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New Balance Fresh Foam 980, Pointy Shoes, and Toe Blisters

Sometimes the running gods can be cruel.

Yesterday I wrote a post on how to avoid chafing while running. One of the anti-chafe products that I recommended is called Hike-Goo, and after I wrote the post I emailed my contact (Vito) to let him know that I had finally managed to try it.

Vito responded by informing me that although the product can work for chafing, it’s primarily intended for use on the feet to help prevent blistering inside shoes/boots. I responded that I almost never get blisters on my toes anymore since I have moved to shoes with more accommodating toeboxes.

Guess what?

Less than 24 hours after claiming that I never get blisters on my feet anymore, I now have a giant blister on the inside of the second toe on my right foot.

The cause of the blister was a 16 mile run this morning in the New Balance Fresh Foam 980. The 980 is a bit of an enigma, and I’ll have more to say about it soon (Update 7/15/2014: you can now read my full New Balance Fresh Foam 980 review here), but one of the things that I don’t like about it is that it has a pronounced taper at the tip of the toebox. It’s not a terribly narrow shoe across the forefoot, but the front of the shoe tapers too abruptly to a point (see photo below), and the upper has minimal give/stretch (I even went a half size up to create some extra space).

The abrupt taper on the inner side pushes my big toe into contact with the second toe, and I started feeling discomfort about halfway through the run today. By 10 miles I knew that a blister had formed (I ran 8 in them earlier this week without trouble, but it was a hot day and I wonder if sweat helped reduce friction between my toes?). When I took off my shoes at the end of the run to inspect the damage I found a blister that ran almost the entire length of my second toe. It reminded me why I no longer run long in shoes with pointy toeboxes. (note: I think my right foot is a tad wider than the left, and my blister issues have always been on that side).

2014-05-28 14.15.06

New Balance Fresh Foam 980 (left) and Salomon Sense Pro (right). Note the pointier toebox on the Fresh Foam.

What’s interesting about this is that the Fresh Foam does not feel particularly tight. I run comfortably in shoes that are much snugger without issue – the Salomon Sense Pro in the photo above being a good example. But where the Salomon succeeds and the Fresh Foam fails is that the former has a more squared-off toebox that allows more room for my big to to spread out medially. The Fresh Foam just scrunches the toes together.

Unfortunately, pointy toeboxes seem to be a trend with some recent New Balance shoes. I recently purchased the New Balance MT00v2 and wound up returning them because they had a similarly tapered toebox. Nate got ahold of a pair of the NB MT110v2 and told me that it’s a great shoe hobbled by a lousy fit. I’d love to see the Fresh Foam on the Mimimus last since there are things I really like about the shoe (the 16 miles today were great but for the blister), but the fit is going to limit their use to shorter stuff from here out (with copious application of lubricant on my toes). And they probably won’t remain in the rotation once I get a review up.

If there is one tenet of minimalism that I strongly support it’s that the toes should be allowed space to splay and spread out inside the toebox of a shoe. If nothing else, this helps prevent blistering since squeezing the toes together can cause friction due to skin-skin rubbing. Shoes with pointy, tapered toeboxes are not fun to run in over long distances, and regardless of where you stand on minimalism, I think most people will agree on that.

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. It’s seems like this is a trend. I’ve noticed more and more shoes retaining or returning to tapered toe boxes. After all the gains made in designing shoes that allow more natural movent of the feet, why start designing shoes that crush the toes together? It makes no functional sense at all.

    • I just don’t get it. There are aspects of minimal that went too far, but I just don’t understand shoes that are pointy at the tip.

      • Aaron Harrell says:

        Pete,

        I agree that it’s weird that NB is veering from the NL last and going with the PL-4 last for many of they’re new shoes. The MT00v2, however, will work better than you know for really steep and technical running. My friend and I run pretty rough terrain almost daily and have found that a fit that seems a little unforgiving can be your best friend when you’re descending really steep stuff. The Inov-8 X-talon 212 is a great example of this principle.

        For the 110v2 though, I wonder why they didn’t give the piggies some more room…

  2. We need, if you dare, a picture of your unshod feet! Could the stiffness plus firmness of the outsole be causing your toes to scrunch up on toe off? For my part I had no problems with upper fit on these. I have pretty much banished blisters in any shoe with the Ashmei Merino Carbon trail socks. Keeps the slip down inside shoes, decent cushion, and great wicking

    • I actually find them to be a really smooth ride. But, I’ve basically been in wide toebox shoes for 5 years now and my feet have adapted to that. I can feel the last moving my big toe inward. If you look at my feet my big toe has clear separation from the second toe when unshod, so pretty spaced out compared to many feet that I see.

  3. So basically New Balance has decided to shoot themselves by slowly killing the most awesome last I have ever worn, the Minimus, particularly that one of the original MT10…

    • I have read that they are not eliminating the Minimus last, but it’s curious that they took both the MT110 and MT00 off of it. Bad move in both cases I think.

      • Couldn’t agree more……
        In my opinion, the fit of the MT110 v1 / minimus last offered the perfect balance of security and room around the toes in a similar way to the Salomon Sense range. It worked fine for me on steep, technical terrain. I haven’t tried the NL-1 last yet but it seems like a step backwards to me

        • David Henry says:

          Andrew, Just to clarify (and I know it is confusing): The minimus last is the NL-1 last (and NL-0 for the old MT00). The new last that the 980 and MT110v2 are on is the PL-4 last, a 4mm drop variation of the PL-8 last (which the 890v4 is on and is consequently 8mm drop). The new MT00v2 is on the PL-0 last (0mm drop). Hope that helps, but just wanted you to know that if you see the NL-1 last on a shoe, that is the minimus last and thus would work well for you.

