Category: Trainer – Gait: Neutral – Weight: 260gr. – Drop: 10mm (32/22mm)
I got my start in running in 2009, wearing a pair of ASICS Nimbus 10. Back then, ASICS was just about it for serious runners, particularly in countries like Greece where the market was small and the choices were few. Also, ten years ago there were two shoe categories mainly: training and performance. And the most common criterion was the softness of the midsole and how plush and pillowy the upper was. And if the shoe was expensive too, well.. that only meant it was a superior model! ASICS covered all of the above.
Yet, the last time I wore ASICS – a pair of DS Trainer 16’s – was just two years later when I started running seriously. I’ve tried some of my friends’ ASICS on and off, just out of curiosity, but that’s about it. Also, minimalism in shoe design and running in general was the thing back then and some of its concepts are still with us today. Since then, developments in the field have come fast and furious; today, runners have literally hundreds of models to choose from. ASICS however, was slow to adopt change, refusing to move away from its tried and true comfort zone. It looked like commercial success was the only litmus test for the company – a test that it passed (and still passes) with flying colors, of course. I followed along from a distance all this time, but never got interested enough to try their shoes again.
Last year however, matters started to change. The company was more willing to experiment and models like MetaRide or GlideRide were clearly totally different from its “holy cows”, Nimbus and Kayano. But with Novablast ASICS is definitely back on center stage.
Upper and Fit
ASICS shoes always featured over-engineered uppers. Lots of padding, lots of overlays, lots of plastic… lots of everything, really.
However, Novablast is trimmed down. The mesh has a particularly sturdy and stiff construction, with very large openings for added ventilation. The internal bumper, though pliable, makes the toe box both higher and wider.
The middle section is a throwback to classic ASICS. The signature stripes are made of hard plastic and cover a large surface and so is the area around the eyelets, which reaches all the way to the rear. The whole thing reminds me of the old overlays, when foot stability was to be achieved in any possible way.
Novablast is also built up around the heel. The collar may not be external as in other ASICS models but it is still relatively stiff, while the foam inside is totally adequate, if somewhat limited in quantity. The same goes for the tongue, which, though not totally bare, is not at all like that on Nimbus e.g.
The new ASICS model is one of the roomiest shoes I have ever worn, but it is also one of the least adjustable. The likely cause is the very wide mold plus the stiffness of the fabric, with the upper having a predefined shape. To illustrate, when I photograph shoes I usually have to insert some paper to keep their shape and stop the fabric from flopping. Well, I didn’t have to do that with the Novablast – the upper stays put all by itself and even if you squeeze it, it will bounce right back to its original shape.
As a result, you will never feel that the shoe really hugs your foot, there is always an empty space between the two. This becomes most noticeable at the toe box where you feel like you are always wearing an EE (extra wide) size. Naturally, runners with wide feet will really appreciate the extra room, while all others will have to play around with the laces to achieve a proper fit. In any case, Novablast requires quite a bit of tightening to wrap around the foot, but you don’t really know exactly how much. You tighten, you think you’re ok, and then when you run, you realize you need to tighten some more. This happened in every run, and a few times I had to stop twice. There are many hard and stiff structural parts which just don’t seem to work well with the laces. Instead of providing better support they end up messing with proper fit. Also, overtightening can put pressure on the last eyelets, where the plastic overlay is even more stiff. It is one of the very few times when I would prefer the tongue to have some more padding.
Despite all of this, the back of the heel sits well and does not slip, regardless of the very soft sole underneath. Given my rather narrow foot, I had to use the extra eyelets.
At slower speeds, the upper is very comfortable and once you find your own proper lacing, you forget about it. But at a faster pace, which Novablast can easily achieve, you will definitely want a significantly tighter fit. That’s precisely the reason why I didn’t quite enjoy wearing it during tempo workouts. Especially when I ran a course with many turns, I never got the sense of stability that I needed and I felt my foot shifting around inside the shoe.
Let’s move on to sizing. To begin with, the shoe is at least half a size longer, and while I went down a half size, it’s still very roomy, even with thick socks. There wasn’t a whole size down available to try, but it is possible that with thinner socks that would be a better fit. Therefore, definitely try them on.
Sole and ride
ASICS has chosen Novablast to introduce its FlyteFoam Blast. I don’t know its exact composition (I guess it’s EVA), but the company claims it has the lowest density of all of its foams. The midsole sports a particularly aggressive design with distinctive angles, nooks and crannies from the middle to the back. Beyond its striking looks, this geometry affects the ride as well – more on that later. It may appear somewhat bulky but with 32/22 mm stack heights, it is not extreme, given the current standards. And if you haven’t figured it out yet, there’s no gel anywhere!
Novablast keeps playing with the cavities at the outsole too. There is a large deep channel running from under the heel to the metatarsals. Rubber is placed only around and in the middle of the forefoot, i.e. where it touches the ground. This design clearly affects the shoe’s ride and lowers its weight, without diminishing durability. I was pleasantly surprised by the absence of the traditional Guidance Trusstic System, the hard plastic midfoot bridge used in most ASICS shoes to boost stiffness.
