Asics Gel Fuji Race Initial Thoughts
The Fuji Racer feels like a streamlined evolution of the Fuji Trainer trail shoe. This makes sense, a lighter, faster race shoe design to complement the lower spec version. It’s a minimalist streamlined design and about 100g lighter per shoe than the Trainer. The Racer fits closer to the foot than the Trainer, and hugs your mid-foot with just enough toe room and good fit in the heel. The sole flexes easily around the ball of the foot (exactly where it should flex) for natural strides while running. When you run with the Racers there is the sense that the shoe is an extension of your body (well, I feel that way at least). I tested the Racer on trails in the hills of Zurich, including dry trails and also while it was raining, giving me an excellent perspective of the water drainage properties of the shoe.
Asics Gel Fuji Race Sole and Tread Design
The tread pattern is…interesting. On the forefoot you have an arrangement of X patterns, with a little nub at the center of each X. This means you actually contact the ground with the nub surface. The heel has larger and flatter mutated X’s, but the design is flatter, with the concave surface under the heel. The rubber of the heel is relatively soft for a trail shoe, and after running 30 km or so on moderate trail with some asphalt, the little nubs on the forefoot are already disappearing. I think that Asics needs to find a harder, more durable rubber for the treads of future shoes with this design. However, adding a more durable rubber would mean a higher density material, which would lead to a weight increase, and the low weight is one of the high points of the Racer.
The downside of this pattern is that it doesn’t perform well on flat, wet surfaces or on overly soft, muddy trails. The pointed tread means the surface area contact with the ground is small in relation to the footprint of the sole. At the same time, the tread material is rather soft, which in my opinion isn’t a very good combination. Why? Because you the sole isn’t stiff enough on the tread points to stick into small features of the ground. On muddy trails this means you can slide over the ground because the treads don’t penetrate far enough into the trail
Since the tread rubber is soft, the tread pattern can more easily form to small features like little cracks and changes in the rock surface (or topography). I think this is one reason why it slides too much on wet, compact trail surfaces. By an extreme comparison, think of a trekking pole with a carbide tip. There you have a small point that is very hard, and you can easily dig into a rock surface, even when the surface is wet. But with the tread pattern and soft rubber on the Racers, you just slide over surfaces which don’t have a defined texture for the treads to dig into. However, this is more important if you’re using the Racer for mountain runs, which I am not. The Racer is ideally suited to moderate trails with road sections.
The heel-toe drop of the Racers is 7.5mm, and feels near negligible. I really love the low heel-toe drop, which allows for nice long natural strides along the trail when running with heel strike. I ran with the Racers with a combination of midfoot and heel striking running. The Gel-cushioned heel makes it comfortable to land on, and the low heel-toe drop makes for nice fore and midfoot techniques. The flat sole makes trail to road transition very comfortable (similar to what I experienced with the Fuji Trainer).
Asics Gel Fuji Race Uppers Design
The open mesh on the Racer is very breathable and you can easily feel your foot cool as the wind blows over it. The forefoot uppers are composed of structured 3D woven material (probably polyester). The midfoot region is a thin weave of hexagons, and forms perfectly around the foot, which is the reason why the Racers feel so good. This area is under tension when you tighten the laces, while the forefoot stays open for drainage and breathability.
Asics Gel Fuji Racer Water Drainage
There are basically two different design philosophies when it comes to trail running and water. Either isolate the foot with Gortex (or a similar water-proof breathable) membrane, or keep the shoe open and optimize drainage or water release. Many trail runners choose shoes designed around the high-drainage design philosophy. The logic behind this choice is that over the course of a wet race your feet will get wet no matter what. Once you get water into Gortex shoes, it’s basically impossible for the water to get out unless you physically take your shoes off, which isn’t practical during a race. If you have a shoe that drains well however, the water will be drained away and your feet will be drier and more comfortable than continually squishing around in the Gortex shoes. Some shoes do go with a hybrid design, with Gortex-like material on the uppers only and allow water to get out on the sides. The Racer follows the maximum drainage philosophy. The uppers are made of woven nylon 3D mesh which maintains a 3D structure even when wet. This allows water to move in or out of the material, but water isn’t absorbed by it. So, it’s difficult for any water to get trapped in the fabric of the uppers and therefore water goes out very quickly. The footbed is also made of materials absorb minimal water.
The drainage of the Fuji Racers is far superior to a shoe like the Salomon S-Lab 4 Softground, which lets water in surprisingly easily but takes a while for the water to be ejected while running. After the Swiss Irontrail T71 race was canceled I ran 45km through the Swiss alps on the race course. My shoes got soaked in the first 10km and my feet were soaked, leading to some strange blisters developing on my forefoot. I don’t think I would have this problem with the Racers. I ran in the hills by my house during a rather rainy day, and even though I made a point of running through every puddle I found on the trails, the shoes really didn’t absorb any water at all, only my socks were retaining the water. The excellent water-release properties of the Racer shoes is one of the primary design points. It’s construction is designed to get water out of the shoe efficiently and it really delivers.
Asics Gel Fuji Racer Summary
I like the Fuji Racer as a general trail shoe and for runs which includes both hard road (asphalt) and off-road. The Racer has the best drainage of any shoe I’ve run, the next best or potential equal being the Inov8 RocLite 285, which has a similar uppers design. The Racer is superior to the Fuji Trainer as you would expect, this being the racer model and all. The downside is that it’s not a shoe for wicked off-road or big mountain running. The tread is a bit too soft, making it not ideal for soft trails during hard rain, which is shame given how well it drains water from the footbed. The forefoot tread design has a flat profile, and I wouldn’t trust it to make precise landings on steep, muddy trails but the design is very nice for more moderate trails. It’s light, comfortable, and efficient. That’s what I like in a running shoe.
We want to thank the nice people at Asics Europe for sending us a pair of Fuji Racer to test. This did not influence the review, written after running more than 50 muddy miles in them!