By Tom Demerly
There is a lot of monotony to writing shoe reviews since so many shoes are similar. Finding a gem- a shoe with tangibly different design, features and benefits, is refreshing. That’s the new Mizuno Wave Elixir 5. It’s a fresh approach to running shoe design with a fresh outcome.
The Mizuno Wave Elixir 5 uses unique technologies to control motion, roll and provide cushioning. The result is a shoe that threads between categories for something really unique in ride and features. It is a firm-ish ride since the shoe rolls like Katy Perry’s jeans; tight and low. And just like the pop star’s hit there are some catchy colors and unique riffs to the Mizuno Wave Elixir 5.
We see a lot of similar running shoe technologies because we see a lot of similar running shoe companies. Mizuno is a tangibly different company with a unique approach to shoe design- born from a unique history.
Mizuno started in Osaka, Japan in 1906 when Rihachi and Rizo Mizuno opened a sporting goods store. The company itself, and the personalities of Rihachi and Rizo, are deeply rooted with the Japanese work and quality ethic- a sacred devotion to servitude, honor and integrity.
Mizuno designed and distributed team sports gear in 1906 and moved into tennis, ski and later golf, where they remain a powerhouse. Mizuno earned numerous medals for philanthropy in Japanese sports programs. In 1964 Mizuno became one of the first to award company stock to all employees, returning a share of profits to workers. Mizuno co-branded with Speedo of Australia in 1966. Rihachi Mizuno was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and signed sponsorship agreements with Pete Rose. Mizuno also signed a technical agreement with Russell USA. Their golf clubs were inducted into the U.S. Golf Hall of Fame. In 1989 Mizuno formed Mizuno Corporation of America and the modern U.S. Mizuno was born. In the late ‘80’s, early ‘90’s Mizuno shoes were seen on the feet of elite triathletes like Scott Molina.
It may be the depth of this legacy that helped Mizuno chart a fresh course in shoe design. That course brought them to the current Mizuno Wave configuration. The design is so unique it is protected under US Patent Number 620568. This is worth knowing because it accounts for why these shoes are tangibly different from others you’ve run in.
There is a stiff plastic layer- the “Wave”- that is molded into the insole. The Wave provides the unique characteristics of the shoe. The wave deforms vertically under footstrike- the way a leaf spring under vertical compression distributes energy. This “Wave” of relatively rigid plastic is, in effect, a spring- or series of springs. This design absorbs energy vertically (shock at footstrike) but offers superior roll-control compared to foam cushioned, encapsulated gas or liquid gel cushioned shoes. I pulled the patent reference from the U.S. Patent Office on the unique Mizuno technology and the abstract for US Patent Number 620568 nailed it:
“transverse deformation [twisting] of the heel portion of the midsole can be prevented by the wave configuration of the corrugated sheet and running stability of the shoe can be ensured.”
The cushioning in this shoe is mechanical- and directional. You can’t do that will gel, foam, air or fluid. It may not sound feasible that a piece of stiff plastic can provide adequate shock absorption, but it does. When you try it, you’ll be impressed. The Wave energy management idea isn’t a gimmick. It provides several tangible benefits:
Benefit 1: The shoe feels solid and stable but offers excellent cushion- a tough combination to achieve.
Benefit 2: The shock absorption is accomplished with less material, making the shoe lighter than most gel, foam and gas cushioned shoes and providing a lower ride than higher-heel cushion shoes, further mitigating heel strike through shoe geometry.
Benefit 3: Because the absorption is “mechanical” it will not leach out of the midsole like encapsulated gas or gel resulting in greater durability.
The Wave is sandwiched in fairly traditional EVA foam and skinned in Mizuno’s X10 outsole material- the black stuff that hits the ground and keeps the shoe from wearing out. Previous Mizuno designs were criticized for low wear but the introduction of the Wave patented design will likely extend wear life. The more generous application of X10 rubber to the outsole on the new Wave Elixir 5 will likely improve wear also.
As part of my research on any shoe I read the other reviewer’s comments on the Mizuno Wave Elixir 5. As with many shoes, the comments were all over the map but did tend to follow a theme: Testers above 175 pounds detected little change from the previous version. Lighter testers (140 lb.s +/-) reported enhanced stiffness to the Wave Elixir 5 over the previous Wave Elixir 4. Runner’s World magazine felt the transition from the previous version, the Wave Elixir 4 to the new (current) Wave Elixir 5 was significant enough to warrant a “Best Update” award for 2010. Having only run in our test shoe, the Wave Elixir 5, I can only offer that the shoe does have truly excellent roll control. It also has slightly better shock damping that you would imagine. The plastic, EVA layered “Wave” does its job on foot strike. It’s the cushion shoe that isn’t blubbery. Think BMW “5” series ride quality: Sporty and luxurious.
And how does it wear, run and fit?
These shoes are relatively tailored and straight. They fit me with precision and my feet are down-the-middle average (size 9 to 9.5 average width, average arch: a shoe tester’s foot). I landed in the size 9.5 with a light sock. The fit is tailored- there isn’t any slop. I tried the 9, 9.5 and 10. Width is average or “tailored average”. I read one review that suggested this forefoot fit wide- what shoe was he testing? It isn’t excessively wide. That reviewer must have feet like a hen.
“The Wave provides so much roll control it is like meeting a fellow with a really large nose- it takes a while to notice anything but the nose…”
Running in the Mizuno Wave Elixir 5.
The roll control feature of the Mizuno Wave Elixir 5 and the hollow space in the center of the heel mean this shoe looks- and works- like a new horseshoe. Your feet want to engage the ground squarely. To some people that might feel odd- having your foot corrected to level as your heel strikes. If you’re a mid-foot striker or a neutral runner, no problem.
The forefoot is very flexible, pushing off is light and quick. My overall impression is of the roll control afforded by the Wave and of the heel, even though this shoe does not ride high. The Wave provides so much roll control it is like meeting a fellow with a really large nose- it takes a while to notice anything but the nose. I did notice that at higher speeds (under 8:30 pace) the notion of the heel stability kind of “melds” into the rest of the shoe- probably because the geometry of a footstrike changes at faster speeds. The faster you go, the better The Wave Elixir 5 gets. The overall impression of this shoe is straight, low and fast. The ride is sporty. It is a shoe for a moderate pronator since there is more “shoe” in the horse shoe/heel section of the medial sole of the shoe- more shoe toward the center preventing it from rolling in.
With a pair of speed laces for fast donning in T2 you have a pair of race cars on your feet. The colorways on the Mizuno Wave Elixir 5 are contrasty and bold, with a hot silver/acid green upper riding on a low slung black chassis and a sinister black with orange rally accents. They look different- they run different.
There are thousands of running shoes but almost none like the Mizuno Wave Elixir 5. Mizuno has achieved something difficult in the crowded running shoe industry- a tangibly different technology that works and feels great. Before you buy a sporty trainer with good guidance and fast foot feel it is worth seeking out the Mizuno Wave Elixir 5, I think you’ll be glad you did.