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ASICS GEL-DS RACER 9, $100
men’s: 7.7 oz. \ women’s: 6.2 oz.
The Gel-DS Racer 9 straddles the line of being both a lightweight, minimally designed shoe and one with enough cushioning to comfortably cover race distances from 10K to the marathon. Although it’s light and low to the ground in the forefoot, it has a more traditional heel-toe drop (11mm). The heel and forefoot are decidedly soft, but a wedge of firmer foam at the midfoot gives this shoe a more stable feeling than most. Those factors limit its responsiveness, flexibility and all-out speed a bit, but the added stability will come in handy when your form starts to collapse as you fatigue late in a race. Like previous editions, this version of the DS Racer has a race-ready snug fit, but our testers felt this one has a bit more wiggle room in the forefoot that allows toes to spread out upon impact. www.asicsamerica.com
NIKE FREE RUN+ 3, $100
men’s: 9.3 oz.\ women’s: 7.6 oz.
The Free Run+ 3 is light and cushiony with a soft, wrap-like fit that feels almost like a slipper. But, as with previous versions, its best feature is its extreme flexibility—despite the foamy feeling under foot, this shoe allows your feet to move almost as if they would if you were barefoot. This version retains some of the arch support built into previous editions of the Free, but the combination of soft, lightweight cushioning, moderate heel-toe drop (8mm) and dynamic flex pattern make these best for neutral runners with strong feet and good form. They’re versatile enough to race 5K through half-marathon distances for most runners, but only if you’ve been training in them for a while first. www.nike.com
This review first appeared in the May 2012 issue of Competitor magazine.