Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Review: New Balance Women’s 1010 Trail

Hello readers! Man, it’s good to be back! I am thrilled to mention that this is the very first review posted from my new home in sunny San Diego. I’m so thankful to the PR chick over at New Balance for her patience in waiting for this review, while I took a bunch of time off to pack up my life and move it clear across the country.

The first shoe that New Balance asked me to try out was the Women’s 1010 trail shoe. I got it a week or two before the release date so I had no idea what it would be like. The 1010 is a transitional minimalist shoe, or for you hardcore mountain trail runners, it’s a lightweight-but-protective trail shoe. I say it that way because I feel it’s a good choice for those two types of runners (just to clarify, I don’t necessarily encourage transitioning to barefoot or minimalist running through transitional shoes, but if that’s the way you’re going to go, then this would be a more than reasonable shoe to do it in). I’m not really either of those types of runner, but that’s okay because I am rather good at being objective.

Weight and Structure

Even though the WT1010 is not even close to being the lightest shoe I’ve run in, at around 6 ounces each it’s not totally out of the ballpark. This shoe is rather rugged, compared to what I’ve usually got on my feet, and it looks like it could take a lot of hard miles. As to be expected, there is a rock plate in this shoe and some aggressive tread, too.

Interestingly enough, the multi-circular Vibram sole pattern is reminiscent of the one on the bottom of the latest Trail 00’s, only with some heavy duty 2-directional ribbing that looks like it would give you amazing grip in the snow. I didn’t try these in the snow, but they felt really sticky in the rock and dirt trails I ran them through. Pretty solid, I’d say.

As for the drop, it’s 4mm on this model. Now, I realize there’s a bit of controversy among minimalist runners about putting a drop in shoes like these. I personally don’t see much of a reason in bothering with 4mm, when you could just drop it to zero and call it a day. I kind of see it as the worst of both worlds. Four millimeters isn’t significant enough to provide much lift to those who want it; and for some of those who prefer zero drop, four millimeters can be just enough to throw off their form. All conjecture aside, I barely noticed the drop. Could be I haven’t put enough miles on these to reap any ill effects from the drop, or perhaps my form is good enough to circumvent any issues, who knows. But maybe it’s because all I could feel was how cushiony these were!

Fit and Comfort

Wow. I had forgotten what it was like to wear a shoe with a mushy sole. It was like running inside marshmallows. Of course that has its disadvantages (i.e. harder landing, lost of proprioception, etc.), but let me enjoy this soft and heavenly feeling for a moment, okay? Yeesh.

I think the best advantage to the cushiony shoe for a runner like me (100% minimalist/barefooter who runs on roads and easy-to-moderate trails) is rest and healing. I have enjoyed taking these shoes out for short, easy trail jaunts between difficult runs, running errands and for walking with my dog. I believe a cushiony shoe definitely has a place in my lineup, because sometimes my feet need a rest. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.

Some of the other good features of this shoe are the super comfortable blister-free liner (thank you NB!), the attached tongue that keeps out a lot of head-on debris (I hate pulling loose stones out of my shoes mid-run), and the generous toe box. The wider toe box is especially something I want to talk about because in the past I have had some width complaints in general with New Balance’s minimalist shoe lineup. For example, the original NB Minimus Trail (which has been renamed WT10) was so low and narrow I couldn’t even get my foot into it. Also, I had to go with the wide-width version of the 00 Road shoe (see review here) for the same reason. I expected the same problem with this shoe so I asked my contact to send me the wide (D) width of the 1010, as well as the regular (B) width. Turns out, it was totally unnecessary. In fact, I wouldn’t even recommend getting the wide width unless you have an exceptionally wide foot, as in, a very good deal wider than mine:

My foot is wider than most people’s, as compared to its length (size 8.5). The regular (B) width was more than adequate in this shoe.

Just walking around in the D-width, the shoe was literally falling off my feet. Now, just as an FYI, they’re also offering a narrower width (2A), for all you ladies with slimmer peds. Oh, and I hate you. 🙂

I have found there is one big drawback to the comfort of this shoe: the heel. Like many newer models in the Minimus line, the heel cup is quite high and somewhat unforgiving for the first few wears. It did soften up after awhile, but not before taking a chunk of skin from my achilles with it. I’m really not sure why New Balance chose this route with the heel. Maybe it’s less of a problem for taller people with higher heel bones. I’d be interested to hear of anybody who didn’t have this issue, and if they’re also taller than me (5’3″).

