Wednesday, September 14, 2022

New Balance TCS New York City Marathon FuelCell SC Elite v3 Multi Tester Initial Review

Article by Sam Winebaum and Ryan Eiler with Michael Ellenberger

New Balance TCS New York City Marathon FuelCell SC Elite v3  ($250)

Editor’s Note: Our testers have had the SC Elite for a few days. This review is our initial take after initial runs with a full multi tester review coming soon. Testers include Ryan Eiler a 2.27 marathoner and Sam Winebaum around 1:40 for a half these days. Michael Ellenberger, a 2;23 marathoner also adds his initial comments.


Introduction

Sam: The SC Elite v3 is New Balance’s pinnacle long race and marathon shoe. In the Super Comp family, it shares FuelCell foam and the new Energy Arc plate and midsole geometry with the shorter race “flat” SC Pacer and distance trainer..  SC Trainer.

The SC Elite v3 succeeds the RC Elite v2 maintaining the same stack height, 4mm drop and nearly identical weight but now incorporates Energy Arc technology on a platform that is now about 5mm wider at the heel (for more stability)  and 5mm narrower at the forefoot (for more agility).

The key update is the new Energy Arc technology. It is a combination of da eep and wide central groove separating both sides of the shoe and a carbon plate that is bowed in a concave shape at the rear of the shoe. The idea is that as forces are applied at landing the 2 “wings” of foam deflect outward and down with the curvature of the plate at the rear storing the downward energy and then releasing it as weight is removed. This is a key potential improvement to the RC Elite 2 which also had the same soft and resilient FuelCell foam but which was notably soft and a bit mushy at the heel for me lacking forward pop.

But there is more…

The FuelCell supercritical EVA/TPU foam is now in what appears to be 2 densities with a slightly firmer layer under foot (above the blue and red line) and above the plate with the softer foam of the RC Elite 2 below the plate.  And upfront the plate geometry is also changed.

We get a new upper which is slightly softer and which now features a knit tongue in place of prior leatherette.


All the changes point to a still “friendly” riding super shoe now with more get up and go impulse.  In this initial review we share our first runs impressions 


Pros:

Still the friendliest and softest super shoe, now more long race ready Sam / Ryan / Michael

Energy Arc is effective. Kicks the runner off the soft (and now 5mm wider) heel quickly and plunges the foot to an agile toe off through the soft foam and plate: Sam / Michael

Surprised it is a 4mm drop, feels higher,  likely due to the Energy Arc: Sam

Marathon worthy upper: consistently secure and comfortable all over Sam / Ryan / Michael

Likely to suit a wide range of paces and running styles at marathon effort: Ryan


Cons:

Still a bit too soft, especially up front. I think the FuelCell foam overall (or by) swapping firmer and softer layers could be somewhat firmer to increase response and front pop: Sam / Michael / Ryan

“Relatively” heavy by the numbers at around 7.7 oz / 218g (US9) for its less than max 35mm (measured) heel but in the end extra cushion not needed: Sam

Laces perform an outsized amount of work in lockdown: Ryan/Sam

Stats

Approx. Weight: men's oz 7.7 oz / 218g (US9) 

  Samples: men’s 7.48 oz  /  213g US8.5;  8.18oz / 232g US 9.5

RC Elite v2: 7.43 oz /212g men’s US8.5

Stack Height: 

men’s mm 35-37 heel (approx. as measured, no spec provided as of yet ) / 31 mm forefoot (spec, 4mm drop) 

$250. Available Oct 18. 2022 (limited quantities). More general availability early 2023.


First Impressions, Fit and Upper

Sam: Resplendent in bright red and blue TCS New York City Marathon livery with silver New Balance logo overlays the colorway is bright yet classy and fast looking.

The upper mesh construction is similar to the RC Elite 2's, an exterior mono mesh open grid with an inner bonded layer. There are no inner underlays. It is a bit softer and more pliable than the prior RC Elite 2’s more plasticky feeling upper and conforms to the foot better.

The tongue is a stretch knit that is attached by bonding to the upper just below the lacing system. No stitching to attach is used beyond a trace seen inside where the blue cord lace loop holders are located and seen on the inside.

The lacing system does not use eyelets or have the going laces in and out of the upper touching the foot.  All lacing stays on the top and outside of the shoe. The blue stitched section anchor the red cord through which the laces pass. 


There is no rear lace lock hold but I found essentially the equivalent as the lacing draws the rear forward.

The lace up is very easy and the fit is comfortable through the combination of knit tongue and lacing system. By using the stretch knit tongue,  New Balance allows for some foot swelling while keeping the lower portion non stretch and secure. The lower mid foot is slightly more secure than the RC Elite 2. My sense is New Balance may have reduced the volume there a touch with the new stretch knit tongue providing the top of foot volume some may need. Clever and quite effective. I do wish the knit was a touch less stretchy. 

