My Weekend with New Balance

This weekend I got to take advantage of a very cool opportunity.  I was a guest of New Balance at their Media Retreat, held at the Sea Crest Resort on Cape Cod.

About 15 media members and I got to spend the weekend hanging out at the beach, learning about New Balance products, and doing lots more fun stuff — yoga, a form clinic, good food and drink, and capping it all off by running the famous 7.1-mile New Balance Falmouth Road Race.

Among the guests were Competitor editor TJ Murphy, Adam Chase from Running Times, Tina from Carrots n Cake, Running Network president Larry Eder, and editors and freelancers who write for outlets like Fitness, Women’s Health, Women’s Adventure, and fitsugar.com.

No word on whether anyone realizes that these publications are about 19 billion times more legit than this little dog-and-pony show I run.  Shh!

The products

New Balance is definitely embracing the minimalist trend — there was a lot of focus on the heel-toe offset of shoes, (or “drop,” I believe it’s also called) which measures the difference in height between the thicker heel of the shoe and the midfoot.  Almost all of their newer models will feature decreased offsets over their predecessors, which of course encourages midfoot striking over higher-impact heelstriking.

Two examples, and shoes I’ve written about before:

  • The 890’s, which I love and are now splitting time with the Green Silence as my everyday road shoe, currently feature a 12-millimeter offset from heel to midfoot.  But on the new 890 v2’s, which will be out in February but which I got to sample and actually ran the Falmouth race in, the offset has been reduced to 8 mm.
  • The Minimus (you might have seen a TV commercial for it recently; it’s their minimalist shoe with the Vibram sole) currently has a 4-mm offset.  But a new version, the Minimlist Zero, will have zero offset, and the overall height of the shoe off the ground will also be reduced.  The shoe has also gotten lighter; one of the ways they’ve accomplished this is by digitally determining the “hotspots” on the sole, reinforcing those areas and reducing the amount of rubber around them.  (They asked us not to publish any photos of the entire shoes yet, but you can see what I’m describing in the photos below.)

Minimus Zero Trail sole:

0813110957 225x300

Minimus Zero Road sole:

0813111003 225x300

A few other notes about the Minimus, the line I’m most intrigued by:

  • Tom Carleo, New Balance’s General Manager of Running, told me that there is “no animal in this shoe.”  (While most running shoes don’t use leather anymore, many of the cements and glues contain animal products.)  I was actually surprised to hear how important this issue seemed to him — when I asked, I figured nobody would really care much about this!  It sounds like many, if not most, of New Balance’s shoes are totally vegan-friendly. Look for a post with more information about vegan-friendly shoes soon.
  • Besides the trail and road versions of the Minimus, there will also be a “Wellness” version — a shoe for everyday wear by athletes who want a near-barefoot experience throughout the day.  The women’s version is a Mary Jane style, and the men’s has a velcro strap.  Both looked pretty cool to me, and I can’t wait to try them (well, not the Mary Janes).

Good Form running clinic

While they’re embracing the minimalist trend, New Balance definitely feels that minimalist running is not for everyone (at least, not immediately).  Several times they mentioned giving sales reps in their stores the knowledge to “talk down from the ledge” people who come in to the stores hell-bent on going as close to barefoot as possible, when their body type or running style would make injury the very likely to result from doing so.

In an effort to educate, New Balance has partnered with Good Form Running to create a program which teaches exactly that — good form that’s easy to learn and remember, not perfect form that stresses six thousand details.

We went through a short Good Form clinic on Saturday.  This was one of my favorite parts of the weekend; I was so impressed with the simplicity and intuitiveness of the fundamentals of Good Form.  They are:

  1. Posture
  2. Midfoot
  3. Cadence
  4. Lean

See, told you it was simple!  Several of these, especially cadence, are things you’re probably familiar with because I’ve written about them on NMA, but check out the Good Form site for the details on each of these points.  And don’t expect nerdy, technical explanations: When I asked our instructor, Colin, what the Good Form take on dorsiflexion is, he essentially said, “whatever feels right.”

I can do that.

The take-home

So here what’s most interesting to me.

