Sunday, September 16, 2012

Review: Merrell Mix Master 2 Trail Shoe

When I was running my first Ultra at the Pineland 50K, my feet took a beating.  I wore my Trail Gloves (review here) and they performed spectacularly with one small exception.  My issue was that I had been running daily for about 105 days straight at that point (Part of the 120 day streak) and had developed a little bit of a sensitive bruise on my right foot.  The last 5 miles of that 50K were up and down long hills and the downhills were really punishing because every step was pain.  I was really wishing for a bit more protection.

Enter the Merrell Mix Master 2 generously provided by the good folks at Merrell.  Shown here with the Barefoot Train Flux Glove Sport (review coming soon).

Here are the nitty gritty details from the website

Made for transitioning through multiple adventures, our minimalist Mix Master multi-sport shoe lets you experience your BareForm™ while offering lightweight cushioning. With a 4mm heel to toe drop, its thinner, lighter midsole cushions while getting you closer to the ground for better control. The lightweight air mesh upper with bellows tongue fits snugly to keep out debris.
• Strobel construction offers flexibility and comfort
• Synthetic leather and air mesh upper
• 2 mm EVA insole for comfort and shock absorption
• TPU overlay provides a secure fit
• Bellows tongue keeps debris out
• Reflective elements on the heel and forefoot for added visibility
• EVA anatomical footbed treated with Aegis® antimicrobial solution

• Low profile midsole 9 mm heel / 5 mm ball = 4m Drop
• Merrell Float™ midsole is 10% thinner and 25% lighter to provide more feel and ground control
• Merrell air cushion in the heel absorbs shock and adds stability
• Forefoot shock absorption pad provides metatarsel protection
• 3 5 mm lugs for more street to trail feel
• Merrell Mix Sole / Sticky Rubber

Men’s Weight: 8.1 ozs (1/2 Pair)
What all of this really sums up to is a pretty darn good trail shoe that provides way more protection than Merrell's Barefoot line but still gives you some of the benefits of a barefoot shoe.

My Personal Experience:

I was a little hesitant about these shoes before getting them for two reasons.  The first is that they have a 4mm drop or heel-toe differential.  For most of the past 2 years, I have not worn a heel on any shoe and my knees have never felt better.  I was really worried about reintroducing that heel and the possibibility of knee pain.  I'm happy to report that I never noticed a difference with the heel on the trails.  I haven't used these on flat roads so I don't know if it would make a difference there.  The second concern was that the Mix Master 2 is constructed from a different last than the Merrell Barefoot line.  What this means in English is that the Mix Master 2 has a little more of a traditional shoe shape with a narrower forefoot.  In this regard, I am happy to report that the shoes fit me fine and I have never had anything approaching a blister though I do wear socks with these bad boys since they DO NOT have a sockless liner.  

Lest you think I wear rose colored glasses for Merrell and only see puppies and rainbows in their shoes, I will tell you about my one problem.  

The lacing was a bear to get right for me.  For my first few runs, I couldn't get it tight enough to keep my toes from jamming into the front on the downhills despite squeezing my foot to death.  This was really bumming me out because I was loving having the wonderful foam and rock plate on the rocky descents.  If only these shoes had the super awesome bestest Omni-Fit lacing system like the Trail Gloves, all would be right with the world.  Please Merrell, Please!
Merrell Trail Gloves with Omni-Fit Lacing

I was pondering this on a trail run when I thought about the lacing tricks that hikers do to get the hiking boot fit just right.  I came home and found a site on lace locking and my problems were solved.  In effect, the lace locking creates a localized Omni-Fit area.  

I can now get the tightness just right to keep my foot held back and not crush my entire foot in the process.  I highly recommend lace locking and have been experimenting with it on my other shoes as well.

I've logged about 100 or so trail miles on these shoes. My longest run was an 18 miler with a few 13 milers thrown in there too.  I've run some rugged rocky technical trails, some flat fire roads, and some steep hills.  The shoes did great under all conditions.  They allowed me to really dig into the uphills in spots where my Trail Gloves just didn't have the grip.  The foam and rock plate have allowed me to open up on the downhills and push to the edge of my control which is freaking amazingly fun and scary.  They are like a bullet proof vest for your feet.  And they go great with a Sport Kilt (click here for a review).
  • Rock plate and foam.  As my Altra wearing cousin tells me, "Embrace the foam side."
  • Lightweight upper makes them a fairly cool wearing shoe.
  • The bright green (Parrot) of my pair just looks fast.
  • 4mm drop was not noticeable on the trails.  YMMV
  • Not the Merrell Barefoot last.
  • Tough to get the lacing tightened correctly without lace locking.


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