Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Review: New Balance MT10s

I needed to change shoes. My flats were destroyed by Sawtooth, and I needed to be able to run through winter. I also wanted to be rid of my flats' sole holes. When I started looking for shoes to replace my venerable Hyperspeed 3 and 4s (Asics is now up to 5's), I went looking for a lightweight, durable, minimalist trail shoe with minimal heel/toe drop that could easily substitute for a road shoe. In many ways, the Hyperspeeds were lightweight, minimal, and built for the road with their soft soles and openings in the sole for breathability. Trails destroyed them, and rightfully so. Of my criteria, durability was key - I was confident I could find a shoe with the remainder of the factors given the current push toward minimalism in trail shoes. I just couldn't afford to replace a pair of shoes with every or every other trail race simply because the rough terrain shredded the soles beyond recognition.

I've been running in the New Balance MT10s for about three-and-a-half months now. Over trails and roads, dirt and snow. And I like them. A lot. More than any other shoe I've ever worn. Here's why.

For starters, the MT10 is an all-business, no-frills, minimalist trail shoe.

For example - there is no insole or midsole. The shoe is essentially a slab of Vibram rubber sewed/adhered/etc. to a multilayered mesh upper. The upper is three layers - a thin, sturdy mesh; a large, checked lattice, and a durable, thick, sock-like inner (remember, these shoes were designed partially by Anton Krupicka, and he almost never wears socks (second item on FAQ, and I don' know how he does it)). The tongue and top of the toes is a flexible mesh outer sew into the sock-like inner.

The upper is also wrapped in rubber strips in two places - from the inside/outside of the midfoot arch to the top of the Achilles, and from the ball of the foot to the outside of the little toe. Cross-crossing this are a few strips of strap which run from the arch to the laces.

These straps gives so-called support to the foot or strength to the shoe itself. I find the forefoot strap slightly constrains my foot, which wants to naturally spread out when it lands. Instead, the strap squeezes the ball of my foot and the structures in line with it. This is more problematic because the shoes force you to land on your forefoot/midfoot. (If you need to learn how to do this, watch, learn and do.) Sizing thus becomes critical - I opted for the size I did simply because a 7.5 was too tight on the forefoot. This problem has gone away over time, but these shoes make you earn it.

The forefoot strap is a minimal issue. Once I get running, the constraint caused by it releases and I have no issues. But the constraint was noticeable when trying them on in the store or when walking around at home.

The laces are one area which leave something to be desired - the laces are held in place by alternating loops of strap and through a stiff fabric/rubber. The issue arises when it comes time to loosen, tighten, or tie the shoes. The laces do not flow freely through the loops and less so through the holes. This makes it difficult to evenly distribute the tightness of the laces. As a result, certain portions of the laces are tight, some may be loose, etc.

Soles, with approximately 200 miles on them. Check the noticeable wear pattern: from outside of heel, through arch, to underneath ball of foot. Nothing else has much wear.

The sole is Vibram rubber, a flexible, exceptionally durable rubber that is starting (finally) to appear on running footwear. Thank Five Fingers for that. The tread is minimal, especially when you compare it the fell-running creatures put out by iNov8. The sole has rows of circular tread with tri-star holes in between the circles.

The sole's flexibility causes it to wrap around items underfoot - including shooter-sized rocks and other items. I haven't done a long trail run with them, but I imagine that you'd still want to use good foot placement to avoid stepping on obstacles if possible.

The height of the shoes is minimal - 5 mm on the forefoot, 9 mm on the heel, or a 4 mm drop from heel to toe. New Balance provides a disclaimer, similar to what Vibram provides on their Five Fingers:
Caution: This product increases the strain on the foot, calf, and Achilles tendon. Overuse of this product or use of activities outside of running and walking may increase the risk of sustaining injury.

This product should be introduced slowly into a running exercise routine. New Balance recommends limiting initial use to 10% of overall running workouts and very gradually increasing training time and distance.

I can attest to the necessity of the warning. The lower heel drop puts more strain on my calves because they are not artificially shortened by a higher heel-toe drop.I have run in BFT's Luna Sandals and racing flats for several years now, and the MT10s caused me tight calves and Achilles the first few runs.They still do if I'm not warmed up when I crank up the first hill of the day.

Even with the criticisms above, the MT10s maybe the best shoes I've worn and are much loved at (their review). The conform to my feet, and force me to run with good form. Heel-pounding is not optional. It's midfoot or forefoot - nothing else. Running on pavement in this fashion creates a resounding slap, and the sound is one which I use to gauge how tuned-into a run I am - if I don't hear it and don't notice that I'm not hearing it, I'm in. If I can hear it, I'm not there yet.

The sole are also incredibly durable. The photo above shows the soles at 200 miles on them and the miniature dots of Vibram are only starting to wear. The remainder of the lugs are not even close to showing wear. The shoes are now closer to 555 miles, and the wear pattern is more pronounces, but soles are no where near to dead. I had my first failure with them this week when I found a hole in the mesh behind the strap on the inside of my foot behind the ball has formed. Thankfully, the durable lining is still intact and I'll run in them until total failure.

Although only racing will tell, the MT10s appear to fill my durability niche - they are just enough to shoe to provide adequate and durable protection and nothing more. I've never been one for overly-lugged traction, and if anything, my finish at Sawtooth in racing flats confirms that it is unnecessary (granted, I've never run a really muddy ultra where huge lugs were allegedly necessary, but that is another story).


samh said...

The traction on the sole and the overall durability (or at the least the appearance of it) is a welcome contender to the minimalist market.

Chris Wallace said...

I'm presently playing with the 00 version since the 10/20 are too narrow for me and the 00 comes in a 4E. So far I like them but they're even more minimal than your 10 so durability is a concern.

Scott said...

I absolutely love these shoes - this is the shoe I started looking for when I got interested in barefoot/minimalist running a few years ago.

Two words of warning from my perspective wearing them at Sawtooth 100 mile last year:
- The SHT ate the sole alive. I like the lugs, but that seems to be a glued-on layer that shredded off on that technical terrain (to be fair, that trail eats a lot of shoes).
- I changed out of these at mile 77 because the strap was killing my upper. I really thought I had broken my foot, it was so painful.

For me this is nothing more than a 50 mile shoe, and would not survive technical terrain for too long. But I still love them!

Matt Lutz said...


Good to know, and I fully expect to retire any shoes that go to Sawtooth. What I was more looking for when I started looking at more durable minimalist options was the sole's durability, and at least as far as that goes, I've succeeded. The issue with me with my Asics flats is that they only had 125-150 or so miles on them when I took them to Sawtooth last year, and the trail shredded every part of those shoes. Here's hoping good foot strike, mechanics, and training will keep me from shuffling so much this year.

What shoe did you go to at mile 77, btw?

Anonymous said...

I gave up running due to injuries and on returning decided to try a minimal path. After preparing my body by 6 months of minimal walking and day to day shoes I started running again.

I tried fivies, zero drop barefoot gloves, 10mm drop regular trail, 8mm drop boost trail ( adidas ), zero drop Altra trails, etc... Of all these shoes only the Minumus could move with the terrain, provide the grip I needed and provide sufficient strike protection to allow me to run trails without rolling ankles, tripping, etc. And technical trails - not fire roads.

These are fantastic shoes. They have lasted many wet canyon trips fully immersed and filled with sand, are easy to machine wash and have imperfect ( compared to say 5Ten) but consistent grip on all wet and dry surfaces

the V4 with a bit more stack and an improved outsole might well be the perfect shoe for off road half marathons.

Dont think I could run an Ultra in these but then again I don't have any plans to run an Ultra 100 anyway !