Last Saturday I ran my first Ultramarathon – the HAT Run 50K in Susquehana State Park, MD. In the comments following my race report, a few people asked me how I came to choose the New Balance Minimus Trail as my race shoe, particularly given my somewhat tumultuous history with it. This post is a summary of my thought process.
As a quick recap, I went from initial overwhelming praise for the Minimus Trail to despair after the shoe caused me serious ITB pain on two consecutive runs (separated by over a month). I discovered that a manufacturing defect had caused the forefoot band to be too tight on one side (see photo below), and suspected that this might have been part of my problem. A bit of surgery on the forefoot band with a Swiss Army Knife alleviated the tightness (see photo below), and a 4-mile test run in the modified shoes went well – no pain of any kind. Never being one to avoid risks when it comes to footwear (it’s a bad habit…), I followed two weeks ago with a 20 mile training run on roads in the Minimus Trail, and they felt great. The following weekend was the HAT Run, and it was at that point that I had to make a decision.
Forefoot asymmetry in the New Balance Minimus Trail
Forefoot band surgery on the right shoe – note the amount of stretch that occurs where I severed the band.
Since December, I’ve been running the vast majority of my miles in trail shoes. The reason is quite simple – roads and sidewalks up here in New Hampshire have been covered in snow and ice since then, and have only cleared up in the past two weeks (though we did get another 4 inches of snow this past Monday…). Most of my miles have been split between the New Balance MT101, Merrell Trail Glove, and Saucony Peregrine (I’m still due to write full reviews of the Saucony Peregrine and New Balance MT101, so stay tuned). I like all three, but each brought with them aspects of uncertainty when it came to choosing them for the 50K. The MT101 is one of my favorite shoes in terms of fit and feel, but the heel is just a tad more than I like, and I’ve experienced a bit of ankle pain when doing speedwork in them. They seem to be fine on slower runs. The Merrell Trail Gloves are also great, but I wasn’t sure how I’d fare for 31 miles in a zero-drop, minimally cushioned shoe. The Saucony Peregrine is also nice, but it’s a tad on the narrow side when compared to the others (it fits like the Kinvara) and is considerably bulkier than the others (you know I’m a minimal snob when I call a shoe like the Peregrine bulky). That left the Minimus Trail as the remaining option.
To be completely honest, I really, really like the New Balance Minimus Trail, and I have since I first put them on. I was very disappointed when I ran into my troubles with them, and my willingness to cut them up was a testament to my desire to make them work. The fact that they handled a 20 mile training run on roads so well gave me confidence that they’d be OK for 50K, but just to be sure I took along the MT101’s in case I needed to swap out halfway through the race. I never did – the Minimus Trails worked out fabulously at HAT, and aside from mashing my foot on a rock after slipping during a stream crossing, I never felt any pain in my feet or lower legs (quads are a different story, but that was due to the endless hills…). Despite soaking them in streams 2-3 times, running on almost every surface imaginable, and varying pace from sub-7:00 to over 20:00/mile, they held up great, and I finished with all of my toenails intact and nothing more than one tiny blister on my foot. Even my calves felt great – I think the 4mm heel lift in the Minimus Trail helped with this, which is why I opted not to go with the Merrells.
Given that several people have commented to me about having similar problems with the forefoot band in the Minimus Trail, I hope New Balance gets this problem ironed out. I’m strongly considering picking up a second pair since I like them so much, but will likely go to a local running store to buy them so I can be sure the fit is ok. I’ve never experienced such drama with a shoe, but I’m glad I took the risk of making a modification. Given my burgeoning confidence with my cobbling skills, I may just try my luck with the heel of the Mizuno Wave Ronin!