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The Making of the New Balance MT110
For the past few years, New Balance has collaborated heavily with Anton Krupicka and the Skaggs brothers, Kyle and Erik, to develop a lineup of extremely popular minimalist running shoes. The fruits of this collaboration first came to market with the MT100 (review) in 2009. New Balance and its athletes kept moving forward with the incrementally improved MT101 (review) in 2010 and the Minimus product line (Minimus Trail review) in 2011.
Now, at the start of 2012, New Balance is launching the MT110 (here are our technical preview and review), a shoe that both Anton and Erik agree is the best trail shoe they’ve ever run in. I thought you might like to hear the story of their collaboration with New Balance in creating the MT110. To that end, the following article provides both a chronology of the shoe’s development based on emails between the runners and the New Balance development team as well as extensive interviews with Anton Krupicka and Erik Skaggs. (Hint: Click on the links in the preceding sentence to jump to the relevant portion of this article.)
The Making of the New Balance MT110
To begin, it’s impossible to look at the creation of the MT110 in isolation. The shoe is the result of more than three years of ideas and evolution, both in the product and in the trail-shoe market. This is the shoe that Anton’s wanted all along, but the market for such a light, flexible, low-to-the-ground trail shoe wasn’t there back in 2009. While the MT100 and MT101 were solid shoes, both included concessions to reach a wider market.
By the time of the MT110’s development, Born to Run and the minimalist running movements had caught mainstream attention. Folks were talking about heel-toe drop. They were looking for low-weight, less-structured shoes. They were buying the MT101, Minimus Trail, and their kin in droves.
All this meant that Anton could work with New Balance to lower its everyday minimalist trail running shoe line, the MT100 series. When Anton started emailing NB about the MT110 (it was then known as the MT102) in May 2010, he noted, “I think it should definitely try to be something that falls between the 101 and the Minimus.” He continued, “My greatest concern is having a shoe that I’m 100% comfortable racing in on a variety of terrain. Right now, the platform of the 100/101 is too beefy for me and the Minimus is a bit barefooty to be comfortable racing in – a true trail racing flat would be ideal.”
In the same email, Anton discussed the characteristics he’d like for the midsole profile, the outsole, as well as the upper and the way it integrates into the platform. He cited multiple examples of how he’d tweak them and provided an overarching concept he summarized as, “Basically, what I’m talking about is a lower profile 101, but on the [NB] 152 last so that it’s sure to hold the foot well. Also, with the extra rubber of the 100 outsole and a high durometer midsole, we probably wouldn’t even need a rock plate. Or maybe a less burly one. Basically, a race-ready minimalist shoe.”
A week and a half later, Anton came back with another email, the result of which seems apparent in the final MT110. “I know we already have the ‘trail’ Minimus, but I think a ‘trail’ version of the Minimus Road would be pretty much perfect. Keep the blown rubber outsole, but add a bit more aggressive tread and turn up the durometer on the midsole a bit and that would be one sick shoe that I would wear for pretty much anything.”
In early June 2010, New Balance responded with a set of characteristics that left Anton saying, “I am totally psyched on this shoe.” He confirmed his support for certain traits (the Minimus Road heights and the barefoot last), dismissed some concerns (no need for medial arch protection), and discussed how some of the modifications for the MT110 were in line with what he was already doing to the MT101 (carving the outsole from the medial arch).
He then went on to provide long discussions regarding the outsole and upper. For the outsole, he voiced his support for changing lug sizes to add durability to certain areas, but didn’t hesitate to share his thought that it would be best to provide great traction by having deeper lugs than found on the 100/101. At this stage, there were two concepts for the upper: Concept 1 was a perforated synthetic upper as seen in the production model with Concept 2 being a more traditional upper. Again, Tony voiced specific concerns and areas of excitement, especially regarding Concept 1.
It’s worth noting that, while Anton had already been involved in developing three trail models for New Balance, his detailed involvement more than a year and a half prior to the release of the MT110 was unusual. Unusual enough for him to thank New Balance for “including [him] so early in the process of building a new shoe.”
I’d imagine that few things are as satisfying for a trail running product development team as receiving the emails Anton and Erik sent the day after they received their MT110 prototypes.
Let’s start with Erik: “…. I really like the new lugging on the outsole as it seemed to increase both the traction and the cushioning in the forefoot. The new last also holds the foot and results in a much more controlling feel on fast singletrack. Honestly, I wouldn’t stiffen up the rockplate too much as it feels pretty good with a little more flex. … Also, I like the synthetic upper – it looks sweet.”
A week and a half later, after a marathon-length training run, Erik asked for a pair in his size for the upcoming North Face race. In the same email, he noted he much preferred the perforated synthetic version to a mesh version he tried.
Among Anton’s praising thoughts from the day after receiving MT110 protos:
- “Holy Sh!t, you guys nailed it. In all honesty, is there ANY way I could get a size 10.5 before The North Face 50 [in a month]. They are awesome in every way.”
- “The extra lug depth does a ton for both traction and cushion on all surfaces. These things have gecko grip on rock and dig in great on looser, dusty stuff, too.”
