New Balance MT100

MT100

New Balance

Neutral

Impression

The MT100 performs well on mixed surfaces thanks to its light weight and low profile. The sole design and upper materials are constructed to meet the demands of technical trails, but can also move over smooth surfaces without trouble. The outside of the shoe protects the foot while the inside allows for natural foot movement. The MT100 fits into a growing niche of performance footwear for trails.

Durability

Trail shoes have a long history of guaranteeing durability through methods that inevitably add weight to the shoe, such as additional overlays, bulked up sole rubber, and thicker uppers. New Balance’s MT100 is a refreshing diversion from those features. The upper is made of a rough material that won’t rip easily, but it is a thin mesh. The material is strong enough that few overlays are needed. The toes get extra protection from a thicker layer of material over the toenails. The upper lets water in fairly easily, but air-dries quickly. The mesh is tight enough that mud won’t accumulate by entering through the toe box, though plenty can enter from the ankle if wading through swamps is your idea of fun.

The sole design of the MT100 is ultimately what defines it foremost as a performance trail shoe. The hard rubber exterior is backed up by a plate under the forefoot. Rocks would have a tough time getting through the initial rubber, so it may take more than stepping on a nail to get through the plate.

Given that these are trail running shoes, most of the wear is going to appear in the form of dirt. The inside of the shoe, where a few soft and bright materials reside, are going to show the first signs of aging, but there’s no reason these shoes should not last a long time. This is one of only a few pairs of shoes that at the date of purchase have a shot to make it to 1000 miles. Trails have a way of demonstrating shoe mortality, though.

Comfort

The MT100 is fairly comfortable for a shoe built to perform well on trails, but most of its potential for discomfort is also thanks to the attributes that make it trail-worthy.

One extremely comfortably aspect of the shoe would be its tongue, which is ultra-thin and absolutely will not get in your way. Tying the shoe too tightly could cause the laces to dig in, which is a product of a thin tongue, but otherwise the tongue alleviates pressure on the top of the foot. The tongue is made of the same mesh as the rest of the shoe’s upper, all of which bends quite easily.

Much of the rest of the shoe is firm or stiff. The plate in the forefoot makes for a firm ride. It’s a fairly responsive ride, but the forefoot doesn’t necessarily allow the foot to flex well enough to make the most of the responsive feel.

The shoe introduces a unique heel. This one is hard to figure out. Everything about the heel looks as if it can cause heel and ankle irritation. The EVA extends up the back of the shoe and around the ankle collar. The outer heel EVA meets the inner shoe lining to make a somewhat sharp perimeter around the ankle. The lining inside the shoe is by not plush, so it has no give when rubbing the foot. The shoe is capable of causing friction on the back of the heel and around the ankle. The shoe may also cause additional irritation in the spots where the upper rim hits, such as the Achilles during plantar flexion.

The shoe should perform well sockless if the heel/ankle materials do not rub.

Balance

The midsole has perhaps a 20mm to 10mm heel-to-toe offset. The EVA midsole wraps up some around the foot from an exterior view, but the shoe has a neutral feel. The shoe is quite a bit like a performance trainer, but with a more simple upper and a more rugged sole.

Why should somebody buy the MT100 instead of a pair of cross country spikes? They are not cross country spikes, so they are not going to provide as good traction on soft ground. This may sound like a weakness for a trail shoe, but wearing cross country spikes on many trails is an invitation to pick up a million twigs (this is an appropriate place to make a pun using the word “fag”). The MT100 provides traction over woodland debris without carrying the junk along for several miles. Also, spikes are just terrible on pavement, whereas the MT100s can go over pavement or rock without causing a disturbance.

Why should somebody buy the MT100 instead of a pair of racing flats? Flats generally perform well on trails, but abrasions from rocks and sticks can badly damage the minimal materials used to give such shoes weights around 5 oz (the MT100 comes in around 7.8 oz). These materials can often rip away from the midsole under pressure. Flats, due to their flexibility, also allow rocks and roots to move the foot, while the MT100’s firm sole will just roll over those surfaces. Pebbles can cause slipping in flats, whereas the MT100 should have enough peaks and valleys in the sole to give the foot traction over such obstacles.

Special Notes

New Balance’s MT100 is one of the few shoes made by the company that fit the broader category of performance trainers. The company has a new “minimus” line to appeal to the growing interest for less shoe.

Manufacturer’s Description

“This low-profile, ultra-lightweight trail racer is made for the neutral gait and features puncture-resistant toe material and ROCK STOP® in the forefoot to protect your feet from debris on the trail.”

Highly Subjective

I have a fairly technical trail loop near me that is about 7.5 miles around. I don’t run on the trail all that often for fear of it aging my shoes, whether due to abrasion, mud, or motion. Thanks to the MT100s, I have a shoe whose specific purpose in life is to attack all the shoe-aging features of a trail. I no longer need to worry about the trail terrain and can shift the focus of my paranoia to such fun deterrents as snakes and ticks.

I read feedback warning of the shoe’s knack for chafing in the heel area. I ordered the shoes online and bought blister pads in anticipation of their arrival. I tried the shoes on and did feel that blister pads were a good idea. I stuck the bottom of the pad on the protruding back of my heel bone and patted it down up towards my Achilles. This protected the bone from rubbing inside the collar and the Achilles from getting irritated when the EVA collar touches during plantar flexion. I also wore socks. This all seemed to do a wonderful job of mitigating the problem. I flew happily through the trails. And the blister pads came off on each foot by about 5 miles.

