As a runner who likes to get out into the forest and run some trails, I’m constantly on the lookout for running shoes that can cope with a sometimes more testing environment than pavement. I do the majority of my running out in the central highlands of Victoria, where there’s plenty of great forest runs and the running surface varies from smooth clay road, through sharp rocky fire trails and everything in between.
I’m a big fan of trail running to break up the monotony of running on the road, it’s a mental holiday as much as anything and the indifferent footing, twists and turns and undulating terrain makes you slow down. From a running technique perspective you get multiple chances on every run to reset your running form, whereas on the road it’s set and forget. Therefore if you’re on the pathway to improving your running technique then hitting the trails is a good move.
The biggest challenge that I face is getting over the ground without the unwelcome insertion of sharp rocks into my forefoot. I’m a big fan of the Nike Free 3.0 and its ability to provide a light and adaptable covering for the foot that delivers on most occasions. But as with everything, strengths can become weaknesses, and the Free 3.0’s grooved, flexible sole not only collects rocks with impressive efficiency, but also allows them to poke through and bruise the soft underbelly of my forefoot.
Inevitably, once this occurs you can be assured that every rock you step on for the rest of your run (and runs in following days) will hit the exact location of the initial bruising. It’s not much better with my other regular training partner the Adizero Adios, once they soften up to perfect plushness for racing on the roads, they also become vulnerable to stones stabbing through the cushioning.
One solution is to wear a thick traditional trainer that offers protection from rocks through weight of cushion and padding alone. The problem is, what you gain through rock protection, you give up with terrible feel for the ground and the unhappy sensation of being out on control when the going gets uneven or slippery. This has not been an option I’ve been prepared to adopt since making a complete transition to running in relatively minimal shoes, so I’ve persisted in running in Frees and put up with the odd rock bruise. But now I have another shoe that ticks the minimalist box and provides some better protection from rocks.
Enter the NB MT101 (NB WT101 for women) a minimal trail shoe that I’ve been looking at for while before I dove in recently and purchased a pair. Runblogger Pete Larson pretty much rates these as his favorite shoes and I can see why. Check out Pete’s review here, his positive assessment got me over the line.
The New Balance MT101 are slightly lighter than the Adidas Adizero Adios and also a bit flatter. Only by a millimeter or two according to specs, but they feel a bit lower profile in the heel than that again. By the accurate measuring instrumentation of my foot, I’d say they are about 6mm drop from heel to toe, or in other words pretty similar to Nike Free 3.0 and the Adidas racing flats the Adizero Pro and Rocket.
But the feature that got me interested, but also had me quite wary, was a rock stopping plate under the forefoot. In theory it sounded good, protection from those pokey stones, but I was suspecting the downside would be a hard, stiff desensitized shoe. Happily this didn’t prove to be the case, they are a bit firmer than a road racing shoe, but if you stick to running on trails and dirt roads they are comfortable enough. I’ve had a few short bursts on sealed road and while they are ok, they drift towards the unforgiving end of the spectrum. Keep them in the dirt, rocks, mud and clay where they are happy and perform the best.
I’ve probably done about 70-80km so far in these shoes. Mostly I have run long in them, with two runs of 90 minutes or about 18-19km not causing me any problems. The rock stopping feature, while offering good protection, is not complete insurance against stone bruising. However, what it does well is to dissipate the force of any stone under your foot over a wider area, so I’m guessing I will be less likely to suffer a broken metatarsal wearing these than smashing the trails in the Nike Free 3.0.
Side benefits of the rock stopping feature, and the low profile of the shoes, are that the NB MT101 are very responsive and fast feeling footwear. If you run with a forefoot to neutral (mid-foot) foot-strike pattern then you’ll notice a bit of zip coming back at you from the rock plate. It’s not a dissimilar sensation to wearing spikes and makes this shoe a left field candidate for cross country racing if you’re not into spikes or the terrain is quite rocky. On slippery clay the New Balance MT101 hold the ground surprisingly well, but you still need to be carefully when the trails get really greasy.
If you’re exclusively a heel-toe runner that lands a bit heavy then perhaps these shoes are not for you, but if you’re relatively light on your feet and used to wearing a minimal shoe, then they could make for a useful addition to your collection. What do you reckon?
Written by Brian Martin
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