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!
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.)
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:
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.
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!