After a solid day and a half of learning all about the company’s new shoes and apparel, plus sidebars like the Good Form program and their top-notch New Balance Sports Research Lab where they test products, the thing that stuck with me from the weekend has nothing to do with any of that.

Instead, it has everything to do with the people.  I left the media retreat with an overwhelming sense of how passionate the people at New Balance are.  And not just about their own products (though they certainly are that), but about running as a whole.  They are runners, and they want to make products that will help them run better.

Every interaction I had with the New Balance people, from the way we were treated as guests and as fellow runners, was incredible.  Kristen, New Balance’s Global PR Manager, not only made sure that I had a specially-prepared vegan dish for every meal, but even did the same for my wife and son, who were able to come along for the trip and hang out at the beach.

Just as striking was the incredible amount of knowledge that everyone works at the company had about the details of the company and its products.  When anyone of us asked about prices or even weights or measurements of shoes and apparel during the presentations, someone always came up with the answer, right from their head, without having to look it up.  You just got the sense that they live this stuff, that they don’t stop thinking about running and shoes when they head home after work.  And just about all of them actually ran the seven-mile race on Sunday, too.

To make sure it wasn’t just me, I asked some of the other media folks there if they noticed this, and they absolutely did.  I thought perhaps all companies were like this, that this was just the way “media’ are treated, but those I asked assured me that wasn’t the case.

These people really, really care about running and about making the best possible shoes and clothes.  And when you see that kind of energy and care going into making sure that what they sell is the best that there is, it sure does make you feel good about choosing their stuff.

As I try out some of the new products, I’ll be sure to let you know what I think.  And don’t worry; there’s no rule that we have to write only nice things.  They want to know what people think about their stuff, so that they can keep making it better.

P.S. In DC? Come hang out with me at DC Vegan Drinks on Thursday!

This Thursday (August 18th) I’m going to head down to Washington, D.C. for DC Vegan Drinks at Bread and Brew, from 7-10 p.m.  I’m going to talk for 5 or 10 minutes, but mostly just relax and have a good time and a few good beers (and bread, I suppose).  I hope to see you there!  Check out the event on Facebook.

One more thing! I’m very happy to announce that No Meat Athlete is a sponsor of the 2011 DC Vegfest.  We’ll be there with a booth and some NMA shirts and (hopefully) a few new logo items.  It’s September 24th and it’s a great event, so mark your calendar!

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Comments

  1. Sounds like a really great time Matt, thanks for letting us know some of the inner workings of NB! My wife has a pair of Minimus Road trainers and she loves them. She’s been eyeing the trail Minimus for a little while too. Ultrarunner Anton Krupicka is sponsored by NB and has echo’d a lot of your sentiments about the company too. I’m always happy to support a company that’s in it for the right reasons.

  2. I absolutely adore my Minimus Trails and I can’t wait until the zero drop version comes out. I may even try out the 890s once they drop to heel-to-toe to 8mm. Sounds like you had an awesome weekend with an awesome company!

  3. this good Form Running clinic actually started at my local running store, Playmakers, in Michigan! I’ve done all of the levels of class. my stride has improved and I’ve been injury free since starting! I’m glad you are bringing it to people’s attention, it’s been a big help to a lot of runners out here!

  4. Jon Weisblatt says:

    Hey Matt,
    Glad you had fun on Cape Cod. I love in another part of the Cape, about an hour away. Was that your first Falmouth Road Race? I’ve done it a few times and it’s a blast. The Good Form running program New Balanced has developed sounds a lot like Chirunning, my personal favorite. It looks like Pose, Evolution, and Chirunning and now this new program have some of the same elements. I still highly recommmend Chirunning (I just came back from a 5 day class with Danny Dreyer in New york). Trying to go minimal myself but it’s a slow go. Currntly in Asics DS racers. Anyone out have there have other minimal shoes they like?
    Thanks for the groovy post Matt!

  5. So good to hear that most of their shoes are vegan – that alone is a huge plus for NB. Not being a runner, but a powerlifter – the new trend in minimalist running shoes is great as most of the low cushion, zero drop shoes are great candidates for powerlifting. Chuck Taylor’s are a dominant force on the lifting platform, but now a great number of better options are turning up. I’ll be shopping NB when the Chuck’s have disintegrated under the weight of the bar. Thanks for sharing!

