Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Visit to New Balance Chicago

I mentioned in an earlier post that Jeff Mach who owns the Chicago area New Balance stores had reached out and invited me to come by and try the new Minimus Trail 110's (MT110's). Jeff was nice enough to give me a shout-out on their Facebook page. He seems to get where I am coming from with this blog and I hope that I can continue to reach out to him for advice on how to crack New Balance and how to keep inspiring myself and others. After numerous emails and life getting in the way, I finally got a chance to meet him and some of his team at their Lincoln Park store.

Now don't get too excited. This doesn't mean that The Fool has arrived. I am not well on my way to sponsorship and all the spoils that come from recognition. New Balance stores are independently owned and operated licensee's of New Balance. Jeff and his partner are running a small business, they aren't New Balance corporate. Having said that, this meeting did give me faith that people out there are listening. If Jeff can discover my blog, so can the New Balance corporate running team or maybe even someone from the New Balance Wear Testing Program. Jeff and his business partner own three stores in Chicago (Lincoln Park), Oakbrook Terrace, Orland Park and Schaumburg. You can see the addresses on their website. I believe that Jeff said that Orland Park has a brand new space.

I was lucky to be fitted for shoes by Andrew. He was such a nice guy. Jeff asked him to show me how they go through the process. First I got measured and yes, my left foot is still a half size more than my right. I'm not sure why that freaks me out every time I hear it. Next, I ran on the treadmill. Now, there's not that much they can do for people like me who are hell bent on minimal shoes but for people who have issues, they do video capture and analysis it to help pick-out the right shoe. My form is terrible on treadmills—at least I feel like it is. Running in the MT110's, Andrew showed me that I was over-pronating with a subtle heel strike on my left foot but landing more neutral and flat footed with my right—interesting. I'm going to have sleepless nights about that. I also didn't know that it is more common to have issues be more pronounced on your less dominant foot. Next, he took me to a device that provides feedback on the pressure hotspots from your feet. He noticed that I have a lot of pressure on my metatarsal area. I have sensed this for a while. It was noticeably hotter on the foot where I had fractured my metatarsals and I have thickening from the repair. Based on his recommendation, I'd like to try their metatarsal inserts in my every day shoes to see if it helps. The heatmap also showed clearly that I have well defined arches. I was always told that I had flat feet and that seems to have changed over the last year and a half since I have been wearing minimal shoes. My podiatrist doesn't believe me but it's the truth.

Andrew was patient enough to let me try on three shoes. The MT110's, the MR00's and the MT00's. These were my impressions from my brief experience with them:

The MT110 is the shoe that Anton Krupicka (ultra trail runner) was very involved with. It's meant to be a minimal shoe with more protection for demanding trails. It has a rock plate in it, so I assumed it was stiffer which it is. This shoe looks heavy but it is amazingly lightweight for the protection it provides (it's only 7.75oz). It fitted my foot very well. It reminded me of the MT10 which is no surprise because Anton was involved with that shoe too and it's probably the same last (foot model made for making shoes). The inside is a little kinder to bare feet than the MT10. They felt great on the treadmill and by the feel of the sticky bottom, I bet they have great traction on the trails. I would love to buy this shoe for running more technical trails without worrying about bruising my delicate little feet. I would still consider buying the silver and orange but black is probably the most practical.

Next was the MR00's. These shoes just look so darned great. They fit my bare feet like a pair of socks. The taco tongue is really comfortable. The support across the front of the foot felt snug but not too much like I found the MT10 to be. The position of it is a little higher on the foot which helps. When I took them on the treadmill, I ratcheted the speed up to the mid 6 minute mile pace. I came up on my forefeet more and they felt as light as a feather (6.4oz). When I got off the treadmill, I realized that I hadn't been thinking about the shoe. A very good sign. The interior of the shoe has a comfy fleece-like feel to it. The green color looks so much better in reality than it does on the website but the red is so darned sexy.

The MT00's kinda blew my mind a wee bit. I have never seen anything like it. The upper is so paper thin that it boggles the mind. Andrew pointed out that you can see your bare toes through the shoe! The soles are all hollowed out which is why these things weigh nothing (4.4oz). When you fold them from heel to toe, there is almost no resistence. They are the most flexible shoes I have every tried on. Unfortunately, they did not have my size but I'd love to try running in them. I think these shoes will be popular with barefoot running types and they'll get plenty of road action. I couldn't see running on technical trails with a shoe like this—at least not fast as Andrew pointed out.  On smooth trails, I'm sure they would be awesome if you want super minimal.

So, that was pretty much my experience at New Balance Chicago. Jeff seems like an incredibly nice guy and everyone I met in the store seemed super friendly. It looks like Jeff fosters a really healthy team environment. The staff are knowledgeable and because it is just New Balance, they are passionate about the brand and have more detailed expertise. I have always been a believer in seeing shoe color and being fitted in-store. Plus, it's nice to connect good people. Before this visit, I had some great interactions with Sarah Grzybek over email. I believe she works in the Orland Park New Balance store. She seems quite inspiring. She is involved in the Tinley Track and Trail group that is sponsored by New Balance. They are lucky enough to spend time on the local Palos trails. I would love to join a group like that but it's a little too far for me to travel. If you are in that neck of the woods, check them out on their blog. Jeff invited me to run with their employees and friends when they have locally sponsored races. I told him that I would enjoy doing that.

Jeff Mach and yours truly holding a MR00
Did you buy anything I hear you ask? Yes, I got the red MR00's even though my friend Paul forbade me from getting them. We will both be in Austin for work and he said that he feels weird about running with me in matching shoes. Sorry Paul. There were no green shoes in my size and I liked the red best. We are going to look awesome together. I hope that Jeff knows that I didn't go to the store expecting anything other than the pleasure of meeting him. I'm all for getting freebies from corporate New Balance but I wasn't at Jeff's store to mooch off a hard working small business owner. He was gracious enough to discount my shoes and gave me a new technical running shirt to try-out. I believe he said it was called the Prism and it's made with Polygiene that stops it from getting stinky. I'll let you all know how the MR00's and the shirt go. I'm so looking forward to getting out of the cold Chicago weather and into the ideal running weather of Austin, Texas. Watch out for my runs on DailyMile.

I asked Jeff if he had any advice on how to get into the New Balance Wear Testing Program. He said that he didn't and told me that only one of their employees has ever been involved. Argh! It's so elusive!


  1. I seriously like the look of the MR00's - I would love to try them sometime. We're not as lucky as you guys in the US as there's very few places in the UK where I could try them on.

  2. Excellent article, thank you for sharing!

  3. Milo I've seen MR00s in Sweatshop. I've got some too... They're probably a bit narrow if you have wide feet, since I wear bloke shoes and they are neat fit on me.


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