The current marketing campaign out of the Lawrence, Massachusetts based footwear manufacturer is, "Let's make excellent happen." This phrasing requires two different things to occur, based on semantics: first, New Balance needs to produce an excellent product; second, the runner needs to produce an excellent effort.
It is under these circumstances that I was able to wear test the 1190, another in the "new" New Balance running product line. More on such circumstances later, though, as we must talk about what that "new" New Balance line means.
The Techno Babble
As part of the movement to make excellent happen, New Balance has decided to reform not just the construction of their shoes, but also the naming convention that they have used for decades. This means that an awful lot of people are left scratching their heads, wondering what happened to their beloved shoe. Not to fear, as specialty running retailers that have done their homework will be able to piece the successive story together.
The new naming convention takes the New Balance style numbers, and breaks them into two separate categories. The first digit, or two digits, refers to the respective placement in the New Balance product line. So, that old adage that the higher the number, the better the shoe? Well, it's not quite that, but it's a rough idea. So a shoe starting with an 8 will probably not have the same bells and whistles as a shoe that starts with 12. But that 8 will have more going for it than a shoe starting with a 6.
But it's the last two digits of the shoe that will tell you what type of shoe you're dealing with. Think of the system as a speedometer. The scale starts with 40, and ranges up to 00. So, the lower the number, the more inefficient the foot the shoe is trying to fit. So, the 40s refer to motion control shoes; the 60s are your moderate stability shoes; the 70s are your blend, or light stability shoes; 80s are neutral shoes; 90s are performance trainers; and 00s are competition shoes.
With all of that in mind, then, the 1190 comes in as a top level performance trainer. The shoe features a mild midfoot pronation control device, meaning that it will come in against the Brooks Racer ST5, the Saucony Mirage, the Asics DS-Trainer, and the K-Swiss Kwicky Blade Light. The midsole material is coined N-Ergy, which is New Balance's current blend of ethylene vinyl acetate. The advantage, according to New Balance, is that their material is a fair bit softer and lighter than other manufacturer's blend of EVA.
The upper is mostly light mesh, with a suede insert in the midfoot to help aggressively wrap the arch. There is an interior liner that separates the stitching on the outer upper from the foot. I personally did not choose to test these without socks, but I could foresee somebody having success by choosing that route.
According to New Balance, the shoe weighs an impressively precise 9.01 ounces. Per usual, this is for a size 9 option, so with my 12.5 boats, I need to take this with the entire Morton's salt container. To compare against other published weights, this is .3 ounces heavier than the Saucony Mirage, and .01 ounces heavier than the K-Swiss Kwicky Blade Lights.
So, about those circumstances...
I received an e-mail from the store about a month ago, asking if I wanted to run in the Reach the Beach Relay in New Hampshire. For the uninitiated, Reach the Beach is a 200 mile relay race, ranging from Cannon Mountain in Franconia, down to Hampton Beach. Of course, this was precisely 3 weeks after my meltdown at Timberman. So, why the hell not?
I discovered that the team I would be running on was being put together by our New Balance sales rep, Colin, and would include other members of the New Balance corporate team. Pressure much? Only a little. Especially when considering that I had no New Balance shoes at home, and one van would include the CEO of the company. I think it would be prudent to be wearing their product.
As race date drew closer, I received a 2nd e-mail, asking if I wanted to run the "hero" leg of the race: 22.53 miles total. Sure! Why not? Only later did I find out that this included the hardest leg of the whole event: 9.3 miles in the middle of the night, with a 6 mile long climb in the middle of it. Thanks, Colin!
So under the pressure of running with some industry giants, while running the longest legs of the race, I had to wear a brand new shoe. This was going to either be fantastic, or terrible.
So, how'd they run?
It's a great shoe.
Let's get a bit more detailed here. When you first put this shoe on, much like the K-Swiss reviewed here before, it's an unassuming shoe. You put it on and go, "Huh. Well, it's comfortable. But there's not much going on here." In my opinion, I think that's the point of what New Balance was going for. You aren't looking for this shoe to be uber-plush; you want lightweight, cushioned enough to run in, and an upper that's comfortable. Just the facts, ma'am, and let's get moving!
To that extent, New Balance hit a home run. The shoe is a bit firm, particularly in the heel. But this allows for a level of responsiveness and knowledge of what the foot is doing, that stride correction is very easy to attain. There is an incredible amount of feedback provided to the body during the course of running in these.
The upper is, without a doubt, the best one that I have run in. There's no comparison. It wraps the midfoot well, and then opens up into a very nice, wide toebox. It allows plenty of forefoot splay without feeling sloppy. It doesn't bunch. I ran all of my legs in the race in this shoe, and never blistered. I coupled the shoe with Feetures! Light socks; it was a dream combination for my feet.
I was also pleasantly surprised at how well the shoe ran in a midfoot position. It has a bit more heel-toe offset than the Mirages, and most shoes that have done this as of late have given me Achilles or IT band trouble; none of this came up during the course of running the race. Overall, again, think higher cadence and shorter stride length in this shoe to be happier with it; there's no slowing down a heel strike here.
The drawbacks? For a triathlete, this shoe won't provide any moisture prevention, so soggy shoes will be an issue on the run if you're dumping water or ice on yourself. There's no drainage, or tabs. But to be honest, I don't see this as a problem at all; having run races before, as long as the shoe fits well, you should not expect any issues.
Overall, my impression is that New Balance has truly made excellent happen with the 1190. I am proud to add this shoe to my quiver. It will probably become my daily trainer, and road race arrow, leaving the Kwicky's as my tri shoe, and the Mirage as my tempo shoe.
Sizing: True to size
Note on gear reviews: I am never paid to provide an opinion. As a specialty running retailer, I am often given products to wear-test. This is how I come across footwear that is reviewed and detailed here. I will also review products that I have paid for myself. However, as a general rule, assume that I was "seeded" product by a manufacturer unless otherwise written.
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