, and damn did they look cool. It sounds like we have very similar opinions here. On paper, these are both marathoning shoes, but in practice these are completely different beasts. Whereas I’d feel fine wearing the NB on a casual recovery run, I wouldn’t dare the same in the Adidas.
The higher, narrower stack of the Adidas is apparent at slower paces, but it outshines the NB when it comes to sheer straight line speed. The energy rods of the adios Pro are very prominent workhorses, in comparison to the New Balance’s plate which also works well, but does so in a more understated manner.
The outsoles also couldn’t be much different. While the rubber nodes of the NB Dynaride complement the pleasant ride of the FuelCell midsole, and provide endless grip, the barren rubber slab of the Adidas outsole seems like it’s built for pure efficiency and feels like it has a slightly smaller footprint.
I’d strap on the Adidas to try and set a PR, but for a Rolls Royce of a ride (still with tons of performance) the NB is also a superb choice for a half marathon or longer. The fit of both shoes is dialed in, but my M9.5 in the Adidas was slightly longer than the NB, while the NB felt wider in the midfoot due to its more pliable upper material.
adidas adizero Pro (RTR Review)
Sam: For sure lower stack the adizero Pro is definitely a firmer old school race flat ride with updated materials. Lightstrike of the firm and responsive flavor, some Boost and carbon plate It is far less cushioned in feel and stack than the RC if more responsive and snappy. Talking more traditional fast 10K shoe vs. marathon racer here.
Michael: Different approaches to racers here! The Adizero Pro feels (ignore the name a moment!) like an Adios, with a carbon fiber plate. And I’m a big fan of it - it’s become a go-to faster long run shoe, and all-around uptempo trainer - but the RC Elite will smoke it over 26.2
ASICS Metaracer (multi tester review & videos)
Sam: Metaracer has a similar bouncy, soft heel followed by a stiffer less smooth rolling rocker than RC and it more clearly favors faster paces (than I can manage) in long races or as I found short racing paces. I found the front action of the Meta just not as easy going, smooth, or cushioned with the plate more noticed. It has more of a short race fit upper than the RC’s with a snugger toe box for that purpose or narrower feet the Meta upper is the one of the best uppers of 2020 for me, along with the adios Pro’s, with the RC almost sloppy in comparison.
Michael: Cosmetically and to-the-touch, ASICS’s FlyteFoam and New Balance’s FuelCell midsoles are perhaps the two most similar on the marketplace. While they’re undoubtedly similar underfoot as well, the ASICS, with its lower stack and more aggressive geometry, comes off a little stiffer and harsher. With adequate lockdown, even without overlays, I do think the ASICS is a more compelling buy if you’re a 5K or 10K racer. Heck, I’d line the MetaRacer up against nearly any of the new wave of racers for anything under 10K. But for any race longer - or any long training runs - I’m taking the RC Elite. That extra bounce underfoot is just exceptional!
Hoka Carbon X (RTR Review)
Sam: Much heavier, broader on the ground, very stable with a lower drop and a flatter feeling plate effect and firmer cushion the fine Carbon X is now dated as a racing shoe but is a fine trainer. The Carbon X 2 should change the picture with softer foam.
Michael: The Carbon X was my introduction to (non-Nike) plated racers and, while it still makes for a fine long-distance trainer, I think the overly stiff ride and rigid rocker are not necessarily top-choice options over a marathon. Curious to see what Hoka is cooking up next but, in light of all the improvements in the time since the CX’s creation, I think the New Balance is a hands-down better choice.
Nike Vaporfly OG (RTR Review)
Sam: Still my favorite of the Vaporfly series for its distinct easy to find drop in and toe off groove assisted by its roomy mid foot upper, the RC shares some of that upper fit but has less of a drop in and toe off feel relying more on a longer smoother roll to toe off. The RC has more forefoot cushion sensation in part as its plate is not bottom loaded right above the outsole as the VF OG’s is and due to the cushion effect of its outsole . All of these combined make the RC equally suitable for fast training and racing while it is rare I take the VF out on training runs. I would still pick the OG VF over the RC for a 10K.
Michael: It’s been a while since I’ve run in the original Vaporfly, but I can comfortably say that the RC Elite - for better or worse - masks the plate better than the Nike. What does that mean? Well on the VaporFly, as Sam alluded to, you can really get hit that “groove” and genuinely feel the geometry at work. While that exists to some extent in the New Balance, it feels more like a bouncy, cushioned shoe that just happens to be fast. I ran my current marathon PR in the Vaporfly (over the hilly Austin course) but if I could do it again, I think I’d pull out the RC Elite!
Peter: The RC fits my foot better, is more stable and is 85-90% as much fun to run in. I would choose the NB RC Elite over the Nike for a marathon tomorrow. The RC doesn’t have quite the bounce off of the ground as the Nike, but it’s close.
Sally: I haven’t worn my Vaporfly OG since I got my Next % last September, but they were my first “race magic” shoes that felt so drastically different than the Adidas Energy Boost I started racing marathons in (wow, I was a real rookie only a few years back!). The Vaporfly is not at all subtle in the way it forces the ride, but the RC is an understated cadillac that runs smooth. I love Vaporfly’s unique bounce, and would choose it for a shorter race up to a half, but I would NEVER consider training in the Vaporfly (especially given the short lifespan of the VF!).
Nike Alphafly (RTR Initial Review)
Sam: Not traditional at all if one can even say that as the RC, the slightly heavier Alpha is more machine than shoe with its yet greater cushion, plate, air pods and whisper thin totally ventilated upper. You will not feel the road much if at all in the Alpha with your strides directed towards the rebound of the big air pods sitting below the carbon plate and then to the soft Zoom X upfront. You may find it soft and ponderous in a detached way, and for sure more so than the RC until you look at your watch...It is fast but leans more for sure marathon at least at the level of what you feel than the more something is actually below my foot, more traditional riding RC also a marathon leaning ride . Neither has the snappier response of say the Endorphin Pro or the soft and pleasing Energy Rods spring of the adios Pro.
Skechers Speed Elite (RTR Review)
Peter: I pulled these out as part of the comparison and was shocked at how much I like them. My original impressions of the speed elite was too minimal and unforgiving. Now, I wouldn’t choose it over the NB RC Elite for a marathon, but it’s a wildly efficient and fun ride. It doesn’t have the max cushion bounce or feel of the NB, but it’s better than I remember. For shorter distances I’d pick the Skechers over the NB, but for anything over 10k I’d go with the NB.
Asics Hyperspeed 6
Peter: Not a “super shoe”, not plated, not super cushioned. It is, however, my marathon PR shoe and I have fond memories. How does it compare? It doesn’t. Shoes have come a long, long way.
Releases Sept 15, 2020
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