- “The 4mm drop basically feels flat and the color scheme is PERFECT.”
- “Also, we gotta go for the perforated synthetic upper. It looks crazy and is awesomely effective. I love it.”
However, Anton did provide constructive feedback such as wanting the rockplate stiffened, the tongue slightly reshaped, the upper dropped a bit around the Achilles, and “a little bit bigger piece of rubber on the medial side of the heel. Like have it wrap around slightly in a somewhat horseshoe shape to include those two extra medial-ish lugs that are currently just foam.” Take a look at a pair of MT110 and you’ll see that extra bit of rubber Anton suggested.
February and March 2011
February and March saw AK and ES send a couple short notes to New Balance.
Erik pleaded for replacements for his November protos, noting “In terms of durability, comfort and, most importantly, performance, they are the best shoes I have ever run in. Nice work.”
Anton was already running in the next round of prototypes (the silver and red “Ziggy Stardust” version). He thought this version was “better looking and better performing that the ones we got awhile back,” before writing a few weeks later “[the MT110 is] seriously the all-around best shoe I’ve ever worn.”
May and June 2011
In late May and early June 2011, emails from Erik and Anton confirmed that the MT110 had hit the mark.
Erik gushed, “Well, simply put, the 110 is the best trail shoe I have ever worn. Excellent hold of the foot on technical terrain, great ground feel/cushion with the triangular lug outsole and the upper dries insanely fast with the non-absorbing synthetic upper, which allows the shoe to gain limited water weight after multiple stream crossings. Just a really good shoe.”
While Erik was not as voluminous in his feedback to NB over the previous year as Anton was, he felt he was heard and appreciated it. “As always, the New Balance design team was really receptive to any suggestions or concerns that I had with early prototypes of the 110 and I think this dynamic relationship often results in the conception of a great product.” As a shoe store employee and sponsored athlete, it was telling that he again asked for additional 110 protos.
Anton’s first note speaks of an athlete who appreciates his equipment. “In all honesty, the 110 is my favorite shoe of all time. The first pair of the 110s I got were sample size 9.5 (compared to my usual 10.5), but I liked it so much that I would tape all of my toes every single morning with duct tape just so that I could cram my feet into them and run in them every day without getting blisters. And, then, I would never send them back to you guys because I wanted to keep running in them.”
Like Erik, this note from May 2011 was also a chance for Anton to reflect on his collaboration with New Balance. “Basically, I see the 110 as the culmination of working closely with the design team for the past three years, first starting with the 100. When I first got the samples of the Minimus last and, eventually, the first prototypes a couple of years ago, I was super excited about some day using that last and those concepts – 4mm drop, snug fitting but with a broad forefoot – in a shoe with more protection and traction so that it would be a viable mountain-racing tool. The 110 is absolutely that shoe.”
He continued, “Because we’ve had so much back-and-forth and one-on-one discussions about shoes with the 100/101 and Minimus over the past three years, I think you guys really picked up on what I wanted in a shoe and the first prototype that I saw of the 110 was already very close to the perfect shoe I’ve had in mind the last couple years. With a few tweaks here and there since then, there is really hardly anything that I would change about it (possibly a slightly different lug configuration and rubber compound, but really, that’s it).”
Finally, Anton wrote, “Maybe the ultimate expression of how pleased I am with the shoe is that I make literally zero modifications to a fresh pair of 110s out of the box. That shows me just how far we’ve come since the years of the 790 when I would get a new pair and spend 20-30 minutes cutting all kinds of stuff off them with my kitchen knife. The 110 has everything I need–but not a stitch or a gram more–for running as quickly and efficiently and confidently as I possibly can over all kinds of variable mountain terrain.”
Both Anton and Erik positively responded to an inquiry about how long it took to break in the 110. Erik put it succinctly, “I would say the estimated break-in time is about as long as it takes you to take them out of the box and lace ’em up.”
The final email to which I’ve been privy was sent by Anton. He again confirmed that he thinks the 110 is “the best shoe out here”… but concluded “of course, there can always be improvements…” That is, the MT110 that’s just hit retailers’ shelves and your feet is not the end of the story for New Balance and its trail athletes.
Interview with Anton Krupicka
iRunFar: Anton, you’ve had input on a bunch of shoes for New Balance from the MT100 to the Minimus Trail. Do you see these as a series of discreet projects or a continuum where you go from A into B into C?
Anton Krupicka: We started out with the 100 three or four years ago. That was the first foray into making a shoe to my and Kyle Skaggs’ specifications. At the time, we were pushing for something quite a bit more minimal than the 100 even, but Born to Run hadn’t come out yet and so the consumer market wasn’t quite there for that kind of shoe. So the 100 was sort of a minimal shoe, but pretty quickly after that came out the folks at New Balance realized that there would be a market for a barefoot simulation type shoe and that’s when the whole Minimus project came into being.