This paragraph is a tangent. I need to address blister pads for a moment. I love them, but I find their marketing hilarious for a runner. I should clarify that my pads are more like thin plastic adhesives—almost like tape that you’re just putting over the site. Some of them claim they can last for days. Perhaps this is true if you are sedentary or move in such a way that you really aren’t touching the spot. As a runner, I’ve never been able to make it through a trail run without one coming loose, whether it comes loose entirely or just melts down into my shoe to end up some other place. I’ve had a few last two or three days if I put them in a non-chafing area, but I’m not really sure how useful a blister pad is if you aren’t putting it somewhere to address friction.

So I often wear blister pads when I run in the MT100, but do so with the full knowledge that I will eventually go foot vs shoe. I’ve never gotten a blister from the shoes, but I generally get some kind of irritation.

I like the shoe on trails, but otherwise don’t see much point to them. I suppose they are a good all-around shoe if you don’t want to buy very many shoes, but, unless you’re sponsored by New Balance, I don’t see why anyone would wear them on road or even grass. Many performance training shoes exist for benign surfaces that won’t have the heel issues presented by the MT100. For a person who likes to run or race on trails, then I think the MT100 is well worth considering. For a runner looking for an all-around shoe, I’m inclined to recommend a pavement-shoe-that-can-be-used-also-on-trail instead of a trail-shoe-that-can-be-used-also-on-pavement. I found that I enjoyed the forefoot plate and the rock stopping when I was on the trail, but something softer and more flexible is preferable on the even surfaces.

The shoes are not very expensive and can make a good addition to a running shoe collection. They’re also likely to last a long time, so the $ per mile cost of these may be one of their best selling points. I don’t wear them all that often, but I don’t see myself buying another trail racing shoe any time soon, as these can probably cover that area of my running for years to come.

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Brooks Launch

Launch

Brooks

Neutral

Impression

The Brooks Launch is a lighter shoe in the neutral cushioned category, which makes it appropriate for up-tempo training and some runners may find it suitable for a bit more padding when racing. It’s a small step down from the Glycerin or Ghost (trainers), but a step up from the T6 or Green Silence (racers).

Durability

The forefoot sole rubber on the Launch is off the hook. The Launch has a good quarter inch or more of rubber to give in the front, though the heel has relatively little. Heel strikers are likely to wear through the rubber a bit quickly. Forefoot and midfoot runners have plenty of rubber to wear through, though balance may become an issue depending on the wear. The shoe is also a little on the soft side, which means the midsole compresses a bit easily. The heel is not very decoupled, though, and so it spreads the compression out.

The overlays, lacing, and mesh are unlikely to age the shoe prematurely, as they all hold up fine.

Comfort

The Launch delivers a soft ride, but with a little bit of spring. The upper at the laces has a sort of frame around it that help hold the lacing area without putting pressure on the top of the foot. Even for a high-arched runner, the shoe can be tied comfortably loose and stay on the foot. Actually, it’s so good for a high-arched runner that it may not be great at all for a low-arched runner. User discretion is advised!

The inside of the heel collar is not made of any special material to reduce chafing. People with bony heels are likely to wear the inside of the shoe’s heel (or the outside of their own heel).

Balance

The shoe gives every indication that it is designed for a midfoot striker, as it has immense forefoot rubber and a flat area on the sole in the midfoot instead of a fancy bridge or shank. The shoe seems to transition heel striking pretty well, though, as the direction of the sole rubber indicates that the thinner midfoot rubber moves from a lateral heel strike to the midfoot as if the foot is rolling to the medial side. What then happens is the forefoot rubber extends out and slightly back to the lateral side where the ball of the foot would bend the toes in that direction. This provides an excellent transition for a neutral runner, as the foot can move both medially and laterally, but will likely follow a natural direction from impact through toe off.

The shoe performs well on flat surfaces where the side-to-side motion is kept to the gait of the runner. Cambered surfaces or grass may present a problem, as the shoe’s midsole softness and underfoot design lends itself to pronation and/or supination when the ground angles one way. Basically, the shoe is pretty flexible in all directions despite having no visible flex grooves of note—the midsole is simple enough to allow it.

The shoe claims to have a heel-to-toe offset of 22mm to 10mm. This makes it slightly lower of a profile than standard trainers. The shoe still seems to allow for plenty of heel striking, so don’t expect the shoe to change your gait for you. It does have a somewhat sprung toe out of the box, so it will promote the foot’s forward motion.

Special Notes

Truly neutral runners or supinators may benefit from the shoe’s side-to-side flexibility and the shape of the sole underneath. All runners should find it responsive to a quick transition, despite being a soft shoe.

Manufacturer’s Description

“With an incredibly flexible outsole and seamless transition, this lightweight neutral trainer will get you from start to finish, whether for a tempo run or in a race. Add to that the lower-profile midsole and minimal upper, and it’s 3, 2, 1 . . . blast off! Weight: 9.3 oz.”

Highly Subjective

I bought this shoe thinking the reported 22/11 offset would help transition me away from the 24/12 world [interesting, I now see it listed on their site as 22/10, but I swear they had blog posts saying 22/11]. Out of the box, my immediate impression was that I might be heel striking more than ever in the Launch. I was sure this must be the case when at 50 miles on the shoes the “HPR” label on the sole rubber wore away to some other colored sole material. I was massively disappointed and felt as if the shoes were a failure.

I shelved the shoes for a month or so. I wore through a different pair of shoes, started doing more doubling in my daily training, and found myself needing to rotate shoes a bit more. I put the Launches back on, started running on the road one morning, and SLAM SLAM SLAM I was heel striking just as much as ever and I was pretty angry with this. It was the morning, though, and I was going probably over a 9 minute pace when my easy run pace should be closer to 8. I decided I would run faster to get myself off my heels. Best decision ever. The shoe thanked me.

