New Balance 2012 Minimalist Shoe Reviews


When you look at the major shoe companies, I will say that New Balance seems to be most aggressively pursuing minimalist footwear. With the exception of Five Fingers, the Minimus Trail 10 series is the funkiest looking shoe on the market, showing NB is not afraid of going against the grain. Today I’m giving you a look at 3 different shoes that NB is released this spring, I’ve put them through the ringer and you get to reap the rewards. Thanks to New Balance for being willing to connect with bloggers and new media types like myself, it shows a lot of forward thinking towards where reviews and information are headed.

On to the shoes!

Getting’ Low with Minimus Zero Drop 

This week the Minimus Zero was named Outside’s Gear of the Year, and will undoubtable continue to pile up awards. This shoe is legit. The bar has been set high with the introduction of the Minimus Zero-Drop line, a naturally progression from the previous 4mm heel-toe drop released in 2011. What’s cool about this shoe is the heavy customer feedback that NB relied on in designing and testing the shoe, setting up Q&A sessions between people who posted on their social media sites, and their stable of elite runners.

The shoe I was able to test out was the road version of the Minimus Zero. I put about 40 miles on them during training, on sidewalks, asphalt, track, and grass. My longest run in them was 5 miles, and I felt no foot fatigue or soreness after. I primarily run on the trail, so to be able to spend a lot of miles on the road feeling a shoe out was a bit of a novelty. I have to say, I really enjoyed it.

The “Zero drop” claim simply means that the heel and forefoot have no difference in height. Many road shoes average a drop of 10-12 mm, giving the runner who heel strikes a natural roll towards propelling back off the toes. This is the first zero drop line that NB has produced, but don’t think that you are completely in contact with the ground either. The shoe still has a slight 1mm cushion, and rises .5 mm to the arch (actually assisting the runner in staying on their mid foot through propulsion) before descending back to a 1mm cushion.

Pros – Breathable, comfortable, snug, but also a roomy enough toe box. Extremely light, they are flexible and moved with my feet well. I did have to stay disciplined in my foot strike and frequency, since a zero drop and pavement will make a runner pay for poor form! I actually really enjoyed running on turf and rubberized track workouts in them.

Cons – The main design con for me was the shoes were narrower than others, and I the balls of my feet seemed to cover more than just the insole. The mesh is very breathable but I wonder how it will hold up over time.

Other Notes – I had to be very disciplined in my foot strike and frequency. I think this is a more advanced shoe, especially being a road model. I think most minimalist runners tend to the trail, with its natural cushioning and varying terrain. The repetitive nature of a road run can expose a runner’s flaws much quicker, and I’m afraid the nature of these shoes may accelerate that. It’s not really a con, just a reality of the shoe. Like I said, for more advanced users who are dialed in to their stride.

Overall – I’m like the shoes and they have made my road runs more enjoyable, and are good for focusing on my form. I’ll continue to run in them and see how my body adjusts.

Details – Weight = 6.4 oz (181 g). Heel-Toe drop = 0mm

Interested in the Zero Trail? Click here to view.

Minimus Trail 10 

I’ve run the most miles in these shoes, about 50. My longest run was 10 miles. Initial impressions are been great, I have been wanting to try this model since they came out.

The Trail 10 have a 4mm drop, which in the market of minimalist shoes is still pretty low. Personally, when I run on the trail I prefer a little drop, the varying nature of the terrain can throw some random obstacles your way, and it helps it have a little more.

I ran all over Asheville area trails in these shoes, and am very impressed. They don’t look the coolest, but if that’s why you’re running then hop right back on the treadmill next to the good looking people.

My biggest run was on a technical trail ascending to Mt Mitchell, which is very technical with a steady incline. There are several stream crossings, along with your usual big rocks, roots, and ruts. The Trail 10 performed well, with great breathability, protection, and grip. When I ran through streams, a few times I consciously immersed the shoe, and 20 minutes later my feet were dry again. No raisin feet at the end of the run!

Here are some more notes…

Pros – The shoes are very breathable, flexible, and comfortable. They have a roomy toe box, are supportive, and comfortable without socks. I was impressed with the pod grips on the outsole, gripping well on wet rocks, dry packed leaves, and muddy trails. On downhill sections, the heel offered just enough cushion to make the impact tolerable. I also liked the forefoot brace, it helps keep your foot steady during the moment of impact.

