New Balance Designed the FuelCell 5280 to Conquer the Road Mile

A pair of New Balance FuelCell 5280 in a workshop surrounded by prototypes

The road mile is a unique event in the running world.

Running 5,280 feet requires an even blend of strategy and speed. Start out too fast, and you’ll be toast when everyone else kicks at the finish. Too slow, and you’ll never catch up.

New Balance athlete Jenny Simpson has showcased this strategy throughout her career at the road mile distance. She has the tools to best almost any competition when it comes to a road mile—whether she takes a race from the starting gun, grinds from 400 out or wins in a sprint.

In 2017, New Balance’s innovation team sought to harness Jenny’s road mile prowess to engineer a pair of New Balance running shoes specifically built to excel at the road mile distance.

New Balance professional runner Jenny Simpson models the new FuelCell 5280 running shoe

New Balance engineered the FuelCell 5280 for one purpose: running a mile. Built like a track spike but optimized for pavement, the 5280 delivers exactly what road milers need, says Danny Orr, who worked on the shoe for New Balance’s Innovation Team.

“If you look at the marathon, the focus is on improving an athlete’s efficiency,” Orr says in a New Balance release about the shoe. “In the mile, yes that efficiency improvement is beneficial as it plays a role in the key element, which is improving an athlete’s speed and power.”

The Innovation Team started testing midsole shapes for the shoe in July 2017, and they reworked the formulation for their FuelCell foam to coax better energy return from it. Then they experimented with plastic and carbon fiber plates to improve propulsion and brought in lightweight fabrics for the upper.

Simpson, Jake Wightman and other New Balance athletes began testing prototypes that November.

Run, Tweak, Repeat

New Balance says the first runs in the FuelCell 5280 were done in the lab.

Runners logged a series of test runs on treadmills surrounded by high-speed cameras with 3D imaging to capture every step. Designers obsessed over the resulting footstrike, loading and propulsion data to fine-tune every aspect of the shoe.

The team dialed in the fit over the next nine months—creating a custom last for each tester—and shipped more samples as each tweak brought a new iteration.

Athletes tested the shoes at indoor and outdoor track events through the year and provided feedback each time. Designers then used that feedback to craft the shoe that would be turned into the production model.

New Balance FuelCell 5280

A pair of New Balance FuelCell 5280 running shoes surrounded by prototypes

The final New Balance FuelCell 5280 makes the most of speed, power and weight, like a finely tuned race car.

On top, New Balance used a Hypoknit upper—similar to the knit upper on the New Balance 890v7—to provide a dynamic, supportive fit without adding unnecessary ounces. The sock-like upper conforms the the unique curves of a runner’s foot to deliver a custom feel.

Underneath, the 5280 packs a layer of New Balance's new FuelCell foam formulation. The Boston-based company says this formulation has the highest energy return of any New Balance performance foam on the market today.

Paired with the responsive foam, is a carbon-fiber plate that loads with energy when you land and snaps back when you take off to deliver a propulsive ride. The stiff plate and TPU outsole make the shoe feel like a track spike, but grippy rubber and light cushioning makes it ideal for running on pavement.

The New Balance FuelCell 5280 excels in any short distance road race like the mile or 5K, and it gives you exactly what you need to run your best—and nothing more.

After two years of development and two wins at one of the biggest events of the year, it’s proving to be worth the investment for any runner looking for a race-day weapon.

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