I went on to put maybe 200 more miles on my pair of Launches while using them for tempos, steady states, and daily runs, but never for recovery running or really any running where I felt I might be going at a lazy pace. The flat midfoot sole and the sprung toe helped me move along well at faster speeds in the shoe. I can sort my running log according to what shoes I wear and doing so shows that my easy runs in the Launch were done about 20 seconds per mile faster than wearing the Glycerins (slightly heavier and more heel-strike friendly neutral Brooks shoe).

I often developed pain in the Launches for two different reasons. The primary reason was due to what seemed like either a pretty straight last or else just not much medial support in the shoe (which should be expected in a neutral shoe, to be fair). This was particularly bad when I ran on roads with a camber, as my big toe would turn in against the mesh of the shoe. It gave the feeling of my big toe not wanting to flex properly for toe-off. I at first thought this was just a problem caused by my big toe being inflexible on its own account (and many message board posters claim similar symptoms as a common running injury). This also happened to me in another shoe that pushed my big toe against the medial mesh and it happened when I ran the same routes of cambered roads, so I’ve restricted this to a surface/shoe issue since my wide foot and pronation will 9 times out of 10 not cause this problem. To make a long story short, the shoe is going to let your foot move where it’s trying to go, so keep that in mind. This meant occasional jamming of my toe against the medial mesh, which also caused some blistering between toes. I even thought the toe box was wide overall, but the absence of medial support let my foot turn in frequently (slight overpronator).

The other pain was some mild heel chafing on my calcaneus. The material inside the shoe just isn’t very forgiving. Wear comfortable socks if it might be a problem for you.

Do I recommend the shoe even after that pain? Yep! This is as neutral as a cushioned shoe comes. I just ordered another pair in the new colorway and plan to use them for up-tempo training on mostly balanced surfaces. I found it easy to lace up the shoes and hit the road at a decent pace. I don’t recommend the shoe for too much easy running or jogging if you heel strike, but I do recommend it for all midfoot runners, neutral runners, or other runners moving at speeds requiring a quick transition.

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Nike Free 5.0 v4

Free 5.0 v4

Nike

Neutral

Impression

The Nike Free 5.0 experience is, on a scale of 0 to 10, halfway between running barefoot and running in built-up trainers. The Frees fit like a soft glove. The shoe provides the flexibility of being barefoot, half the midsole of running in trainers, and all the sole protection needed to run over pointy things. The fourth iteration of the 5.0 presents a more durable segue into the minimal experience.

Durability

The Nike Free midsole/sole is strangely resistant to wear. Friction with surfaces tends to smooth out the bottom of the shoe, but it doesn’t lose its waffle-like pattern and can still grip surfaces. The featured “BRS 1000” rubber shows wear more quickly than the generic sole. The BRS 1000 is strategically placed in high-wear areas, but don’t be surprised if the BRS 1000 rubber and the rest of the sole show an even wear that transcends their differences.

The soft glove-like covering is protected at the toe by a small bit of harder rubber (plastic?) to protect the toenails from objects and excessive toe roll-off.

The standard issue insole flattens out or sinks quickly. Some may prefer to replace it with their own insert or to simply run without the presence of any.

The deep flex grooves in the sole of the shoe pick up rocks and debris. If you run over rocks or debris, you will have something to remember the run by. The shoe sole is flexible enough to pick up these little friends without altering the shoe materials much, but an occasional large rock may work its way up and press into the heart of the midsole. This is generally not a problem as long as major debris gets removed from the shoe after a run.

Comfort

The Nike Free 5.0 v4 does not have a traditional tongue. Instead, the whole medial side of the shoe wraps up over the foot and tucks into the lateral side. The laces tie just the same as on any other shoe, but hold the upper to the foot like a glove. The shoe contains few stitches and no overlays to prod or chafe where they hold the shoe together.

The midsole/sole is flexible; it does not restrict the foot from moving how it pleases. The terms “soft” and “firm” somehow don’t seem applicable to the midsole/sole of the Nike Frees. It’s kind of like the skin padding of a human foot, as in the experience of soft or firm will mostly depend on the surface underfoot and the runner’s subjective perspective of how their footstrike dampened the impact. The Free’s midsole lets your footstrike determine the experience (and Nike offers the 3.0, Run, 5.0, and 7.0 for more customization).

Balance

The Free 5.0 v4 hovers in a neutral zone between minimal and standard features that contribute to its performance. The flexibility, thanks to large flex grooves in the sole and pliable materials, clearly allows for movement heel-to-toe and side-to-side. This is mitigated from going out of control in a couple of ways. Primarily, the midsole height of the shoe puts it somewhere between racing flats and trainers. The sole of the shoe, though deeply grooved, is still one piece and, combined with a hybrid heel-to-toe ratio, therefore accommodates heel, midfoot, and forefoot striking. Although the shoe flexes side-to-side, the medial side of the shoe has a more built up midsole to provide a touch of stability while the body’s weight transitions over the arch of the foot.

The shoe is slightly narrow, as may be the case with most Nike running shoes. The last is slightly curved or at least doesn’t stop itself from being curved. The soft mesh upper helps provide a comfortable fit to feet that otherwise might cry out in an equally narrow shoe. The shoes effectively fit close to true to size. It’s like asking a person if their socks are tight—maybe, but they’re going to hug your feet anyway, so it’s hard to tell.

Special Notes

The softness of the Nike Free 5.0 v4 upper may appeal to runners who do not have a status quo foot shape. Keep in mind the shoe is a bit narrow, but otherwise it is gentle to a bony heel or gigantic toe knuckle.

