July 7, 2012

New Balance 20 Minimus Trail review

A few weeks ago, RunningShoes.com sent me a pair of New Balance 20 Minimus Trail shoes to review, and in those weeks, I gave them an ample beating to test the crud out of them. As a newcomer to the minimal running scene, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t letting my newbie-ness get in the way of a fair testing of these dudes.

Opening packages requires lots of helpers at our house.

Before I took them to the streets, the kids made sure they passed the centrifugal force test. Passed! This is the same test that took out a fan blade last year so be careful if you try this one at home. 

The New Balance 20s are minimal trail shoes with a 4mm drop and a featherweight (translation: very thin) cushion on the bottom. Before reading the manufacturing details, I thought they were zero drop, but it turns out they added the 4mm to help replicate the natural shape of your foot. They are designed to simulate running barefoot but with some added rubber to protect your tootsies from stick and rock jabs. Also if you happen upon glass shards, as happens an unusually large amount on trails next to my house, you won’t get one wedged into your heel. Let that visual sit in your brain box for a moment. Ew and ouch. Alabamians, it’s time to start smashing your beer bottles somewhere besides the running trail. It’s a lot to ask a drunken trail wanderer, I know, but consider it.

Here are some more shoe facts from the manufacturer. 

Important note: they recommend gradually adding them to your running schedule. Beginners should start out using them for only 10% of their total running and move up gradually from there. 

So here are the things I loved about them. The grippy pods on the bottom help grab the trails and stay put without too much extra bulk to throw you off balance. For a long time I thought that I had a wacky balance problem on trails. It seemed that whenever my foot even got near a trail it snagged on something immediately throwing me into an unfortunate trail dive. In all of my testing of the New Balance 20s, I don’t recall having a single major fall, and my tiny trip ups were far, far less. This tells me that the simplicity of these shoes works with my feet in navigating trails. There’s not a lot of extra bulk to catch on roots or rocks. This is a win for my feet and my face, because that’s the one body area that I don’t want to hit a giant rock. New Balance 20s, keeping trail runners everywhere concussion free.

Even though these shoes are made for the trails, they worked great for me for cross-training as well. I loved using them in my strength training and spin classes at the gym. They keep your foot tied to the ground for easy balancing during weight lifting, and they fit neatly into the spin bike stirrups.

I even tried running with them indoors, but I really preferred using them on the trail for running. The softer dirt surface was much more forgiving to the bottoms of my feet and calves. If you are just starting to experiment with lower-drop shoes, the trails are a great place to start. The ground provides the perfect padded landing for helping you transition into your new shoes.

The best place I tried these shoes were trails with lots of dirt. You’re thinking, isn’t that every trail? Right, right, but some of the trails in our hood have sections with large gravel chunks. Probably if your feet have been toughened up over time, this wouldn’t affect you as much, but those areas of trail were pretty uncomfortable for me. If you are new to minimal shoes and would like a little extra cushion between you and chunky rocks, you could move up to the New Balance 110s. They're like the New Balance 20s with their 4mm drop, but with an added layer of cushion.

I even wore these to what I thought was a trail race, only to find out at the start line that it was a road race with one mile of trails at the end. Um, what? How do you have a race at a state park that is mostly road? Guess I should have read the race description a little more closely. I had a small freak out moment, but the shoes worked great for grabbing the road on the four miles of uphill climb in the race. And I ended up in the top ten ladies for the race. 

Thanks to my local camera guru David for this picture!

The New Balance 20s also teach you to pick your running lines wisely (otherwise your feet will be mad at you), and I definitely saw my lines change during this race based on the fact that I could actually feel the ground. I picked the smoothest lines on the road to run (yes, there were rough lines on those asphalt roads – this is Bama after all), and the same line picking happens on the trail. In the end, this saves energy because you aren’t just charging through the roughest terrain because you can’t feel it. Like, like.

These shoes are designed to wear with or without socks. I prefer to wear socks with mine because that's just how I roll always. Also, this particular model is the winter run version, which means the upper is a little more stiff without mesh. I liked that the upper of these seemed more tear resistant than mesh might, but it isn't as breathable. Honestly, my feet never got hot in these even in the summer months because they are so light, but keep in mind if you are ordering that a winter version is available. 

I ordered these the same way I order my other running shoes, a half size up from my everyday shoe size. With this half size up, the shoes fit perfectly through the mid foot, and I had plenty of room in the toe box to avoid rubbing and blisters. 

Look at that mid foot ready to hit the ground running. 

Bullet points make everyone happy, so here are some highlights of the New Balance 20 Minimus Trail shoes:

  • Lightweight (only 5.8 oz) and easy to maneuver around the trails
  • Less bulk means less tripping
  • Grippy pods on the bottom help climb hills and dodge obstacles
  • Can be worn with our without socks
  • Have a regular and winter version 
  • 4mm drop to transition from traditional running shoes
  • Help promote a mid-foot strike 

Right now the New Balance 20s are on sale on RunningShoes.com for $69. My favorite color of course is the coral (i.e. orange!)

Also, if you're low on cash, but still need new shoes, RunningShoes.com is hosting a giveaway for those who sign up for their newsletter. Sign up here, and as long as you are on the newsletter list, you are eligible to win each month's drawing. Pretty easy! 

Have you tried minimal running yet? I think I'm converted after running with these on the trails for a few weeks, but I'm still not sure about minimal for road racing.

What are your favorite shoes for racing, road or trails? 

RunningShoes.com sent me these shoes to test but did not provide additional compensation for my review. All thoughts and opinions in this review are my own.