Review: Merrell Road Glove

The efficient road shoe is elusive. How do you find the right combination of lightness, ground-feel, and protection from pebbles whilst not interfering with the natural motion of the foot, and subsequently the remainder of the kinetic chain up the leg? When looking for a road shoe, I often find myself making compromises, some are too squishy, others too stiff, do I want a Zero-Drop shoe? or would I be better off with a bit of a heel?

The Merrell Road Glove is Merrell’s answer to the minimalist road running shoe dilemma. Based on the same last as their incredibly popular Trail Glove, the Road Glove is really a result of some minor alterations to its trail-oriented brother. Here are the Stats:

Weight: 6.6 oz (men’s size 9)
Cushioning: 4mm EVA foam
Vibram Outsole
ZERO drop

Okay, so that’s the boring part, and precisely what one would expect from the Merrell “Barefoot” line of shoes, so I’m really not telling you anything new right now. The fit on the Road Glove is exactly what any barefoot/minimalist runner would be looking for, snug in the heel, wide in the toe box. This allows the foot to feel attached to the shoe (in fact, it eventually feels like the shoe is molded onto your foot) while giving the runner enough toebox room for the toes to splay naturally. There is a piece of foam that touches the arch directly, much like the Trail glove. This is NOT an arch support, it’s foam, and is there to lock the foot into place within the shoe. This foam has no rigidity, and collapses easily when your foot flattens out, so it is in no way taking any load off of your arches.

The ground feel on these shoes is fantastic. Merrell has taken an approach that concentrates more on the outsole than the midsole of the shoe, so there’s only a small layer of EVA (4mm) between your foot and the outsole, but the outsole is present for the entirety of the sole of the shoe. While this makes for a very consistent ground feel, and prevents any squishiness in the shoe, it does feel a little stiff when compared to the outsole designs using pods (like the NB MR00). However, this is such a minor complaint, it’s barely worth noting. In fact, the Vibram outsole combined with the modest amount of cushioning seems to take the edge off of any pebbles you may encounter, while not sacrificing the overall ground-feel (a major upgrade from my VFF’s which leave my feet sore on any run <5miles)

How are they different from the Trail Glove? Simply stated, they have a different (less aggressive) outsole, and have eliminated the rock-plate. There have also been some changes to the upper, since a trail shoe really needs to be more connected to the foot than a road shoe requires. These handful of changes makes for a lighter shoe that will hopefully last longer on roads (the trail glove is reported to wear out very quickly on the roads… although it was never intended for road use).

Conclusions? I like them… a lot. While I don’t run exclusively in Zero-Drop shoes (I’ve found that I prefer a 4mm drop in my trail shoes) These have found themselves used heavily in my rotations. I would definitely consider racing in these, and am looking forward to putting some 20+ mile runs on them in the near future.

Note: These shoes were provided to me as part of my Merrell Sponsorship to Participate in the Outdoor Nation Summit.

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Review: New Balance MT110

The MT110 was arguably one of the most anticipated shoe releases of 2012, being an update of the MT101, but instead build on the highly popular Minimus last used for the MT10 and MT20 (New Balance Minimus Trail). The run down of the shoe is pretty simple:

7.7 ounces (men’s size 9)
15/19mm height (forefoot/heel)
Rock Plate

The upper, which is made out of a synthetic leather with a sock-like liner, gives you the sensation that your foot is firmly attached to the mid and outsole. There’s no sense of frowziness, in fact the upper as a whole is rather supportive, keeping the foot firmly in place on lateral movements, all the while not feeling restrictive, or in  any way annoying. The liner is designed to be worn sockless, and succeeds, all the while still being exceptionally well-ventilated. In fact, I like this upper substantially more than the MT101 (which mind you, I ran into the ground) and the MT10 (which I’ve also run a hefty sum in). Also worth noting is how well this shoe drains water. In interviews about shoes with Krupicka, he often mentions this as one of the more important characteristics in a shoe, since it allows the runner to be not the least nit hesitant about stream/river crossings, and his input has obviously had an impact. Even when these shoes are fully submerged, the feel comfortable, and are no more prone to causing blisters than when they’re dry.

