Gear Review : ASICS Gel-Excel 33 2 road shoes

I’ve been running in ASICS Gel-Excel33 2 trainers for over 1000km across three pairs, including a marathon, so I thought I’d better get off my bum (or should that be my feet?) and write up my full review of them.

Boring in white..., but a very capable shoe. Most of the cool stuff is happening underfoot where you can't see it in any case...

Boring in white…, but a very capable shoe. Most of the cool stuff is happening underfoot where you can’t see it in any case…

My thoughts on the ASICS Gel-Excel33 2:

The Gel-Excel33 2 is a great trainer for frequent runners and high mileage. It is a capable, comfortable long distance trainer and race shoe and I would recommend it to any midfoot/forefoot runner looking to move away from big support/stability ‘battleship’ shoes towards a more natural ride.

Positives:

  • Neutral shoe with natural feel promoting midfoot/forefoot landing
  • Really nicely fitting upper, good midfoot support
  • ‘Natural’ feeling midsole with 10mm drop, lots of bounce but with a firm base
  • Super high-wearing outsole, well suited to road, pavement and dry gravel

Negatives:

  • Upper of the shoes wear around the foot flexion point after about 300km (but no further degradation and no effect on shoe performance)
  • Store price is high compared to other comparable shoes, but Internet prices similar
  • White colourway is boring but other colours often slightly more expensive
ASICS Gel-Excel 33 2 special edition counter

The ‘special edition’ colour. £10 more expensive but they look WAY cool…

ASICS Gel-Excel33 2 – General Info:

A few years ago ASICS started the ‘33’ line of shoes, named for the 33 bones of the foot, based on providing a more neutral ride and support of the natural motion of the foot. For ASICS, this was a departure from their normal line of technically superior ‘full support’ and ‘stability’ shoes into ‘natural’ and more minimal shoes.

The first releases in the 33 series were already competent shoes thanks to ASICS’ focus on science and technology, however with the second iteration of the Gel-Excel33 2 it would appear ASICS have been learning some lessons about ‘natural’ shoes and have been applying these to an already competent shoe. According to ASICS, upgrades to the shoe include the introduction of FluidAxis (deep flex grooves in the outsole to allow for a more natural motion of the subtalar joint), changes to the trusstic system, improved responsiveness in the mid-sole and slightly more room in the forefoot.

ASICS have for some time been at the forefront of marrying science and engineering to make highly capable shoes, and it appears that using this philosophy on more ‘natural’ shoes is paying dividends.

ASICS Gel-Excel 33 2 – Out of the box:

First impressions are positive. The shoes are light for the amount of cushioning they have, with good flexibility and, above all else, simplicity. The white colourway is a pretty boring looking shoe, but other colourways are available for both men and women.

On putting the shoe on I found the fit to be excellent, very comfortable and quite cushioned. It just felt ‘good’ as soon as I put it on. The heel counter is stiffened on the outside for a very solid grip on your heel (ASICS call this the ‘heel clutch’ system) and overly padded, however the blurb about the shoes notes there is memory foam in the heel to ‘personalise’ your fit so it is will mould to your heel and provide a superior fit.  There is an EVA sockliner moulded to the shape of the foot, which can be removed to accommodate a medical orthotic or, as in the case of the photo below, your fitted insoles.

Lightweight shoe, lots of cushioning. Note the massive padding to the heel counter before breaking the shoes in.

Lightweight shoe, lots of cushioning. Note the massive padding to the heel counter before breaking the shoes in.

ASICS Gel-Excel 33 2 – The shoe itself:

The upper of the shoe is made from a lightweight mesh with ASICS trademark intertwined ‘hashtag’ logo in stiffer material to add structure to the shoe. The tongue is very padded, and like most trainers the shoe has two eyelets at the top to allow for butterfly lacing and people with small ankles. The mesh looks the same as the previous shoe, but with a bit more of it to add room in the forefoot over the metatarsal area.

As mentioned before the ASICS ‘heel clutch’ is utilised over a traditional heel counter and I have always found it a good system at locking my heel in position.

The midsole of the Gel-Excel 33 2 is similar to the v1 edition, being composed of two different foam materials sitting on top of each other. Directly under the foot is the spEVA layer for improved cushioning and comfort. The bottom layer is made of SoLyte which is denser and more resilient, also offering better energy return and stability. By using both foams together it provides a solid platform on the ground with consistent energy return, while reducing impact and stress into the foot. There is also a gel pod in the heel to assist with cushioning in the event of heel strike; however it is not as prevalent as with other shoes in the ASICS line. It’s basically there to absorb heel impact and to allow a smooth transition to mid-stance, but not for serious protection for heel-strikers.

