Thursday, April 14, 2011
First Impressions: New Balance Minimus Line
In the hopes of lining myself up a little better, I've decided to go "barefoot". While I fall well short of the extremeists who call traditional running shoes foot coffins (funny, but overkill) I've always liked a lighter shoe with more ground feel (though I've worn every extreme and most in-between). On any given day, you can find a dozen experts that will tell you that you need orthotics or, say, the Asics Kayano, and a dozen more that will tell you (as these shose do) that less is more. If any of them try to tell you their way is right for everyone, all the time...they are full of sh-- and you should find a new expert. Bulky supportive or motion control shoes will not work for everyone, and neither will the barefoot option. But I'm hoping it will work for me. After enjoying a major injury free running career from 1993-2001, I had Achilles surgery and missed four years. Since 2005, I've had countless weeks & months off - chronic problems stemming from compensation for the "repaired" tendon, from knee, to hip, to tearing the other Achilles. Twice.
Usually, if only one of these things is happening at any given time, I'm running as fast as I was in college. But it never lasts.
The funny thing is, minimalist shoes have been around since I started running. They're called racing flats. The biggest difference in the new trend is the heel drop, or lack thereof. The true "barefoot" shoes have also removed the midsoles and in many cases, the insert, to create a true to the ground feel. This makes the old light shoes more of a transition to minimal footwear, as well as current models such as the Nike Free and Saucony Kinvara (which is more like a racing shoe than a barefoot runner).
At the Davis Stampede in February, Team Library Dork got a sneak peak the Minimus Trail and Minimus Road. Ironically, they pretty much cover the ground between barefoot running and just another lightweight trainer.
I'll start with the road version. This shoe, though built for asphalt, is an ounce heavier than the trail or wellness versions. Weird. It has the same 4 mm heel drop as the others, to strengthen and stretch the Achilles, but the cushioning is more built up underfoot, which you can easily see in the picture above. At 8 ounces, it's lighter than most lightweight trainers and heavier than most racing flats. The upper is supple and has a glovelike fit, though it feels a little wider than normal for a standard New Balance Shoe. Running in it as opposed to just slipping one on and/or walking around, you do notice the different feel and the tendency to put you a little closer to a midfoot strike than a heelstrike, but it's fairly minimal (no pun intended). This ends up being a transitional shoe, and not really a barefoot runner. That aside, I still like it. It's comfy, fits well, and is light. I think it will end up being tinkered with in future releases to be more true to the barefoot movement. Overall first impression: B-
The Trail Minimus. This is the one I was excited about at first sight. They're more flexible and closer to the ground (Vibram soles), not to mention the lighest trail shoe I've ever worn at 7.1 ounces. I'd been racing in the New Balance MT-101's since last fall, and they'd been the bestest, fastest trail shoe around. Hard to say this early (as I'm taking an extremely conservative approach in shifting miles over to the minimal shoes) but these have a shot at the title, even at $30 more a pop. Glove-like fit doesn't cover it. These are slippers for the trail. Great fit, great feel. I did get a stone bruise this morning, the third time I took em out for a mile or two, but that can happen with bulkier shoes as well, and it really was nothing. I'd like to be racing in these by the fall. Only time will tell wether these toe-less Five Fingers were worth the extra dough, but as first impressions go, I love em. I'm excited to take em out, & it's hard to only run a little in them at a time. Overall First Impression: A
Wellness version - I don't really know where these are supposed to fall, or what niche they fill. There's already a road version, that is drastically different than these lower-to-the-ground 7-ouncers. With no laces and a slipper-like upper, this feels more like a true barefoot shoe than the road version, and may be just as good of a runner. Is this a casual shoe? A cross trainer? A running shoe? Hard to say where it fits in the Minimus Universe, but since I'll use the other two for my road and trail running, this is a work shoe. Two-Three days a week I'll wear these to work, hopefully getting the legs and Achilles used to the lack of cushion and support, but without the pounding. These, even more than the other two, beg the question "just what am I paying $100 for?" This is a slipper. A very expensive slipper. I like them, but definitely feel the price is inflated due to the trendiness and hype surrounding them. I'd like to see a $10-20 price-drop in future releases, especially for the wellness version. Less may be more, but why are we paying more? Overall First Impression: B