Gear Review: New Balance MT20 Winter Run edition

I’ve been running trails with my new shoes for about five weeks now. I’ve slowly worked them into my usual running schedule to give my feet time to adjust to the minimalist style shoe. While I have been wearing so called barefoot style shoes from Nike, and Reebok for quite awhile now; they seem absolutely luxurious compared to the Minimus Trail 20. Minimus is a fitting name because all that is here is the bare minimum needed to build a shoe. This shoe is just a few millimeters away from being totally barefoot and it shows. This is my first foray into a dedicated minimalist shoe like this and so far I have been pleasantly surprised by the outcome. While a shoe like this comes with issues that must be addressed before beginning, all in all I would recommend The New Balance Minimus line to anyone contemplating the transition to barefoot and minimalist running.

Before beginning I think it’s only fair to explain that these shoes are designed to put your foot in contact with the ground in ways that modern running shoes just can’t do. There is very little arch support and even less padding in shoes like this. In fact the drop from heel to toe is almost zero, approaching the true stance of a barefoot. The recent explosion of minimalist shoes is based off of a shift in running thinking and research. Many up and coming runners along with seasoned coaches have took notice of the rampant occurrence and even increase in running injury over the last thirty years. This rise in injury has correlated directly with the rise in price and technology associated with modern shoes. The short story is that many experts today now have to concede the fact that despite marketing trends and catchy advertising; space-age shoes and all their gimmicks are destroying our feet. If you would like to learn more I suggest you begin your research with the book “Born to Run.”

As with any minimalist shoe it is strongly advised that you slowly work them into your normal routine. If you are not an experienced forefoot striker, I suggest you avoid shoes like this until you can run at least 3 miles at a time without heel striking. Heel striking in minimalist shoes will injure you! That being said there are many advantages to minimalist shoes. First of all, they are very light. Your muscles have to lift less weight to propel you forward. At first that may not seem like an issue but mix in a little fatigue with rough terrain and weight soon becomes very noticeable in a shoe.

Another advantage I have noticed with these new shoes is the decrease of reaction time when encountering loose rocks, roots, and other trail obstacles. Before my feet seemed almost numb to these things and by the time my brain realized there was an issue I was already on my way to falling. Minimalist shoes and forefoot striking demand a shorter quicker stride, one that keeps your feet centered underneath you not out in front. The benefit of this is that if you do trip or stumble you already have another foot touching down to support you. I am thankful for the molded toe guard on the MT20’s it has saved my big toe several times while still allowing my foot to sense and adjust to the rocks in my path.

That’s really what these shoes are about. They enable you to not just move over terrain but to really touch and experience it. At first this translates into pain, but really its shock. Most of us aren’t used to feeling the ground with our feet. Encased in tight leather, foam padding, and an inch of rubber our feet have almost become desensitized. Also in a shoe this flexible your foot will indeed flex and move around. Contrary to conventional thinking this hasn’t led to increased sprains in the ankle but less. The movement wakes your feet up so to speak and muscles and ligaments most of us have not used since the carefree barefoot days of childhood are forced to get in on the action. This is why you need to slowly work into shoes like these to give these mostly unused parts of your foot time to strengthen, stretch, and activate again.

Believe it or not your body is engineered to isolate and deactivate the heel when running, that’s why you have an Achilles tendon, to lift and pull the heel up and get it out of the way. Also when you run like this it forces your joints into a better position to allow your muscles in your calves and the natural spring design of your foot to absorb shock and load. Even flat footed people have arches though theirs may be less developed they still exist. An arch is made to support load from above. Any engineer will tell you that when you shove support into an arch from below you actually weaken it. That’s exactly what most modern supportive shoes do, by reinforcing the arch they actually deactivate its ability to flex and absorb shock leading to foot pain and the all too common Plantar Fasciitis.

The MT20 has so little arch in it that from the side they look nearly flat but that is the key to its success. The shoe is flat but it is flexible so it allows your own arch to flex and activate. It also allows your feet to arch not just from toe to heel but from side to side like they were made to. Most runners do not realize that pronation is the natural form of movement when we are barefoot. It is the result of biological engineering by which the side arch of your forefoot distributes load by gently rolling from the outside in. The MT20 embraces this natural movement and I credit that more than any other feature of the shoe with the decrease in foot pain and knee stress I have experienced the last month.

I have put around 60 miles down in these shoes now. I have also combined that with a switch to trail running and various barefoot drills that I do at night before bed. I have also begun wearing these shoes during my weight workouts if not going barefoot altogether. In this time I have noticed the shapes of my feet are changing. My arch is pulling up higher and the length of my foot has shortened almost a quarter inch (Yes I measured before starting). Likewise the width of my foot and spacing between my toes has increased. My feet also seem more flexible and tough. I feel rocks beneath me through the thin Vibram soles but they do not hurt, I am just more aware of them.

The Vibram soles are wonderful and have not shown any signs of wear in the tread since the day I first bought them. I purchased the WinterRun version of the shoe; which came with solid water proof sides versus the usual mesh uppers. The shoe is indeed waterproof and as long as you don’t step directly in a deep puddle your feet will stay cozy and dry the whole run. Unfortunately with a shoe of such low height, deep water will come in over the top though so be careful. They are easy to clean though being waterproof so mud is no big deal. The shoe fits great, and even though it hugs the contour of the feet they never feel clingy. I do wear thin socks though, just out of habit. Also the best fit comes from not cinching down the laces so much as just snugging them. This gives the shoe more freedom to expand with your foot as your run goes on.

These are great shoes. I have had a preference for New Balance ever since my days as a Marine and these shoes only justify my confidence in the company and its willingness to change and keep abreast of new trends and training discoveries. For the price the New Balance MT20 cannot be beat. Most minimalist style shoes on the market today range in price from 100-150 dollars, this is in line with most consumer goods today in which you are actually paying more for less, go figure! I found my pair online for 79.99. Only time will tell how much the new barefoot trend catches on but I feel that more people will make the switch. Modern medicine and their insistence on shoes, orthotics, and surgery are failing to address the rising occurrence of foot injury on runners. If you have been troubled by constant injury or just want to connect with the terrain and running in a more natural uninhibited way I suggest you give these shoes and minimalist running a shot. Follow a careful transitioning program with patience and persistence and the rewards will last a lifetime.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Alastair says:

    Great review! I just found this site and am reading through a lot of the articles, good stuff! If you don’t mind, how do these winterized versions do in warmer temperatures? Like 70+. I’ve got two pairs of NB’s already, and I’m looking for a similar shoe with water resistance.

    1. changingscottslife says:

      I’ve had no issue with them in warmer temps and have run several Tough Mudders in 85-90 degree days. I also use them extensively during CrossFit Workouts because of their stability and ground feel. There have been several newer versions released since I first bought mine but as far as durability and quality the first generation seem to hold up better to others.

  2. What a great insight into barefoot style shoes. I made the transition last year and like you noticed a change in the shape of my feet. I have also been injury free since I made the the transition. I wear mine for running, all my body weight workouts and lifting. Theses are next on my list – I currently have Nike free runs and brooks pure connect.

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