Manufacturer’s Description

“The Nike Free 5.0 V4 Men’s Running Shoe emphasizes natural foot movement while delivering an extraordinary feel, combined with the cushioning, traction and underfoot protection of a shoe. Updates to this version of the Free 5.0 make it even better for runners who want to reap the benefits of barefoot training. A new tongue design reduces pressure over the top of the foot while adding support by wrapping up around the medial arch. And soft, microfiber synthetic overlays are bonded wherever possible to minimize stitching and maximize comfort. Overlays balance the fit, durability and support of a shoe with the dynamic flexibility of the foot Molded sockliner mimics the natural curve of the foot for a great fit, comfort and support Soft foam inserts under the forefoot and heel for added cushioning Phylite midsole for durability, a resilient ride and reduced overall weight Deep Nike Free sipes for enhanced flexibility and stability Wider sipes across the forefoot for muscle activation and a more barefoot-like experience Strategic placement of multiple types of rubber and Waffle traction pattern for durability, proprioceptive feedback and a smooth, sure-footed stride from heel-strike to toe-off Weight: 8.2 ounces (men’s size 9)”

Highly Subjective

Think of the 5.0 as the neutral version of the shoe, the 7.0 as the stability version, and the 3.0 as the racing flat. Some things are common among all, like the shoes are going to be flexible and accrue pebbles over the course of the run. The 5.0 is unique for its moderate heel height and touch of arch stability. These make the shoe usable to many runners and an option for a variety of runs. The 5.0 v4 require some transition due to the flexibility and heel-to-toe ratio, which will be a slight difference to somebody accustomed to standard shoes. The weight and comfort of the shoe makes it easy to prefer it over traditional shoes for every run, but the body can’t adapt without an opportunity to recover from the stresses placed on it, so exercise (pun) a bit of caution.

Heel strikers beware. The shoe does not have a heel cup and the collar does not provide a firm connection to the midsole. This can make for sloppy landings. Also, the flex grooves underneath the foot meet in a crosshair underneath the heel that makes it difficult for the shoe to absorb significant impact in the center of the heel. The standard insert in the shoe can sink down a little bit to create an experience perhaps more minimal than intended, as the foot must then come forward to the slightly built up arch, which means the heel-to-toe transition is happening close to level instead of having a drop. Aside from not absorbing as much impact or providing a firm landing, the awkward heel could provide some stress to tendons and muscles in the ankles or back of the legs if they are tight or fatigued.

Midfoot strikers will probably love the shoe. The sole provides a flat landing and bends forward without any complaint. Forefoot strikers will enjoy the shoe for similar reasons, but some may wish for less flexibility and more cushion in the ball of the foot (comes down to personal preference).

All things considered, it’s a good shoe for a neutral runner. An overpronator could get away with using it cautiously. I have no clue how a supinator would handle this shoe, because it’s hard to guess how impact and transition forces hold up if moving through only the side columns of midsole flex grooves.

I had a love/hate relationship with my Nike Free 5.0 v4. I’ve worn them for long runs and intervals. I thought they worked well for both at the time, as I liked how little fatigue my legs felt on long runs and I liked the weight and flexibility for speed. But then, at other times, I didn’t think I had enough heel protection for using them on general runs and I thought the forefoot flexed too much for use in speedwork. I might just be bipolar. Or not.

I tried wearing them sockless a few times. It generally went well. It did not go well one humid day when I was running on grass, though. My arches began to rub and I wondered what that was all about, so I took the shoes off. The shoes were always slightly narrow for my midfoot, but I enjoyed the curve of the last and never thought of this as a problem whenever I was wearing thin socks. Sockless, though, I realized that the edge of the shoe’s insert did not actually come to the edge width of my foot. This meant the coarse edge of the insert was chafing my skin above it with each step. In a fit of anger and under the delusion that maybe I run 100% neutral all of the time, I cut the medial arch out of the insert. I’ve worn socks with the shoes ever since and now regret taking out a chunk of the insole. I brought this upon myself, but anyone with a wide foot should think twice before running sockless if they’re using the standard insert. I stopped at about 120 miles on my pair, but I could probably give them a new insert and resume running on them for hundreds more.

Overall, the shoes are extremely comfortable. They can be used on any type of run depending on the runner’s preferences and tolerances for more minimal shoe design. I’m neutral, an amateur minimalist, and I enjoyed them on road and grass, but not trail or gravel. Casual and competitive runners can universally benefit from the flexibility and light weight. They provide most of the benefits of minimalism without being a risky choice. I enjoyed them well enough as a mostly heel striker with slightly wide feet. They may even be heavenly for midfoot strikers without wide feet.

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ASICS Tarther

Tarther

ASICS

Neutral

Impression

The Tarther was introduced to America after years of success in Japan, where it was commonly an all-purpose shoe used for both training and racing. ASICS is marketing it to Americans primarily as a racing shoe, though many of its traditional customers think of it as a daily training shoe. Looking at both sides of the coin, the result is a sturdy racer and a daily performer.

Durability

Lightweight racing shoes get a bad rap when it comes to durability. ASICS racers are often an exception and this is true with the Tarther. Despite being lightweight, the shoes’ upper is firmly stitched, its materials are durable, the midsole is built to last, and the outsole is built for the all-surface long haul.

The shoelaces are nothing fancy. They look like coarse laces from decades ago. The front toe protection on the upper does not have a fancy color or design. The mesh is one simple color. Fresh out of the box, the white and red colors give a vibrant appearance. The nice whites do turn the color of dirt and grime, but a lot of racers would not last long enough for this to happen. The Tarther lasts. The laces, mesh, toe protection, and stitching may not look fancy, but they are what make the shoe durable enough to hold up over hundreds of miles.

The Solyte midsole is solid. This is not a cushioned trainer here to baby you. The midsole absorbs some shock, but otherwise is only there to give you a small heel height while holding the upper to the sole. The midsole shows some wrinkling as the miles build up, but this does not cause a tangible compression. The shoes feel the same at 200 miles as they did at 0 miles.

