Sunday, April 17, 2011

Gear Review

New Balance Trail Minimus:

To save you from reading this lengthy article I will tell you upfront that I give the Trail Minimus a 9 out of 10 stars and you can skip to the end of the post to read why.

After nearly a year of not-so-patiently waiting, I bought a pair fo the NB Trail Minimus within days of it's release last month. It was a tough year of waiting and to make matters worse, our friend Corbin was working for NB and occasionally dropping hints, updates, and taunts for the better part of the year. For an admitted shoe geek/junkie, this made waiting on the Minimus arrival both exciting and unbearable; much like a kid waiting for Christmas to arrive.

In all honesty, I have to blame Corbin for my shoe addiction. Several years ago, I was content to run trails in my clunky, over-engineered, overbuilt, "trail shoes". In fact, I had just bought a pair of Pear Izumi trail shoes around the time Corbin and I starting doing some training runs for my first Tecumseh Trail Marathon.
In all it's massive awesomeness - the Pearl Izumi SyncroSeek. Compared to the Minimus?
Think Hummer compared to Ferrari...

I was still in the school of thought that the more tread, the more stability, the more "meat" in a shoe, the better. Corbin, on the other hand, had for years been wearing racing flats and altering his shoes to make them lighter, as in cutting off anything that wasn't absolutely necessary to keeping the shoe in one piece. His view was, "less is more" and often talked about running barefooted on the IU Cross Country course. I thought he was nuts... for a minute... then I starting listening to what he was saying, and watching how he ran compared to how I ran. Unlike most of my fellow endurance fiends (yes, fiends, not "friends"), Corbin is a bigger guy, such as myself, and his results were often better than mine so it was time to take some notes.

Fast forward over the course of a year and I was on board with the minimalist footwear idea, and yes, I was doing some barefoot running as well. Keep in mind, this was at least a year before "Born to Run" dropped and the minimalist crazy blew up. During this time I had made the transition into less and less shoe and by last year, I found what I thought to be the best damn trail shoe God had ever blessed upon the trail running community - the New Balance MT 100.

New Balance MT 100 - no frills, light weight,
all business and one heck of a minimalist trail shoe.

I've done distances up to 35 miles in the 100's and hit just about every condition you can imagine including snow, wet grass/leaves, shoe sucking mud, hard pack, etc. and I still feel this is an exceptional trail shoe in every regard. Personally, I give it a 9.5 out of 10. The only thing I would change would be to add a little more room in the forefoot.

Now that running in minimalist shoes has gone from a fringe, underground movement to a
more mainstream craze, all the big guns of the shoe industry are scrambling to meet the demands of the booming market - New Balance has had a head start and is still one of my personal favorites. While I won't waste the time and energy to slam some of the ridiculous shoes being passed off as "minimalist", I will say that among the "minimalist snobs", if a shoe isn't zero drop (meaning no difference in height relative to the heel and forefoot) than it isn't truly minimalist. If you narrow it down to that criteria alone, you are left with only a handful of trail shoes to pick from. That being the case, you find that many of these shoes 1) suck, and 2) most people are not physically ready for a zero drop shoe. Besides, if you are that much of a purist, you should be running unshod at all times and leave us tenderfoots alone.

The much anticipated Minimus was expected to lead the way in minimalist trail footwear; a collaboration between New Balance and their minimalist elite ultrarunners,
such as Anton Krupicka. Additionally, they worked with Vibram for the outsole. With a trail shoe recipe like that, I was thinking the Rapture was gonna happen the day the Minimus came out - I mean, it was just too good to be true.
Ultrarunning Elite - Anton Krupicka... looks a lot like the dude tattooed on my forearm, right?

After my first couple runs in the Minimus I was fully ready to give the shoe 10+ stars. Here is what I liked:
  • Crazy lightweight
  • Unbelievably comfortable. Probably the most comfortable shoe I've owned, i.e. I didn't want to take them off when the run ended and Jody put her foot down when I wore them to bed. I mean they designed it so you don't even need to wear socks, for Pete Sakes!
  • Great handling and ground feel - again, probably the best I've ever experienced
  • Water clears out of the shoe quickly after a water crossing and dries exceptionally fast
  • Enough barrier between feet and Earth, but not too much. A lapse of attention while trail running in my Vibram Five Fingers means you pay the price. Hitting a rock or acorn in the Minimus will get your attention, yet it's much more forgiving.
  • Great on road runs as well as trail runs
  • I have also tested them in workouts at the gym and found them to be a great all around training shoe; excellent when doing Double Unders, Box Jumps, Olympic lifts, Rope Climbs, and even Overhead Squats.
After having more time to test the Minimus, I have to give it a 9 out of 10 stars. Why not 10? For me, in muddy conditions the outsole/tread pattern is worthless and in that, I'm hugely disappointed. I've never lacked confidence in a shoes traction capabilities as much as I find in the Minimus. Unlike the MT 100's, where I never think twice, even when downhilling in muddy conditions, the slightest mud with the Minimus makes me feel like I'm one step away from ending up on my ass.

Another outstanding shoe from New Balance, yet not quite "perfect"

My last two long runs at Eagle Creek have been in wet and rainy conditions. Two weeks ago it was in the Minimus and last Friday's was in the 100's. There were several sections where I was forced to walk in the Minimus due to sketchy footing and several downhill single track sections where every time my foot landed it slipped causing me to slow down or risk doing a face plant. Muddy inclines? Forget about it - I was doing the goofy "I'm gonna eat it going up this hill" walk and slipping like a fool. During this past Friday's run I hit many of the same areas and the 100's performed flawlessly; at every point the Minimus failed, the 100's showed who's boss.

I've read several reviews of the Minimus, including one from an ultrarunner/writer I respect, Bryon Powell. For a more detailed review, I highly recommend reading his review by clicking HERE. Not one of the reviews I've read have mentioned what I've found to be a chink in the armor of the Minimus. Sure the minimalist pure have poo-pooed it for not being zero drop, a few have complained about the forefoot strap, and a few (including myself) are not too hip on the orange color, but not one word about the sole being an issue. That said, maybe it's just a personal thing for me, or the way I run. Have others not fully tested the shoe in these conditions? Not sure. What I can say is that the Minimus is an OUTSTANDING trail shoe that I highly recommend to anyone looking for a great all around minimalist shoe. However, I'm still left here longing for the Second Coming upon which will arrive the "perfect" trail shoe. Now, if next year the Minimus version 2.0 comes out with zero drop and a sole similar to the MT 100's, ya'll better be getting right with God!

Feel free to email me if you have questions or post your thoughts in the "comments".


1 comment:

  1. Nice review, Chris! You know I was anxiously awaiting the Minimus arrival myself :). New Balance wins again! For what it's worth I'd give my Minimus Road shoes a perfect "10".....