New Balance MT100 and MT101 Zeroed Out and Reviewed

What follows are two posts from Tuck’s blog Yelling Stop in which Tuck, a minimalist runner in search of great foot friendly shoes (See “barefoot running shoes” defined), discusses having a pair of New balance MT100s modified by a…

What follows is best described as a minimalist running enthusiast’s quest for foot-friendly “barefoot running shoes” — alternatives to Vibram Five Fingers. Anyone whose had VFFs long enough will tell you that, unfortunately, they don’t always cut the mustard — such as in particularly cold weather or when you have a broken toe. Tuck, who you might remember from his custom Russell Moccasins based off the Munson Last, is now blogging regularly over at Yelling Stop. Recently, Tuck shared his attempts to improve upon the New Balance MT100 by zeroing them out back in November 2009. He talks about how they worked post-mod, how he used them, and how he ultimately switched to his custom Russell Mocs in December 2009. Fast forward to now and Tuck has taken another stab at zeroing out New Balance shoes — this time, the new New Balance MT101s.

More after the jump

Modified New Balance MT100s — November 2009

I got back from the cobbler with a pair of modified New Balance MT100s in hand, and if you didn’t know what they were supposed to look like, I don’t think you could tell what had been done with them. Fortunately, I had another pair of unmodified MT100s around, so I’ll do some side-by-side comparisons.

I did try them on at the cobbler. Standing in a resting position, my heel just kisses the ground with the weight resting on the ball of the foot. Just like my Vivo Barefoot shoes or being actually barefoot. So I consider them to be a success in that regard.

Unfortunately, at the time I had a broken pinkie toe, and was unable to run more than a short distance without pain. I ran in them later, and the rock-guard plate helped support my forefoot and toe enough to allow me to run.

A little later…

OK, here they are β€” a 9.5 men’s MT100 compared to a 10.5 men’s MT100. Neither pair had been worn outside for running when these pictures were taken. My friend (a convert to Vibrams ) also bought the MT100s for winter running when we went to the store. He also has no desire to run in them if it’s warm enough for KSOs. He had a big shin splint issue until he learned to run barefoot-style.

Here’s the before and after

I propped up the heel of the altered shoe so that you get a good idea of what was removed.

MT 100 Compare

Here’s the close up

The workmanship on the altered shoe is better than the original, I just noticed.

Compare (Near)

The soles

You can see in this shot where he cut a little low, and cut through the top of the dimples. This is entirely cosmetic, I don’t know if the dimples even reduce weight much, as they’re pretty shallow. The altered shoe is the smaller one. Those orange circles are the stone guard that you can see through the sole.

Compare Soles


Just so you can see what the workmanship looks like up close.

Closeup of the Heel

The Results — Minimalized New Balance MT100s

The cobbler wasn’t able to peel the sole away, so wound up having to cut it down. I don’t know that that makes any difference in practice, but if you have any ideas of your own, there you go.

David (the Cobbler & Cordwainer) mentioned to me that there was still a pretty built-up arch in the sneaker, and that we could cut away the insole to reduce that. I didn’t listen in his shop, and spent the rest of the afternoon wondering what the heck that lump under my arches was, as I was wearing them without the insole. I put the insole back in, and it lessens the arch, but I think I’m going to follow his advice (and listen a little more closely next time he has a suggestion).

The toe spring is not really an issue as the toe area is really soft. I can flex it down almost flat without a problem. Excessive toe spring is a problem if you cut the heels off, the toes can wind up pointing to the heavens, which is not comfortable.

Sneakers are really warm! Too warm. I’ve gotten used to having cool soles in the Vibrams and the Vivos. I hadn’t realized it until I put these on. But since I want these for winter running, I guess that’s a feature.

With the insoles in and the plate under the ball of the foot my busted foot feels much better. I rann in them in the morning after getting them back from the cobbler, to see how they did. And how I would do. The shoes performed well, and the rock plate did a fine job of supporting my busted pinkie toe.

These are a very different shoe from the Mizuno flats, which was a popular minimalist running option when the MT100 first was released, as they’re a trail running racing flat. So they’re heavier, and have a beefier sole with a more aggressive tread, and the stone guard. But with the kind of running I do in these, I think that’s appropriate.

Ideally Inov-8 will make something that will make it unnecessary for me to go through this exercise again. The sneakers are $75, labor $50 = $125, or the same cost as the Vibram Treks.

Some thoughts on Zeroed out New Balance MT100s

I was able to find another cobbler who did another pair (the unmodified pair in the pictures above) for $25.