Cons – The only cons are those inherent in trying minimalist shoes in the first place (support, cushion)! Honestly I don’t even really notice the 4mm drop, it may show more when I give the Trail Zero-Drop a try, but I think these are great. Visually, the shoe looks like nothing else I’ve worn before, and I can’t say how I feel about it yet. I wouldn’t wear this shoe besides running, but of course that’s their function!

Overall – As a shoe, they’re great. I think these are great shoes for people transitioning to minimalist running, the slight heel-toe drop allows people to still heel strike at times, especially late in runs when form is fading.

Details – Weight = 7.5 oz (213 g). Heel-toe drop = 4mm

MT 110 

I’ve run 25 miles in these shoes, and really like the improvements made over last year’s 110, which I put close to 1000 miles on. The new update is well-done, once again with feedback from their trail team. The biggest update was to decrease the heel-toe drop from 8mm to 4mm.

A cool yet utterly meaningless feature of this shoe is that the insole is printed with one of the hometowns of their runners, i.e. my pair had “Tested on the Flatirons of Boulder”, home turf of Anton Krupika.

Pros – What stood out to me was the update to the outsole, which was my biggest beef with the 101s. NB kept the rockstop plate, and added extra beef to the traction lugs on the mid & forefoot. Footing and control on slick and overgrown conditions is much better. Similar to the Minimus 10s, I appreciated a slight drop from heel to toe. I think the uppers of the shoe breathe very well, and the detachment of the mesh and synthetic layers provides a little extra support and protection with sacrificing much weight.

Cons – The ankle collars are stitched differently than last year’s, and after the 1st run they had begun to fray. The rock plate does its job, but compromises flexibility, a similar problem with the 101s. The heel seems to be a little more protected than the 101’s but a soft heel means that small rocks can become embedded. The shoe is not near as flexible as the others, but you have to weigh that against the additional support it offers. Simply user preference. The shoe also does not dump water and moisture as well as the Trail 10.

Overall – I think the changes have been great, I liked the feel during my runs and was able to keep a consistent mid-foot strike. The minimal flexibility is a big con for me, but may not be for others. As with any shoe, try and get to a store and test it them out for yourself.

Details – Weight =  7.75 oz (219 g). Heel-toe drop = 4mm

Time to Run

You can now order any of these shoes online (click the shoe name), visit an authorized New Balance store, or your local running store. Get a feel for the way you run in them, and ask what the return policy is on the shoes. I know last time I bought my 101s at a NB store, they said to wear them for a week, and bring them back if I didn’t like them. Can’t beat that!

As you all begin to run in these shoes, please post your own thoughts and comments, I’d love to hear them and add to the conversation. Also let us know if there’s anything I didn’t cover that you would like to know.

P.S. This post was originally written for the running site BarefootRunner.com, and will be published in the near future. Enjoy this early look!

Running an Ultra Marathon: Technical Aspects of Training, Gear, and Nutrition


Training Program

As I stated before, I followed a regiment of training consistently at low intensity. For the first 2 weeks, I ran 3-4 days a week, with a long run of 10 miles. I also trained with weights, and swam twice a week.

In weeks 3 and 4, I ran 4-5 days a week, with long runs of 15 and 22 miles. Even with those long runs, my average distance during the week was only 3-4 miles. Keep in mind that all of the runs were done at heart rate levels of 60-65% of max. Whenever my heart rate went over 165, I stopped running and would walk until it slowed down. My pace was nothing stellar, but I kept running.

Weeks 5 leading up to the race was strange, I traveled that week, stayed up too late, and didn’t run very much. At that point in training, what’s done is done, but I feel better when I can be mildly active.

In review, I can’t be upset about the training because I did meet my goal of finishing the race. I wish I could have run a bit faster and with less pain, but that’s alright. With more time to run extra miles, and especially the long runs, would have remedied that.
I will add that I think this plan is very doable for anyone looking to run 13+ miles. Scale the program to your needs, and stick with consistency over intensity. The miles will come!

Nutrition
I have become a regular user of Hammer Nutrition products. I also like/use Clif shots/blocks, and Honey Stinger chews. But what I like about Hammer is how complete their offerings are. They have a full line of products for the different stages of training, competition, and recovery.

Hammer products I used:

The only “real” food I carried on the run was a ProBar Superfood Slam. ProBars are my favorite energy bars, and their whole food ingredients, high caloric content, and flavor make them great for endurance activities. Read a little about their offerings and food culture on Adventure Journal.

I also ate one for breakfast on race day, which gave me a nice store of energy for the beginning of the race. I am NOT a fan of beginning a race on an empty stomach.

