Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New Balance MT10 Minimus Trail Review

I've been on the 'minimalist' train for about 6 years now but I've always stuck to lightweight racing flats (disclaimer: I do own a pair of Vibram 5 fingers but mainly use them for water sports - I've only ran in them a few times). In general, I think racing flats offer low heels, light weight, and high flexibility, and don't get you laughed off the track while a lot of the minimalist trend shoes (Nike Frees, Newtons, etc) have been over priced and lacking key features (ex: flexible but too much cushion). Lately though some new entries have convinced me to at least give them a try, namely the Minimus line from New Balance, and the Merrell Trail Glove (thoughts coming soon). Both have low heels, lots of flexibility, and nice Vibram soles but fit completely differently - which makes for an interesting comparison. For now I'll review the Minimus since I have a little more experience with it but I'm putting in some miles with the Trail Glove as well.

There are a few shoes in the Minimus line (Trail, Road, & Cross Train) but I quickly jumped to the trail shoe even though I do a lot of running on the roads. The road shoe looks too cushy (I believe in the theory that the feet will do the cushioning if you don't blindfold them with padding) and the cross training shoe just doesn't look designed for running. That being said, the trail shoe has some nice things going for it - 4mm of difference between heel and toe which is pretty close to my best flats, 7.1oz weight (my flats are ~4oz but the soles on these are much much tougher), and they're nice and flexible without too much 'support' feeling like it's pushing into my arches.

Fit: The Minimus line is made to fit barefoot which I was excited about. There are some nice features here - there's a bit of special padding in the heel that keeps it from rubbing, there's an elastic sock like tongue that grips the foot, and overall it just feels like the shoes is flexible but snug on the foot. Compared to my Mizuno's or Merrell's this seems to be an equally effective, but very different feel. I'm used to shoes with a big toe box that let my toes wiggle freely inside the shoe, but this is a more 5-finger like approach where the shoe is tight on the toes, but wiggles & bends with the foot. I was worried the increased contact points with my skin would cause more blisters or agitation on a run, but so far (a few runs in) this hasn't yet been a problem. Apparently they fit well enough and flex freely enough that they don't cause extra agitation.

Looking at the sole of the shoe in pictures I was worried that these would be pebble picking magnets - that annoying syndrome where small rocks get stuck in the soles or arches of a shoe and you either have to run sounding like a horse, or stop to pick them out with a wood chip. Thankfully the design is better than it looks - those yellow indents are tapered in a way that doesn't actually seem to pick up too many rocks. I'll check back in after 100 miles or so and see if I still have the same opinion.

Overall this isn't going to unseat my Mizuno's as my go-to trainer/racer but I really like it as a trail shoe and all around durable trainer. The hardest decision is going to be whether I ultimately prefer the sock like fit of the Minimus or the spacious fit & low heel of the Merrells. I can say this is the best looking minimalist shoe (no dorky toe box, toe separation, or generally wacky look) and that is helping to make it my favorite shoe so far for a hike or cross training as well.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mizuno Wave Universe 4 Review

I'm in search of a replacement as my staple running shoes - the last of my Asics Piranha SP 2's completely lack any tread and can fill a small house with their aroma, yet the new Piranha 3's just don't feel as light & flexible as their predecessors. The good news is there's a bunch of new companies out there making great looking flats like Inov-8 along Merrell, New Balance, and Mizuno at the top of my list.

I use my road flats for 90% of my runs including long slow training runs (up to 24 miles ~ 7:30 pace) down to 5k races (realistically mid 16's, just under 16 on a great day) and I look for a few main things: light weight, flexible, low heel to forefoot padding difference, and comfortable barefoot. So far (about 30 miles in) the Mizuno Wave Universe 4 is doing well on all those points.

 Weight & heel/forefoot difference is easy to measure - Running Warehouse puts these at 3.9 ounces (size 9) with an 18mm heel and a 15mm forefoot for 3mm of difference. This just slightly beats the Piranha's (4.2oz & 4mm) so the numbers look great.

Fit / Feel:
On the foot they actually feel even better. It looks like these were designed to run barefoot, as instead of a traditional liner than can come out or slip around, they basically just have a soft piece of felt glued to the bottom. On top of this, the entire forefoot has no stiff stitching structure on the top of the shoot, so when the foot bends nothing bends down to rub on the tops of your toes. This is an issue I had with the Piranah SP 3's - they have an extra piece that would constantly fold down and give me a blister on the tops of my toes but in the Mizuno's there's no way this could happen. I did get a slight bit of irritation on my left heel from rubbing, but this didn't happen at all on my right foot so I'm guessing I'll just need to make sure I'm lacing the tops well - we'll see after more runs.

Sole: Flexibility, Grip, and Stone Grabbing
With running flats I don't expect much cushioning - just enough to keep sharp things from poking my feet and little enough to feel like I can feel the terrain I'm running on get good flexibility. Again the Mizuno does well here - definitely a good feel for the road with just enough padding to feel safe. My favorite flats have had a rubber bottom in the past, which means they last a little longer than the flats that have just the light, hard tack on the bottom. Mizuno has blended those two together here and you can see the black arrow like part is the hard tack stuff, but the rest of the bottom is rubber. It will take a lot more miles before I fully see how they wear down, but so far it feels like a pretty good balance. You can see the small grey plastic piece in the arch on the bottom of the shoe. I'm not actually sure what the purpose of that thing is but I was a little worried it would pick up small rocks in the grooves. So far I've been running on road & light trails with pebbles where that's often a problem, and it hasn't been an issue with the Mizuno's yet. As I get in more miles with them I'll definitely be watching for this.

Overall this seems to be a great new replacement as my go to running shoe. I'll know more after a few hundred more miles, but I've also picked up a few other new shoes including the New Balance Minimus, the Merrell barefoot trail shoes, and some Inov-8 flats and as I test those out I'll definitely put up some thoughts and comparisons.