I ran in these pretty regularly last winter, but found after a while that they gave me runner’s knee. Reverting to Vibrams cured the runner’s knee immediately, while going back to the 100s brought it back. Even wearing the Russell moccasins, which I had made in December 2009, was better for my knee — despite the weight. My colleague, owner of the unmodified pair above, had the same thing happen to him, and I’ll note that Anton Krupicka, the athlete for which these were designed, has been battling a similar issue for quite some time.

I ran one race in the New Balance MT100s despite the runner’s knee and they did OK; it was a 20k and I managed an 8:11 pace. The knee hurt quite a lot, so I pretty much stopped running in them after getting my Russells.

I still use them occasionally as back up shoes or casual shoes, and I broke them out again for a recent trail half-marathon. I broke or dislocated the other pinkie toe two times in KSO Treks, and I don’t feel like doing it during a race, so I wore the MT100s. Sore knees aside, with some warm wool socks they worked great in the snow, and during the half-marathon.

Take Two: Zeroed out New Balance MT101s

… and a comparison to the zeroed out New Balance MT100s

When New Balance released the MT100 last year, minimalist runners were quite excited. The good news about this shoe was that it was designed for famed (in the ultra-running community) minimalist runner Anton Krupicka. Minimalist features included: a flexible sole (except for the rock plate), a breathable design geared to be worn without socks, and light weight.

Side view, 101 on top

But nothing is ever perfect in the first draft. There were a few relatively minor issues with this shoe: it was a bit narrow across the front of the toe, and the tongue and the ankle collar tended to bother some people (If you look closely at the Side View picture, you’ll note that the part of the 100 that rides up the achilles is missing, while it’s present on the 101. It’s missing because I cut it off with a razor knife after attempting to run sockless in the 100s one summer day. This only took a moment, and significantly improved the shoe.)

The soles on both the New Balance MT100 and MT101 are functionally identical. The toe area on the 101 may be a smidge wider, but this seemed to have no effect other than to avoid feeling like the soles were a tad narrow, which did occur sometimes in the MT100, especially when running down hill.

Rear view, 101 on right

Unfortunately, one feature carried over from the MT100 to the MT101 is the 10mm differential with the heel. In the side view photo you’ll notice that both shoes have had the heel zeroed (reduced to a similar height, approximately 8mm). The 10mm heel differential is gone. The 101 and 100 were done by two different cobblers, and since this is a manual process, they’re slightly different, but after a few minutes of running feel the same.

The New Balance MT101 is indeed wider across the toes, although upon trying them on they felt like they were crowding my big toe a bit. This may be a function of the fact that I’ve been wearing my MT100s without the insole. To give my toes enough room I bought the MT101s in a size 10 versus the 9.5 in the MT100, so I have a comfortable fit even with the insole. This allows for a bit more protection in the heel area when racing. There is enough room in the toe to splay my toes when running downhill, and that, along with wearing the insole, allowed me to bomb down hills heedless of the rocks.

Front view, 101 on left

New Balance also slightly changed the tongue on the MT101. I never had any problems with the prior tongue, but if you did, rejoice.

They also significantly redid the overlays on the top, and the material seems to breathe much better than the MT100 did. The laces are either the same, or are so similar that I can’t tell the difference.

The one welcome improvement is that the Achilles-tendon slicer at the top of the heel on the MT100 is much reduced on the MT101, and the soft liner material (light green in the picture) curves over the plastic material which was formerly so effective at gashing your leg. I’ve not tried running sockless in the MT101 yet, but hope to have a pleasant time of it.

I had only worn the MT101 around for about half an hour prior to sending it to the cobbler for a heel-ectomy. I picked them up Saturday afternoon for a race on Sunday. Yes, like a fool I took a shoe that I had never even run in once to a trail half-marathon. It occurred to me while in the parking lot at the race start that I was doing this, and that I had sworn I would never do it again after making this mistake with my Bikilas. But I had no other shoes, so I really had no choice at that point.

Happily, they performed perfectly. I wore the exact same pair of socks with the New Balance MT100 and the MT101, and I did not experience any discomfort whatsoever with the MT101. Not a blister, not a hot-spot, no break-in at all. Kudos to New Balance for that. I did stop at about mile 11 and adjust the tongue on one shoe, but that was precautionary.

Modified New Balance MT100 vs. MT101 — Conclusion

So I like both of these a lot. If you can find the MT100 on clearance and make the modifications I did, I think you’ll be quite happy with them, while saving some money. Or buy the MT101 and, after removing the heel, wear as is.