The sole is made of rubber in the heel, some strange plastic in the arch bridge, and a surprising amount of hard plastic in the forefoot. Essentially, the shoe delivers rubber in the popular spot of heel impact, a very simple bridge midfoot that looks as if it’s giving you two additional tendons for underneath your foot, and then a complex assortment of grippy designs under the forefoot. The dozens of plastic points aren’t spikes, but kind of function that way. The sole surface has texture, but is sanded flat so it moves easily across pavement. The hard plastic pieces in the forefoot are built with several millimeters of wear to spare. The thin rubber under the heel lasts longer than it would in a standard trainer, as the somewhat reduced heel-to-toe ratio in the shoe minimizes impact force at the heel.

Comfort

The shoe provides a fairly wide fit considering it can also be used for racing. None of the materials cuddle the foot, but this plays to the shoe’s strength, as it has fewer features capable of degrading over time. The shoe gives a feel for the road, trail, or track. It delivers a firm feeling, but provides a little bit of transition via having some heel height. This is probably not a shoe to wear casually around the house, as the forefoot “spikes” might grip the carpet or just be more all around noticed than shoes with all-rubber bottoms. I bring this up only because its heel-to-toe ratio makes it an ideal transitioning shoe for people looking for something more minimal and oftentimes wearing shoes around casually can play a large role in successfully making the transition, so it’s worth knowing you might not want to visit your friend who just bought new carpet when you’re wearing these.

The Tarthers do have a removable insole. This is pretty typical for trainers, but not common in a shoe for racing. Orthotics wearers and fans of store-bought insoles may see this as an advantage to owning the Tarthers.

Balance

The shoe is neutral in the actual sense of the word, which is rare these days. You will pronate noticeably in these shoes unless a) you move quickly onto and off of your forefoot or b) you are a true supinator. This is why the shoes are mostly a racer in America, because even runners accustomed to “neutral” trainers will notice the pronation becoming a factor as the race gets longer. The arch collapse adds motion in the ankles and knees just like any other racing flat without medial support would.

Many of the Japanese train in the Tarther, adapt to their feel, and can enjoy running longer at less effort. The worldwide movement towards more minimal shoes means the shoe is likely to see increased use in America as a daily trainer. The heel is low enough to reduce heel striking relative to that of standard trainers, but still high enough to take some of the pressure off the calves and Achilles. This makes it a great flat for runners who only wear a flat for a race, as the small amount of heel mitigates the risk associated with such a sudden height change. Likewise, the added height pays dividends when used as a daily trainer for minimalists, as it prevents the Achilles/calf from stretching too far and gives midfoot and forefoot strikers some opportunity to be lazy.

Manufacturer’s Description

“Long a favorite in Japan, this racing flat is designed for all distances, and even doubles as a flat for track workouts. Features Solyte® midsole material, slip lasting, DuoSole® outsole, and the Racing Trusstic System®, which increases turnover.”

Highly Subjective

I’ve had favorable experiences wearing the Tarther for: long runs, easy runs, tempos, intervals, trail runs, grass runs, and races. If ever there was a shoe that might actually do all of these things well, then this is that shoe.

I’ve put around 150 miles on my current pair. The shoe performs no differently than the day I bought it. I have good reason to believe the shoe could last several hundred more miles. In my closet of 20+ shoes, I look at the Tarthers as my shoe that is most likely to outlive the others. The midsole does not compress. The stitching has been firm thus far. It’s really going to come down to when I wear through the heel rubber or the forefoot plastic.

The shoe performs strangely well on trails. I saw a Running Times blurb that recommended the shoe for use on the trail and I wasn’t surprised to see them agree, as I had already taken the thing out for a spin on trails and cross country courses. It’s grippy; you aren’t very likely to slip on pine needles, but you may take a few of them with you for several meters.

I was initially worried that the shoe would not grab the road well. I had a daymare [daydream + nightmare] of me falling during a road race in the style of Robert Cheruiyot at Chicago in 2006. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWheGgqmq0A I still worry sometimes when making a quick turn on the road, but the shoe a) delivers a comfortable midfoot transition and b) does have rubber in the heel so I don’t fall on my asphalt. I’ve tried on the shoe Cheruiyot wore during that marathon and can tell you that the Tarther has a much safer road grip.

If you buy this shoe, you will find a reason to wear it. It’s like the gift certificate of shoes; you can use it as you please and still get every dollar’s worth. Most performance trainers error on the side of being mostly like a trainer by erring on the safe side with medial stability and cushioning. The Tarther meets halfway coming from the other direction. It starts out as a great racing shoe and adds a tiny amount to the heel midsole. This makes it unique among all the multi-purpose shoes on the market. I recommend it to any neutral runner who sometimes ponders a life without overblown cushioning or stability.

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Mizuno Wave Rider 13

Wave Rider 13

Mizuno

Neutral

Impression

The Wave Rider 13 is Mizuno’s flagship neutral trainer. It provides a more responsive ride than the bulkier Creation and a more cushioned ride than the lower Precision. The shoe is built to handle just about anything.

Durability

The Mizuno “wave” is a plastic piece sandwiched inside the midsole to spread impact and push-off forces. The plastic retains shape as the midsole slowly compresses above and below. The heel of the shoe is, like many shoes now, shaped a bit like a horseshoe underneath. The heel midsole has a few tunnels of air traveling through the shoe for reasons we can only hope are designed to improve performance. These holes are the first spots that show “wear” on the shoes, as they flatten down a little after only a few runs. Even at 50 miles, it has a visible contrast next to a new pair. The horseshoe underneath shows a rare view of midsole compression from the inside. The midsole here distinctly shows the wrinkling compression as the shoes accumulate miles.