I think of it being two discrete things: the Minimus project and the 100 series. The Minimus being more about the barefoot/running-natural experience and the 100 series, I think of as more of a trail-racing flat. Having said that, the 110 is built on the same last as the Minimus shoes are. Obviously, that’s a big part of the shoe, so there’s been a marriage of the two lines at this point. I think initially they were two discrete projects.
iRF: You and Kyle Skaggs both wanted something more minimal to start with. Could you see something like the 110 when you were first talking with New Balance about the MT100?
Krupicka: Oh yeah. What the 110 is is much more what I had in mind for the shoe, but it just takes a while to get there because I was new to the whole process of designing and developing shoes and, obviously, it was a new direction for the outdoor team at New Balance. So it took a while to get to where I wanted the shoe to be. It took the third iteration, really. Part of that was also that there was the perception that there wasn’t quite the market yet back in 2008-2009 for a shoe like this. So New Balance was trying to be a little more careful by preserving the 10mm drop you saw in the 100 and keeping that more substantial platform.
iRF: Do you think you could have articulated the MT110 at that point? Or, through working with New Balance for a few years, have you grown more able to articulate or think up what you want out of a shoe?
Krupicka: A lot of it comes from becoming familiar with the kinds of materials that are available, the terminology, the actual production process in terms of bonding different materials, the different properties of different materials, like breathability, so it’s an overall familiarity with every aspect that goes into building a shoe. I still bump up against material limitations. Like right now I ‘d really like to find something like a sticky rubber that’s still semi-durable. You know there are always tweaks.
I think I’ve always been a big shoe geek and tuned into what I want on my foot so I think even three to four years ago I would have been able to articulate pretty much exactly what I wanted in a shoe, but it was a matter of all the development that’s required to come up with a completely new shoe. The 790 existed before I came to New Balance and the 110 is such a different shoe from the 790 that it’s crazy.
iRF: In the development of the 110, you were still talking about aspects of the 790 as a reference.
Krupicka: The 790 is the shoe that initially attracted Kyle and I to New Balance. At the time, it was really the only minimal racer of any kind on the market. It was 7 ounces or so and fairly low to the ground. I think it had a 10mm drop on it. But it wasn’t … Kyle and I run lots of miles and on pretty gnarly terrain and that shoe just wasn’t ready for that kind of stuff. We were blowing through those shoes pretty quickly. So that was definitely a goal of ours to make the shoe durable while still retaining its racing-flat qualities.
iRF: When you started development for the MT102 (update to the 101), what were you hoping to get out of the shoe? What was your vision for what the shoe was going to do for you? The Minimus Project was well on its way back in May 2010.
Krupicka: The MT110 is the update to the MT101. Across the board, New Balance started using a different numbering system. I had just started running in the 101 back in May 2010 and I liked it a lot. When we worked on the 100, we wanted a really simple lightweight upper and we got that. Then we realized two things. One, we came up with this really innovative heel counter/heel collar with the EVA wrap and that seemed really cool because it was kind of collapsible and it wasn’t a stiff heel counter. But for me, at least, and I think for a lot of other people, it ended up being irritating to the Achilles tendon and the heel. That was in the 101, so in the 110 I was looking to eliminate that.
Two, we had that super thin, lightweight upper in the 100 and it really negatively affected the performance of the shoe in my opinion, especially on technical terrain. It was frowzy; it didn’t hold the foot well at all because you still had a pretty substantial platform on the shoe. That was rectified a little bit in the 101. We put in some extra overlays and I thought that really helped, but the fit still wasn’t quite dialed in and that heel collar/counter was still there and that was a big source of irritation for me. So there was a lot of stuff on the upper I wanted to work on.
Then the platform, I guess the 101 was supposed to have a 10mm drop but if felt more like about 8mm to me. That was still too high, as I wanted to be a little lower to the ground in the heel for stability purposes and to keep a more natural footstrike. I think 4mm is about perfect because I think you need a little extra cush on steep downhills or late in 100 milers and that sort of thing.
I wasn’t very happy with the outsole on the 101 either. We ended up using this pretty high durometer outsole that was pretty slick, especially on rock or wet rock. The lugs weren’t nearly substantial enough for what I like to do, which is a lot of off-trail tech-y stuff. So as you can see, it’s a lot of things. The 110 is a completely different shoe.
iRF: What kind of run do you have this in mind for? Is it supposed to be a 100-mile racing flat and an everyday training shoe?
Krupicka: My philosophy with footwear is, if you’re going to race a 100 miles in it, you should be able to train in it every day, too, because a 100 miles is a long time on your feet. I basically race and train in one shoe for ultras, because ultras are so demanding that that shoe should work in training, as well.
I wanted to build an as-close-to-perfect-as-possible, mountain-running shoe. Something that would be versatile, but would be as comfortable as possible on hard-packed trail as it would be on tundra-type stuff or scrambling on rocks and that sort of thing. That’s really tough to do. It’s really tough to have that versatility in a shoe. The 110 gets about as close as you can to that sort of versatility. In terms of a 100-mile racing flat, it might be just a touch thin still for someone like myself who’s looking to go as fast as possible for 100 miles. But that’s another trial and error type thing. On a course like Rocky Raccoon it was totally fine, but my buddy Joe [Grant] wore them for Hardrock last year and Hardrock is about as gnarly as it gets, so you’ll probably feel a few more rocks. This year [at Hardrock], I’ll probably switch out at Grouse [aid station]; I’ll probably put on a fresh pair.
iRF: You’re not going to go with one pair [at Hardrock] like Kyle [Skaggs] did?
