The Leadville Trail 100 is well known as one of the toughest ultra-marathons around. It was made particularly famous by the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall where he tells the story of the mythical Tarahumara running the race in nothing more than homemade huarache sandals. Today the race is presented by New Balance and as a nod to the event’s heritage as well as its storied past, they have a namesake shoe built for the likes of Hope Pass. Today we’re going to take an in-depth look at a trail running shoe that New Balance sent to us that aims to embody the toughness and durability that the Leadville Trail 100 requires; the Leadville 1210v2.
The outsole of the 1210v2 is covered entirely by ultra-durable Vibram rubber. Surrounding 19 semi-triangular, ~3.5mm deep lugs in the central outsole are and additional set of ~18 (depending on how you count them) ~4mm deep, directional lugs. In front of the arch the perimeter lugs are angled toward the back of the shoe and are meant to grab when heading uphill and the lugs in the rear of the shoe do the opposite to assist with descents. Further adding to traction and ground feel is the fact that the outsole is full contact with so cutaways that might otherwise leave a gap between the shoe and the ground.
The trail I run tend to be pretty rocky and technical at times and I really wanted to put this shoe through its paces. Fortunately for me I’ve had incredibly varied conditions and terrain since I’ve taken the 1210v2 through snow, mud and dray trails. On snow the Leadville 1210v2 handled quite well, especially when the snow was a bit more packed and let the lugs grab. Moving on to muddier terrain, the lugs being pretty widely spaced meant absolutely no clogging that I could find; the one possible exception wasn’t really clogging so much as it was sticky mud glomming onto the entire bottom of the shoe which was cleared relatively easily by a few sideways kicks to a rock. On dry terrain the outsole of the 1210v2 shone for me. Are its lugs the deepest things out there? No, but their omnidirectional pattern held very well on some very steep terrain both ascending and descending. On looser, more technical ground there were a couple of times when I might have wanted something with a slightly longer lug but overall, I was very impressed with how well these held.
The Leadville 1210v2 is a shoe built for ultra runners according to New Balance. But I have to tell you, I’m not so sure I agree with that – but we’ll get into that a bit more later. The midsole of the 1210v2 is constructed primarily of New Balance’s REVlite foam which we’ve seen in many of their other offerings as it brings good cushioning in a 30% lighter package. Under the forefoot NB has included the N2 technology which is a type of material that provides not only more cushioning in high-impact areas but also a protective element functioning as a forefoot rock plate of sorts. Rounding out the midsole features is a bit of medial posting which is limited to running from the rear of the shoe to just under the backside of the arch (about 4.5 inches in my size 11’s). This isn’t really meant to make the Leadville 1210v2 a “stability” (as in “motion control”) shoe by any stretch of the imagination but rather, to just provide a bit more firmness underfoot for off-kilter terrain. All of this comprises stack heights of 28mm in the heel and 20mm in the forefoot for a net drop of 8mm.
Ok, so the “ultra” thing; I’ve seen people run ultras in super-cush shoes and I’ve seen people run ultras in minimalist shoes (and sometimes, no shoes at all) so I wasn’t really very sure what this would mean for the midsole of the 1210v2. So first let me address the drop; I prefer shoes with a drop of 6mm or less generally. However, more and more I’ve noticed that many shoes that have drops of over 6mm don’t necessarily feel like they’re over that magical threshold. This may be a byproduct of a more compressible heel or it may just be that it doesn’t matter to my feel as much as I think it does. In any event, the 1210v2 feels to me like it resides firmly in the 4-6mm of drop department and I like that.
The stack height is something else I was a bit interested in because sometimes higher stack shoes can wind up being a bit less than stable on technical terrain. In this case I didn’t find that. I was aware that I was a bit further off the ground than in other NB models but the 1210v2 held its own very well and I can happily report that no ankles were harmed during the testing of this shoe. The bit of medial posting that I mentioned (which can be see as the differently-colored foam in the medial heel area) truly didn’t affect me at all that I noticed. This is most probably because I’m a midfoot/forefoot runner and I just wasn’t landing on the heel of the shoe much at all. With that said however, there is plenty of under-heel cushioning for those that might be looking for it which gives the 1210v2 an amazing amount of comfort for just walking/kicking around.