The outsole is in a diamond studded pattern, concentrated in the forefoot, and on the heel, with the midfoot completely devoid of rubber. It turns out that the outsole rubber is one of the heaviest parts of the shoe, and NB decided that it would be unnecessary to put rubber in the midsole. They are right. This shoe gains purchase at an alarmingly quick rate on a variety of terrain, ranging from hard packed dirt, to slick rock, talus, snow, mud, you name it. The modest amount of foam, and full rock plate certainly takes the edge off of any rocks under foot, all the while maintaining a relatively intimate trail feel. Running in the MT110, I never have any fear of hurting my foot on a rock like I do when I take out my Merrell Trail Gloves, or my MT10’s, rather, i feel like I can run over almost any terrain confident that I can feel what’s under my feet, without abusing my feet.

Overall, I have to say this is the best shoe I’ve run in, period. When I lace them up, they feel as if they’re a part of my feet, rather than something I’ve put over them. While they’re not a “barefoot” shoe, they maintain a lot of the core tenets that barefoot runners seem  interested in: wide toe box, low heel-toe drop, no arch support etc. In fact, in my opinion the fact that they’re not a “barefoot” shoe, is one of the biggest selling points. This shoe is designed for one sole purpose, running ultramarathons as fast as possible, and with that in mind, I’ve just purchased my second pair as we leap into racing season.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about durability, my “old” pair have been run for 491 miles at the time of writing, and I expect at least another 2-300 out of them, the out-sole is showing some wear, and the mid-sole isn’t as cushy as it once was, but the upper is in-tact, and there are no signs of the mid-sole detaching itself from the upper as is usually the demise of my trail shoes.

Brand New pair (right) Old Pair (left)

 
Outsole, New on top, Old on bottom (491 miles)

What makes a good shoe?

Today I received two pairs of running shoes from the Merrell company. As some of you may know, Merrell tends to do things a little bit differently, and strongly encourages the average Joe hiker/runner to test their beta models, and provide them with honest feedback, which I think is awesome, this system helped produce the Trail Glove (review coming soon) and checking out the shoes I got today, I can see that they’ve really got their heads in the right place as far as providing sustainable running shoes for (barefoot) form-oriented mountain runners.
I mentioned in a previous post that my rule as far as running shoes and reviewing them is concerned, is that I require ~100 miles on a pair of shoes before I think I can give an honest assessment of their value, and I plan on sticking to this, it helps that I (when not tapering) run relatively high mileage, so testing a pair of shoes rarely takes more than 2 weeks in my rotation, with perhaps a few extra days to re-compare them to favorites in my pile.
Now for the nitty gritty, there are certain things that I require in order to consider a shoe for racing/every day running usage.
1. MINIMAL Heel-Toe drop, Yes, minimal, a zero drop is preferable, but to be honest if it’s only a few millimeters, it doesn’t effect my gait, and thus becomes a non-issue (greater than 4 mm seems to get annoying, and often will be ghetto zero-dropped by me, over a beer or 3, with a bread knife)
2.Reasonable amount of protection. Depending on the ruggedness of a trail, (or road) the amount of protection necessary can vary (imho). Jason Robillard talks about the same conundrum here. Basically I want enough protection that my feet don’t hurt after a long run/race, but not so much that I can’t feel the ground beneath me, and end up making stupid mistakes resulting in ankle twists, falls, etc etc etc. This is a fine line to walk, and every runner/running shoe is different.
3. Water Drainage. A trail shoe especially MUST drain water well. I cannot tell you how many times in a single run I end up with my foot submerged in water, this water must exist my shoe, and the shoe must dry quickly, this is not negotiable. I do not believe in gore-tex running shoes, I understand the principle, but in my experience, I often find myself in water above the top of the shoe, which results in a gore-tex shoe/boot being filled up with water, and turning into a bucket attached to my foot, not ideal.
4. Traction. A good shoe should track well. There is a fine line between good traction and durability, which is why I insist on 100 miles before i announce my review. Softer rubber holds onto rock better, but also wears much more quickly, the opposite is true of harder rubber. Lugging must be wide enough to shed mud easily, and not turn my trail runner into a mud-caked flat, but also close enough to hold well in less than ideal terrain. Vibram typically makes a good sole… they are not the only reasonable sole out there though, and often I am surprised by what a sole looks like, and how well/not well it performs.
5. Lightweight. The heavier the shoe, the heavier the shoe, you figure it out.
6. Breathable upper. Also self-explanatory. The upper should also keep the foot securely in the shoe,and not blow out too easily (100 miles!)
7. Flexible heel. Allows for natural foot motion
8. Wide toe box. Allows toes to splay, keeps foot motion natural, helps body absorb shock better, leading to less injuries etc etc etc.

That’s pretty much it, I’ve got some reviews queued up, as many of my shoes are beyond the 100 mile mark, as well as some training updates to post soon.