Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Shoe Review: Asics Gel FujiRacer

Buying running shoes isn't getting any easier.  Am I getting too much shoe?  Too little?  Am I spending too much for too little?  What is the right shoe for road?  For trails?  For mountain trails?  The list of questions goes on.  Given that I've been focusing much more on trail running (preferably with steep hills) lately, I thought it would be a good idea to put a pair of shoes on my feet that would suit the terrain I was running on.  This was after having run plenty of miles on the trails in my go-to shoe, the Brooks PureCadence.  The experience running in those shoes left me wanting a bit more traction on trails and a bit more protection from the plentiful rocks and roots New England trails have to offer.  After much deliberation, a bit of pure confusion at all the options out there, I opted for the Asics Gel FujiRacer.

The reasons for selecting this shoe were due to their similarity in specs to the PureCadence, light weight, low heel-to-toe differential (6mm), low profile.  Why not get the Brooks PureGrit, you say?  Well, given that I was looking for traction (PureCadence's biggest flaw) and protection (PureGrit have no rock plate) I made up my mind, closed my eyes and clicked buy (Running Warehouse makes it incredibly easy to buy shoes with their very liberal return policy).

It takes me a while to figure out whether I like shoes or not.  I've put in about 80 miles on these shoes so far, including a 19 mile outing in the White Mountains with lots of up and down and plenty of mileage on local trails.  

My first impression of these shoes upon putting them on was that they didn't fit.  I got a size 11.5, as is standard for me in any shoe.  It was very snug, tight in fact, when it first put it on.  I had read that I should buy a size up, but it's kind of hard for me to do that...  I've never had a size 12 shoe feel right on my foot (nor a size 11 for that matter).  Hoping they would stretch out a bit, I didn't send them back and set about running.

They did break in a bit, maybe even too much.  Surprisingly, after a few runs, I felt my feet moving around more than I was comfortable with in an otherwise narrow feeling toebox.  This was completely unexpected.  Granted, I sweat A LOT, and my feet were completely soaked when this happened (thus contributing to the slipperiness), but it's certainly on the negative side of how these shoes feel (especially descending a mountain, when you really want to trust your foot plant).

One of the most prominent things I noticed about this shoes is how ridiculously light they are.  This makes climbing an absolute breeze.  It's one of the absolute best features this shoe has to offer...  I found myself going up things I would have normally trudged up in hiking boots with ease i was unaccustomed to.  Asics have gotten this light weight a couple different ways:

Here is the bottom before a run, note the holes and nice tread
1. The outsole, rock plate and midsole of this shoe literally have holes cut in them all the way through the shoe.  If you take out the insert, you can see through the thing layer of fabric.  This is at once very smart, and certainly encourages quick drainage, but also allows things to come in rather easily as well.  The things that end up coming in are:  dust and dirt, small rocks, mud, especially placed sticks (rare, happened once) and most shockingly, water.  I say shockingly because the first time i stepped in a stream, the water was on the bottom of my foot before I knew it and it gave me a start.  But it also went right back out.  You can easily see the positives and negatives of this design, but after having put the shoes through the paces, i'm fine with the dirt, mud, rocks and what have you...  and I *would* be fine with the water, were it not for a pretty important traction issue.  Much like the PureCadence, when the outsole of this shoe gets wet, it will not grip any hard surface.  If you sweat like i do, soon into a humid summer run, those holes in the shoe will let the sweat get on the bottom of your shoes, stream or not.  This is an issue that must be addressed in the next revision of the shoe.  I will say that the traction is otherwise awesome.  The shoe will climb you easily through dirt, mud, and does great on the other surfaces when dry.  But when wet, be careful descending quickly where you put your feet...  one slight off kilter plant on a rock and you'll be picking yourself up from the deck.
here is the bottom after a run in dry conditions (yech, that's sweat!)

2. The shoe has much less cushioning than a tradition trail shoe, or even a traditional road trainer.  The interesting thing about this is that the shoe does have asics' patented gel in the heel.  You can really feel this any time you come close to a heel strike.  The forefoot of this shoe and the heel are night and day.  The difference in cushioning is especially noticeable compared to the PureCadence.  At first, this was very hard to deal with, as my feet were taking a pounding.  I came to realize realize just how NOT minimal the PureCadence are as I continued to run in these shoes (which are also NOT minimal).  The proprioception in the forefoot area of this shoe is great..  You really are in touch with the ground.  It does call for a much more deliberate style of running... but this type of running will help you keep from rolling your ankle or taking a digger.  It takes some getting used to, and I'm still not sold that the forefoot has enough cushioning, but I will say I'm going to continue to wear this on long mountain runs with steep descents, at least until I figure out another trail shoe to buy.

There isn't much else to this shoe, which I guess is another factor in the light weight of it.  The upper feels fine.  It has taken some serious beatings in the runs I have done and shows no sign of being worse for the wear (despite being quite dirty).  I do think it has a bit too much "flex", resulting in the fit issues I described earlier.

Of all the factors to consider in shoes, I think fit is very personal.  That the FujiRacer doesn't fit me perfectly will probably prevent me from buying the next revision of this shoe.  If they fix the traction issue, and if you are looking for a light weight trail shoe that will stand up to the punishment if a very long day on steep, rocky trails, this really is a great shoe.  If you aren't used to a less-than-plush forefoot cushion, it may take some time to get used to these shoes, but I think your running could benefit from it if all other factors are acceptable and you give them a chance.

If you have any additional questions or thoughts, definitely let us know!

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