    For the record, I only recently learned that Converse was owned by Nike – felt dirty the moment I heard it. Just my opinion, but I think them just evil. Here ends my mini rant.

  6. I’m happy to hear you had such a good experience with New Balance, although I am not surprised. I have been with New Balance since day one, over 15 years ago. I love their products, love the company, love the philosophy. I have never been disappointed with any of their shoes. The only quibble I have is with their naming conventions!

    As a bonus, many of their products are made in the USA!

  7. Enjoyed reading about NB but it sounds exactly like the concepts taught by Danny in ChiRunning. He’s been teaching these concepts since the late 1990s; it sounds like NB has jumped on his bandwagon (without giving him any credit). Regardless, I hope people can learn these concepts and apply them because they really do work!

  8. how cool ??? i was just in the cape and i didn’t realize the race was this past weekend.

  9. That’s great to hear large shoe companies making the vegan move. I do like to hear behind the scenes looks at big companies like New Balance. You imagine people that just get their products to be so perfect are perfect themselves. This is how I feel about Vega. It’s interesting to hear this of new balance and I am definitely intrigued to see their new minimalist shoes soon. Right now I’m still loving my brand new pair of Green Silence shoes, but there will be more in my lineup soon I’m sure!

  10. Constance says:

    I have the Minimus Trail shoes and I love them! I actually do majority of my running on the road, but they are so bad with the ups and downs and holes and cracks that it is close to trail running just not soft! They are amazing shoes, I have lots of problems with my feet and surprisingly the Minimus have been the best pair of running shoes for me so far!

  11. I don’t know why, but I used to think that NB didn’t make great running shoes. That is until I tried out the MT101s. I LOVE them. They are my everyday trail shoe, and I can’t imagine wearing anything else right now. I was so in love with them that I made a switch to the 890s on the road. I’ve only had them for a few weeks, but so far so good! Now I’m all about the NB running shoe line.

    Matt – Sorry I missed you in DC last night! I’m really looking forward to your table at the VegFest in Sept.

  12. I worked with New Balance people a few years ago for their Running on Hope/Race for the Cure anniversary and was super impressed with the people and how wonderful they were. It was one of the most satisfying experiences of my running life thus far.

  13. Here’s one vote for hoping this minimalist shoe/barefoot thing (fad) goes out of style. A good idea, but only for very short runs of no more than 3 miles. I purchased a similar pair of Saucony’s and my legs were dead tired and sore after a couple runs. I’ve been running 25 years mainly due to more supportive shoes. A heavier show is a good thing. Trust me. You’ll thank yourself decades later when you’re still out there on the roads pain-free.

  14. Hi,

    Have you gotten confirmation that they were vegan since then? I can’t seem to find the relevant information anywhere. The only list (http://www.newbalance.com/on/demandware.store/Sites-newbalance_us-Site/default/CustomerService-Faqs) of NB non-leather shoes I could find doesn’t include the MR10 (though, oddly, it includes the MO10 and the MT10), but I don’t know if it’s up to date. Anyway, the list does not guarantee that glues are not animal-based in all of these shoes.

    Do you honestly think these are vegan-friendly shoes?

    Thanks!

    • Nicolas, I heard recently that some of the New Balance shoes aren’t vegan anymore. I do believe that when they said they were at this event, it was true — it came right from a guy who was very high up on the product team. I’m not sure what has changed, if anything, but last I heard was that some of these aren’t vegan now.

      It’s very tough and frustrating to ensure your shoes are vegan-friendly. I get the sense a lot of companies use different glues interchangeably across different production runs, so even they don’t know what’s vegan and what’s not, unless they’re committed to making sure that everything is. Brooks has been the best about this (at least, at publicizing it), and only their walking shoes are non-vegan, last I heard.

      • Yep, that’s why I’ve been wearing only Brooks (Green Silence and Cascadia) for the last two years. But I wanted to give NB a chance as the MR 10 seem really cool. It also seems many of the Inov 8 shoes are vegan – or so they say – and they have an interesting minimalist range as well. That’s where I might go.

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