Wednesday, October 19, 2011

SHOE REVIEWS: Brooks Cascadia 6, New Balance MT 101, and New Balance 690

As a college runner I had my 'go to' shoes that were amazingly reliable.  I knew what worked for me, and typically when a shoe was discontinued, I was able to find the next model, which typically was a basic update of the previous version.  I didn't jump from brand to brand.  Then again, my success with shoes may be because I weighed 35 pounds less than I do now, and I was much faster, which means less force on every foot strike and less contact with the ground.

Since resuming life as a runner, I feel like I have yet to find that same comfort and peace with a single brand or model.  My intent is not to launch into a diatribe on the changes to the running shoe industry over the last 10 to 15 years, but I do feel compelled to use this space to share a little of my experience with some of the models and brands I have been wear testing on my own dime.

Below are brief overviews of the three pairs of shoes that I plan on logging the most mileage with over the next few months.

Brooks Cascadia 6
MSRP: $110
Current Mileage:  111

I purchased the Brooks Cascadias after doing some research online and talking with a few friends who were proponents of the brand and model after years of reliable running in these trail shoes.  My goal was to find a shoe that had a similar feeling to the minimalist style of footwear that seem to be working for me lately, but also contain a fair amount of cushion and protection, primarily since my focus for training this Fall has been for ultramarathon trail races of 50k to 50 miles.

Almost all of the mileage on these shoes so far have been on trails over varying types of terrain.  I have also logged a few multi-hour, 20+ mile training runs with these. 

Of all that I was looking for in these shoes, one my first thoughts have to do with how well these shoes handle water crossings!

I was very impressed with how the shoes seemed to drain quickly, and tended to breath enough to let my damp socks dry during a run where we had to cross a few sections of trail where the water was ankle deep for about 200 meters.  Out of the impromptu foot soak, I found the tech socks I was wearing were not inhibited from wicking away the moisture - other trail shoes I have owned have held in the water and basted my feet for the remaining miles - and after a couple of miles my feet still felt a little damp, but certainly not soaked.

The 12mm heel-to-toe drop was definitely one of the selling points for me, and I am stoked that the ride I get from the Brooks Cascadia 6's have felt very similar to other minimalist trail models I have used.  I will definitely agree that I don't 'feel' the trail as well as I do in slimmer, faster models, but I do feel like I am able to maintain a mid-foot strike consistently through long runs with the Cascadias.

The only trouble I have had to date has been some nasty blistering issues during a 50k I recently ran.  Around 23 miles I felt hot spots developing around my heel on the outside of each foot, where the hard plastic heel cup had been causing some serious friction and, subsequently, large blisters.  It got so bad that I decided to swap the Cascadias for another shoe to finish the race.  I am not sure if it was the shoe or the socks I was wearing on the day, but I am going to keep an eye on this during the 50 miler.

Overall, I am happy with the Cascadias, and hope they hold up for the long run... literally.

New Balance MT 101
MSRP:  $75.00
Mileage:  75

I have owned the MT 101's for months now, and even though these have been out for some time, I feel it is necessary to bring up these because they have been a great shoe for me.  They have been my "happy-medium" shoe when it comes to wanting to go barefoot, but wanting to have some semblance of protection out on the trail.

I have used these primarily for shorter, faster trail runs and races, but have found that I can take them out for longer runs when my calves have been properly acclimated to handle more of a naturally fore and mid-foot strike over greater distance.  The minimalist vibe is definitely still alive with these, as they have a very basic upper, with a 10 mm heel-toe drop.

Upon my first run in these, I clearly felt the differences with the 101's when compared to the 100's, and wasn't sure I'd like them as much as I loved their forerunners.   After more mileage with these, I have come to appreciate these differences.  I  especially love the extra room in the toe box when I take these out for longer runs, as it accommodates any foot swell that might happen over the miles.   

What stayed the same was also appreciated, as the thin upper and the seemingly perfect amount of cushioning, with the Rock-Stop plate in the forefront allow for a fair amount of protection from rocks and roots, but also have allowed me to feel the trail a great deal more as was my experience with the 100's. 

Very simply these are light and fast.  This translates to a feeling of more responsiveness with the trail, and this makes it easier to find strategic foot strikes around trail debris, instead of crashing through it, which I had been prone to do with clunkier shoes - especially when running on tired legs.  With this said, certainly the lack of toe protection with the 101's require a trail runner be more vigilant in that sense!

Back to the minimalist composition of these shoes - these were the shoes I used for the last 10k of the 50k mentioned above when I was having blister issues.  As I had hoped, the lack of a solid plastic heel cup was heaven, and I was definitely able to finish the race because of the gentle cradle of the EVA foam in the area of my blisters.

Ideally I'd like to get strong enough to wear these for an entire ultramarathon.   Being a firm believer that one should train in the gear they intend to race with, I worry, though, that the volume of mileage I'd need to put on the shoes in training would overwhelm the prescribed mileage per pair.  I am not entirely sure these could handle upwards of 400 or 500 miles in training, and I just don't have the means right now to be dropping cash on shoes twice as often as I might in another pair.

All things considered, these shoes have been great for me and I definitely recommend these for trail runs on all sorts of terrain.  They are perfect as a trail racing flat, but I have had success completing runs up to about 20 miles in these.  I have also found they aren't too bad on the roads, too, if you are a couple miles away from the trailhead.

New Balance 690
MSRP: $75
Mileage: 13

I recently bought these shoes as a replacement road training shoe and had a few initial thoughts following the first run in these.

I took these out for a half marathon distance run last night and found they were good on the roads.  They seemed to provide the right amount of cushioning, and, as you can see from the bottom of the shoe, provide nothing incredibly fancy with motion control devices or anything of that nature. 

They were really responsive and I felt like when I needed to pick up the pace, even when I was tired, the light weight of these shoes (about 10 or 11 ozs.) made this a little easier.

Though the MSRP is around $75, These were really affordable pick ups for me as they were on sale at a local department store, which is typically not a place I find good training shoes, yet I hope the 690's turn out to provide some decent mileage for the value.

I haven't been able to find much information on the heel-toe offset on this shoe, but it looks roughly in the 15 to 20 mm range, and I am definitely going to keep this in mind as I log more miles.  It'll be interesting to see how these compare to my brief experience with the Saucony Kinvara model.

More to come on these, as well as the others above, as I go tumbling toward the Stone Cat Trail 50 Miler in only 16 days!

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