  4. The blue Salomon’s in the picture are the Salomon Sense PRO, not the Ultra.

  5. David Henry says:

    Agree on the last issues discussed here Pete. I will say the MT00v2, while feeling tight trying them on, they loosened up just fine after running in them and I have no problems with the fit for steep off trail running (which is what they are designed for). The last on them is much closer to inov-8′s precision last which is helpful off-trail, but I do think the 110v2 should not be quite so committed to an off-trail type fit, but it does seem that NB has moved the 110v2 to being a full fledged mountain shoe rather than a trail running shoe IMO. This isn’t wrong per se, but deceiving to runners that liked the 101 and 110 and expect a similar end use.

    Small correction on the photo you have: it is not the Sense Ultra but the Sense Pro in the photo.

  6. I’ve read on his blog that Tony Krupicka ran in 890v4, maybe a shoe to try?
    1400v2 is really great but 890v4 seems to be the real v2 of the 1400.
    :)

  7. Lightning Racer says:

    The Minumus last seems to be shaped non-toe-like too. They have room on the big toe side, but I have found the ones I have tried on to be shorter on the little toe side than standard lasts in most other shoes.

    I have the MT110 in 2EE, and while it seemed acceptable when I first got it, having not worn it in a while and going back to it, I confirmed this feeling again. Even a low volume upper shoe like the Nike Wildhorse, which I use without the insole, gives me a lot of little toe room.

    • David Henry says:

      I agree…NL-1 last definitely cuts in on the little toes more than most lasts.

      • Jesse Gonzalez says:

        My goodness! I thought I was the only one that had this problem

        I’ve always liked the nl-1 last but would really have loved it if they just reduced the big toe space and extended the pinky toe space. Then, it would be the perfect last! But sadly it isn’t still love the mt10 v1 and v2 and the mr00v2 though

  8. I agree with everyone’s comments. This shoe has some weird characteristics to it. The toe box is narrow but it works for me, the sponginess is not really that soft but works, and the pointy toe seems to get in the way for faster runs. I have about 75 miles on them from an easy 4 to a long 20 mile run. I am not sure where New Balance is going with the changes they are making. I normally run in Brooks PureFlows but wanted something different to wear during really long runs. I am fortunate to only have paid $71.00 due to a great sale. They will stay in my rotation for now.

  9. Willy T says:

    Guys,

    The 980 FF comes in D or 4E….has anyone tried it yet?

    link to newbalance.com

  10. I find it bizarre that NB are introducing pointy last. Surely it can’t be that radical idea that shoes should be foot shaped.

    Is it deemed that pointy shoes look more “cool” to elements of the running community? Or is it just the marketing folk at NB who’ve decided that they are more likely to sell for some bizarre reason.

    The best antidote for this idiocy from shoe manufactures is publicising the problem so the shoes that have bad lasts tank without trace. Photo’s of the blister right next to the culprit shoe should be a good starter, get it trending on twitter etc.

  11. I found the Patagonia Everlong has proved to be an exception to the assertion pointy toed shoes are not fun to run in over long distances. I hesitated to try them on at all because of the pointed toe and I’m thankful I did not pass them over. They are the only regular shoe I’m really pleased with. The way the foot is wrapped over the wide base alleviates pressure on the toes. I ussually wear Fivefingers.

  12. This toe box pointed shape reminds me of the pointy toe in the Saucony Type A6. Great shoe for me except for a deal breaker: the dreaded toe scrunch.

  13. John R. says:

    It seems Anton K. is still wearing the original MT110′s as his shoe of choice as you can see in the link below. If he hasn’t embraced v2 yet, it makes the NB decision that much more confusing.

    link to blog.ultimatedirection.com

  14. I too have tried on the mt110v2 and can attest to the pointyness. the platform feels great underfoot, but the pressure across the forefoot is just too much to run in.

  15. The pointy toe is all about aesthetics. To most non runners the rounded, wide toe box looks like a clown shoe. I bought my kids a pair of MT10′s and they never got used even though they said they were comfortable (said “looked funny”). The percentage of people who care about the function of a shoe over looks is very small. I loved my Trail Gloves and MT10′s.

  16. it seems as though the blisters show up for me in that area too when I wear shoes with a thin toe box. I am wearing the Inov8 flite right now and thats what keeps happening to me.

    Unfortunately I dont have the money to buy a new pair of shoes yet. just keep your feet dry and they will go away in a day or so unless they are really bad then it may take longer.

  17. Iain Denby says:

    It’s always baffled me that so many shoe lasts don’t match up to the shape of a foot. What the hell is wrong with these manufacturers?

  18. I was a big fan of NBs before. Their Minimus were my favorite. But when they started making the width narrower even in 2Es, I started getting blisters and injuries. Holding off from getting another NB until I get a better fit. :(

  19. Several of the traditional shoe manufacturers seem to have been making shoes with more pointed toe boxes in the last few years. I think they are trying to make the shoes lighter in weight and / or more attractive. I don’t think this more tapered toe box is a beneficial trend, though– I really don’t want blisters, bunions, or neuromas from having my toes too crowded when I run.

  20. The NB trend of tapered/shallow toe boxes has been a big problem for me too–yes, even in their wide sizes. I need a roomy toe box, which is why I loved the 1080v3. Version 4 came along, and suddenly my toes felt crunched. It’s particularly baffling that they did this to a model of shoe meant for the larger runner.

  21. The NB980 not only tapers laterally, but the stack height tapers vertically pretty dramatically after the ball of foot area. The negative ramp under your toes could definitely lead to your whole foot getting squeezed forward in the shoe on each plant as your toes looked for the ground.

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