The heel counter has a stout lower rigid overlay with above more pliable materials. In combination with the lightly padded collars we have a secure rear fit. The flat sockliner is lightly glued in. 

The rear fit is maybe not as bombproof as the Alphafly 2, for example, but more secure than the comparatively more minimal rear construction of shoes such as the Endorphin Pro 3 and for sure the Adios Pro 3. 

The toe box is generous, and now softer less plasticky mesh while very similar in fit, it is more comfortable and equally as secure.


I found the overall fit true to size and a bit generous for my narrower right foot. Interestingly during my longer test run they felt a bit too loose at the heel initially but by cinching the laces (recall the knit has give in the mix) and after some foot swelling along the way, the fit improved. This is a marathon focused upper and fit


Ryan: This NYC themed colorway gives off patriotic vibes, and is meant to be noticed with its distinctive and bold shade of red. I found the upper to be very appropriate for marathoning – its sock-like feel and soft mesh are blissfully comfortable, and proper tensioning provides uniform levels of lockdown. 


At the rear, the strength of the heel cup was noticeable as I struck the road, significantly compressing the thick, soft FuelCell midsole. I’ve always been a fan of the flared heel design, which prevents achilles issues. 


Despite having a very thin, stretchy sewn-in tongue, I didn’t experience any issues with lace bite, although it did feel like the laces were doing more work than was ideal. While the large metallic NB logo works well to stabilize the mesh, I do wish that the mesh was a bit less stretchy. V3 rides up against the line of being perhaps a little too soft and accommodating.


After lacing them up, it becomes immediately clear how soft and friendly of a ride the SC offers up. I agree with Sam – this is certainly the most approachable of the super shoes out there.


It fit true to size, and will accommodate a range of foot widths given the flexibility of the mesh and its reasonably spacious toe box.

Michael: The New Balance SC Elite v3 (a mildly confusing name, since there were no preceding SC Elite shoes) is the next-generation New Balance racer. The RC Elite v2 has been my go-to marathon (and, largely, any distance) racer, and it’s probably the racing shoe I’m most familiar with. Carrying on the SuperComp lineage that now includes the short-distance SC Pacer and the ultra-stack SC Trainer, the Elite v3 is a top-shelf, elite-level option that New Balance has designed to compete against the absolute best in the field. So - how does it perform?


I’ve only had the SC Elite for a few days (it arrived just a few hours after my Chicago marathon tune-up half, so no fast running that afternoon!), and am not ready to provide my full review - but I can provide some initial thoughts and impressions.


In terms of fit and upper, I’m quite pleased - the upper is snug and “race-ready,” with a gentle Achilles swoop around back, and while I haven’t taken it out for anything near a marathon distance yet, I am confident that the fit won’t be an issue here. The Energy Arc is noticeable here (it feels more plated than the RC Elite but it’s not a harsh or stuff ride by any means.


Midsole

Sam: The midsole is a dual density Fuel Cell foam with the top layer (above the red and blue line) firmer than the layer below the plate. The lower layer is very similar in firmness, if not identical, to the RC Elite 2’s full midsole of a single density of FuelCell . Both flavors of FuelCell foams are soft and have lots of rebound. 


The firmer top layer for sure helps improve response and tames the mushy feeling of v2 but I wonder what swapping its location would do. 


In my short A/B test run with the FuelCell SC Trainer I was surprised that while much heavier and with a 10mm higher heel and yes it also has a higher drop the Trainer actually had more pop and response. 

I examined them more closely and I think this may be due to placing the firmer foam below the plate and closer to the road instead of the opposite in SC Elite 3.

The SC Elite 3 remains at a 4mm drop and I measure a 35mm heel, the same as v2. This means a non up max “legal” 40mm heel height as most super shoes are, but given the 4mm drop with about equivalent forefoot height and cushion to shoes such as Alphafly 2, Vaporfly, Endorphin Pro 3 all with 8mm drops. 


Given how the Energy Arc functions there is plenty of forgiving FuelCell heel cushion, so and in the interest of saving weight and maintaining stability with all the softness, I do not think adding more heel height is necessary, and I like heel cushion!


Ryan: While it doesn’t knock up against the 40mm stack limit, the large cavity running down the center of the midsole creates a satisfying depth of cushion. I do get a fairly stable feeling from the heel, despite its supremely soft character. 

The Energy Arc design claims to distribute impact energy outward, creating the sensation of a wider stance than a conventionally plated stack can offer. The deep channel underfoot didn’t feel nearly as radical as I expected it to, and seemed to work largely as intended.


The resulting experience is one of bottomless cushion at the heel, which loads and rolls the foot onto a similarly soft yet slightly less stable midfoot. 