Performance

I’ll admit I didn’t do any long trail runs in these (greater than 4 miles). Why? Well, because these shoes are too much like a traditional shoe for me, and the last time I wore a shoe like this on trails I sprained my ankle pretty badly. When I run I often supinate, which is to say that I lean toward the outside of my foot (the opposite of about half of all runners, who pronate). In a cushioned shoe with stiffer soles and lowered proprioception, I have a greater chance of landing badly on a rock and injuring my ankles. Since going barefoot and minimalist my ankles have certainly strengthened a lot, but I am still cautious about hitting the rocky trails on any shoe with that stacked sole. I prefer a shoe with a much more pliable sole. This could perceivably change in the future if I start to run very long races and find a need for a shoe with more cushioning, but for now I prefer to avoid the risk of tipping on a rock and hurting myself.

To expound on my point about the stiffer sole, I want to say that I felt a lack of control in this shoe, especially going downhill. The grip is nice and sticky, sure, but I still want better perceptual control over my foot landings. A shoe like this doesn’t allow my foot to curl downward at all, and the rock plate keeps me from forming my sole around the rocks and debris like it would naturally. So for me, overall this shoe didn’t feel safe as I got more tired (and sloppy) several miles into a run.

That said, I know a few ultra-runners who would benefit from a shoe like this. During those long 50 and 100-mile races, they have reported a need for a shoe that offers more protection, while still remaining light and relatively flexible. The WT1010 is both of those things.

Overall Pros and Cons

While I don’t think this shoe is perfect for everyone, and perhaps not me, I would recommend it to the strong and seasoned minimalist trail runner who wants less exposure to the elements over a long run, as well as someone who does just fine in a traditional trail shoe but wants something lighter and more foot-friendly. So, below is the quick list of pros and cons that I found with the WT1010:

PROS

  • great example of a lightweight, transitional trail running shoe
  • dense, somewhat cushiony sole with rock plate that provides prolonged comfort and protection against rocks and debris while remaining relatively light
  • aggressive, sticky tread provides amazing grip
  • soft and comfortable upper can be worn without socks
  • attached tongue keeps a lot of dirt out
  • generous toe box, with three levels of width to choose from
  • relatively all-weather
  • on-trend color ways

CONS

  • stiffer sole cuts off a fair amount of proprioception, giving less control to your foot
  • heel cup lacks comfort
  • 4mm heel-to-toe drop is somewhat unnecessary and may not be all that conducive to proper running form, especially for anyone who still needs practice (although one could argue that transitioning to lighter shoes over time is easier if you absolutely can’t start your mileage over from scratch).

Happy running!

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Review: New Balance Minimus Zero Road

I first heard about the New Balance Minimus Zero Road way before it came out. It was more like a rumor, actually. Something like “Next Spring, NB is coming out with a zero-drop version of their Minimus and it’s going to be a huge improvement.” Considering that nobody I heard from seemed to like the original Minimus Road, and that I couldn’t even get my wide feet into a pair of the original trail shoe, almost anything would have been an improvement as far as I was concerned.

At this year’s Boston Marathon Expo (uh…no, I didn’t run the race, I just walked around the expo with my friend Brad), I strolled into the NB booth, talked a little about barefoot running and my blog, dropped a few names (*cough* Jason Robillard), and tried the Minimus 00 Road and Trail on for size. After talking shop for twenty minutes or so I begged asked the really friendly dude working there for his contact info so I could test a pair of each for review. He happily agreed, and even though he wrote back and promised to send some out, I never got a thing.

Bummer. 😦

I legitimately wanted to try out and review these shoes, both styles, so I was determined to get some. But these days I can hardly quantify purchasing running shoes, since I already have so darn many. So I gathered up some extra funds that I’d earned from designing a book cover, and I picked up a pair. I chose to try the road version first, simply because I spend a higher percentage of my time on roads these days.

Although, that very well may change when we move to San Diego next month and I start running the trails next to my house. But I digress.

Before I realized they offered a wide-width version, I bought the regular width road shoe from a third-party seller that offered free shipping. When they came in I was so damn excited that I threw them on my feet immediately. But wouldn’t ya know – they were very, VERY narrow for me! Worse than the original Minimus Trail, with that strange, inflexible rubber band across the widest part of my foot. It hurt so much just to stand in them, I didn’t even want to try running. I sent them back.

Then, a few days later I was rummaging through the NB site and I figured out that they offered a wide-width shoe. When I got it, I found that it was wide enough, but still only barely. In my opinion, like with the Merrell Pace Glove, the wide-width version of this shoe is the one they should be selling to the majority of consumers. I realize that I have a strong and perhaps biased opinion about the width of minimalist shoes, but hear me out: I believe that a good minimalist shoe should be built on a wider platform than most traditional running shoes, because it must allow a lot of wiggle room for your toes and never squeeze your foot. I know I should allow for the reality that some people have very narrow feet, but I don’t think it makes any sense to go as narrow as NB tends to go. In my opinion, the wide-width of this shoe should be sold as the default because the last comes closer to providing the right amount of room for an average-width foot, and the narrower shoe should be a “narrow-width” alternative for those with exceptionally narrow feet.

