Definitely Minimal, Certianly Expensive: A Personal Experience with the New Balance HI-REZ

Published a couple years ago, Born to Run, described secretive Indians living in hard to find desert wilderness with the super human capacity to run very long distances. Most amazing of all is their feat of extended distances absent modern running shoes and the luxury of dri-fit sweat wicking first world clothing. Don’t even try to imagine running without sunglasses, bubble gum shoes or a matching outfit. You want to look cute right? Running is the fashion show of sports you know. Anyhow, the spirit of the book was that after all their endurance and less than ideal equipment these Indians don’t suffer from the ailments plaguing millions of runners in their right minds or any other ailment. The strong advocacy was for minimalist running. These respected Indians’ notion of footwear is a thin leather soles and leather laces to wrap around ankles.

Nearly five years later this book led me to minimalist running through the New Balance HI-REZ. Free shipping, a one week wait, and $120USD later, I try these shoes on and prepare for running bliss. Feeling closer with the road I expected. Extremely light to the I-didn’t-know-I-was-wearing-shoes weight of 4 oz per shoe. So flexible that I folded FOLDED these shoes an stuffed them into my pockets. The feeling was incredible and New Balance might as well advertise wings. But that’s another company named after Greek mythology.

Towards the end of the first 5k that warm mid-July night my sore calves reminded me of the warning label on these shoes. The warning label effectively cautioned using these shoes slowly in small increments. Yeah, I disregarded the advise and ran as normal. Having run for the past 10 plus years I always considered myself a minimalist runner even before I had a name for it. Cross country teammates said I ran like a bitch which really meant I ran pretty which really really meant I had good form. And I still do though I don’t hear “ho bitch” much. What a shame. The last mile or so was just a preview of what to expect. Calves were sore and they let know it like hungry infant twins.

During that night run through the neighborhood sidewalks I unintentionally scared a fellow runner. Sure I caught up to him from behind and he did not see or sense me. Maybe I should have announced myself and asked for his permission to pass. Really scared he was. Sorry bro but it’s the shoes. Or maybe that I was running solely on the soles of my feet and my calves were taking the hit for the team. Well, I did hold my breath on purpose as I approached to deepen the effect of a fictional silent night runner. Showboat a bit when you have the chance.

The soreness continued after the run and into the next day. Soreness as the only connector between these two days. Taking a different running style I slowed pace and changed my running gait the next day. Small choppy steps instead of long strides. Forefoot strikes instead of tippy toe running. The second night’s run was good and for the next three weeks I continued the same running style. One month into the HI-REZ experiment the infant twins have recovered and generally my feet felt stronger. So I extended my running gait and began to feel normal again. Back to my normal running gait.

The shoes however show obvious wear. Those chicklet-sized “pixels” that resemble pads on a cat’s feet were wearing out quickly. This after only maybe 50 miles. Another 50 miles and these shoes will probably reach their end of life though maybe I might be able to have them around in good enough condition for house shoes. The $120USD HI-REZ are certainly for bourgeois runner, but they are so very worth it. Relatively, this is one of those affordable luxuries. Buy the Porsche just once and it could change your running outlook. Or stay content and sheltered with the Camry and never know of such an experience.

What exactly have I just paid for? I typically always say this out loud after splurging a bit and usually rationalize it as the intellectual cost of the design. Total materials alone won’t get you to $120USD and neither will the technology behind the placement of the pods on the soles. New Balance, in some hype videos, allude to all the work needed to design and create the pods so they don’t fall off. That’s pretty much BS after having purchased the shoes. Sure New Balance tries to demonstrate value but its difficult to justify it after actually owning the shoes.

Perhaps it is the privilege of having access to a wonderfully designed shoe. What else could there be aside from design? Without design and the corporate guts to produce this type of shoe there is nothing. And nothing is exactly what you end up with. Nothing in materials. Nothing in design and by this I mean minimal. And 100 miles in literally nothing is left of the shoes. It’s something of a transcendence after realizing that for many years you thought you needed cushioning or stability to enjoy the innate instinct to run. It was all a lie. Now that makes sense. I’ve found truth.

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