Energy Arc and Geometry

Sam: The new Energy Arc technology is a combination of deep and wide central groove separating both sides of the shoe and a carbon plate that is bowed in a concave shape at the rear.

The idea is that as forces are applied at landing the 2 “wings” of foam deflect outward and down with the curvature of the plate at the rear storing the downward energy and then releasing it as weight is removed. The deep groove also saves weight.

Compared to the RC Elite 2 the SC platform is 5mm wider at the heel (90mm) and with Energy Arc in the mix, the same (70mm) at midfoot, and 5mm narrower at the forefoot (110mm). 

RC Elite v2 (left)  SC Elite v3 (right)

What the combination of Energy Arc and new geometry led to,  and what I felt on my longer test run,  is a more stable less mushy heel and a more agile quicker feeling forefoot. At every pace,  the Energy Arc got me off the heel quickly to midfoot even with the very soft foams in the mix.


Upfront, I could feel the foot easily sinking into the soft foam with the plate geometry up front a bit more mellow and longer rolling than the RC Elite 2 during my A/B test run. 


Given the large central gap I was worried about stability but even on some steep downhills on a dirt road I had no issues.


Outsole

The outsole is relatively soft in feel with coverage in all the right places. I am not sure of the purpose of the very firm central front piece. It is possible with a strong forefoot strike and the soft lower foam the plate may come in contact with the ground and thus this rubber to protect the plate from impacts in that area as carbon will shatter.  Durability remains to be seen.


Ryan: On durability, I can so far only venture an educated guess that the moderately thick sections of blown rubber will hold up well. There appears to be an island of this same rubber protecting the carbon plate in the forefoot. This is a smart move in my book, as the exposed section of plate in the forefoot of my Saucony Endorphin Pro 3s got fairly banged up from some harmless looking rocks. The ridged slab of forefoot rubber provided an excellent feeling at toe off.



Ride, Conclusions and Recommendations 

Sam: I have taken the SC Elite v3 for 3 runs so far: about 3 miles at moderate pace and a hilly, humid 7 miler at 8:54 per mile pace (somewhat slower than my expected marathon pace these days) in Hanover, New Hampshire where I went to college. 








Finally I did a series of 2 mile A/B test runs comparing it to the RC Elite 2, Endorphin Pro 3 and SC Trainer for my video review and for the Comparisons below

The ride is friendly, something I said about the RC Elite v2 which we called the “friendliest” of super shoes. What we meant by that is that the soft  high rebounding foam is both protective and never jarring, the ride easy to move at many paces, and the upper fit is generous. 


The same applies to the SC Elite v3 but with a quicker more agile feel and a more stable less low feeling overly soft heel that while, yes, still soft and forgiving, is now amplified with Energy Arc which more easily snaps one forward to transition that is for sure. 

 I ran some steep downhills and uphills and while of course not like a plateless shoe steep downhills were clearly not as awkward as in other plated shoes if back on the heels while uphills were easy with a quick turnover. There is almost a sense the plate was actually flexible and forgiving up front which it is not as this is a rigid rocker shoe so the soft foam may be providing that sensation as firmer and denser foams add to overall rigidity . 


Unlike many super shoes, here one does not have to really load the plate with a strong mid to forefoot strike to activate it, or get past it to toe off at slower paces. This said its return is not as explosive as many. You just roll and spring away nice and smooth, rather than pop up and away.  This tells me that the SC Elite 3, in combination with its stable, easy to move past heel despite the low drop, is also, as was RC Elite 2, a solid option for mid pack to slower marathoners and for everyone for training, only now with its soft midsole better directed and more performant.  


It is not as aggressive or for that matter prescriptive to a certain strike type as certain super shoes are..New Balance chose to offer yet again a friendlier softer option in a marketplace loaded with shoes designed quite frankly primarily and first and foremost for top elites. Its weight is competitive for sure, its foams and plates state of the art, and its ride fun for sure while fast if not quite as aggressively explosive as some.


Ryan: Without much of a rocker or plate based toe rolloff rocker built in, the SC is best used by mashing down onto the foam/plate and allowing its softness to transition you forward. Don’t let the low 4mm stack fool you – the feeling is definitely not one of a ‘low drop’ shoe, thanks to the softness of the FuelCell and the Energy Arc used here. In contrast to a shoe like the Adios Pro, which encourages a certain type of pronation and transition, the SC will accept a far wider range of running styles – and paces, for that matter. Sam describes it when he notes that it’s ‘fast, but not explosive’. The RC Elite (this shoe’s predecessor) has always been known to appeal to anyone looking to run a marathon, and this new SC follows in those footsteps. 



Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE


New Balance FuelCell RC Elite 2 (RTR Review)

Sam: If you liked the RC Elite 2 but wished for more distinctly racing focus you most likely will be pleased. The general character of the shoe: soft, high rebounding FuelCell doesn’t change but we now through Energy Arc and the firmer foam below the foot get a more performant rear of the shoe and a longer rolling front of the shoe. It will also still remain a great trainer.


