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March 5, 2009

New Balance 858 Running Shoe Review

When it comes to shoes, I’m the Imelda Marcos of runners.

I’ve got a designated pair of running shoes for just about every conceivable condition. I’ll wear a different pair of shoes for a hilly 3-hour trail run than I would for 90 minutes on fire roads, another pair for slopping through the mud, and still another for a hybrid road/trail run. On the roads, I wear different pairs depending on whether I’m doing a tempo run or base mileage around the neighborhood. And I haven’t even mentioned the variety of track shoes I own.

It’s gotten to the point where shoes overflow my closet space, and end up getting stacked upon each other on bedroom shelves or – more commonly – strewn across the bathroom floor. I’d describe the situation as problematic … except that I’m not quite ready to admit that I need help yet. I’m like the addict who has to hit rock bottom first – and in the meantime, I just tell myself that everything is perfectly fine.

Things didn’t used to be this way. In fact, for the first several years that I was a runner, I didn’t have trail shoes or road shoes or track shoes; I simply had a pair of running shoes, that I would use wherever, and through whatever conditions, my feet carried me. More often than not, that pair of shoes was made by New Balance.

When I was a dedicated road runner, I spent several years logging between 50-80 miles per week, and racing three or four marathons per year. During that period of time, my favorite shoes were the New Balance 850 series – they were comfortable and durable enough to tolerate the high weekly mileage, versatile enough to use on either roads or trails, and light enough to use in races (at the time, doing four marathons per year wasn’t enough to justify having separate racing shoes; I was a lot cheaper back then than I am today). Best of all, as the models were periodically updated, New Balance was usually smart enough to not make dramatic changes – they simply made minor improvements to a line that enjoyed widespread popularity – and I continued to buy one pair after another.

So when New Balance Harrisburg offered me a chance to review the New Balance 858, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. (I know, I know … I always say yes. But occasionally I hesitate.)

The 858 (and its more recent offspring, the 859 – more on that in a minute) is designed as a high-mileage stability shoe. Since I’m 6’2”, 190 lbs, and pronate my feet, the structure and weight of the shoe is just about perfect. For smaller runners, or those without pronation concerns, the shoe may feel a bit too bulky.

I could go into specifics about all of the technological developments these shoes feature – such as the NLock lacing system, Abzorb SBS shock absorption, TS2 pronation support, or Acteva midsole foam – but honestly, I probably can’t explain them adequately, and you probably don’t care. The most important thing I can tell you about the 858s is that when I laced them up and started cranking out the miles, they felt exactly the same way that all of my old 850 series trainers did. They’re still comfortable, versatile, and durable – and if you’re a larger runner looking for a single all-purpose shoe, these would be a great choice.

The 858 even won a “best update” distinction from Runner’s World magazine when it was released – but if you look on the New Balance website today, you won’t be able to find it. That’s because it has been updated and replaced by the 859 – which warrants a brief description of my shoe buying practices.

Almost without exception, I buy shoes that are one model behind the current version – the benefits of which are twofold. First, I get to read plenty of reviews and hear feedback about new models after they’ve been tried and tested by the masses. In some cases, lukewarm reviews will help me avoid a shoe that had great buzz but ended up being kind of a dud (like this year’s Montrail Wildwood – which I may discuss in a future post). The primary benefit, though, is cost – because if you think I can stock a closet full of running shoes by paying retail price every time, you’re crazy.

Since the 858 has been updated, a Google search will give you several vendors who sell it for less than $60. New Balance Harrisburg, who sponsored this review, sells the 858 online, although they still charge close to full retail price. The good news is, even at retail, you’re still getting your money’s worth with these shoes – but if it were me, I’d probably shop around to find the best deal.

The 858s probably won’t cure me of my shoe fetish, but I'm definitely pleased to have them in my closet.

See previous product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you'd like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.


Dave 3/5/09, 2:02 PM  

New Balance 768 for road, Soloman XT wings for rugged trails, Cascadia III's for short, non techncial trail runs,...never full price, always on sale...and when NB changes the model and they go on 1/2 price...buy a boat load of them...your closet/bedroom looks like mine...and I freaking don't have a freaking problem either...leave me a -freaking- lone!!!!;-)...(did I say that outloud?)

Sunshine Girl 3/5/09, 5:10 PM  

Donald is a SHOE WHORE! Now, go get your boots on...I mean, your shoes on and we will see you at Diablo in 6 weeks.

Bruce 3/6/09, 12:25 AM  

I've never opted for New Balance before, perhaps being more drawn to the better known brands. I lot of people seem to swear by them though so maybe I'll give them a try next time?

David 3/7/09, 1:08 PM  

I'd be just as addicted if I had anyplace to put them. Mrs. T is the ultimate shoe addict and she pretty much consumes all shoe storage space in our three bedroom closets plus a portable closet in the hall.

Alisa 3/8/09, 3:51 PM  

Nice review. I love that you admit to being E.Marcos!

I do love my shoes.

I've only worn New Balance once and I gotta say, I was not a fan. Next time I hit up my running store maybe I'll try some on.

Rick Gaston 3/10/09, 3:15 PM  

I started with New Balance myself. When I decided I wanted to try running I went to a specialty running store and the owner fit me in a pair of NB's. Ran my first marathon in NB's. Recently they've come out with some speedy looking trail shoes, I'm intrigued.

I just read Sunshine Girl's comment. I can't believe Diablo 50 is a mere six weeks away now. Where does the time go.

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