With the increasing and important emphasis on running in a bit less shoe as a means to stimulate improvements in running form, and help avoid injury, there has been a flood of new shoe models released into the minimalist category over the past 12 – 18 months. I’ve written about the Nike Free 3.0 and Nike Free Run and do some of my running in both of these shoes. As I’ve noted in some previous posts I believe wearing shoes that are bit less cushioned, stiff and controlling has helped me make improvements in my running technique. But anyone who has followed this blog will also know I advocate making any transition to minimal shoes in a very gradual and controlled way – remember minimal for you is all relative, if you’ve been running in Brooks Beast almost any shoe is going to feel minimal to you. So I was interested in how I would cope with the New Balance MR10 Minimus Road, which has a reported heel-toe drop of about 4mm and an emphasis on helping runners move to a mid-foot (neutral) foot-strike. In relative terms, you’d say the MR10 Minimus is more minimal in terms of heel-toe drop than my stock running shoes I use day-in day-out.
Shoe reviews need to be read in the context of the reviewer – as they say beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder. Here’s some brief background on my running to help you put my views in context: I’m 6 foot 1 inches tall and weigh about 73 kilograms. I come from a background of running with poor technique and using heavily cushioned and motion controlled shoes. A little over two years ago I started researching the elements of proper running technique and making some improvements in my running form supported by a strength training program designed to inject some power into my buttocks and hamstrings to balance out my over active quads and hip flexors. At the same time I commenced running in relatively minimal shoes. For me this meant marathon racers e.g. Adidas Adizero Adios and Nike Frees 5.0 to begin with, and in the last 12 months Nike Free 3.0 and Nike Free Run. In the last six months I’ve also done semi-regular jogs in Adizero Pros and Rockets. You’ll note that none of these shoes (aside from the Frees) make any claims to be in the minimalist shoe category. They are just plain old racing flats, in truth the Marathon shoes are not even flat, having a heel-to-toe drop of about 10mm, which does make them a good option for someone like me who tends to run with a light heel-toe foot-strike.
As a point of comparison to the NB Minimus the Adidas flats (Pros and Rockets) have a drop of about 6mm, which I find does challenge me to run with a more neutral foot striking pattern, however I don’t yet race in these as I still get a bit slappy when racing all-out. The marathon racers are more forgiving and there’s no point forcing yourself to run in super flat shoes for the sake of an ideology. Your shoes must work for you, especially in a race scenario, where it becomes more difficult to maintain perfect running form.
I was quite excited about the New Balance MR10 Minimus Road shoe as I’d read some good reports and liked the look of the profile and design in the pictures I’d seen on the Internet. I applaud New Balance for jumping in and doing some innovating and offering up a new product. Having said that my initial impression of the shoe when I opened up the box, didn’t quite match my expectations. The first thing I noticed was the NB Minimus didn’t feel all that minimal. What do I mean by that? Well the shoes felt heavy, a little stiff through the sole and also had a curious design in the upper including a fairly prominent and padded section around the ankle – something I felt likely would rub against the achilles tendon. Weighing in at 8 oz (226 grams), the NB Minimus are heavier than the Adidas Adios marathon flats 7.4 oz (209 grams) and the Nike Free 3.0 at 7.1 oz (201 grams). So the Minimus and I didn’t get off to a great start.
I took the shoes on three easy test runs before writing this review, I was naturally a bit wary of their flatter profile and on each occasion I ran in them I first jogged about 20 minutes in the Adidas flats to get myself used to running with a more neutral foot and ankle posture, something I knew I would need to do to wear the NB Minimus Road. To their credit, New Balance include a warning on the shoe box and label that suggests runners ease into using their New Balance MR10 Minimus Road for less than 10% of their total mileage and to be wary of sore calves and achilles tendons. Personally, having worn the shoe, I’d say less than 5% of your mileage would be a better number and perhaps even use the shoe truly as a training tool (say for warming up, strides or drills). Nike suggest using the Free as a training tool, possibly in a bid offset potential injury litigation, but the Free 3.0 or the Free Run are both close enough to regular running shoes to be used for normal training (once you have gradually introduced them).
On the other hand, the new NB Minimus Road really is quite a departure from what you are used to and this is the element I have the biggest problem with – they actually try and intervene too much and force you to run forefoot. And I mean forefoot, not neutral (or mid-foot) the reason for this is the shape of the cushioning / sole of the shoe. The forefoot area has some shaping that is probably designed to try and encourage foot/ankle inversion, which is a pattern good forefoot oriented runners use as they touchdown across the forefoot and commencing paw-back as the foot flattens during contact. This in itself could be useful, but it’s coupled with a drop off in the heel cup that tends to plunge your foot and ankle down into an eversion or pronated posture, if you stand with your weight across the whole foot. The end result during running is that if you don’t stay on your forefoot through the contact phase you will end up with sore calves and/or risk injuring your achilles tendon. Note: I thought these pictures of me standing with and without the shoes on would illustrate the point about the drop in the heel-cup. So while it feels like it’s pushing my feet and ankles into slight pronation, I can’t quite see it in the photography.
So, the NB Minimus could be used as a training tool to encourage running more forefoot, but for most runners going neutral (mid-foot) or moderate, light heel-toe is really all your need to focus on to avoid injury and strengthen up your feet. This assumes you are getting good activation of your glutes and hamstrings just ahead of and during ground contact. If you’re not doing that, changing foot-strike pattern alone won’t save you. So I believe the Minimus may take regular runners beyond what is necessary to enjoy and enhance their running experience.
However, for the more hardcore runners out there, the NB Minimus could be used as a training tool. For example, using the shoes as a transition to wearing spikes for competitive runners is a potential idea; however I tend to think the aforementioned weight and stiffness through the sole of the shoe means you lose some sense of ground contact you get with shoes like Adidas Adizero Pros. On my runs I found the Minimus felt a bit dead, with little forgiveness in the cushioning and they lacked the feel you would need to practice running with a forefoot orientation (you need to be precise to get this right). Of course, this is my perspective and an already accomplished forefoot oriented runner may find the shoes perfectly comfortable to run in.
I also found that the Minimus as New Balance forewarned, did irritate my calves and achilles tendons. So for now the shoes have been taken out of my running shoe basket (already overflowing) and set to work for wearing around with jeans or other non-running pursuits, such as gym or even as one person suggested to me CrossFit. The low profile of the shoe would suit activities where you need to feel grounded.
In summary, New Balance have had a good crack at designing a different type of shoe, but for me the NB Minimus Road doesn’t fit the minimal ethos well enough despite its flat profile – regular racing flats could be a cheaper and better option for runners looking for a flat, responsive minimal shoe. Of course, the best way to find out if these or any other shoe are suitable for you is to have a run in them before you buy. Pick a shop with an in-store treadmill and check them out for yourself.
Written by Brian Martin