Krupicka: Yeah, he only wore one pair, he went with the 790s. The funny thing about that is they were a custom pair. We had the durometer cranked way high in the midsole of that shoe, so it was actually pretty protective. Kyle didn’t care about the outsole lugging as much as I do, so the 790 outsole was really minimal. There was hardly any lugging going on there. He just didn’t really care. He’d ripped off the lugs by the time the race was over. *laughing*
iRF: How do you find the 110s perform on the road?
Krupicka: The 110 is the first trail shoe I’d be comfortable doing a track workout in. It’s really responsive and low to the ground and fast. The lugs, while they’re pretty aggressive, they’re not too high so you don’t get the tippy, mushy feeling that you get from [some other heavily-lugged trail shoes]. They are aggressive enough that you get pretty solid traction on the trails. So I really like them on the road.
iRF: In the emails I read on the 110, it seems like you had input on the ideation, the key features, the inspiration of elements, the feedback for initial concepts from Brian [Gothie, the product manager], as well as the feedback on a few rounds of prototypes. Can you walk me through the broad steps you were involved in with development?
Krupicka: February or March of 2010 was the first time I saw any CAD drawings of the update. That was when we were still calling it the 102. There are a number of designers, Brian Gothie and Steve Norton were two of the guys working on it. They would send me a CAD drawing. They were talking about a soccer boot being an inspiration. That’s why we had the full synthetic leather upper laser-perfed. I’d take the CAD drawing like this is where the shoe is right now and I’d just make a huge list in a long email and send it back to those guys so they could go over it. So, before we start putting it together, we can start tweaking it more to what I’d like to see in the shoe, which is really nice. Then a prototype comes out.
The first prototype I got was in November 2010, well actually at OR last year we were looking at plaster molds of the platform and that’s just super helpful. Obviously, you have no idea how it’s going to work, but at least you can see what it might look like, what we’re working on. I had a really extensive conversation with Brian Gothie and Chris Wawrousek. Then, in November, I finally got a prototype and in the beginning they were trying to decide if they should go with this fairly radical upper design of the perfed full synthetic leather upper like a soccer boot model or should they stick with the standard mesh with synthetic leather overlays. So they sent one of each and I fell in love with the synthetic leather upper right from the start for two reasons. One, it holds the foot super well. There’s none of that lateral action that goes on with the 100. Two, it’s just super bombproof; it just never wears out. I’ve put 500-600 miles on the 110 and it just doesn’t go anywhere. It’s just a really solid shoe. I’ve had issues with that in the past where I blow out the uppers on shoes way before the midsole or outsole is gone and that’s super frustrating. This shoe is the opposite in that the upper lasts longer than the midsole or outsole. So that’s where that was.
From there, there were just a lot of other tweaks. The outsole is a little different to begin with. We decided to wrap the heel outsole rubber a little more. We ended up beefing up the lateral outsole lugs because that’s where I really destroy shoes with kind of a midfoot/forefoot strike.
iRF: You were talking about how all the other forefoot and midfoot lugs were scooped.
Krupicka: That was specifically because they looked at my wear pattern on other shoes and felt that was a high wear area for my gait pattern. We probably traded back 3-4 more iterations of the prototype before it got to where it pretty much is now just tweaking little things here and there. We changed the overlay through the arch that ended up being different than the original one, not the overlay but the perforation through there. It just goes back and forth. They make little cosmetic changes but the more structural, meat-of-the-shoe aspects had to pass my fitting first, or at least it seems like it. I’m super happy with the way it turned out.
iRF: Along that prototyping phase were there any steps backwards?
Krupicka: Not really. Once there’s a change made it’s usually more of a tweak than anything so you’re not doing anything huge to the shoe. But here’s an example of that.
The very first prototypes we had one with the mesh and synthetic overlays and one [fully] synthetic leather. The first one had a tongue that was synthetic leather and we ended up making the tongue with standard mesh like you have on any other shoe because for some reason having the tongue also be synthetic leather doubled the price of the upper. I’m not sure why. But then, performance-wise, it wasn’t as breathable and it also kind of bunched a bit because of your foot shape and the curves through there. It was tougher to dial it in. But that’s always been kind of an issue.
We had a different internal liner, as well. There was kind of a mesh liner in there, because we wanted to make it be able to be worn sockless. I think we kind of had a fuzzier liner to begin with, but then I realized these shoes were taking days to dry out after a single run. So we changed the liner, perfed the liner, which made it breathe a lot better and the tongue was mesh, no longer [synthetic] leather, and that helped a lot with the breathability of the shoe. So we reverted from a full leather upper to a mesh tongue instead.
iRF: When did you start becoming aware of or being told about the cost of different aspects of a shoe?
