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‘Exotic Creature’ Trail Shoe Woos Longtime Latent Runner

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In a former life, I was a runner. Then the Caribbean happened. For the past decade, as a reporter and photographer at a newspaper in the U.S. Virgin Islands, my life was focused on beaches, water and the open ocean that stretched away almost from my front door.

But then, a few months ago, I moved to Denver. I decided to take up running again. This corresponded with a reintroduction to the world of running footwear. A lot has changed in this area since I laced up to run in the ’90s. Believe me, the new genre of “barefoot-style” shoes like the New Balance Minimus to me were downright exotic creatures.

Flexible and light, New Balance Minimus

I’d heard some of the hype about barefoot and minimalist running, so I was ready to try it out. In addition, I was a serious heel-striker trying to get back into running after a 10-year hiatus.

This past spring, I would find myself striding painfully around paved urban paths in Denver and not much enjoying the workout.

Oh, and did I mention the Gore-Tex TransRockies Run? To force myself into condition I’d signed up for this 120-mile stage race in August. Yikes.

All this gets me back to the “exotic creature” New Balance shoe I noted earlier. For two months, despite some initial skepticisms, I have been training in the company’s Minimus 10 Trail, a lightweight shoe with a thin sole that comes in a box with a warning label.

The author with a new stride in New Balance Minimus shoes

The Minimus 10 is a pliable, light moccasin that provides very little support but adequate foot protection. A Vibram sole with a dot pattern of tread does a good job of dampening the impact of sharp rocks and other pointy objects while still letting the foot “feel” the ground below. Its mesh upper is super breathable, flexible, and light.

Unique dot-pattern Vibram sole

With just 4mm of “drop” from the heel to toe, the shoe provides a nearly flat platform for running. You can land naturally on your mid-foot or forefoot; heel-striking is not encouraged by the design.

My first few runs in the Miniumus were tough. Punished for every heel strike, I did my best to land mid-foot. After three miles on grass I could barely waddle to the coffee pot the next morning because of the pain in my calves.

Yet I was hooked. The feel of the ground under my light stride, head cutting smoothly through the air, was different than any running I had experienced.

Over the next two months I gradually built the strength in my legs and Achilles tendon and adopted a mid-foot strike.

The Minimus shoes have now been on my feet for several runs in the 20-mile range. At just 7.1 ounces per foot they’ve been a delight on the tough climb of the Vail Pass Half Marathon and other events.

On the run in NB Minimus shoes

After building the strength in my calves and feet, I’ve found the shoes to be versatile companions on both day hikes and on runs. The only real downside I have noted is that serious descents on rocky trails, pavement or scree overwhelm the gentle Minimus — when the descents get steep, I still hanker for something with a beefy heel that can plow into rocks and clear my way. In most other situations, the Minimus shoes are now my go-to runners for racing, training, and running for fun in the mountains near my new adopted home town.

—Sean McCoy is a contributing writer in Denver.

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