1. “Do not go out too fast”- I did, hung with the lead pack for a while, and crashed and burned toward the end.
2. “Never race in new shoes”- I did (ran in shoes being review here), and I am glad I did – they performed extremely well.
Just to give you a bit of background: I am a rather recent convert to Vibram Fivefingers and a few other minimal shoes as well as racing flats – it has been two years since I ditched my prescription of molded insoles and running shoes from the traditional stability category.
While I have been very happy with my choice of road shoes, I have recently tried a wide variety of trail shoes and never really found the one I love. In the process, I have bled, been bruised, and I even sprained an ankle. I’ve also spent a bunch of money (yes, I do pay for my shoes including the one reviewed here). Here are some things that I’ve determined in my quest to find the perfect trail shoe:
- The Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon LS has been a great choice for easy runs on forgiving soft trails. It has amazing ground feel, but the fast pounding during a rocky and rooty trail half marathon turned the last miles into agony, and a ten mile race in the mud made me feel like every downhill might be my last.
- I have tried various shoes from Altra and Salomon, the Mizuno Ferus, and the Skechers GoBionic Trail and have not found what I was looking for.
- I have tried almost all models of the New Balance Trail Minimus line (the lasts are a good fit for my foot) from the MT00 to the MT1010 and the much heralded MT110 in between. I do like them except for the MT00 which has a horrible upper and such a sloppy fit that I rolled an ankle racing a 10K despite the minimum stack height. For me, all of the Minimuses (Minimi?) serve a purpose, and while the MT10 caters to shorter distances over kinder terrain, even the pros and endorsers like Anton Krupicka admit that for their longer races they will reach out to a “bit more shoe” as in the MT110.
- This is where the B2R Trail Performance model comes in.
Here’s the short version of the B2R story: Ironman triathlete and entrepreneur Eric Swartz, who had suffered multiple injuries while training, called upon Eric Orton for help and they ended up founding the B2R company (Orton was Christopher McDougall’s coach in the book Born to Run: http://amzn.to/1gn3F2I).
The shoe is now available at www.born2run.com for $119 USD – this includes 2 pairs of white Tabi socks, and I also found black laces and an extra pair of insoles thrown in for good measure.
My Experience In The B2R Trail
I was very excited to receive the shoes right after they cleared customs at the US port of entry and had been quality-checked by the B2R crew. UPS delivered them last Thursday, and after a short test drive on a mini-trail by my house I decided to use them for the weekend’s 50K trail race – pretty much right out of the box.
In the photos above I have included a few side-by-side shots with the very popular New Balance MT110 (in this case the 2E width) – the B2R follows a similar traditional and rugged design (there is also a blue color option in the Men’s model). The workmanship is clean and solid, and there are no gimmicks or fashion frills found here. Even the laces feel substantial and never came untied over a 4.5 hour run.
The upper is composed of a layer of tightly woven mesh with bands of rubbery plastic overlays to add support. The toe-cap has a rubber bumper and is reinforced by a flexible overlay which extends backward through the flex points up to the midfoot and provides sidewall protection. The split toe is executed well and did not cause any chafing- the material in between the cleft seems to be different from the mesh upper, somewhat reminiscent of flexible neoprene. My size 12 weighs in at just under 9oz, and I measure a 17 mm stack height (w/o insole) along with an approximate zero drop.
I had a US12 and a US12.5 shipped to me and had a clear preference for the smaller size. As I typically wear US 12.5s and EUR 46s in Vibrams, I would reason that this shoe fits large and recommend you purchase 1/2 size smaller than your standard running shoe- this will give you a glove like feel.
The shoes can be worn barefoot with insoles in or out to customize your fit. I found the fit in the heel to be anywhere from medium to snug – the heel cup is cut relatively low so it will not cut into your Achilles. I did not experience any debris coming in through the back or any other part of the shoe.The shape of the last is slightly curved and there is no noticeable arch structure.
I would describe the midfoot region of the B2R Trail to possess medium to low volume – it wraps around the foot well and the overlays in the upper provide structure and some stability. The same overlay design is also used in the sidewalls and the toebox for protection and I have found this to be sufficiently protective when hitting rocks and roots.
The Tabi design will accommodate most widths and types of feet and provide a secure fit.
So what exactly is it that I am looking for in a trail shoe, and how does the B2R Trail fulfill my needs?
- Natural feel with proper protection that allows me to run rather than tiptoe around.
I can start my runs with good form on the forefoot and high cadence to tread lightly in most environments. During long training runs and nearly all races, I will eventually start pounding the ground and require some cushioning. The B2R provided a nicely firm ride with good rock protection (not sure if there is an actual rock plate built-in) without compromising sensory feedback. This pair of shoes just felt very comfortable at all stages of the run.
- Flexibility to allow my foot to act naturally and be in touch with the ground.
I was very surprised about the high level of pliability in the outsole considering the substantial lug profile – the trick seems to be the grey material in the midsole that flexes just great and lets the foot work naturally.
- Snug and secure fit that conforms to my foot without cramming my toes on downhills.
This is really where the B2R shines – it provides a glove-like fit and the Tabi design delivers by capitalizing on the balance and anchoring function of the first toe – never have I experienced a safer foot plant on trails. Even when I started stumbling during the late stages of the race the shoes helped keep me from rolling an ankle or losing my footing.
- Wear it with or without socks for runs with water crossings.
I ran the race sockless. The inside of the shoe has soft stitching (below the insole) and supple seams that did not give me any hotspots or chafing during four and a half hours of running. The upper material also sheds water well and dries pretty nicely.
- Good traction on the outsole and a lug design that sheds mud quickly.
The race course provided a near perfect testing ground for a trail shoe (ever test drive a LandRover at the dealer’s mock offroad track?): the B2R Trail Performance mastered deep mud horse trails, slick rocks and roots, ankle-deep sand, slippery wooden bridges and steep downhills on sharp gravel. I was particularly impressed by the traction (beats the NB MT110 by a significant margin) and the way the lugs shed the mud – I got complimented for the cleanest soles at the finish, for what it’s worth…
- Versatility for different distances in training and racing
I would categorize this model as a rock-solid, all around trail shoe fit for training and racing of all distances – based on the weight, of course, you might want to stick to a more race-specific type shoe for short cross-country races in easy terrain. The tough-mudders amongst the readers should also find the B2R very appealing.
- Moderate drop and stack height – not necessarily a model labeled minimalist
Over the last 3 years I have experimented with minimalism and have run in many shoes that have been born from the movement. While you will certainly not see me in a Hoka-style shoe anytime soon, I have come to understand that there is so much more to a shoe than stack height and zero drop. The B2R trail performance fits the bill for most of my needs on the trail.
I have just added two more snow runs to my wear test. It is rare for South Carolina to get the 6+ inches of powder that we recently received, and icy sludge on the ground is a rare experience here. I very much enjoyed the traction and relative warmth and dryness of the B2R in these conditions.
Summarizing my experience, I’d like to say that all of the above features make this model a very good trail shoe. What singles the B2R Trail out against the competition in my very personal experience is the split toe: while I have found the tabi design very useful on road shoes (Vibram Bikila, Topo Athletic RR and Zemgear 365), I get an unprecedented level of connection with the ground in these shoes that has made trail running safer and more enjoyable for me. I have arrived in my search for the near perfect trail shoe and can focus on running again – after my experience during the final 10 miles of Saturday’s race, I am afraid, that is where the work must continue!
I invite you to discuss any comments and personal impressions about this shoe in the below forum, I will also be happy to answer any questions you might have.
The B2R Trail Performance shoe is available for purchase at the B2R website.