One company that has been notably absent from the low heel-to-toe drop neutral trainer/racer category originally pioneered by the Nike Free and blown wide open by the Saucony Kinvara is Asics. While having a strong lineup of high volume trainers and, at the other end of the spectrum, racing flats, observers have wondered for some time when Asics would fill this product line gap in such a hot growth category.
Wait no longer. The Asics Gel Lyte33 is clearly positioned as an alternative to the Kinvara and Brooks Pure series. With a neutral design, 6mm heel-to-toe drop, and 7.2 oz. to 7.8 oz. weight (men’s size 9 – different sites report different figures), and a stack height of 18mm in the forefoot, this shoe indeed falls between a neutral trainer and a racing flat, serving as a potential transitional shoe to more minimalist designs.
I don’t like rehashing manufacturer’s claims about the technology they use or the features they build into their shoes. If you enjoy such marketing drivel, feel free to visit their site (or you can see the review on Believe in the Run, which rehashes the claims concisely). Every manufacturer claims some unique cushioning compound or approach, or some innovative breathable upper. Asics takes it a step further by incorporating it into a witty acronym – F.A.S.T.
The value these shoes have in your rotation depends on what you are starting from. If you are used to running in traditional trainers with a high (10mm-plus) heel-to-toe drop, then these can be a moderate step towards a flatter shoe. This can (with appropriate preparation) get you moving into more of a midfoot strike, or a lighter and quicker footstrike in general, by getting the heel a bit out of the way. The lighter weight is a noticeable advantage over most trainers as well, making this a potential speed work or racing shoe.
If you already are using a flatter shoe, then these can serve as a high-volume trainer with a bit more cushioning, providing some occasional (or more frequent, if needed) relief for your calves. You aren’t adding much weight in doing so, and the increased or similar heel-to-toe drop isn’t so great that it should cause huge changes in your running form, unless you have progressed all the way to consistent forefoot / barefoot-like running.
Finally, if you use the Kinvaras or similar models comfortably, this provides a bit of variety in your rotation, and may help bring different muscle and tendon combinations to bear when you run. The adjustment to these shoes should be particularly easy for you, the weight of the shoes is similar, and your long-term preference may eventually come down to a matter of fit (or fashion – the Kinvaras still have a broader color palette to choose from).
As far as fit is concerned, some have reported these shoes as being a bit too snug, especially across the forefoot. On the other hand, some sites recommend you purchase these a half-size smaller than you are used to. I see little difference in fit between these shoes and others I have used in the rotation; I’m pretty consistent in using a size 13 with normal width, so would propose that the sizing on the Asics Gel Lyte33 is pretty true.
I acquired these shoes towards the end of summer, so haven’t had the opportunity to review their breathability. This is another area that others have complained about – that the shoes run a bit “hot” due to poor air flow. All I can say is that they are comfortable enough in the winter, and I don’t recall any issues with breathability during some of the warmer weather runs during which I’ve used them.
Perhaps the most legitimate complaint about these shoes is that the “Guidance Line” (one of those marketing gimmicks mentioned above) tends to trap rocks. In fact, on each of the first five runs in which I used them, I had to stop to pry out a rock, even though these were all done on pretty clear asphalt. There’s no way that I would have used these shoes on the crushed limestone surface of the Towpath Marathon for that very reason. However, this problem seems to have diminished – only once in the past dozen or so runs has it occurred. On the upside, having a rock in your heel does give you a bit of an indication as to when you are heel-striking.
I’ve put in ~250 miles on my first pair of these shoes with no noticeable degradation of performance. The one concern is that the heel seems to be wearing down more quickly than I’d expect. Yes, I was still a heel-striker through many of these miles, but the wear rate is greater than that experienced on the Lunarfly’s. It’s possible that Asics has done less to bevel the back of the heel than Nike and Saucony have done in their shoes, and that’s the effect that shoes up. I just hope this doesn’t become a life-limiting mechanism for the shoes – the forefoot seems to be wearing a bit more quickly as well.
All-in-all, these are a versatile shoe and a good first entry in the “cushioned transitional neutral” running shoe space for Asics. Going forward, these will likely become the high volume / easy run shoe in my rotation, replacing the Lunarfly’s (10mm drop). My calves have strengthened sufficiently that the lower heel-to-toe drop shoes don’t present a problem. So along with the Kinvaras and Gel Lyte33’s, the next entry will likely be a zero-drop shoe still offering some cushioning.
I would say that, compared to the Kinvara’s, these feel more like a trainer, despite the fact that the weight, heel-to-toe drop, and stack height are similar. Perhaps that’s because the cushionining on the upper, particularly around the heel, is a bit more plus in the Gel Lyte33′s. The Kinvara’s upper is thinner all around. I would also say the upper fits a bit more snugly (but not tight) in the Gel Lyte33′s, versus the “bunching” I’d observed previously with the Kinvara 3′s.
The Gel Lyte33 is readily available in up to five color combinations from such retailers as Amazon (all product links in this post are affiliate links).