Back in the late 1990s, the DS Trainer deserves some credit for establishing the lightweight, performance support category of running shoes. Not only was it first in, it has also maintained a firm hold on the number one sales spot within the category. Additionally, the ASICS DS Trainer 21 is one of the better selling shoes at Running Warehouse. For that reason, let’s take a look at other shoes poised to challenge the success of the DS Trainer within lightweight performance support footwear.
Over the years we have seen shoes come and go from within this category. Saucony had the short lived B-Gone and the fairly successful Tangent. There was a time when the Nike Zoom Elite was a good performance support shoe, but it has been classified as neutral for several iterations now. Brooks has never really had a shoe in this category, but the Racer ST could fill the need for some runners. New Balance has had varied success with different versions of the 900 series, and the more recent (now defunct) 870 series. In the past, Mizuno had two very good options – the Maverick, and it’s successor, the Elixir.
Now in 2016, we have New Balance and Mizuno re-entering the category with the Vazee Prism and Wave Catalyst. Adidas continues to be a contender in this category with its 8th version of the adizero Tempo. So let’s see how they stack up.
First let’s look at the attributes. All of these shoes are related because they have built-in support to counter mild overpronation. Additionally, they are light enough for faster paced training but with just enough cushioning for some runners to use them daily without feeling beat up. They also have high heel-toe offsets with three shoes at 10mm, and the Vazee Prism at 8mm. In fact, the DS Trainer 21, Wave Catalyst and adizero Tempo 8 all have the same stack height with a 16mm forefoot and 26mm heel. The Vazee Prism is at 19mm in the forefoot and the heel height is just 1mm higher than the others (27mm). When it comes to weight, the Vazee Prism is again the outlier. It is around a half ounce heavier than the other three shoes, which are closely grouped.
Fit and Upper
Traditionally, performance shoes have a snug fit to keep you connected to the shoe. This really comes into play when going around turns at a higher speed. In keeping with this tradition, the DS Trainer 21, adizero Tempo 8, and the Vazee Prism all have a lower volume and narrower fit. Of the three, the adizero Tempo has the most snug and narrow fit and the Vazee Prism has a bit more room around the smaller toes. The Wave Catalyst is not quite as snug as the other three but is still narrower than a true medium. The DS Trainer 21 and adizero Tempo both have somewhat thin tongues but offer enough padding to be comfortable under tight lacing pressure. The Vazee Prism and Wave Catalyst both have medium thick tongues and thus do not feel as streamlined as the other two shoes. The meshes on all four shoes are light and breathable, with a slight edge in breathability going to the adizero Tempo 8.
Ride and Midsole
All four shoes are on the firmer side of cushioning and the stiffer side of flexible. The DS Trainer 21 gives the sensation of moderate compliance, which adds some comfort to the overall experience. However, the shoe is firm enough to feel quick coming off the ground and not feel like energy was being wasted. The adizeo Tempo 8 has a similar feel of compliance, but it feels livelier (that is, it seemed to bounce back with more spring for a quicker toe-off). The Wave Catalyst and Vazee Prism felt firmer than the other two shoes, yet the ride was different between them. The Vazee Prism has a wider base than all of these shoes, which allows the shoe to feel quite stable, but it does not feel as fast as the others. In fact, of the bunch, the Vazee Prism feels more like a daily trainer and less like a tempo shoe. The Wave Catalyst feels quicker than the Vazee Prism, but not as sleek as the DS Trainer 21 or adizero Tempo 8.
Depending on how you strike the ground, the shoe may provide a different experience. The adizero Tempo 8 and Vazee Prism have most consistent feels. That is, the shoe feels the same no matter where you land. The adizero Tempo 8 has some give underfoot with energetic return, while the Vazee Prism feels firm and smooth. The DS Trainer 21 feels best during a midfoot strike, but the shoe can sound slappy as one transitions from a heel strike to toe off. The Wave Catalyst feels best under a forefoot strike, as the Wave plate unit feels a bit mechanical under heel and midfoot strikes.
In regards to pronation support, the Vazee Prism, DS Trainer 21 and Wave Catalyst are set up for mild support for heel and midfoot strikers. The adizero Tempo 8 has pronation support better suited for forefoot to midfoot strikers, because its Stableframe design puts support in the front half of the medial side of the midsole. The DS Trainer 21 has Duomax placed under the midfoot with a bit of rearward extension, while the Vazee Prism and Wave Catalyst concentrate their support in the rear half of the shoe. However, the wide forefoot base of the Vazee Prizm is also adding a bit of pronation support in the front half of the shoe.
And the winner is . . . ?
Best Ride: adidas adizero Tempo 8
With a smooth landing, regardless of foot strike, the adizero Tempo 8 has enough cushion for comfort and enough responsiveness for speed. Honorable mention: ASICS DS Trainer 21.
Best fit: Mizuno Wave Catalyst
The Wave Catalyst has the most accommodating fit. Although it is still on the narrow side, it will provide a more comfortable fit for a greater range of foot shapes than the other shoes. In contrast, the adizero Tempo 8 has the most restrictive fit. Honorable mention: ASICS DS Trainer 21.
Best for running fast: adidas adizero Tempo 8
Light, responsive and with a racing-like, snug fit, the adizero Tempo 8 is ready to get up and go. Honorable mention: ASICS DS Trainer 21.
Best for regular training: New Balance Vazee Prizm
The Vazee Prism simply feels like more shoe than the rest. It’s still good for mixing up speeds, it’s just not as fast feeling as the others. So if you want a daily trainer that does fine with uptempo work the Vazee Prism is your shoe. Honorable mention: ASICS DS Trainer 21.
Best overall: Asics DS Trainer 21
The adizero Tempo 8 really should be the choice here, but the fit is too restrictive. The DS Trainer 21 is not the best at any one thing, but it also doesn’t have any truly limiting factors. Honorable mention: adizero Tempo 8