My only caveat about these two shoes is that they do have excessive cushioning. Yes, even 8mm is too much for me nowadays. The only knee pain I’ve ever had in my running career has been from the MT100s last winter (runners’ knee), and during the half-marathon training (IT band stiffness). The IT band stiffness repeated the second Sunday in the MT101. I don’t know if this is the result of the 101s or of my weakened ankle (detailed in the race report here), so I will withhold judgement. Ideally I’ll do the Paine to Pain course again in the next few weeks in my Treks, and see how the knee and ankle do.

By Tuck

Tuck is a de facto minimalist footwear expert, having been an outspoken member of the barefoot and toe shod community now for a few years. Tuck has been wearing FiveFingers since 2007, using them for running, hiking, white-water kayaking, and, as he puts it, "scaring the neighbors!" Meanwhile, Tuck has endeavored to bring a nearly-century-old cobbler's last — the Munson Last — into the 21st century vis his [url=]custom Russell Mocs[/url]. You can keep up with Tuck at his blog [url=]Yelling Stop[/url]!

14 replies on “New Balance MT100 and MT101 Zeroed Out and Reviewed”

i just got a pair of 100s (b/c i seem to be beating my feet up on the trails out here in my treks) on clearance and seem to be having the same problem with them. i might have to try this fix.

I wonder if this “knee pain” that several folks on this forum continually mention (as well as a whole host of other “issues”) might not be just part of the whole adjustment and transition period not unlike the often uncomfortable period when new folks get used to running barefoot/minimalist? As is argued ad nauseum on this forum, “it takes time” , or “go slow”… Our bodies are highly adaptable so I’d argue that a lot of these “issues” are just growing pains. After all I ran fairly comfortably (still do) in all sorts of thick/thin shoes for the past 19 years w/o any major issues. I believe a lot of these “issues” are part of the body’s adaption period. This period can vary wildly by person. If you’re only running a dozen or so miles a week then the time to adapt could be quite longer than say someone doing 50-60 (or more) miles a week… All I’m saying is that if one can adapt to more minimalist footwear (or barefoot), the opposite must be true to an extent as evidenced by the vast majority of runners who don’t apply the minimalist approach? Just playing devils advocate, I enjoy my VFFs and minimalist footwear equally….


I think what you may be missing here is that people who get knee pain from running often *stop running altogether*. I know this because this specifically applied to me. I gave up on running because it always hurt my knees after running short distances (say a quarter mile or less).

So runners who run in 70s-present-era running shoes without pain are arguably selected for (at least in part) based on their ability to run in running shoes without enough pain to make them think “this hurts and I’m not going to do it anymore.” As in, if you can run in your average pair of Nike running shoes for 3-4 miles before experiencing knee pain, you might think nothing of it and regularly run this distance without issue.

“If you’re only running a dozen or so miles a week then the time to adapt could be quite longer than say someone doing 50-60 (or more) miles a week… All I’m saying is that if one can adapt to more minimalist footwear (or barefoot), the opposite must be true to an extent as evidenced by the vast majority of runners who don’t apply the minimalist approach?”

This position requires an agnostic/neutral stance on there being a biologically mandated, “correct” way to run — as in, some way that suits our evolutionary “design.” Though this is probably a great position to start at as far as being unbiased while looking at the issue of running in shoes or barefoot, it seems to ignore the fact that when we are barefoot we *do not heel strike* because we can’t without doing serious damage to our feet. Thus, I’m not sure you can really say it goes both ways in that the default position for a runner is barefoot — which means a forefoot/midfoot strike. The default position for a shod runner is a heel strike (assuming the shoes have a reasonably thick sole and or an elevated heel).

Tuck, what say ye?

I still think the “pain” is part of the learning curve. What newish runners don’t realize is that there is more to running that simply putting on a pair of shoes and putting one foot in front of the other. A lot of folks have terrible form, that can be corrected through teaching (I’m one example). I too had similar pains, brought on largely by bad/incorrect form when I first began running, but I was coached differently and gradually I strengthened and improved. And this was all in more modern/structured running shoes (about 19 years ago!). Long story, lot’s of water under the bridge, but over the last few years I decided to transition to more minimalist running shoes, like the MT100s (and other similar) and lately have incorporated some VFFs as part of my strengthening/injury prevention program. When I began my minimalist transition, I *again* experienced new discomforts much like I did back when I first began running, but *again* I worked through it and now have adjusted as I’ve been doing all my mileage in very lightweight/minimalist shoes (~3000 miles a year). So, I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t necessarily agree that there is any one *correct* way to run. The body adapts, given time. I also disagree that heel striking is necessarily and evil thing, heck I know plenty of runners who’ve been running for decades this way w/o any issues… So I think a lot of this is just strengthening the body and the swiftness of adaption is, IMHO at least in part, more of a function of how much you run. After all if we want to put it in terms of what our ancestors had to put up with, they had to travel everywhere barefoot or minimally shod; running wasn’t a luxury but a lifestyle. So you think of their level of mileage and adaption then it’s probably more equivalent to a higher mileage type runner, not a recreational jogger… thus (to me at least) the reason for a lot of injuries/problems with adaption for lower mileage runners.