Krupicka: The first time that came to my attention was the first time Kyle and I began getting custom tweaks to the 790. That pair that [Kyle] wore at Hardrock – actually, they made three pairs for each of us – I remember Bryan Gothie saying if they went to market with this shoe it would be $300 shoe, because they used some fancy hydrophobic liner material that was designed to be worn barefoot, drain a lot better, and not soak up water. That’s really important in a race like Hardrock. That was the first time I was like, “Really?”
It’s funny because different materials can cost way more when it doesn’t seem like its performance benefits are at all tangible even. It’s so crazy to me that New Balance can still make a shoe like the 100 series at $75-80 when almost every other shoe on the market is over $100. I don’t know what the difference is there, but…
iRF: Did your involvement with the 110 differ significantly from your involvement with the 100 series or the Minimus Trail?
Krupicka: Not really. I guess with the 110 it was particularly gratifying because it was the culmination of three years of work. You can think of the 100, 101, and the 110 as three separate shoes but for me it’s been this… okay, we put out the 101 and we’re already thinking about the 110, what didn’t we get right in 101. It’s kind of just been this long project for me.
With the Minimus, it was pretty much the same but the objective was different. The objective there was a barefoot simulation shoe that (a) was semi-protective and you could actually wear it on trails for someone who is not comfortable in the FiveFingers, and (b) is a bit more responsible so we should be offering a little more cush in the heel, a 4mm drop instead of a 0mm drop right away. So we wanted to look for that middle ground from a shoe like the 100 or the Peregrine and the FiveFingers. So it was just a much different objective. So for the 100, 101, 110, I was always thinking about an everyday trainer/racer type shoe and here it was more like a training tool, a supplemental shoe.
iRF: In some MT110 developmental emails, you mentioned the 110 was the best shoe you’ve ever worn. Did you feel that same way about the 100, 101, and the Minimus?
Krupicka: No, the 110 is by far the shoe I’ve been most happy with the end product. I guess the 100 and 101 I always had a few things I wished I could improve upon. The 110 is definitely the most perfectly realized shoe in my mind that we’ve come up with yet. The Minimus is different because I don’t think of it like an everyday trail running/mountain running shoe, it’s more of a training tool. When I’m running a lot, I’m wearing it almost every day, but I don’t take it on a long mountain run. So the 110 is definitely different in that respect, I’m really happy with it.
iRF: Would you still say today that the 110 is the best shoe you’ve ever worn?
Krupicka: Yeah, for sure.
iRF: I thought it was entertaining that you were taping your feet to fit in the 9.5 sample size.
Krupicka: Yeah, that was crazy. I was taping each of my toes with duct tape every morning.
iRF: Were you anxiously awaiting a properly sized pair of the previous shoes or is this something special with the 110? Were you asking, “Can you get me a pair of 10.5?” before The North Face Challenge.
Krupicka: I was just so excited about this shoe that I was willing to wear the sample size. I did a 50-mile long run in the 9.5’s with my toes taped and I was ready to do that last year for TNF Challenge because I really liked the shoe. It was just a whole other level of performance than even the 101, which I’d been happy with. I wore the 101 during Western States 100 last year and was super happy with the way it worked, but the 110 I just liked way more.
iRF: As of last May you weren’t modifying the 110’s, is that still the case where you just put them on out of the box and go?
Krupicka: Oh yeah, there’s nothing to tweak on them. All my tweaks were designed into them so there’s nothing to cut off, nothing extra. You’ve seen the shoe, there’s not a lot extra going on with it. It’s perfect. Going even so far as to not put rubber on the midfoot – it’s pretty huge.
iRF: It’s very unique of New Balance to expose that midfoot area and accept that there’s going to be some wear and tear there, but from a performance perspective allow you to make that change.
Krupicka: I guess I just convinced them to go for it. I don’t use that part of my foot a lot and it cuts a lot of weight from the shoe. The rubber’s the heaviest part of the shoe, so if you reduce that you’re going to reduce the weight a lot.
iRF: Is there a difference in performance between the prototypes you start testing and the production models?
Krupicka: No, absolutely not. They’re really good. I was happy with the production models because they fit right.
iRF: Per your email with New Balance, you’re looking to improve the outsole some, are there any other areas you’re looking to improve?
Krupicka: Mainly the outsole, the durability, the traction, which comes with the durability. The more durable it is, the longer the traction stays good on the shoe. I want a little more spacing between lugs maybe so it sheds mud better and bites better on loose off-trail stuff.
iRF: How much satisfaction do you get from putting on a pair of shoes that you don’t have to modify and you were such a part of?
Krupicka: It’s very satisfying to see a concept and a project through to fruition especially since it’s that one piece of gear that’s pretty essential. I really get geeked out on it, so it’s very satisfying.
iRF: Is it the same thing when someone writes a great review of a shoe you worked on or someone comes up to you at a race and says, “I really love the Minimus Trail!”
