2011 New Balance 890 Review

New Balance 890
I recently started running in a pair of New Balance 890. It's their new middle ground shoe that falls between a traditional heel strike shoe and a minimal shoe. The materials used in the 890 are comfortable and very light. The shoe provides enough cushioning and support for mid-range to long runs and find them great to run in.

By using a new cushioning material called Rev-Lite and stitch-less uppers, New Balance claims the cushioning power is just as strong and 30% lighter than material used in other foam cushioned shoes. These shoes are only 9.7 ounces per shoe (size US9.5 men's). The shoes are also seamless/stitch-less so they fit very comfortably over the top of the foot with no seams or shoe laces felt at all.

The NB890 fills the spot as something new for those who aren't ready to try minimalist shoes such as the New Balance Minimus, Merrel Barefoot or Vibram 5 fingers but looking to for mid/fore foot striking support. These have quickly become my favorite shoes for light, cushioned mid-support daily runners. If Asics is your preference I would highly recommend also checking out the Asics DS Sky Speed 2 equivalent.


Luis Escobar's Born To Run Ultras - Los Olivos, California

Guillermo Medina, 1st in 100 Mile
Graced by the presence of the host, Luis Escobar and the Caballo Blanco (Micah True),  it was as if the stories in the book Born To Run by Christopher McDougall came to life before my eyes with its characters. The Caballo Blanco even led the morning with an oath taken by every runner before the run, echoing the story itself, "If I get hurt, lost or die. It's my own "effing" fault!" (He actually said the f-bomb and not effing). The course, two ten mile loops, the second loop with a nice steep hill climb towards the end and some of them mighty steep as the second loop merged back with the first loop along the course.

The morning, afternoon and evening was glorious. Rolling hills, virgin lands no one had ever raced on, brand new paths in the knee high foxtail grass that took runners into the base of picture perfect rolling hills. Around 11PM it became a wet and muddy event as the rain came down (only to clear up by the next day). The steep descent of a hill in the second loop became a slippery water slide as rains and winds came upon us in the middle of the night. However the image of being in the middle of a field, surrounded by rolling hills in the dead of the night, on a path barely beaten down by runners in faded moonlight behind the stormy clouds and chilling wind will always be a warm memory of the Born To Run Ultras event.

My 10 mile run was as enjoyable as could be as I my body drained a GU Roctane for the last few miles cruising past the true endurance runners pacing themselves for the long haul. (Luis Escobar is an established photographer, a character in Born To Run and ultra runner sponsored by Montrail). It was a grass roots ultra affair at its best attracting over 160 runners from around the country when they first only expected 20 people to show up. The other categories were 10 miles, 50k, 100k and 100 miles. My friend Eric Yan finished the 100 mile race achieving his personal best time of 19:59 (that is 19 hours and 59 minutes) finishing 4th. The North Face sponsored Guillermo Medina finished 1st in a blistering 18:58 and it wasn't even one of his best days. He had beaten Lance Armstrong just a few weeks before at the Santa Barbara Endurance Race. The Caballo Blanco (Micah True) even ran the 50k event I believe. Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton was also present promoting his new book on barefoot running.

Eric Yan, 4th in 100 Mile
I was able to pace a 100 mile runner on her 7th 10 mile loop through wind, rain and mud. She was moving along nicely until later that evening when she couldn't hold anything down. The upset stomach and throwing up had begun. I did my best to pace a racer through constant puking, sleep walking and what seemed like dire times in the middle of nature during adverse weather conditions, running ahead then running back just to keep warm as she stopped every few minutes to dry heave her guts out all the while sleep shuffling. She refused to take a gel or anything and when we finally reached the last aid station, set her head down to rest. Some hot food might have helped her recover for the last few miles to end this 7th loop but the race had taken her by this point and there wasn't any hot food at this aid station. She decided to quit the race on her own but sometimes I wonder if I should have pushed her to keep going.

It must be the crazy gene in me looking forward to going 50 miles but I always learn something new about something myself and as humans all the time. I noticed many runners at night had poor lighting and not enough rain/cold resistant outer layers when adverse weather hit. It seems like a good idea to have a good night light, pair of dry, water proof running shoes, gaiters and a rain proof soft shell waiting around just in case. I was shivering like heck when we had to grab a ride in a truck back to camp in my soaked long sleeve wicker shirt and shorts but the runner and I were all smiles as we sipped on our hot soup because these ultra runners are something crazy. Something good crazy.


Asics vs. New Balance vs. Merrell Forefoot to Midfoot Running Shoes

New Balance 890
The New Balance 890 are light, fast and has enough cushioning for pavement. This shoe falls in the mid to forefoot running category at 9.7 ounces, the light weight really lets the legs cycle through strides freely. The heel to toe rise is about 12mm which may be kind of steep for some people. The NB890 is up there in my top 3 shoes for everyday runners.

Asics DS Sky Speed 2
The Asics DS Sky Speed 2 are also a top 3 shoe. They are light, fore-foot support shoes that has a cult following of sorts. Runners who are fans of this shoe are incredibly loyal and for good reason. In the tradition of Asics Gel Cushioning and with light breathable upper mesh material they tend to win over runners who are familiar with Asics quality. The Kayano 17s are good however the DS Sky Speed 2 edges them as a performance shoe.

Asics Blur 33
The Asics Gel-Blur 33 have won their way into my top 3 everyday runners. These shoes have no heel to toe rise. They are claimed to be around 9.8oz (I found them to be closer to 11ozs)  and with stitch-less uppers (they actually have some stitching). However they happen to have a unique gel cushioning which may or may not be for some runners. I found them to be unique and extremely comfortable, some say they feel like Nike Free shoes. They have a soft gel sole which I've never really felt before and makes them interesting. They do fit snugly around the mid foot with socks on but are true to size in length.

New Balance Minimus Pavement
From New Balance are the Minimus Road and Trail whose outer tread material is made by Vibram, the company that makes the Five-Fingers. With essentially no heel to toe drop, they come in many different models customized for trail, pavement and everyday performance.

Asics Rush 33
In return, Asics is answering with the Rush 33 which are a bit of disappointment. The upper mesh is not really breathable compared to the Blur 33 while it does have a minimal and stiffer tread. This is my least favorite shoe out of the ones mentioned. But if you're looking for a stiff sole and shoes with no rise they are worth a look.

From Merrell are the Barefoot Glove and Barefoot Trail Glove. These are super light minimalist shoes, designed with little cushioning and no heel to toe drop like the NB Minimus to achieve a nearly barefoot experience without going barefoot.

It seems to be the consensus that running a couple times a week in minimalist shoes may improve form and may help strengthen the foot, ankle and knees. However, keep in mind the body needs to adjust and if you feel unnatural pain to rest and heal when changing from traditionally cushioned to minimalist shoes specifically if you run distances in them.