The outsole rubber is pretty standard, as in it has its own cool name to distinguish it from others on the market, but lasts just as long as any of the others. Its “X10” rubber gets the job done in the heel area. The forefoot is a combination of the rubber and what looks almost like the midsole. The rubber design includes many spots for grip and rock stopping from heel through toe.

Comfort

The Wave Rider 13 includes a top-of-the-line smooth material inside the heel collar. Socks move easily across the surface without causing significant friction. The interior of the mesh upper holds the foot according to where the shoe flexes, creating what Mizuno calls a “Dynamotion Fit.” This minimizes hotspots on the foot, as the upper and midsole are ready to move in the same way as the foot.

The midsole is initially a balance between firm and soft. As the shoe compresses, the midsole becomes more flexible and the softness can be felt underfoot. This may make the shoe extremely comfortable for faster running, but probably at the cost of worthwhile cushioning. High-impact runners will experience this faster and get a smaller life out of the shoe (perhaps less than 200 miles). Low-impact runners are likely to enjoy the versatility of the shoe for a long time before the softness becomes excessive (up to 400 miles).

Balance

The bottom of the shoe allows for good forefoot flexibility. The middle of the bottom is a hard plastic piece to provide a little bit of stability, but only really so that the forefoot of the shoe can be highly flexible without jeopardizing the overall balance. The plastic bridge in the sole transitions into the forefoot over a very small foam tongue. This helps the heel-to-toe transition, as the plastic underfoot does not obstruct the forward roll. Midfoot strikers would also find the forefoot to have plenty of rubber to get a grip of the road at impact.

Heel strikers are unlikely to lose any balance as a result of the horseshoe design under the heel, but may notice a difference as the heel midsole begins to compress or when the X10 rubber starts to wear thin. The compression and wearing may flatten the heel and increase the surface area at impact, but the foot’s transition forward will no longer be making the best use of the wave once showing significant wear.

The heel has been known to catch rocks of about 2 inches long inside the horseshoe. This can be really annoying until the rock falls out or it gets manually removed. It’s rare enough to almost be humorous. Oh, and those sticky/gumball things from trees can get stuck in the sole of the shoe. This doesn’t make you roll an ankle, but most people will want to remove the object.

Special Notes

The soft material in the heel collar is a step above the rest, though not necessarily friendly to those who wish to run without socks. This is one of the most comfortable running shoes available. Trying it on is like trying to eat just one potato chip, as the first impression is irresistible.

Manufacturer’s Description

“SmoothRide Engineered, Composite Parallel Wave for superior shock absorption and dispersion with a great transition to boot. SmoothRide Engineered, solid rubber forefoot outsole design for durability and flexibility.”

Highly Subjective

I rarely put more than 500 miles on a specific model of shoes. I’ve managed to do this with the Mizuno Wave Rider 13, as I currently have my third pair resting in the barn. That’s good and bad. The shoes don’t seem to last as long as I might like, but they perform too well during their prime, so they have my loyalty.

The first run I did on my first pair was a 14 miler. They performed at 100% without a break-in. For my second pair, I ran an easy 4 miles in them and then my second run in them was for 26.2 miles. The inauguration ceremony for my third pair was a 15 miler. The shoes are built for running. When I wake up in the morning, I have every confidence that the shoes are more ready than I am.

I remember staring at my newly bought second pair. The air tunnels through the heel midsole were twice as big in diameter compared to my old pair. I felt like this vindicated my decision to purchase a new pair before a marathon. After the marathon, at a total of 30 hard miles on the shoes, the air tunnels in the back of both shoes were squashed to just about the same mis-shapen diameter. I worried that the marathon aged the shoes 100+ miles in one run. I wore the shoes for more runs, though, and they performed well despite the visual snafu.

My log probably shows 300 miles on my first pair, 250 miles on my second pair, and 50 miles on my current pair. Some people could get this mileage out of a single pair of shoes. A super-light and efficient runner could probably get more out of these shoes than I, as well, but I really doubt these shoes could ever last over 500 miles. The foam compresses in the heel and near the plastic midfoot bridge. The forefoot goes soft, albeit flexible. The shoe stops providing any cushion on road and the plastic midfoot bridge starts hitting rocks all the time. Based on my experience, I just can’t see the shoe getting very high mileage without losing function.

I started naming these shoes. I’ve bought 3 blue pairs, so they’re hard to distinguish. I wrote “Achilles” on the back heel of the first one. I then added Aeneas to the second and the third is tentatively called Agamemnon, but I haven’t had to write it, as I can identify the shoes by their absence of a name. I’m not sure I’ll make it to Zeus, but I haven’t yet found a pair of daily trainers this versatile while still having cushion.

The shoe is sometimes soft, but only enough to give the necessary flexibility to go fast. The midfoot and forefoot grip well when cruising at high speeds. The heel isn’t the best when crashing along, but anybody wanting to do that should look at the Creation, not the Wave Rider. If an at-all light and neutral runner asked me for a recommendation of a cushioned shoe that would hold up over a semi-long run at a brisk marathon pace, I would point right to this shoe. Other shoes provide this kind of support or that kind of racing speed, but the Wave Rider gives you the option of having a bit of both on a daily basis.

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Vibram FiveFingers KSO

KSO

Vibram FiveFingers

Neutral

Impression

Vibram touts their FiveFingers KSO , rumored to stand for “Keeps S— Out,” as the highest selling men’s VFF product. The FiveFingers product line gives the functionality of barefooting while protecting the foot’s skin. It’s no surprise the KSO model is the best seller, as its additional coverage area makes the shoe viable over more varieties of terrain. Although it may not have been designed with distance running in mind, its extreme minimalism and adherence to an anatomical design make it the go-to product for a runner desiring natural foot function on abrasive surfaces.