With a shoe that’s meant for ultra marathons – and moreover, trail ultra’s like Leadville – it simply must have an upper that can keep up. The upper of the Leadville 1012v2 is made primarily from a dual-layer synthetic mesh which is fairly breathable but also manages to keep out dirt and debris very well. The support structure of the upper utilizes New Balance’s Fantom Fit tech. This structure manifests itself with a web of completely no-sew welded TPU supports that are not only meant to keep the shoe together but also to allow for movement with the foot. The tongue is fantastically padded with not too much foam but still just enough to keep any laces from digging in on descents of when laces are tied too tightly. One place I think could take a tip from the tongue is around the collar. As far as volume goes, there’s a bit more foam than I’d normally like though I didn’t find it affecting me negatively at all.
Rounding out the upper, the laces on the Leadville 1210v2 are New Balance’s Sure Laces. These small, but important little guys have a standard look and design where they pass through the throat but the part that is actually tied is uses a “bubble” design. Looking like a long sausage link the laces use thinner and thicker areas to ensure that the shoes do not come untied and additionally to allow for more custom lacing where needed. As advertised, there shoes did not once come untied (single-knotted) even once. The rear of the shoe and heel counter are quite robust and shape out a nice heel cup which is, in part, one of the hallmarks of New Balance’s UL (ultra-specific) last as well as good room for toe splay.
Some of the more recent shoes we’ve reviewed from New Balance have had some fit issues for us in that the toe box was often a bit pointed. The Leadville 1210v2 seems to have shaken off that problem and has a really wonderful fit in the toe box for me. Surely part of this is the shoe’s toe protection wrap/bumper that run fully around the toe of the shoe from the outside of the first metatarsal head to the outside of the fifth. This serves to create a nice, open feeling. In the midfoot the fit also does a nice job of feeling custom to the wearer’s needs. The amount of lacing as well as the well-gusseted tongue give ample room to open up for wider feet although, if you are someone who needs a wider shoe, the 1210v2 comes in 2E and 4E widths. The heel cup/are of the shoe is quite comfortable and my heel locked in nicely. As I mentioned earlier, I do feel like there could be less foam, or at least a lower volume of foam (like the tongue perhaps?) around the collar. Certainly not a non-starter for me, but I just think it would enhance the fit that much more.
As I’ve said before now a couple of times, I was interested to see what made this shoe “ultra” specific and if it would affect the performance or ride for me as a non (as of yet) ultra runner. First, ground feel; with a fairly substantial stack, I was afraid I wouldn’t feel anything underfoot. This is a yes and no. I had a pretty good sense of what was going on with the ground but I also felt sheltered from those feelings being too aggressive. For some this is ideal and I imagine that it would be the case for those ultra runners in the crowd since super-tactile ground feel would probably get old pretty quick over something like 100 miles. For me, it actually performed well and while I generally prefer a bit more ground feel, the Leadville 1210v2 didn’t bother me one bit.
Probably my two most picky things with a trail shoe are agility and response and I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised at both in the 1210v2. First, this shoe did a great job of being ready to rock-hop and scramble on everything from single-track to questionable off-road terrain. As far as response, I didn’t expect much from it because of it’s stack height and ultra-ness; however, as with the original Fresh Foam shoes, I was very surprised at how much pep a shoe with this much stack gave me. I believe that much of that pep comes from what is a pretty rigid (though it does have a bit of flexibility) midfoot and the response, while not that of a racer or anything, was nice, especially for a 10.9 ounce (men’s size 9) shoe. Side note: I haven’t really mentioned the weight of this shoe until now because I didn’t notice it. For a beefy trail shoe that does carry some weight in hand, it felt fantastic to me on the foot.
For $125 (though we did find them for $119 at Zappos: LINK) the Leadville 1210v2 is reasonably priced – this is especially true when you consider its durability and versatility. As I said alluded to in this review, I don’t think that this shoe is one that should be reserved for ultra runners at all. This is a good, all-around trail runner that I think a lot of people should take a serious look at. Kudos to New Balance on getting the pointy-toe thing figured and putting out a really great fitting shoe.
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Born and raised in the great state of Virginia, Brandon is a former opera singer (true story) who’s had the outdoors flowing through his veins since day one. Brandon now lives in Colorado with his daughter Sydney (AKA, Baby Gearist).