Krupicka: Yeah, absolutely, because products or shoes are a common thread through the running community, it’s a nice way to impact the community as a whole. I also try to do that through blog posts and giving talks and, hopefully, inspiring people and motivating people. Product development is definitely a way you can shape someone’s experience out on the trail so hopefully it’s for the good.
iRF: Can you explain why you like having a 4mm drop for an everyday trainer or a 100-mile racing shoe?
Krupicka: A 0mm drop shoe feels really good on, too, like the Minimus series with the double zeros. I think it’s weird how people say, “Oh that shoe that only has 4-6mm drop is not as protective as 10-12mm drop.” The ratio has nothing to do with the protection unless you are crashing down on your heels, I suppose, you’re not going to have as much cushion on the heel as you would otherwise.
If you’re at all worried about the drop, you’re probably concerned with the way your foot is functioning and you’re probably considering yourself with a midfoot strike so the heel cushioning probably isn’t that big of a deal. But having said that, late in a 100-mile race you can get tired, obviously, for about the last 20 miles or so, your form breaks down. So it’s nice to have that [4mm]… to keep the training wheels on a little bit with those couple extra millimeters. So if your foot plant is moving back a little on the foot, you’ll have that cushion there.
It seems like having that touch of extra drop also makes the shoe more dynamic. It seems more responsive for some reason. I don’t know if it’s just that there’s more material underfoot or what, but it’s nice, too.
iRF: Just to confirm, you’re wearing straight off-the-shelf 110’s? It isn’t some special New Balance just- for-Tony shoe?
Krupicka: Yes. Off the shelf and out of the box. It’s probably the first shoe since I started running ultras that that’s the case that I don’t do anything to it.
iRF: Can you define the word “frowzy” for me?
Krupicka: The lack of structural stability in the upper. That’s an Erik Skaggs term. Especially when you’re running downhill on technical, off-camber stuff where your foot is shifting slightly off the platform. The shoe just isn’t holding your foot on the platform, then it’s “frowzy.”
Interview with Erik Skaggs
iRunFar: Erik, when did you become a New Balance Outdoor Ambassador?
Erik Skaggs: I’ve officially been a New Balance Ambassador for three years now.
iRF: Before that, were you unofficially in the New Balance family since your brother, Kyle, was an ambassador?
Skaggs: Yeah, I was kinda unofficially there.
iRF: You’re familiar with the whole process from the MT100 and even before that, right?
Skaggs: Yeah, exactly.
iRF: When did you become involved in the development process?
Skaggs: It started when Tony [Krupicka] and Kyle were first running for New Balance. They were both running in the 790 and that changed into the 100. I definitely started helping develop with the 100 and, then, into the 101 which, obviously, eventually evolved into the 110, so it’s been a few years as far as the evolution of the shoe.
iRF: Do you see your involvement with New Balance as a series of discrete projects developing shoes or has it been an ongoing process along a continuum?
Skaggs: I think it’s ongoing, because they’re always asking for input as far as where the shoe is going. As far as companies go, they’re really receptive to ideas we have as far as actually seeing those ideas come to fruition in the shoe, so it’s really nice.
iRF: When you started working with New Balance on the 100, could you see something like the 110?
Skaggs: No, it evolved from one shoe to the next and the improvements you could make to it. The 100 and 101 are pretty similar as far as the shoe. The 110 is quite a big jump from the 101, obviously. It’s quite a bit different, although I think it’s a huge improvement. I don’t think it’s something they had in mind. I think it evolved continuously.
iRF: It takes a vocabulary and an acute eye to suggest improvements to a shoe design. Were you always a shoe geek or did you become more informed as you were in this process?
Skaggs: I definitely became more informed on the shoe vernacular as I started working more with New Balance. You don’t have a lot of gear in running. The one piece that’s pretty important, obviously, is the shoe, so it’s definitely something you pay attention to. As far as actually speaking specifically about aspects of the shoes being able to give them input, my thought process definitely changed quite a bit the past couple years.
iRF: When you started to get involved in the 110, what role did you see that shoe filling?
Skaggs: I wanted a little more in the forefoot than the 101. Thought the forefoot was more rigid in the 101. They changed that up significantly. The 110 is such a different shoe that I think it’s hard to compare the two. It’s on a different last. The outsole is completely different. It’s very different.
Some of the things I was looking for were a little more in the forefoot, not necessarily protection, but maybe I wanted it to be a touch softer, which they were able to accomplish with the lug pattern and the foam they used, which is really nice because not only do you get more cushioning, you also get much better traction.
iRF: When you were saying the 100 was rigid, you were talking about the rockplate and durometer rather than flexibility.
iRF: What sort of runs were you hoping to end up being able to do in this shoe? Were you thinking about 100ks? Were you thinking of an everyday training shoe?
Skaggs: I like to wear what I’m going to run every day in is also what I like to race in, because, sometimes, especially in longer races, when you train in one shoe and then switch to another one you can put strain on different muscle groups.
