When it comes to the evolution of supershoes over the past four years, New Balance hasn’t yet been a leader of the pack. But not many other brands have, as Nike and Adidas have dominated marathon podiums over the past few years. New Balance has been a constant innovator, but it’s probably gotten more buzz for its maximally cushioned training shoes in recent years. Its recently-dropped FuelCell SuperComp Elite v4 might not surge to the front of the lead pack, but it’s the best supershoe New Balance has ever made. It could become a favorite among the middle of the pack – specifically runners in the 3-hour to 5-hour marathon range – heading into the 2024 marathon season.
New Balance overhauled the shoe, improving the fit, performance and aesthetics with a much more simple and bold “N” logo. How a shoe looks has nothing to do with how it performs on race day, but it does have a lot to do with how well it sells. The bottom line is that the new FuelCell SuperComp Elite v4 is considerably better than the previous edition, so much so that it looks, feels and rides like an entirely different shoe.
It’s not as light or blatantly energetic as some this year’s other supershoes. For example, it’s not as light or hyper-energetic as the Nike Alphafly 3 or the Adidas Adizero Adios Pro Evo 1 or some of the new releases from Asics or Puma. However, it is a really good shoe and might be more appropriate for runners seeking a shoe with a blend of energetic propulsion, stability and a reliably smooth ride.
New Balance said elite-level pro Emily Sisson (the American record-holder in the marathon) provided a lot of input in the development of this shoe, but it’s perhaps interesting to note that she wore a pair of lighter and lower-to-the-ground carbon-plated New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Pacer shoes when she finished second in the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon last Saturday in Orlando. That’s the same sub-maximal shoe she wore when she lowered the American record to 2:18:29 at the 2022 Chicago Marathon, but it’s really just tied to her own personal preference to having more proprioceptive feel for the ground when she’s running at race pace.
That said, New Balance has definitely leveled up and made this a true race-day option – a vast improvement over the FuelCell SuperComp Elite v3. That was the first version with the FuelCell SuperComp Elite naming convention and it felt a lot more cushy than energetic. This model (which also includes a leveled-up price of $250 ($25 more than the previous version) provides noticeable pop at race-pace efforts, but without the bouncy and sometimes unstable vibe of some of its contemporaries in the supershoe category. Perhaps without intending to do so, New Balance has democratized high-energy, max-cushioned shoe technology for the masses.
What’s New: The FuelCell SuperComp Elite has gone through some key changes after last year’s somewhat lackluster third incarnation, and they’ve all been for the better. The new version has an updated carbon-fiber plate (slightly narrower, lighter and more rigid through the forefoot) embedded in a softer and more energetic full-length peba FuelCell midsole. The upper is lighter, more breathable and less stretchy, but slightly more structured (featuring New Balance’s Fantomfit technology). Other key changes include a revised tongue (it’s no longer fully gusseted, which means the locked-down feeling of last year’s edition has been reduced a bit), a slightly updated outsole (there’s no longer an awkwardly placed rubber pad on the exposed plate under the metatarsal heads) and a new lacing system.
Fit/Feel/Ride: The New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Elite v4 fits true to size with a medium interior volume and a modestly spacious but somewhat short toe box that gives room for toes to splay. (I wear a size 10.5 in every model, and my first two toes felt like they were just a few millimeters from the end of the toe box.) The engineered mesh upper, lacing system and heel counter provide a very secure fit, even though the tongue just seems to be free-floating without the special wrap-like fit of the gusseted tongue on the previous version. The step-in feel is moderately soft and simple, with a sparse interior similar to most high-performance racing shoes. (The tongue has a sleek, semi-stiff suede-like feel, and there is very little padding around the heel collar.) Overall, the fit and feel are good enough to keep the foot secure as it rolls through the stride cycle from heel to toe-off. Ultimately, the most important aspect of this shoe is the improved ride, which although is very soft in the rearfoot, it’s much more energetic than any of previous marathon supershoes New Balance has produced. It’s not really a bouncy ride, but instead it’s more of a stable and lively controlled forward flow.
Why It’s Great: It’s great because it feels like a cross between a max-cushioned trainer with the energy of a contemporary max-energy race-day model. It has a wider footprint than most marathon supershoes, which makes it smooth, balanced and very stable. The rocker geometry helps make for seamless and simple transitions from heel to toe without a bouncy or sharp feeling that some shoes have. For those reasons, it’s one of the few race-day supershoes that I will actually choose for long training runs on a regular basis.
Weights: 7.1 oz. (women’s 8); 8.3 oz. (men’s 9) Heel-Toe Offset: 4mm (40mm in the heel, 36mm in the forefoot)
Why You’ll Love It: Despite the added stability and slightly heavier construction, the New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Elite v4 feels effortless and is easy to maintain at race pace. On my race-paced runs and vibrant tempo runs, it provided terrific rearfoot cushioning that seemed to retain a lot of energy as my foot rolled through the stride cycle. As soon as my stride entered the mid-stance phase, I could feel the propulsion of the Energy Arc carbon composite plate kick in with a very noticeable energetic pop through the toe-off phase. I’m a middle-of-the-pack marathoner who’s hoping to run in the 3:15-3:20 range this year, and this shoe is one I’ll highly consider as my race-day weapon of choice specifically because I think it will provide excellent late-race stability when my legs fatigue and my form begins to break down.
Pro: I see this shoe is an ideal choice for a novice or mid-pack runner interested in investing in a marathon supershoe for the first time. While there’s a notion in the running shoe world that makes everyone gravitate to wanting the best, high-end gear, runners who run at slightly slower paces won’t necessarily get the benefits out of top-tier shoes. If you’re a new runner who’s aiming for a 3:30 to 4:30 marathon, you’ll really appreciate the combination of consistent energetic pop and the smooth stability the New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Elite v4 offers.
Con: While it’s hard to judge a shoe on its weight alone, this isn’t a hyper-light racing shoe, especially when compared to its contemporaries. It’s an ounce to an ounce-and-a-half heavier than some of the lightest and fastest shoes on the market. That might be a real detractor to elite and sub-elite marathoners, but it might not be a negative factor at all for 3- to 5-hour marathoners.