Brendan Murray is a product manager for New Balance, and is currently leading the charge on the re-issue of the now classic Trail 101, which is expected to become available in 2015. As some of you may remember, the NB 101 was one of the first lightweight trail shoes to hit the market. Originally released in 2010, the 101, along with its predecessor in the 100, helped pave the way for an entire movement of lightweight and low profile footwear, affecting how we envision trail-specific running shoes today.
We were lucky enough to get Brendan to answer a few questions about the upcoming re-issue of the Trail 101, the production process of the shoe, and about the design process of new footwear in general.
RW: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How long have you been with New Balance, and what are some projects you’ve worked on in the past?
BM: I have been in the footwear industry for over 17 years now and this year will be my 10th year with New Balance. It has truly been an amazing experience here.
In that time I have had the great opportunity to work on a number of amazing projects, from our heritage 990 series to our more specialized track and field spikes models. And I think that is why I love my job so much. With the range of projects I get to work on for the end consumer there never is a boredom that happens – I am always being challenged to learn new type of runners.
What is your running background?
I have been running since high school. I grew up in Las Vegas – a place where most people wouldn’t think of running during the day, but when the weather is all you are used to, you don’t seem to notice that you are running in 100+ degree weather for track practice or by yourself in the desert. I never really lost the passion for the sport and always did the occasional road race after college but when I moved out to Boston, that is when I really took on a whole new appreciation for the sport. From the difference in weather – it was obviously much cooler! – to the plethora of available races, my interest in the sport really grew.
Although I have done a couple marathons (Boston and Portland, OR.) and really enjoyed them I am quickly becoming addicted to the Ultra distances. I just completed my second 50 miler and hope to do another one in the fall. That distance really tests my limits and resolve and I think that is why I love it so much. It also doesn’t hurt that the “ultra-running” community are just so incredibly down to earth and easy to talk to, it’s hard not to want to run more of these type of races.
For those that don’t know, the 101 was one of the first low profile and lightweight trail shoes out there. What is prompting you to go back to the original?
Ha! I get it. Why re-launch a model when you have newer options to choose from? It’s a great question and I get it. We have launched a number of great lightweight trail options since the 101: Our Minimus Trail 10, 00, 1010 and of course our 110 have all been amazing lightweight trail shoes. What prompted me to re-launch the 101 was two-fold: 1) The continuous requests I have been getting via email or even at trail events to bring back the 101. I have never experienced such a following for one particular model before. I couldn’t help but answer their requests. And 2) Why not? For a runner your shoe is arguably the most important item you use, so when you find a great shoe to run in, why not have the chance to get back in it after a break from it. I noticed that it is a standard to do re-issues in the lifestyle footwear category and it all makes sense. But why can’t this be done in the performance category?
We know Anton Krupicka had a role in designing the original 101 as well as its predecessor, the 100. Did he have any influence on this version of the shoe?
We really have been so lucky to have our team of ambassadors like Anton to help drive the creation process of our performance trail models. Just recently he was instrumental in helping us with our new 110v2 that hits in July, but for this reissue we really wanted to keep what made the 101 so great, as is. So we just kept the adjustments strictly to be the mesh and synthetics, and colors of course. The key objective on this project was to provide the same fit and feel that made this model great..
How closely will the new 101 resemble the original? What are some of the changes that we will see in the new 101?
The new re-issue really should be the same fit and feel as the original. The main difference you will find is that the mesh will have a different cosmetic but the same protective / breathability the original had. And of course it will be a brand new colorway in both genders.
What point in the production process of the new 101 are you at now?
We are in the middle of our wear testing process right now. This really let’s us know if there are any issues with the materials or performance of the shoe. This process takes a couple weeks.
How much of a role does athlete feedback play in the design of a new shoe like the 101? In the same sense, how much does customer feedback play into the redesign of a shoe?
Alot. Both our Ambassadors and customer input are absolutely essential in making new product. The wider scope of feedback we can gather the better when it comes to making a particular running shoe.
Over the past few years we’ve seen minimalism come and go, peaking with close to barefoot models like the 00. Do you see the 101 as being in a bit of a sweet spot between minimal and more traditional shoes?
I do. The great thing about the 101 is that although it is incredibly light, it has aspects that are closer to a more traditional shoe versus a minimal/barefoot model. For example most people are blown away when they find out it has a 10mm off-set and the heel cushioning is nearly twice the height of cushioning versus our Minimus T10 model.
The original 101 came out right before the introduction of the Minimus collection. Will the new 101 be a part of Minimus? What can we expect with the Minimus collection take going forward?
We will continue to keep the 101 separate from our Minimus line. There are key elements that represent our Minimus line (e.g. a more naturalist off-set, wider forefoot for foot expansion, etc.) that the 101 does not reflect.
Although we have seen a drop in the minimalism category we want to make sure we continue to provide for the community of runners who find their best performances in such models. Who knows, maybe one day there will be a running shoe that is perfect for everyone. But until that day, the reality is there are so many different types of runners, we want to make sure we provide as many options as we can to address their needs.
What’s the next focus for you after the 101 project?
Right now we are in the middle of working on our projects planned for the back half of 2015. Models like our trail 910 and fresh foam trail 980. And I can’t forget that we are just now starting our planning for 2016! Did I mention how much I love this job???
Many thanks to Brendan for taking the time to answer these questions. We will have more information on the re-issue of the New Balance Trail 101 closer to its release in 2015.