This shoe, I can wear it every day, day in and day out, and be just fine. I think the drop is just about right. It’s not totally flat. I like having a little bit; I like my foot to be a little slanted. It’s still great for a midfoot or forefoot strike, which is what it was engineered for. There’s enough traction and protection there that you can wear it. I think you can easily wear this up to the 100-mile distance, for sure. There’s definitely more shoe there than the 101.
iRF: It’s interesting to hear you say you like the 4mm drop, as Tony said he likes the 4 mm drop specifically for the 100-mile distance. With your longest race to date being a 100k, do you think that’s a sweet spot?
Skaggs: I think a little bit of drop isn’t a bad thing. The MT110 feels a pretty flat. I think having that little bit of drop – 4 to 5mm – is pretty ideal.
iRF: Can you walk us through the steps of you collaborating with New Balance on the 110?
Skaggs: I didn’t see as much of the concept of this shoe. I saw a few early design pictures and they looked really good, but it’s so hard. A shoe can look good in a picture, but you’ve got to have it in your hand and on your feet to check it out and see what you think.
The biggest part of the process started when we got those first samples and were able to take them out and see how they performed. It was really good right away.
We got a couple samples. One didn’t have the synthetic upper we went with. It was more of a standard mesh upper, but the synthetic upper holds the foot really well, it doesn’t hold water, so that was really nice. It really conforms to the foot. That’s were the process really started.
iRF: It doesn’t seem to be a process were New Balance starts down one path and you’re just tweaking it one way or the other. They presented two very different paths.
Skaggs: Yeah, we could have gone either way, but I think both of us decided pretty quickly that we really liked that synthetic upper.
iRF: What are some of the specific recommendations you made as these prototypes were coming off the line?
Skaggs: I didn’t have a whole bunch of suggestions.
They raised the lug height on the lateral side of the forefoot. We brought that down a touch on the outside lateral edge because it was built up a little more than the ones I have now. I think that felt weird when I was running and now it lays down better.
We added more breathability to the upper by adding more perforations.
There weren’t a many changes off that first sample. It came to me as a pretty good shoe initially. It was nice to not have many objections.
iRF: How does that compare to the suggestions for the 101?
Skaggs: I had a lot more suggestions between the 100 and 101. As a response, they increased the number of overlays to hold the foot onto the platform better. They also lowered the foam heel counter that could rub on the Achilles. I had much less to say with what they could do to the 110 prototypes.
iRF: Seeing this final product, are there any features of this shoe that you can say are your own that maybe Tony and Kyle weren’t pushing for?
Skaggs: *laughs* I think we push for a lot of the same things.
I was really excited with the midsole and outsole. The rubber is a little bit softer, which makes it a lot stickier, and the diamond lug shape pattern just seems to work really well on anything from rocky terrain to loose, decomposed granite, which is a lot of what I run on around here, even to roads. The shoe transitions really well to pavement and most people are running at least a little road to get to the trails.
iRF: In reading the development emails, throughout the process you were saying this is the best trail shoe you’ve ever worn. Were you saying that when you go the first MT100 and MT101?
Skaggs: I didn’t think I said that was the best shoe I’d ever worn. This one just fit my foot a lot better. That new last holds your foot down, it doesn’t move over the platform, which is sometimes what I had a problem with in the 100 and the 101. It’s a very snug fit between the upper and the Minimus last.
Ideally, you want a shoe that you’re not really thinking about when you’re running – you’re just cruising – and they nailed it with this thing. You’re not thinking about your feet too much, which is nice.
iRF: Is this still the best shoe you’ve ever run in?
Skaggs: I work in a running store, so, obviously, I get to try on lots of different shoes. I don’t get to run in all of them, but in terms of initial fit and the little running I do in those shoes, the 110 is by far the best trail shoe I’ve ever worn and it’s better than 99% of the road shoes, even road flats, which are meant to fit pretty snug and feel pretty good. I think it excels in lots of varying terrain, which is pretty unique as far as a trail shoe goes.
iRF: Throughout the process, you seem to have been eager to get additional pairs of the 110 whether it was to get your proper size for The North Face 50 or after having beaten up your early protos by last summer. You surely have a ton of shoes, do you often find yourself asking New Balance for more samples?
Skaggs: I always want more shoes as I’m always putting a lot of miles on them. It’s a great fitting shoe. I don’t want to run in anything else if I can avoid it.
iRF: How do you find the shoes to wear?
Skaggs: Outsole-wise, I think a lot of that is dependent on where you’re running. I know Tony and I are running on pretty different terrain. Around Ashland, the trails are mostly decomposed granite, so they’re not super abrasive. On that, the wear’s not bad at all. I’m not the best person about keeping track of mileage on my shoes, but when I’m running a lot of miles, I don’t rotate shoes, I just run straight through a pair and these seem to hold up really well.
I had one case where I jammed my foot straight into a stick and it put a hole in that synthetic upper. I continued to run another 150 miles in that shoe and the hole didn’t get any bigger.
iRF: Are the 110s straight off the production line? Do you modify them at all?
Skaggs: Mine are straight off the line. I don’t have any specific modifications from New Balance or myself. Just out of the box, lace them up, ready to go.
iRF: How much do you enjoy slipping on a pair of shoes you were involved in and end up being the best trail shoe you’ve ever worn?