@Rob, I agree that form is more important than the shoe, but everything I have read and experienced tells me heel striking is not a healthy way to run. With a heel strike, the full force of the impact is absorbed at one time. With a forefoot strike, the Achilles tendon and calf muscles act as a natural shock absorber. I also think it is much easier to accomplish and maintain a forefoot strike with minimal, low drop shoes.

Rob, here’s the difference. I’ve been running in Vibrams on and off for three years. I’ve been running exclusively in Vibrams for the last year. I’ve been running on and off for about 10 years.

I’ve *never* had knee pain, in any shoe except the 100s. I used to get shin splints while running on the road in sneakers, but never any knee pain.

And this is not adaptation pain. My adaptation aches and pains in Vibrams were best dealt with by a recovery run. I was limping around and unable to run more than short distances for *three weeks* after my race in the 100s. Now I do have an ankle injury, which I think was a contributing factor, so I can’t confidently blame the 100s, but they’re clearly doing more than just causing adaptation pains, and they did cause an injury that didn’t appear in the last year while running the same or longer distances in Vibrams.

The difference between adapting to running barefoot-style, and adapting to running in sneakers, is that when you’re adapting to running barefoot-style, you’re adapting to something you’ve evolved to do. When you’re adapting to running shod, no one has ever evolved to make that adaptation. My shin splints weren’t a sign of adaptation, any more than getting a headache after hitting yourself on the head with a hammer is an adaptation.

It’s a sign that you ought to stop. πŸ™‚

@Tuck, I can understand your experience. Clearly the 100s were not the right shoe for you, just as I discovered a long time ago (when I first began running) that the over structured shoes I started running in weren’t good for me (I’ve mostly been a very neutral runner with slight pronation). I think there is a shoe for everybody, and I also believe it’s an adaption issue. Not to belittle anybody, but I’ve been running for a long time, 19 years w/o any serious down time (over 45k miles logged), not much of this “off and on” and I suspect I’ve probably run a lot more mileage than most typical runners. So what I’m saying is I’ve probably got a different perspective on adaption than most lower mileage recreational runners/joggers might have. I absolutely believe it’s the same adaption issue as getting used to VFFs or barefoot. The difference is finding the right shoe and that is the difficult part as often your favorite shoe changes or is discontinued etc… I also believe everybody is different, some have an easier time adapting than others, some a higher pain tolerance than others, etc.. all factors that effect adaption. Why else would there be so many VFF fans out there if people didn’t have some pain tolerance as I’ve yet to hear about anybody on this forum who had an “easy” time transitioning to ultra-minimalist footwear.

Anyhow, too each their own. I just love to run whether it’s shod/unshod; whatever makes you happy.

Ooops, hit the “Send comment” button too quickly!

A typical “shod” adaption scenario, one played out by millions of runners. New runner has X,Y,Z issue (most likely because they are exercising/stressing muscles/tendons that haven’t been used this way before) so they get some sort of orthodic, prescription or over the counter. The orthodic provides relief and the runner continues on. What the runner doesn’t realize is that this very orthodic is a crutch, much like bracing a weak bridge, yeah it’s providing the needed support, but it’s the bridge that needs strengthening or in this case the runner’s arch. The only way to do that is to “adapt” to running w/o the arch support. This was the very sort of adaption I went through when I abandoned my own orthodics and heavy/clunky trail running shoes for more minimal, low profile trail running shoes. I can’t tell you how much arch/lower leg pain I endured early on. But like getting used to the VFFs I took it all in moderation and little by little the pain went away and I adapted and now am a much stronger, less injury prone runner than I was before. So that is just one example of adaption. The problem with most modern runners, hardcore or recreational, is that they never have the courage to try adapting to less support etc… because it isn’t an overnight process and can actually feel worse in the short run. So many just continue with what they’ve been doing their whole running career and wonder why the short term solution they used long ago (the arch supports) are no longer preventing some new pain… It’s all a process IMHO. The body is an amazingly adaptable machine, it’s just a bit slow at it! πŸ™‚ Clearly there are limits though.