But again, I digress. Let’s just move on to the review portion of this post, shall we?

Looks

Before I talk shop, let me start by releasing my inner girl: these are absolutely, without a doubt, the cutest, coolest-looking running shoes I own (the Merrell Dash Glove comes in at a very close second)! They offer five delicious, on-trend colors; I chose the bright teal, although the juicy lemon yellow called to me as well. The men’s colors are pretty bold and excellent, too. This shoe is shapely, sexy and very sporty – it looks hot, and it makes me look fast (I’m not fast).

Stats & Fit

Built on a lightweight, absolutely zero-drop Vibram sole (love those guys), the Minimus 00 Road weighs less than ten ounces per pair. Lots of gait analysis research went into these soles, so they’ve been rebuilt with several strategically-placed rubber pods to increase durability in the heaviest landing spots. The rest of the sole is made from a semi-soft foam that ends up providing the shoe with a tad more cushioning than you would normally see on a minimal running shoe. It’s a stiffer sole, too. I couldn’t quite get them balled up enough for my usual one-shoe-inside-the-other photo. Some purists may scoff, but long road runs can really beat up your feet, and for some, that little bit of cushion could mean a few more miles of relative comfort.

There are a few other cool things about the build of this shoe that I want to mention. The upper is made of a nicely absorbent mesh; it may end up being a pretty stinky shoe and need frequent washings, but I was able to run several sockless miles in them without much issue. Another combined factor is the mostly seamless liner inside, and the cool wrap-around tongue and slightly asymmetrical lacing that make them all more comfortable and form-fitting.

If you’ve noticed that the toe box is somewhat pointy, it is. But it’s really not the problem I feared it would be, at least not on the wide-width. I actually prefer it; the pointy end actually leaves some extra space for my big toe, so it’s not banging up against the top of my shoe the whole time I’m running. I’ve lost a couple toenails that way.

Only problem I had with the fit is the heel cup: it’s really tall and inflexible. After one five miler in these, I had to wear a band-aid on my heel for a couple days. This shoe does fit slightly long on my foot (they run true to size, but I ordered a half-size up because I like a little extra length to save my toenails), so that could have been why. Can’t know for sure.

Performance and Durability

Even though these shoes are pretty wide, the outside of my foot still bows over the edge of the sole a little bit. It’s not a lot, but enough that during my first run in them, I could feel the outside edge of the sole digging into my 5th metatarsal. After a couple miles though, either the foam squished down or my foot got used to it, because it didn’t really bother me anymore. It’s hard to tell as of yet if it’s doing anything to my form, but my guess is not much because I make absolutely no sound running down the road in this shoe. I feel like a goddamn ninja.

This is very good.

One peculiar (though, not exactly bad) thing I noticed about this shoe, is that there’s just something about it that makes it feel a little like wearing traditional trainers. Just a little. I don’t know if it’s something about the way the sole is constructed or what, but it feels a bit front-heavy I guess. It might be that, like traditional sneakers, the sole is trapezoidal – wider where it touches the ground and narrower as it goes up – so you’re running on a shoe that is wider than your foot where it touches the ground. I’m not sure how I feel about this, or if it even changes anything, but other minimalist shoes I have tried work the opposite way, where the sole is rounded to the floor. This also could be an effect of having a sole with a bit more cushion.

And speaking of cushion, since the sole of the 00 Road is mostly made of foam, my guess (and hope) is that it will crush down into the shape of my foot over time, and will wear even better. The rubber pods on the sole beat down pretty quickly, quicker than I expected. I’m only about 20 miles in but there is some noticeable wear on both shoes on the outside of my mid-foot, where I first land. The rubber seems pretty thick though, so I guess we’ll see how many miles I can put on them.

I also have some question about the durability of the ultra-soft mesh upper. Even though it’s comfy and breathable, it seems like it could snag and tear pretty easily. But then again, these are road shoes so I guess you’re not expected to run into a lot of debris. Of course, you never know what a klutz like me will find on a road. 🙂

Final Thoughts

Overall, New Balance’s first truly zero-drop road shoe is pretty darn good. I find it to be a solid improvement over their previous offerings. With really sporty looks and some excellent color ways, the 00 Road is among my favorites for style and cool-factor. I’m really glad that they had enough insight to develop the wide-width last, and I look forward to putting more miles in. I consider this a year-round shoe, with good coverage and breathability. The price is pretty on-par with the rest of what’s out there, at around $110.

Have you tried the NB Minimus Zero Road yet? I’d love to hear your thoughts!