We got our chance to take look at the New Balance Leadville and immediately could tell it was a shoe designed for distance. It’s the namesake for one of the biggest ultra races in the country the Leadville 100 (now sponsored by New Balance), made famous in Born to Run, but we were skeptical as to whether he could live up to the expectations. To test it out, we put it through the ringer and ran it on some trails and saw how well it performs and wanted to report back.
The Leadville isn’t an all new design for New Balance, it’s based on existing structure and form factors from the rest of their line. They made it just a little tougher. This is a good thing as New Balance has a very distinct build style and if you already love them, then you are ahead of the game. Most ultra runners are looking for a combination of comfort, cushioning, and control. This then equates to performance. Also, you don’t want to worry about having to change your shoe mid run because it’s wearing out on you and trust me, a lot of runners do this because they want to maintain a consistent feel.
First Time Out of the Box
My very first reaction after slipping on the Leadville was the feeling of comfort, way more than your normal trail shoe. The shoe, at its core, felt like a normal everyday runner and you don’t notice anything particularly different about how its built differently for distance. I did sense things like some sort of rock guard, pretty solid lugs underfoot, the additional reinforced upper, and even the fact it was a little less flexible, but if I didn’t know what I was stepping into I might have mistaken it for a road shoe. It fits true to size and has a larger toe box than many New Balance shoes which I love. So all in all, great out of the box experience.
A Very Technical Sole and Bulletproof Outsole
The sole and lugs on the 1210v2 are basically like a work of art. The entire outsole is made up of Vibram rubber which is ultra-durable making it pretty much bulletproof on the outside. On top of that you will find about 18 3-4mm lugs that are multi-directional. The lugs in front of your arch are angled backward giving you more grip on the uphills and the ones on the back are angled forward for descents. Its a very well thought out design and shows the care that went into the issue. The lugs are also spaced apart far enough that they don’t clog up all that much as well. So while the lugs visually seem small, the design makes them highly effective.
The tagline for the Leadville should read, built for ultra runners. That being said, I don’t consider myself an ultra guy, but I run some decent distances and these most definitely work just for me. The midsole is composed of their proprietary REVlite which gives you a ton of cushion and instead of sticking a real rock plate in there, they went with their N2 technology. So basically, you get some protection and stiffness underfoot and the shoe still remains really light. The other thing about the Leadville is that the drop is on the higher side, around 8mm. You might think this leads to control issues, but just the opposite and I think its probably due to the overall design working so well in harmony. Its also got a wider toe box than normal New Balance shoes which is a really welcome addition, yes I am saying it again because YES.
Style and Aesthetic
I always include this one simply because it’s always somewhat important to me, but a few people gloss over this in favor of performance. I think New Balance has done a great job with the styling question. There are two colorways, the blue/yellow and a gray/green and both are a happy medium between those who are resistant to high contrast shoes and to those who want a pop. Neither are too in-your-face, yet both have enough color to give you that little something on the trail. They also look quite aggressive from the side given the lug angles and the stitching patterns. I quite liked the blue and yellow mix of the two.
On the trails
Now the part you’ve all been waiting for, how they run. First off, I would say these are probably my favorite new New Balance shoes I’ve tried to date for a number of reasons. They tick two of the boxes required by ultrarunners and that is comfort and cushion. You get plenty of cushion and support on trails and you get a solid amount of ground feel without destroying your feet in ruts and on rocks. You skim over debris and the custom rock plate does a great job of protecting your foot. Some ground feel is good and I think they struck a good balance between a maximum level of conditioning by providing enough that you maintain control while not having your foot get worn out. Some people like a much different shoe on the trails than they do when they run on roads, but I favor consistent performance. For me I found it to be a good balance and I honestly felt like I could take the Leadvilles on the road and they would perform just as well.
At distance, I found the Leadville performed admirably. My feet never wore out, never felt sore, and I always maintain some level of control regardless of how tired my legs got which is very important at distance. My only caveat on the shoe is traction and that is it has a good amount, but it’s not super grippy, so on really wet days where there was a lot of roots and larger rocks I tended to find a little bit of slipping. This was a very remote case and for the most part it provided more than enough control for fire road or singletrack both hard and soft.
We found the New Balance Leadville’s live up to their name admirably and do a great job being a strong contender as top trail shoe. They do lack some level of flexibility and don’t always do a great job in really really wet conditions, but for the majority of trail runners of any distance, they are definitely a great option. They look good and if you are a New Balance fan, then they could definitely be something to add to the repertoire. Basically, the Leadville is a really comfortable shoe that just happens to run the trails like a dream.
The New Balance Leadville 1210v2 are $124.99 and available direct from New Balance or at your local running store.