Finally, I did eat some of the aid station food, whatever looked good at the time. Mainly I ate bananas, oranges, m&m’s, potato chips (mmm… salt), and some chicken noodle soup (wonderfully warm). I do not count on these options for my the bulk of race calories, but they are a nice change up.

Gear

I feel very strongly about running gear. It’s important to have quality, lightweight, functional layers on, especially in a winter mess like the Mt Mitchell Challenge. Temps ranged from 30 degrees at start, 45 degrees and sunny at 10 miles, then 10 degrees with 50 mph winds at the summit. Wrap that up with descending back to 55 degrees and sunny at the finish. My gear had to breathe, keep me from overheating, warm me from the cold, and protect me from the wind. A tall order, but I was extremely pleased with the pieces I wore.

Patagonia Houdini Jacket

I love this jacket, best piece of gear I’ve bought in years. I wore it during a pouring rainstorm, snow, and then 50 mph winds, and it stood up to all of them. The hood is great, and even with the extra ounce it weighs, totally worth it. The Houdini weighs just 4.3 oz, and packs in to it’s own pocket, or stuffs in to a front pocket in most shorts. Patagonia hit a home run with this piece.

Patagonia Speedwork Tights

My first pair of running pants, and I really like them. Stayed cool or warm in the right conditions, and mesh behind the knees allows them to breath. They don’t wrap muscles as well as Salomon or CWX tights, but they are also cheaper. They fit well, were tough through 2 falls, and kept me moving. Unfortunately this product seems to be in the process of being discontinued, so you can probably grab it on clearance somewhere.

Patagonia Capilene 2 T-Shirt I’m a big fan of Patagonia, as you can tell. The Cap2 shirt is fantastic across a wide range of temps, and paired with arm warmers and the Houdini, I was perfectly comfortable throughout the run. My favorite running shirt.

Smartwool Arm Warmers, Compression Socks, & Running Socks – Wool is a dream fabric to be outdoors in, and I love it for the extremities. In keeping with the theme of lightweight comfort across temps, all of these fit the bill. The arm warmers are on of my favorite pieces no matter what, because they are so easy to strip on and off during a run. They can also be pulled down to cover the hands as makeshift mittens. The compression socks are nice, giving me a little extra warmth, and caring for my calves. A complaint though is that over 18 months they have developed more holes and rips than I expected. The socks are fantastic, and I wore them over the compression socks because of the holes and cold (the compression socks are thin).

REI Stoke 19 Pack

I probably didn’t even need to carry this, but considering the conditions I knew it would give me some peace of mind. The pack is fine, I wish it was a little more stable, and I don’t need 19 liters of space. It’s more of a day pack, but I’m not going out to buy another pack simply for long-haul running. Yet. I was able to easily fit 50 oz of water, food & gels, my ipod nano (long time in the woods), a wool layer, extra socks, and YakTrax.

Nike Therma-Fit beanie – I picked this up at a Nike outlet, and it’s served me well. Soft shell outer, fleece interior, and wicking headband. I like it, but it’s not a game changer. Most beanies will do, depending on your preference. I would certainly recommend anything that wicks sweat and breathes. No cotton headgear!

Mountain Hardwear Momentum Running Gloves – I appreciate that they are light, and have a windproof shell. However, they do not keep my hands as warm as I expected. I attribute this mainly to “butter jersey” palm fabric. Yes, it’s soft, but the wind goes right through it, and doesn’t not hold heat well. Fine, but not a cold weather glove.

New Balance 101 Shoes (link to updated design) –

The foundation of a run is the choice of footwear. I have been running in these shoes since October 2010, having trained for and completed the Black Mountain Marathon, Stumpjump 50k, and now the Mt Mitchell Challenge. I have run an estimated 1000 miles in these babies, and this race was a fun send-off for them. They are light, breathable, have a 10mm heel-toe drop (which was awesome in October ’10) and a rock plate on the forefoot. Weight is an airy 7.48 oz. New Balance has since updated the model, but if you would like to read my original review, click here.

In Conclusion:

Overall, I did not need most of the stuff I had in my pack, especially the YakTrax. I could have been fine with 2 water bottles with hand jackets, and had a couple too many gels. But I wasn’t out to win, and knew I would be out for a significant amount of time. Better to be safe than sorry in that situation. Next year I will have trained and planned a little better, and even if there was a question of needing YakTrax, I could have holstered them on my elbows (picture to come). But that’s for a future run, and lessons I needed to learn on this one. Let me know if you guys have any questions about a topic I left out, or a fuller review of something.

Happy Running!