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New Balance FuelCell RC Elite v2 Review: The Most Comfortable Carbon Plate Racing Shoe

With a huge stack of soft foam in the midsole, the RC Elite 2 offers a fun and fast ride for longer events

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Our Verdict

The RC Elite v2 is a supremely comfortable carbon racing shoe that’s ideal for longer events like the marathon.

For

  • Comfortable, bouncy midsole
  • Tremendously fast
  • Works well for training and racing

Against

  • A little unstable
  • Heavier and less agile than some carbon racing shoes

New Balance released two impressive carbon plate running shoes in 2020. The FuelCell TC was the first to arrive and was billed as a training shoe to pair with the FuelCell RC Elite, which launched soon afterwards.

At 33mm high, the RC Elite had a lower stack than carbon racers like the Nike Vaporfly NEXT% archetype, and a firmer ride with an aggressive outsole that made it a great option for shorter events. Meanwhile, the TC had a high stack of very soft foam and was heavier than a pure carbon racer.

The RC Elite v2 splits the difference between the shoes. It has a 39mm stack that puts it in line with maximal options like the Nike Alphafly, and that stack is made of very soft and squishy foam. New Balance customarily tweaks its FuelCell foam for different shoes, and with the RC Elite 2 it feels like it turned the softness up to 11.

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That high, soft stack and the roomier fit around the toe box are reminiscent of the TC, as is the outsole, which has a rubber covering rather than the triangular Dynaride nubs on the RC Elite.

However, the RC Elite 2 is lighter than the TC, coming in at 225g for my UK 9, whereas the TC is 264g for a men’s 8. The original RC Elite was just 207g in my size, but the second version has put that extra weight to good use in the form of that increased stack of FuelCell foam, which provides the most comfortable ride of any carbon shoe I’ve tried.

It’s still fast though. I’ve used the RC Elite 2 for two track sessions, running reps of various distances at paces ranging from approximately 65 to 80 seconds per 400m. Even when running sharp 400m reps, the shoe feels pacy and nimble in a way that doesn’t seem possible when you look at how big it is.

However, the track runs I did in the shoe did throw up some problems. The first is the somewhat sloppy midfoot fit. I could feel my foot sliding around a little on the bends, especially at faster paces – not enough to be a genuine worry, but enough to be an annoyance.

The shoe is also incredibly disconnected from the ground, even for a high-stack carbon shoe. It’s so soft and squishy it’s sometimes hard even to gauge how fast you’re going. I like a soft shoe and this doesn’t really bother me, but if you like to feel the ground beneath your feet while running then this isn’t the shoe for you.

Another small problem I had was with the insole, which rode up the back of my heel during every run. Eventually I gave up moving it back to where it should be, so there was no insole under my toes. Again, it’s not something that really bothered me, but I know a lot of runners who would hate it and choose to replace the insole.

Still, the RC Elite 2 proved speedy enough for the track, and it also surprised me with how nice it was to plod through recovery runs in. You don’t really even feel the plate on these, so it just feels like a comfortable trainer. A very expensive trainer you probably wouldn’t want to wear out on easy runs, sure, but still, it’s enjoyable to use for them.

However, the shoe really performed at its best on long, steady efforts, where the combination of comfort and the spring from the foam-plate combo makes it a joy to run in. I have no doubt that this will be a terrific marathon racing shoe, providing the highest degree of comfort from a carbon shoe I’ve come across while still having plenty of pop from the plate. I still prefer the Nike Alphafly for running marathons, because it’s almost as comfortable as the RC Elite 2 but has more pop off the forefoot thanks to the firmer Air Zoom pods, but the RC Elite 2 is right up there.

I’m less confident about how well it will perform in shorter events. The one run I didn’t enjoy in the RC Elite 2 was a hard hour-long session, progressing the pace from around 4min/km to 3min 25sec/km. The first 40 minutes or so were great, but as I started to hit and try to hold the faster paces on tired legs, the shoe began to feel clumsy, especially as the route I was running had regular turns in it. While it has the speed for short reps on the track, I think the softness and depth of the foam might make it less well suited for sustained efforts at 5K and 10K pace, where a more responsive and agile carbon shoe like the Nike Vaporfly 2 or Asics Metaspeed Sky would be better.

As mentioned, the RC Elite 2 has a fairly roomy fit around the toes, unlike the original RC Elite which was tight. It was true to size for me, though given the slightly loose midfoot fit you might get away with sizing down if you have narrow feet.

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The outsole, though not as impressive as the Dynaride nubs on the original shoe, still gripped well for me on wet roads. On the purple version I have, the RC Elite 2’s outsole is also a different colour on each shoe, which I am a huge fan of. See also the sparkles on the purple upper – a very welcome addition.

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While there’s a lot to like about the RC Elite 2, it’s a shoe I find hard to recommend, because I think the Alphafly has the edge for marathon running, and the Vaporfly and Metaspeed Sky are more versatile since they perform better in shorter events. That said, the RC Elite 2 is not going to be a bad 5K shoe, and the comfort it offers will appeal to a lot of runners. It’s a shoe that, although it’s not designed for doing a lot of training in, I find myself wanting to run in again and again.

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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.