Durability

Vibram’s rubber sole wears comparably to other shoes on the market made of similar materials. It is made of a harder rubber, but it is only 3.5mm thick, so it flexes easily. It is subject to the same laws of wear and tear, except that a runner’s footstrike is likely different in a VFF as compared to a standard shoe. Somebody who lands on the ball of their toes is likely to wear through a VFF at about the same rate they would a standard shoe of the same sole material. A heel striker may find their heel doesn’t strike as hard in VFFs and that the heel portion of the sole lasts longer. As your car dealer will tell you, mileage may vary. Typical running shoes have 24mm of sole and midsole to wear through. The KSO has about 5.5mm (3.5mm outsole plus 2mm insole). This may became important down the line if you have an affinity for grinding your shoes into dust.

The upper of the KSO is mostly designed to keep things from entering the shoe that would otherwise cause friction inside the shoe between insole and skin. Except for getting a little dirty itself, running in the KSO won’t age the upper. The shoe is also flexible enough that nothing is likely to rip, so the longevity of the shoe really does come down to wear on the sole.

Comfort

The VFF is either a comfortable shoe or else an uncomfortable sock. The antimicrobial microfiber insole feels smooth and comfortable. The upper is not so comfortable, as its materials can cause chafing if your flexing within the shoe causes a hotspot. The shoe is open enough on the top to dry fairly easily, but sealed well enough on the bottom that moisture will not easily escape elsewhere. This can contribute to chafing.

The toes are one size fits most. It is not very easy to slip into the KSOs, but the feat becomes natural once practiced.

The KSOs have a Velcro strap that “laces” once over to hold the shoe to the ankle. Deciding how tight to make this has a great influence on how freely the shoe flexes, where hot spots may occur, and the degree to which stuff gets kept out of the shoe. You may or may not even want to use the lace. It’s nice to have options, right?

Balance

The minimalist argument is that you achieve more balance the closer you come to natural, barefoot running. VFFs promote a midfoot or forefoot strike, as their lack of additional heel padding gives the foot more space to square up with the ground before impact. The thin 5.5mm height of the shoe gives the foot an accurate reading of where the ground is. The foot’s strike, pronation, and roll off occur without the influence of cushion, posting, roll bars, or heel-to-toe differential. These are theoretically the most balanced shoes you can buy.

The shoes may not seem balanced to a runner unaccustomed to barefooting or minimal running. The absence of significant padding causes impact to be more pronounced. This typically leads to midfoot and forefoot striking to dampen impact naturally. A heel striker will either a) make this adaptation and find it taxing on the new muscles/joints/tendons being worked or b) continue attempting to heel strike and suffer great impact forces with no padding. The adaptation necessary to run routinely in VFFs for a rookie may require a transition period appropriate to the individual. Attempting to run in the shoe the same way a runner would move in a standard shoe is not advised.

Special Notes

VFFs grew in popularity as a result of runners seeking more minimal footwear. It took Vibram some time to actually respond to the minimalism craze by creating a shoe specifically for running. While the traditional lineup is known as viable for running, Vibram released the Bikila as, “…our first model designed specifically for a more natural running experience.” This shoe is the ordained successor to the KSO.

Manufacturer’s Description

“In just over a year, the KSO has become our most popular model for men. Featuring a thin, abrasion-resistant stretch nylon and breathable mesh upper that wraps your entire forefoot to “Keep Stuff Out.” A single hook-and-loop closure helps secure the fit. A non-marking 3.5mm Vibram TC1 performance rubber sole is razor-siped for a sure grip, and a 2mm EVA insole enhances plating protection and comfort.

KSO IS BEST FOR: Running, Light Trekking, Climbing/Bouldering, Running, Fitness, After Sport, Water Sports, Yoga/Pilates & Travel”

Highly Subjective

I have run barefoot, in KSOs, in racing shoes, and in standard running shoes. I’ve done maybe 97% of my running in standard shoes, 2% in racing shoes, and 1% barefoot or in KSOs. It comes as no surprise to me that my body is least adapted to running barefoot or in the original Vibram lineup. I may have been born to run minimally, but I predominantly wore standard shoes through my impressionable years right on into adulthood.

In the spirit of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” all of this is a good step towards getting back to natural running form. The KSO gives a runner an opportunity to experience a feel similar to barefoot, but with some added protection. I’ve run barefoot and I prefer it over VFFs, as I don’t have to deal with anything touching my feet except the surface upon which I land. When this is flat grass, it feels soft and effortless.

So, one day, I showed up to my local track to find the field newly aerated. Dried clumps of dirt looking like goose poo littered the field. (Okay, I don’t really know what goose poo looks like, but the first aerated field I saw was in Van Cortland Park and there were like a million geese nearby, so I jumped to a creative conclusion.) The clumps were often pushed down into the grass or else soft and crumbly. I would occasionally step on a hard, defined nugget of dirt. This did not cause a problem if I stomped it with the lateral side of my foot or my heel. I would sometimes land as if the dirt clump were pressing directly into a tendon or nerve and I would have to hold in the urge to yell, “F—!” Wearing VFFs goes a long way towards limiting such pain.

VFFs aid the foot differently than standard running shoes. The midsole generally provides less cushion and the heel is usually closer to the ground. Impact is greater and the body may naturally try to mitigate this by performing soft forefoot and midfoot landings. This requires that the heel drop lower to the ground than it may have grown accustomed to in standard shoes, stetches the calf and Achilles, flexes the foot closer to the shin, and the foot springs forward through the arch rather than via rolling over the midsole. This is how the foot was designed to function, but not all bodies are ready to handle this, because you can’t go indoors to buy a Big Mac unless you’re wearing shoes.