Skaggs: It’s a pretty good feeling to know that you helped in some way to bring about a shoe that just fits and performs really well. Going back to the fact that in running you don’t have a lot of gear, which is why it’s a nice pursuit – it’s simple. You just need a pair of shoes and running shorts for the most part and you can go and have a good time. Being part of producing something that’s simple but very effective for cruising around on the trails is nice.
iRF: So the silver and red colorway of your model of the 110 is quite distinct, did you have any role in choosing those colors?
Skaggs: Yeah, Brian Gothie gave us a couple color options. I don’t remember my other color options, but I thought the silver and red was the best choice there.
iRF: I think people call it the Ziggy Stardust.
Skaggs: That’s good. I like that!
iRF: In talking with Tony, he was talking about how the uppers of the MT100s were flimsy, but he used a word he attributed to you – frowzy. What is frowzy?
Skaggs: Frowzy is just kind of sloppy. That’s probably the best way to describe it.
iRF: Where would you put the MT110 on the frowzy scale?
Skaggs: The MT110 is a zero to a one on the frowzy scale – not much frowziness. Low frowziness.
iRF: Is there anything that stood out in the development of the 110?
Skaggs: Not anything in particular. It’s just nice working with a company that really does listen. I’ve definitely been around shoe companies that don’t listen as much to ambassador or athlete insight. It’s pretty refreshing to actually see that insight come about in a fairly quick process. The turn around in shoe design can take a long time. It’s always pretty quick with New Balance, which is nice.
iRF: You have this great shoe in the 110 that’s just coming out, so the next development cycle is starting. What are you telling New Balance to work on for 2013?
Skaggs: That’s a really good question. I’ve just been enjoying this shoe so much that I’m not sure I have too many huge recommendations as of yet. They might change something up or, I don’t know, at this point I wouldn’t change a whole bunch on this shoe really. It just feels really good. It fits well. It runs well. It’s durable. It’s a nice combination of traction and it’s really light, but it doesn’t beat my feet up.
iRF: Have you ever found yourself, whether it was when your brother was more involved or, now, with you and Tony on the lead, disagreeing on certain aspects?
Skaggs: Yeah, I’m the one who’s always pushing for a little more forefoot cushioning. I think Tony kind of likes the higher lug on the lateral edge because his strike pattern comes in on that side and then rolls in so it gave him a little more traction there or a good feel. He likes a very minimal feel.
I’m always the one pushing for a just a little bit more in the forefoot. I’m definitely a midfoot to forefoot striker and I like a little bit more under my forefoot than Tony does. Other than that, we don’t disagree too much.
iRF: Do you think that both you and Tony got what you wanted in the 110?
Skaggs: Yeah, that outsole pattern, you’re not gaining any weight, but those lugs are a little softer and a little bigger, so the lugs themselves act like shock absorbers so it gives you a little bit more cushioning… and a world of difference in traction.
iRF: What kind of races have you run in the 110?
Skaggs: I’ve run everything from 5k trail races up to 50k in the 110. That’s a pretty big range of racing and they’ve been great all the way through there. I’ve used them in straight mountain-running stuff, really technical fast downhill running.
iRF: Where will we see you in your 110’s next year?
Skaggs: I’m finishing up a Masters degree in teaching so I’ll be pretty busy until then. I do think I’ll get out and run Chuckanut 50k again. I haven’t had a really great race there yet and I’d like to have a good one one of these days. Beyond that, I’m not quite sure. I’m looking at maybe White River 50-mile mid-summer and see where it goes from there.
New Balance MT110 Giveaway [CONTEST OVER!]
Now that you’ve heard about Anton and Erik’s input into the development of the New Balance MT110, you may want to try a pair. Well, five lucky iRunFar readers will get to run in the MT110/WT110 courtesy of New Balance.
[The contest has ended]
To enter, leave a comment on iRunFar.com itself with your name and where you live. (Email subscribers, you must go to iRunFar.com and leave a comment there to enter. Simply replying neither leaves a comment on iRunFar nor enters you in the contest.) PLEASE include your email when filling out the comment form so we can contact you if you win. Your email is private (it is not displayed) and will not be used for any other purpose. The contest ends at 11:59 p.m. MST on Wednesday, January 18. If you’ve got a blog or website, please consider sharing this contest with your readers. (Might I also suggest you consider adding iRunFar to your blogroll or linking to it in your sidebar.) You can also easily share this contest (or any other iRunFar article) with others by clicking the Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and email buttons below. The final button allows you to share an iRunFar story via a multitude of other means, including Digg and Stumbleupon.
- Jared Bybee, Provo, Utah
- James Hong, Penang, Malaysia
- Charles Moman, Seymor, Indiana
- Robin S, Tulsa, Oklahoma
- Wilson Martinez, Union City, California
Call For Comments
I’ve received a ton of great information from New Balance regarding the MT110’s development. I’ve also spoken at length with both Anton Krupicka and Erik Skaggs on the subject. Please ask away. I’ll do my best to make substantive comments accessible amidst all the contest entries.