New Balance FuelCell  SC Trainer (RTR Review)

Sam: The Trainer is a big 2.6  oz/ 76g heavier in my size and has about 10mm more heel stack height and double the drop all of which is a lot and is noticed. It for sure is the training companion to the SC Elite. 


Its FuelCell foam has a very similar feel (softness/density) but is not the supercritical version of the SC Elite.  Interestingly while of course heavier and not as agile I found the reverse combination of foam in the Trainer (softer above, firmer  below) and higher drop overall gave a more responsive feel with its front having more pop than the reverse combination in the SC Elite during my A/B test run. Both true to size with the Trainer having more volume and a slightly better (and higher) heel hold


Saucony Endorphin Pro 3 (RTR Review)

Sam: Also featuring a soft high rebounding foam, the Endorphin Pro 3 has 4mm more heel stack of its similar supercritical foam so a bit more cushion and this was felt during my A/B run. An 8mm drop shoe it has the same spec front stack but seems more cushioned up front likely due to bulge in cushion towards the rear of the forefoot. Its plate, even with the higher drop, is more aggressive requiring more of a mid foot to forefoot strike to really activate. The SC Elite 3 is clearly more agile and quick feeling even if its forefoot is considerably more mellow in feel with a longer, easier rocker. Both true to size with the Saucony having somewhat more overall volume, a similar toe box, less pliable upper and not quite the overall hold of the SC Elite


Xtep 160X 3.0 Pro (RTR Review)

Sam: A huge surprise, the 4mm drop Pro has a max 40mm heel stack heigh,t so more forefoot and heel cushion depth and feel than the SC Elite does. Its foam is somewhat firmer with more rapid rebound while its plate is more aggressive than the SC Elite but not the highly prescriptive rigid feeling plates of the ASICS Metaspeeds for example. So one could say it sits right in the middle. Its upper is superb and its outsole likely will outlast the SC Elite 3’s. The Xtep leans longer distances than the SC Elite for me due to its protection and its heavier weight at 8.4 oz US9.  


Nike Vaporfly Next % 2 

Sam: My current half marathon top choice, the Vaporfly is lighter, and not quite as stable as the SC Elite. The key differences are at the forefoot and with the front plate. The Vaporfly plate is just above the outsole and as such provides considerably more pop than the SC Elite. As it keeps its soft Zoom X above the plate it has an equivalent cushion there. As an 8mm drop shoe with its bottom loaded plate its geometry suits me somewhat better as I can roll more easily forward than in most over choices. The SC Elite does the same but due to its plate location higher up is not quite as dynamic but  abit easier to roll.


Nike Alphafly 1 and 2 (RTR Review)

Alphafly 2 is 7.76 oz / 221g US8.5 so about 0.3 heavier than the SC Elite but on a heel 5mm higher, a wider platform, and with the same forefoot stack (8mm vs. 4mm drop for SC). The Alphafly 2 is more cushioned at the heel and more stable that is for sure. It has deliberate mechanical feel which is effective with a broad stable landing and a combination of rebounding air pod and now some toe off roll which its  v1 lacked. While many elites race to records, it is also, as the SC Elite 3 is,  an “approachable” super shoe for the masses. The SC Elite v3 is more natural feeling, more agile and less massive while the Alphafly is very consistent, very stable and less connected to the road. For a marathon I would choose the Alphafly 2 over the SC Elite 3 but for shorter distances I would flip a coin.


ASICS Metaspeed Edge + (RTR Review)

Sam: The Edge + is considerably firmer and more rigid although it still has ample cushion from its near 40mm heel. Its forefoot is about the same height as the SC Elite 3.  I prefer its upper but its ride is comparatively joyless and requires a midfoot strike plus high cadence to really work well, neither of which I have much of as a more heel striking older runner. And watch out,as I found out in a very hot 10K, if you slow down and get back on the heels you will go nowhere fast whereas the SC Elite 3 will far more easily keep you rolling.


Adios Pro 3 (RTR Review)

Sam: The Adios is more mechanical and rigid  and while more deeply cushioned, again a shoe near the max 40mm vs 35mm here at the heel,  it again as with many of the more elite focused shoes requires a solid mid foot strike to work. I ran a 4 mile race in them and was fine and fast for me but for longer distances the more mellow and easier to roll SC Elite would be my choice.


Watch Sam's Video Review with A/B Run Comparisons to RC Elite 2, SC Trainer, and Endorphin Pro 3



The FuelCell SC Elite will be available Oct 18 at New Balance HERE

Ryan and Michael's samples were provided at no charge for review purposes, Sam's was a personal purchase. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'

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