Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Run Report: Asics DS Racer. V3 to me.

DS Racer 10.  Picture downloaded from Shoebuy.com.
I have already reported that I am breaking in three new pairs of shoes this spring -- the Hoka One Ones, the New Balance Minimus, and the Asics DS Racer.

I reported on the New Balance Minimus a few days back, which I will reprise in a phrase:  they will have a definite place in my rotation for the rest of 2014 and I may stock the closet with a few pairs for future use.

The Hokas need a little more use before I am comfortable writing them up.  Watch this space in a few weeks.

But after a day running errands -- run to doctor, run to metro, run from metro to PT, run to metro, run from metro home -- for a total of ~5 miles, I am comfortable giving a first run(s) report on the DS Race.  I like them.  They are not exciting.  But they are a worthy heir to the Asics racing flat line.

A 10c History of Asics Racing Flats

The following is unburdened by any research, which means two things:  it may not be quite accurate, but to the extend it is accurate it is based on first-hand knowledge.

Asics made several versions of the DS Trainer, a light-ish weight high mileage shoe.  I started running in them in about 2008, which I am pretty sure was version 14.  The shoe has asymmetrical lacing, which I liked but which Asics abandoned shortly thereafter.  It was ~10 ounces.  I liked it because it was the first time I realized that dropping 1/10 of a pound on each foot could make running feel like flying.  Unfortunately, after filling my closet with four pairs at a Roadrunnersports.com "endangered sale," I lost my enthusiasm for the shoe.  Spencer, I think, has observed that the shoes feel mushy, which is precisely my more recent reaction.  Anybody want a NOS Asics trainer in size 11.5?  How about two?

Asics has made the DS race for a few versions as well.  I started on them with version 8 in about 2010.  I loved them.  Who knew I could feel perfectly comfortable without mattresses under my feet when running?  Version 8 hugged the feet well and I never experienced "overstriking" problems from the lesser cushioning.  If anything, I learned when wearing these shoes how to put my feet down gently.  I'm tempted to say they were fast -- V8 was my shoe in two marathons in 2010 and two in 2011, including a PR at Marine Corps 2011 -- but I can't uncouple the shoe from my post-Dublin return to running a lot.
Racer 8.  Photo from Amazon.com.
Racer 8 got replaced and quickly became hard to find.  Until today:  in pulling up photos for this blog post I found them on Amazon in my size.  Barely avoided ordering a new pair.

Next was Racer 9.  This update was a huge disappointment.  First, I hate the color scheme.  I am reminded of a line of dialogue from an Encyclopedia Brown story that, for some reason, I have carried in my head since elementary school. "Green and blue -- the colors.  Ugh!  They clash!"  

Racer 9.  Photo from Zappos.com.
Call me old-fashioned, but running shoes should be white with accents.  Second, Asics somehow changed the upper.  Racer 9 did not hug my foot the way 8 did.  I have never liked this shoe.  I raced it in Boston in 2012, the hot year, and ended up with my first lost toenails since the Flying Pig marathon in 2000.  To be fair, I ran that race completely soaked from sweat and water poured overhead for cooling, so it may be that no shoe would have been up to the task.  End note on Racer 9:  after moving on to true slippers including the Zoot Ultra Speed, these have come to feel more supportive.  I have had a few good runs in them while recovering from surgery this past month.

Asics also made the Hyperspeed for a few versions.  I owned the 5.  Currently the 6 is out, but only specialty shops carry them.  (I've had good luck with Runningshoewarehouse.com in the past.  They have free shipping and appear to be beating Zappos prices by ~8%.)  Road Runner Sports does not carry them for reasons that confound me.  I once heard that the Hyperspeed was Ryan Hall's shoe of choice, which I cannot confirm.  I ran V5 twice in Big Sur.  I loved those shoes, although they were black and orange -- Halloween colors!  The Hyperspeeds did not hold up well as I have tried in the past two years to relearn how to strike the ground each stride.  On the other hand, a 6-ounce-ish shoe that lasted through two marathons is not too terrible.

Hyperspeed 6.  Photo from Zappos.com.

Version 6 is still visible, but the sunrise yellow is better than halloween orange or whatever you call that blue color on the DS Racer.  All I can do as I draft this not to buy the 6, which I had heretofore believed was not available.

Somewhere Asics took a detour into shoes for the triathlon market.  I own a pair of the Noosa Light tri shoes.  Whomever at Asics was in charge of this disaster should be sent to peel potatoes for a season.  They are flat, dull, and ugly.  I would not wear them racing triathlon -- Zoot is so far superior that it is silly even to experiment -- and I am not sure I would wear them racing anywhere else.  Nope, the Noosa Tri is an ugly footnote that proves to me the limits of internet shopping.  Maybe I can use them in a Tough Mudder race one day and then dispose of them.

And finally the shoe of the day:  the DS Racer 10.  Asics has not improved on the color scheme, except that at least red and yellow go together and silver is a rational color choice for the logo.  You can say one thing about shoes that look like this:  you are shamed into running faster than you otherwise might.

Same picture up top.  Still looks like a Jolly Rancher.
At $110 list, they ain't cheap.  I'm intrigued by the progression of pricing for racing flats.  When I started buying them in 2009, they were reliably cheaper than trainers.  Asics (and other manufacturers?) has hooked us and is now moving us back into the 3-figure price range.  With VIP pricing on Road Runner Sports I got these below $100, but not in the $70 range that I am comfortable with.  (I do note that the Hyperspeeds are still available well below $90.  Maybe I need to return to that model.)

The weight is down.  I used to think of the DS Racer as a mid-7 ounce shoe.  These are mid-6.  (The Hyperspeeds, above, were mid-6 when I had them and are now mid-5.  All shoes seem to be dieting at about the same 1 ounce/3 years rate.)  Kudos to Asics for silk-screening on the logo instead of sticking us with a sew-on appendage that does nothing but add poundage.  They feel light on the foot.  It is counterintuitive that one ounce (1/2 ounce per foot) matters, but it does, and in particular when I am trying to work on keeping my feet off the ground more when I run.  A high kick on the follow-through is easy in these.

Compared to other shoes that I am running in, these swaddle my feet.  The Minimus (recent report) grip just enough to keep the foot above the foam, but not enough to avoid blisters on a humid day!  The Hokas, which look sort of like a throwback to uber-control and uber-cushion shoes, have a similarly permissive upper.  My Zoot triathlon shoes, in which I ran for most of 2013, are quite literally a slipper, with no laces at all.  So the DS Racers' more rigid upper, six lace-holes, and narrower construction feel something like lacing into a pair of roller blades.  (Yes, when I last roller-bladed we had laces, not buckles.)  The good news is that the closer fit permitted me to run today despite a not-yet-fully-subsided blister from Saturday.

In contrast with the blah Noosas, the Racer 10 feels somehow lively.  The shoe is not a mere wedge of foam tied onto my feet, but a moving extension of my foot-pad.  If I stretch my toes to reach the ground, flex them to gain purchase, or extend them to push off, the shoe moves with them.  I like the sensation.  A lot.  (I need to re-try the Racer 9 to confirm that this is an improvement over that.  I think it is.)

The heel-to-toe drop is not huge but neither is it minimal.  I don't find it reported -- I suppose when you advertise a shoe as a racing shoe and not as a minimalist shoe you don't get into that kind of reporting.  I would say ~7 mm.  More than the Minimus 10v2.  Less than nearly any running "trainer" on the market.  Little enough to be basically meaningless if you are striking fore-foot first.

I will run many miles in these in 2014.  I hope a few of them are fast enough to justify the "Racer" branding!

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