The VFF KSOs weigh in at 5.7oz per shoe. This is on par with the lightest racing shoes available. I had no problem running at high speeds or over obstacles with a pair of KSOs on. The 5.5mm height off the ground, though anatomically curved, does not perform terribly differently from racing flats that sit a few extra millimeters off the ground. What am I getting at? The VFFs are not functionally very different from racing flats. What is different, though, is that only a handful of VFF-like shoes are on the market, whereas numerous companies have strong established lines of racing flats and spikes. It’s not difficult to find the same performance and protection at a better fit or for a better price from any of these other companies. Thus, I can only get behind VFFs as being another available option.

Veteran barefooters will not require much transition, as their muscles are already adapted to a similar running form. Shoe wearers will need to undergo significant physiological adaptations. Most shoe wearers will still want to wear shoes for daily activities, too. Maybe this helps the transition from being too much too soon. Or maybe this just makes the foot function less than optimally in both maximal and minimal footwear. Tough call. Either way a person tries to make the transition, though, it is necessary to limit periods of stress and allowing for the recovery necessary to manifest the adaptation. This is a difficult line to ride when minimizing injury. The transition is arguably more difficult for high mileage or heavy runners, as the repetitive stress to the muscles adds up more quickly, necessitates more recovery, and makes the transition required longer. Low mileage runners may be able to tolerate this without it impacting (pun!) their training; high mileage runners would likely be overstressing their bodies to try and make the transition without significantly reducing training volume. I’m quick to recommend VFFs to veteran barefoot runners seeking added protection, but hesitant to recommend them to lifetime shoe wearers.

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New Balance 758

758

New Balance

Neutral

Impression

The New Balance (NB) 758 is, like a million other shoes, a neutral trainer. More specifically, it is the lighter alternative to the supremely cushioned NB 1064. The 758 has all the top-of-the-line features available, so it’s a clear step above the NB shoes sold at your local department store, but NB marketing it as the little brother to the 1064 makes it quite a bit more affordable. Its lighter weight makes it come close to being a performance trainer. Unless you absolutely must have the 1% more cushion in the 1064, this shoe is probably the best buy from NB’s selection of neutral trainers.

Durability

The sole is made of a hard rubber that handles wear well. The “Stability Web” bridge in the arch area is made of a hard plastic and shows no wear or damage from rocks. The midsole is very tall and thick. Compression here would be a death knell for the shoe, but NB’s midsole stays firm to prevent significant compression.

The overlays and supports in the upper hold the foot well in place. Well, it might be more accurate to say the overlays hold their ground and you better hope your foot fits in there. The upper resists the elements well. The harder-material designs on the upper seem a bit overdone, but are strategically placed to help the shoe keep its shape.

Comfort

I consider myself to have a medium-to-high arch and the upper accommodates that well, as was probably a safe bet on NB’s part since medium or high arched runners typically get fit into neutral shoes when they visit their local running store.

The shoe does not fit like a glove. It will be tight or roomy depending on what size you get. The toe box is tall, as the front of the shoe mesh gets stitched in a good inch or more above the front of the midsole. I find this helps to air out the forefoot and has a way of making the shoe seem more accommodating in the forefoot.

The shoe has a firm ride. Despite being a cushioned shoe, the midsole provides a consistently firm landing on any surface.

Balance

The shoe is firm enough all around to provide the same footstrike with each step. Sounds good, right? Well, keep in mind this is billed as a neutral shoe. The sole and upper do not provide significant side-to-side flexibility, as a very hard piece of plastic under the sole prevents this. Okay, okay. The insole area is flat (nothing poking up into the arch) and provides the expected neutral feel underfoot. If not for that, this would be a stability shoe.

The shoe is a little unstable in one regard. The shoe has a standard heel height. This keeps the foot from landing near to the ground, which encourages heel striking for most runners. The firmness of the midsole in the 758 means impact is strong at the point of landing, but quickly moves the foot into transition. The heel collar is built high up and holds the ankle in place. In a neutral shoe with only a few ways to stop excessive pronation, the built up heel and ankle may create more instability. Runners with quick turnover are unlikely to experience this, though they’ll be battling against the flexibility of the shoe, whereas runners with slow turnover will benefit from the transition, but likely suffer higher impact.

Special Notes

Many shoes attempting to fit the performance neutral classification give a soft ride, as they try to cut weight and be minimal in as many regards as possible. The NB 758 is not terribly light, but it is far from heavy and provides a firm ride. It may be a good option for performance neutral runners desiring a firm feeling.

Manufacturer’s Description

“The 758 running shoe is built on the Acteva® Lite midsole with Stability Web® to provide a lightweight, supportive, well-cushioned ride. Perfect for a runner with a neutral gait, this shoe is packed with premium features, but still weighs in at just 10 ounces.”

Highly Subjective

I went through a few pairs of NB 757s a few years ago. I usually got about 300 miles out of each pair and this is when I was weighing about 200 pounds. As the shoes aged, the shoes seemed to get really hardened by the weather. I was excited when the 758s came out and I scooped up a few of them. I enjoyed them quite a bit for a while. I logged maybe 200 miles between two pairs I rotated, but this was at the same time I started wearing other shoes like the Nike Free 5.0. The flexibility and softness of materials between the two were about as opposite as you can get.

I recommend the 758s mostly to neutral runners who are content with traditional training shoes, as it can be a great every day trainer and work fine in the occasional race. The shoe served me well and only lost its appeal when I no longer felt the pseudo-stability would continue to benefit my running.

I feel as if my review became more negative as I typed. This is because balance was the last item discussed, and I think the shoe is a bit too stable for a shoe that gets called neutral. If I were to put comfort and durability last, though, the review becomes quite positive, especially to people who like a firm ride.

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