Training Firmer means faster: New Balance, speed, and the case against “mushy shoes”

Firmer means faster: New Balance, speed, and the case against “mushy shoes”


Dave Korell is the footwear product merchandiser for New Balance Canada and he’s been the company’s go-to shoe expert for years. Here, Korell breaks down the details of the brand’s new line of sneakers, called Fuel, and breaks down what makes them special.

Q) There’s lot of shoes on the market, and even lots of shoes made by New Balance. What makes Fuel different? 

A) The Fuel category of footwear from New Balance is targeted at a speedy consumer experience. Each of these platforms have a low-to-the-ground ride and provide a midsole that is built for responsiveness. The initial feel will be firmer but that’s intentional because mushy shoes don’t elicit a speedy experience. The Fuel platform contrasts our Fresh Foam platform where the focus there is on straight cushion and softness.

Q) Who’s the shoe for? 

A) Speaking of the Fuel Cell specifically, the shoe is built for a consumer that seeks a premium speed experience in a shoe that lasts and looks modern. The platform will be fast where you don’t spend much time sinking into it before the consumer is propelled into the next stride. For the customer who seeks the pinnacle durability in an athletic shoe, the Fuel Cell will also score high grades.

Q) Can you talk a little about the technology, without losing us?

A) In any shoe experience you can manipulate the midsole and/or the upper to change what consumer experience you wish to provide. In the Fuel Cell, the midsole platform is highlighted by a heel-to-toe Nitrogen-infused polyurethane material we call “Fuel.”  The objective of this material is to be as lightweight and as durable as possible while being responsive enough so the consumer doesn’t spend time sinking into soft foam. This creates the speed focus. Above the Fuel piece is Revlite foam which is our 30% lighter than EVA midsole material that adds to a lightweight experience with some degree of cushion. With respect to the upper, we have extended the development of the Dynamic Fit Saddle from our loved 2090 into extended coverage in the Fuel Cell, providing a different upper from the popular engineered mesh that is both durable and foot-conforming.

Q) Is there a greater trend happening in running shoes? We’ve seen minimalist sneakers and pronation-correcting sneakers, where are we now with shoe technology and how does Fuel fit into the bigger picture? 

A) Fuel Cell is a new take in that softer isn’t always better. While the running shoe industry is currently very foam-based, that is, higher midsole heights and more foam coverage in a maximalist state, the Fuel Cell introduction of extensive firm polyurethane is special. Firmer doesn’t mean bad, firmer means faster and reduced dwell time into a platform. This shoe is built for speed.

Q) Are elite athletes wearing Fuel, and if so, who, and for what kind of running?

A) We’re seeing elite sprinters to middle distance runners enjoying the Fuel Cell and Fuel Core Sonic being that they are spending more time generating power from the forefoot and spending less time on the ground. Specific examples would be World Champion sprinter Trayvon Bromell in the US and closer to home, Canadian Olympic sprinter Khamica Bingham [pictured].

Q) As you develop new sneakers, is part of the evolution of any new shoe coming to market for them to last longer over time? Is there anything particular about Fuel which makes them a good long-term investment?  

A) I can say some shoes are built to last longer over time and others aren’t, but this is by design. Some shoes are designed to be extreme lightweight experiences for consumers who seek that out and by nature, these shoes won’t last as long. We can make shoes that will last an extremely long time, but we have to factor in cost that fits the market’s appetite and also the ride and feel of the shoe. The Fuel Cell is targeting durability. Polyurethane by nature is firm-cellular and does not compress as fast as softer foams, so the full-length PU midsole will definitely last longer miles than purely foam-based midsoles.