ASICS-Gel-Excel-33-2-special-edition-sole

ASICS guidance line, FluidAxis and Trusstic all on display. What all this means is a flexible shoe with a smooth transition, good support and energy return

In the v2 edition of these shoes the Trusstic system has been retained under the arch of the foot to mimic the plantar fascia area however ASICS say the Trusstic system has been extended to aid in propulsion. It’s not really noticeable at low speed, but at high speed when you really flex the shoe you notice a ‘spring’ effect at toe off.

Thanks to the splitting of the outsole by the Guidance Line (a long split to help separate the shoe along its axis) and the split segments running across the shoe there is good flexibility from the midfoot to the toe. When running forefoot these shoes feel light and responsive and natural. However, as the midfoot is stiffened by the Trusstic system it has very little flexion through this part of the shoe. Not an issue if you are a midfoot striker, but when I deliberately tried running heel striking you notice the shoe feels a bit ‘dead’ until you get past mid-stance and the flexibility increases. Again, this isn’t really a bad thing as the shoes are designed to promote a more natural midfoot and forefoot stance.

Very flexible forefoot, but the Trusstic keeps the midfoot very stiff which can make the shoe feel slow if you're a heel striker

Very flexible forefoot, but the Trusstic keeps the midfoot very stiff which can make the shoe feel slow if you’re a heel striker

The outsole is quite thin but is made of ASICS High Abrasion Rubber (AHAR) which is extremely durable. I did over 500km in one pair and the wear was minimal. The outsole is also split into little triangles, allowing a quite stiff rubber to flex easily along with the rest of the sole. Aside from the durability, I found the sole to be quiet, smooth with good traction even on wet surfaces and gravel. Off-road the shoe is capable, but only for compacted gravel trails or reasonably solid leaf litter. Larger stones can be easily felt through the sole and traction in mud is limited. However, I found it more than capable for dry off-road running and even did a quite technical segment of the ‘path of the Gods’ in them without any issues.

They're not designed for it, but you can still go through the mud in them. Expect wet socks though...

They’re not designed for it, but you can still go through the mud in them. Expect wet socks though…

Asics Gel-Excel 33 2 – On the road:

As I mentioned, I’ve now done over 1000km in these shoes across three pairs. Out of the box the shoe is very padded. The tongue and heel counter are especially soft. This would normally put me off a trainer as it can make the shoe ‘wallow’ because of the lack of compression between the foot, the upper and the heel. However, in this shoe the tongue sets down quickly and thanks to the memory foam of the heel counter the breaking in period is swift. On all three pairs it took three runs and roughly 25km before the shoes were fully broken in, after that they went on like a slipper and stayed nicely attached to my feet.

The shoes fit really well, have good room in the toebox, feel light on the feet, and when running swiftly feel flexible and really responsive. On the long slow runs the deep cushioning keeps muscles and joints protected and ready to back it up the next day. Also, I have custom insoles which I use in my ASICS Kinsei. In the Gel-Excel I tried them for the first run and took them out as soon as I got home, as they killed the ride in the shoe and were providing too much arch support. The supplied EVA insole is lighter, flexed better and worked with the mechanics of the shoe and I’ve not looked back!

Durability wise, the outsole is fantastic with 500km+ without any significant wear. One thing I noticed is that the shoes bounced back run-after-run until the runs starting going past 25km in length or 60km per week. After that point they appeared to deteriorate quickly. One pair I had was approaching 400km as I went into the big end of my marathon preparation and four successive runs over 25km with a last 32km left them feeling ‘dead’ and I retired them after about 500km total. This isn’t great for an expensive pair of runners, but I feel like up to about 40km per week these shoes could last for 700km or so. However, as testament to the fit of these shoes, my new pair arrived only five days before the marathon and I got little over 10km to bed them in before the race. They performed well in the race and left me with no blisters, no hot spots, and crucially, no black toenails. Also, they didn’t get that ‘dead’ feeling after the race and some 200km on they still feel good.

One negative point is the durability of the upper. After about 300km the flexion point around the forefoot shows wear through the mesh. It is only the very upper layer, the structure appears intact, and I didn’t notice any further wear after that, nor any impact on the performance of the shoes.

Cool shoes, but the mesh shows signs of deterioration around the foot flexion point after about 300km

Cool shoes, but the mesh shows signs of deterioration around the foot flexion point after about 300km

Asics Gel-Excel 33 2 – Bernie’s verdict: 9/10

I find this a great trainer for me, and I think it would suit other neutral or mild over-pronating runners seeking a good road shoe for serious mileage. I was impressed by the flexibility, the natural feeling while running and the easy transition through the toe-off phase. Price wise they are a bit expensive for the apparent ‘simplicity’ of the shoe but are still a fair bit cheaper than top of the line support or stability models in the ASICS stable or competitors shoes.

Happy running everyone!

Bernie

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