Friday, July 23, 2010

RJ Review: New Balance MT100 - Positive Impressions from a 'Maximalist' Curmudgeon

It's little secret to folks who read my blog and follow my Twitter feed that I'm a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to the book Born to Run (my review) and the barefoot/minimalist approach to running that it's come to represent.  It's not really worth detailing my knee-jerk reasoning for this, but it has a lot to do with the book not being that well written and the scientific evidence on the benefits of barefoot/minimalist running falling well short of established.  In my strange nutshell of a world, these are important unmet criteria.

So, it was with some surprise that I recently found myself caught in the wispy tails of the minimalist zeitgeist, ordering a pair of stripped down, 7.8 ounce New Balance MT100's (retail $74.99).  It's hard to know why I did this exactly, given that what usually passes for stripped down for me are Wildcats, but I suspect it was a desperate quest for a change of pace and an easy way to fake some uphill time trial PRs in this injury-plagued season of mine.  And, hey, they're just MT100's, not Five Fingers.

Given that I was a "maximalist" dipping his toes in the minimalist pond, I thought I'd offer some quick impressions of the MT100's from this perspective.  For a detailed review, I suggest hopping on over to iRunFar (link) who've reviewed them better than anyone else.

Out of the box
Apart from their lightness, the first real impression I had of the shoes was their strange, not altogether negative, semblance to classic Keds sneakers.  The MT100's upper is soft and unstructured throughout, with a light, loose tongue, and a  prominent Achilles backing, not unlike those white and blue Keds many moms still sport.  Clearly, these are a souped up version, but the similarities were unavoidable.  Keeping to its flyweight minimalist intent, the MT100's sole was light, low, and flexible with a decently aggressive tread featuring "Rock Stop" protection, which on first inspection in my hand didn't seem too substantial (see trail test comment below).  The shoe had little if any toe bump protection.

On the foot
Slipping these shoes on for the first time, they felt great. Really. For someone with a slightly wide forefoot, the MT100's were roomy (much more so than the Fireblades I recently tried) and didn't aggravate my persistent neuroma.  And they felt amazingly spry, as much as my Asics Hyperspeed 2s, a high watermark of spryness.

On the trail
Though it slightly pains me to say it, if I had to choose one word to describe these shoes, it'd be: Fun.  Taking them out on the trail is such a vastly different experience than ticking off miles in a heavier shoe.  The low heal on the 100's forces your weight forward for a more natural mid-foot strike which also adds a sense of effortlessness to the strides, and the flyweight 7.8 ounces keeps things incredibly nimble on technical trail, even for this at-times clumsy runner.  For me, the most surprising thing about the 100's was how well the "Rock Stop" protection plate actually performed.  Looking a bit weak indoors, it took on jagged rock and craggy ridge lines head on, and I hardly felt a thing.

Without taking anything way from the MT100's, it'd take a supremely dedicated minimalist to wear them for any real distance on rough and tumble singletrack.  Using my personal algorithms, I'd think that 10 - 12 miles would be the maximum I'd put in them.  There just isn't enough there there to stand up to a big day in the backcountry.  The upper is light and feels great, even with bare feet, but it lets in a large amount of dust, micro pebbles, and burs.  The tongue is light and loose and can be urged into place for short outings, but over time folds in places that can form hot spots.  And, I'm just not sure it has the overall structure to support tired tired legs and tired tired minds on the tail end of a 50 mile, let alone a 100 mile, race.

I largely knew this much going in - despite trying to look at things with an open mind.  What I didn't expect really, was to find such a fun, trail-worthy mid-distance shoe with the weight of a racing flat.

For a short while, this maximalist curmudgeon stands chastened. 

More shoe reviews on Run Junkie


Greg said...

Well Actually the book points out that there is no scientific evidence either way. Where are the studies from shoe companies proving that their shoes are better than barefoot? Those studies don't exist yet. Do what works for you.

Hank Dart said...

I totally agree with the "sample size of one" approach. Thanks for your thoughts on the other points.

Unknown said...

I love this shoes and this is the perfect solution for me. The MT100 features a puncture-resistant material in the toe area to prevent unwanted intrusion from rocks and other debris. It also features Sure Lace technology which keeps the foot snug inside the shoe and provides midfoot support.

Unknown said...

I agree. The New Balance MT100 is great for rocky trails. The Rock Stop feature is just perfectly innovated on them. Comfort, protection, flexibility all in one. This may sound unnecessary - but the MT100's neutral colour also blends well with the hiking activities. Imagine wearing shocking colours while trailing - that's odd. :)