On the other hand, Rob, the fact that so many runners have the same problems “adapting” to running in sneakers might be an indication that it’s not a wise idea.

I have a good friend who’s an age-group runner (and he’s been running a lot longer than you), he has never had a problem running in sneakers. Or so he claims.

But if you see his feet, well, let’s just say that he’s never going to be the poster-boy for pretty feet.

He has all the typical “adaptations” to running in sneakers for years. Nasty bunions, toe nail problems. Yikes.

BTW: I don’t know that the problem with the 100/101s was due solely to the sneaker, as I have a recovering ankle injury. I suspect that that was more the issue. Clearly the 100/101s exacerbated it, while the Vibrams did not, but I don’t know that someone who didn’t have that problem would have the same experience.

Wow! What ingenuity! I ran in the MT100s this year and loved them until I think I did a 50 miler after they had broken down too much. Blackened toenails and since then I have foot cramping issues to various degrees (sometimes mild and sometimes truly felt, but not crippling). Worried about rocky, scree-like trail conditions for the Bear 100, I wore a pair of Sauconys that I ran in last year (shoes still had low miles). My feet took a beating! I think this stemed from running in a ‘non-minimalist’ shoe (after a season of wearing the minimalist shoe) and the fact that the VFFs have actually softened my feet. Thus, sloughing off my hard earned calluses. Now the decision is try out the MT101s or someone else’s minimalist shoe. My ultimate goal is to go bare. In the meantime, oh what to wear????

Mostly agree on all counts, especially if include “adapting” to VFFs in your first sentence, is it not a shoe?

The phenomenon of running VFFs is still very, very recent (still within the “fad” time frame at the moment) so there is no telling what the long term prognosis will be, good, bad or mixed (much like with typical running shoes).

I love doing some running in my VFFs, but I’m not about to abandon my running shoes. I just don’t by that VFFs are “the answer”; especially when I continually see on this site, and others, of folks complaining about this pain or that, or actual injuries, it really doesn’t seem all too different than the same complaints I read about on other, shod, running sites. Perhaps the ailments and injuries vary, but fact is, running, whether it’s shod, unshod, built up shoes, minimalist, etc.. is going to take a toll on all of us eventually.

My bottom line is this: if you’re comfortable running they way you are, don’t change, if you’re not and your experiencing injuries don’t be afraid to try something different. I think this cuts both ways of going more or less minimal.

Lynette, I wish I could claim credit.

I stole the idea from an ultra-runner named Anton Krupicka: he’s the athlete who designed the shoe with New Balance and another ultra-runner named Eric Skaggs.

As children, we never worried about pronation or supination and shoes that “corrected” our running form. Why do we have to worry about this now? Is it because we as adults buy into the marketing of more expensive = better shoe? More fancy lingo to describe the shoe means that it will fix all of my running aches and pains and will qualify me for Boston? The truth is that as adults, we tend to get more and more sedentary and over the years, our bodies forget what it means to “enjoy” running free without worries and concerns about our running form. My recommendation to people who complain about aches and pains due to running is to forget about the distance and just get out the door and run. Chase your children around the yard, play a quick of game of basketball, do whatever it takes to get your body active again. Strength training will also help “rehabilitate” our bodies back into a physical state of mind. Most injuries come from a “too fast, too long, to soon” type regimen. Let’s stop blaming our shoes, our knees, our bad feet for the inability to run and accept the fact that the only person to blame is you. Turn off the tube, get off the couch and get active again! Your body will love you for it. Most of all, have fun! Bring the kid back out and just run for fun. πŸ™‚

Eventually, our bodies start to wear down and that is a fact of life. We need to accept this little detail and adjust our active lifestyles too. If you ran 50-60 miles per week 20 year ago, you probably will be having a much harder time keeping up with the mileage today. One of the all-time greatest runners, Bart Yasso said it best when he stated that running has transformed for him from competitive sport to an enjoyable activity. He accepted his illness with lyme disease and understood his limitations. We should always accept our limitations.

Run free

The major problem with single toe compartment shoes has to do with narrowing at the toes which constricts the toes causing an unnatural gait. The pointy toebox forces the foot into a slightly pronated position the moment you put your foot in the shoe. The Fivefingers allows the big toe to be in a neutral position which helps support the arch and leads to less rotational force at the knee which may be causing the runners knee that Tuck has been experiencing. Until companies start making their toeboxes as wide as the Fivefingers, I think Vibram will continue to have a major advantage in the marketplace for minimal shoes.

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