Footwear / September 18, 2020

The Ultimate Minimalist vs Maximalist Shoe Test: 100 Miles in the New Balance MT 110 vs Hoka One One Mafate

 New Balance MT110, $84.99,
The Good: Flexibility, a rock plate, grippyness and lightweight = minimal shoe that is awesome on trails.

The Bad: Maximal rocks + minimal shoes = OUCH!!!

Hoka One One Mafate, $150,

The Good: When you’re tramping on rocks for 100 miles, you’ll eventually want to switch to the big guys that are 3x thicker and 2x heavier but have little heel-to-toe drop, allowing you to float over rocks.

The Bad: Not figuring out the laces and tongue of the enormous clown shoe before running 27 miles = OUCH!!!

I am one of the many athletes who over the last few years discovered that less is more when it comes to running shoes. I’ve run ultra road and trail races in everything from shoes with 10mm of thickness to barely-there Vibram FiveFingers, and am confident that my Hobbit feet can stand up to a lot. However, I’ve also discovered that rocks hurt and that running on them for over 100 miles in a shoe that is as thin as your $5 Old Navy flip-flops is, well, pretty darn lame. I learned this best when the brutal Massanutten Mountains of Virginia persuaded me to drop out 49 miles into a 71-mile fat ass race called “The Ring.” The race director summed it up with an appropriate comment next to my results on the website: “Minimal shoes plus maximum rocks = DNF.

To redeem myself in the Massanuttens, I ran the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 mile race (MMT 100) in May 2012. Anyone that has run in Virginia’s Massanutten Mountains knows the importance of having a pair of shoes that can withstand the unforgiving rocks on nearly every mile of the trails. These mountains are known for cracking heads, bruising feet, and (at the very least) offering flesh wounds to their victims.

When the New Balance MT110 was released in January 2012, I was excited to have finally found a minimal shoe that would get me from mile 1 to 100 for most 100-milers. At the same time, I took interest in another type of shoe that some call minimal, others call maximal, and most people just laugh at and ask if they previously belonged to a clown. These shoes are made by the company Hoka One One. After seeing many of my friends tear up trails and races in Hokas, I bought a pair of the now-discontinued waterproof model of the Hoka Mafate trail shoe to see just how good the fat shoes feel. I’ll get back to the Hokas shortly…

Minimal Shoes and Maximal Rocks

With a 4mm differential from the heel to the toe, a flexible rock plate and 14mm of thickness between my forefoot and the ground, I thought there was a chance they’d be sufficient for Massanutten. But since I’m always prepared, I threw my Hoka One One waterproof Mafates into my mile 69 drop bag to slip on if my MT110’s needed to tag out for a break.

During the beginning of the race, the MT110’s were performing amazingly, gripping the terrain and allowing me to nimbly tiptoe from rock to rock on my forefoot. But as I chipped away at the miles, I started to feel the familiar pains of having too thin of a shoe on a rock-laden surface. There were a couple of times that I landed poorly-as inevitably happens in these races-and felt a sharp pain from rocks digging into the side or top of my foot. The upper of the shoe is made out of a thin breathable plastic, which makes the shoe very lightweight but unfortunately doesn’t protect your feet well up top. Around mile 45, I started to feel a bruise develop on the bottom of my foot and had some funky pains on the side from rock jabs. I was ready for more protection.

Clown Shoes, Floating, and Swollen Feet

I reached the mile 69 aid station and pulled out my Hokas to give my feet a reprieve from the rocks. There was only one small hitch … I had never worn the Hokas for a run! Yikes. (So much for being prepared.) I switched into my Hokas, did a little dance to see how they felt, and glided away from the aid station into the setting sun. For you technical geeks, the Mafates are nearly 3x bigger (40mm) and 2x heavier (11.3oz) than the MT110s. I was a happy fella as I floated and ran faster over the rocks, and my bruises were no longer an issue. The shoes were heavy, gave little ground feel and they got a bit toasty, but I was able to land on my forefoot with the 4mm heel-to-toe differential. About 22 miles into wearing the Hokas, I started to feel an increasingly sharp pain in my right ankle. I wasn’t sure what it was all about.

Most feet swell when running long distances. My feet swell more than most. I didn’t test the lacing and the tongue of the shoe ahead of time, so they dug into my ankles and I realized it too late to come up with a solution. After completing the 27 mile loop, I returned to the same aid station at mile 97 at 3:30 am. By then, I’d removed the laces from several eyelets, and was hobbling from the sharp pain in my swollen ankles. I immediately told the aid station volunteers I was going to drop the race, but they convinced me to lie down for a bit. After a 40-minute nap, during which people I’d once had an hour lead over passed me, a captain decided it was time for me to finish the race and kicked me out of the station. I switched into my MT110′s, and my exhausted and delusional self completed the final 6 miles by walking, scooting and eventually running again.

In the end…

I finished in 26 hours and with a big smile on my face. I learned that the Hokas were great to protect my feet from the MMT rocks and to help me stay up on my forefoot. I also learned that I dislike the tongue of the shoes and need to reconfigure the laces so they don’t dig into my ankles. Both of these shoes are ideal for trails, and the combination of the two led to an eventful race. Overall, the MT110′s are a great shoe for ultras, but I wouldn’t recommend them for mileage over 50 on rocky terrain. I’d go with the maximal shoe for tough, rocky high-mileage races-but not before taking both pairs of shoes out for some training runs first.


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Tags:  footwear hoka one one hoka one one mafate Massunutten Mountain Trails 100 maximalist shoes minimalist shoes new balance new balance mt 110 running trail running trail running shoes ultrarunning

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