Despite the sole’s big height in the front, there is quite a bit of flexibility, plus a flex point directly under the metatarsals. In addition, there is a rather large rocker front to back, leading to a more natural transition. Looking closely, we can also see that the midpoint of the sole does not touch the ground, so practically there are only two points of contact, reducing the shoe’s stability.
FlyteFoam Blast is one of the softest foams I have tried to date. Its low density is apparent when you squeeze it with your fingers or just step on it. But Novablast’s ride is even softer in total than the foam by itself, due to the design of the shoe’s sides and outsole.
The foam’s compression is enhanced by the deep indents on the sides (they remind me of Fresh Foam) and its hourglass shape when you look at it from behind. It slopes inside going down and then opens up. This way, the sides recede even more easily, providing a very characteristic sinking sensation.
The outsole’s central deep channel works in similar fashion, since the foam recedes more easily from the higher rubber “banks”. If there was a full contact design at that point, the sole would be more solid and would definitely spread out less. Furthermore, due to the higher heel (rocker) the landing point moves forward, falling precisely onto the cavity instead of the rubber-covered back.
Novablast’s ride is very soft. If, like most runners, you are a heel striker, you feel the sole not just compressing but collapsing – it goes almost all the way down. However, the foam has lots of elasticity and it’s rebound is immediate. You may sink into it, but you don’t stay there. Even at slow pace, the material reacts rapidly and has no time to spread out, as happens in other similar models.
Shifting your strike forward a bit more, the shoe gets more balanced and reveals better its characteristics. The cushioning remains plentiful, yet it is clearly more stable and controlled. If we assume that the midsole height dips 3-4 mm just in front of the heel, then 29-30 mm at the back would have been enough, instead of 32mm – for my taste, anyway.
Novablast is essentially a lightweight daily trainer, capable of handling any distance easily and comfortably. There is unlimited protection at a low weight, while the foam’s bounce will come to the rescue when legs get heavy and soggy. The midsole’s behaviour reminds me of the first Clifton, being a touch mushier at the heel. Yes, it’s a steamroller – but it manages to conceal its size.
The sole is vibrant enough to work even at a faster pace without breaking a sweat, so to speak. The bounce becomes much more noticeable when you charge it, and if you manage to decouple the very soft heel from the transition (it really slows things down), then you will really enjoy its ride. You get as much stiffness as you need to work with the rocker, but what truly makes a difference (in my book, anyway) is the outsole, once again. The band protruding from the side rubber at the middle of the forefoot feels like a nice small piston at liftoff. In general, there are two independent pieces in the back and three in the front making the sole perform somewhat like a trampoline. In my opinion, a more traditional flat sole would not have the same rebound.
Despite all this, when I ran faster I didn’t really enjoy the shoe as much as I could – and that’s due to the upper’s fit. On my foot, at least, hold was less than ideal and it made the shoe feel too bulky. The midsole performed quite well but the upper just didn’t follow along, it always felt “too much” and somewhat foreign around my foot.
To sum it up, the midsole is designed to provide cushioning and energy return, and it is spot on. But this comes at a significant price. Novablast is quite unstable. The combination of very soft foam, the geometry of the sides and the pattern on the outsole, make the heel compress uncontrollably. Yes, there is enough rebound to lift you up, but until you hit bottom you swerve. You will notice, three photos up, that the sole has already assumed an inward slope. And that’s after a mere 30 km! The truth is that I do pronate quite a bit and that obviously makes a difference. Yet, I run exclusively with neutral shoes and I have never noticed anything like this.
And therein lies the paradox: like most ASICS, Novablast is designed to greatly accommodate heel strikers, but it ends up working much better when you land more forward, or you don’t charge the heel too much. Under these conditions you lose none of the cushioning and comfort, while still taking advantage of a well designed forefoot and rocker, plus you have a more stable transition. Otherwise, if you are not totally neutral and/or have weaker ankles, the shoe will most likely end up tiring you out.
In my opinion, FlyteFoam Blast has such properties that a lower heel height or shallower side indents would have been still adequate. Its character would remain essentially unchanged but the shoe would gain in balance and stability, plus it would weigh less. As happens with Hoka, a wider base would also help.
Now, Novablast seems to encroach into Nimbus territory, so some will wonder if the two models “clash”. Given that ASICS’ flagship is no longer the super soft shoe of the past, so they end up having totally different characters. Novablast is much softer, lighter and with a dynamic ride – but if, except protection, you’re asking for a stable platform and a more luxurious upper, Nimbus might serve you better.
FlyteFoam Blast is a modern foam. It’s got pop, it is light, it provides the soft cushioning most people want. And since it’s a hot topic, I won’t be at all surprised to see it combined with a plate. The character of the, already carbon plated, Metaracer leaves room for one more such model, geared towards longer distances.
As far as I am concerned, the upper needs more work and a more stripped down design. Even if the extra roominess is maintained, the materials should be more pliable in order to adjust the fit easier. This would work better with the midsole’s potential.
Novablast may not be perfect, but in total it feels much more than adequate. It represents a great leap forward for ASICS, promising more good things to come. And just the absence of the obsolete GEL is more than enough! And, most important of all, the company is finally willing to experiment.