Tag Archives: new balance

Inside the New Balance Factory and Sports Research Lab

So this is one of my last Reach the Beach-related posts…probably. There’s a few more things about the race still on my mind that I may blog about, but I’ll at least spare you a few days!

One of the other really cool things we did was go on a tour of the New Balance factory in Lawrence, Mass.–about 40 minutes outside of Boston.

While this tour would have been interesting to me just as a blogger who was interested in running, it also held special meaning to me for a few other reasons.

First of all, they’re my client, so it was completely invaluable to learn more about the background of the company I’m working with. The past six months, I’ve loved working on this account, but seeing the factory in person really brought it all to life and made me feel even more connected with NB.

Secondly, until recently, my dad owned a textile factory in NJ, despite most of his competition going over to China–so New Balance’s commitment to American manufacturing really makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.


The facility in Lawrence we went to is one of New Balance’s five U.S. factories. The company is committed to manufacturing 25 percent of its shoes in the U.S–which is 25 percent more than any other American running shoe company.

While this is obviously good for keeping jobs here, it also helps the company because its retail partners can maintain a lower inventory at any time, since the shoes aren’t coming as far. It also means that if you customize 990s or 993s online, you can get them on your doorstep within a week.


Sarah made a very important phone call from the lobby before our tour started.


Safety first–we had to wear these safety goggles and closed-toed shoes.


And…yeah. Our New Balance and RTB friends quickly realized what a pack of bloggers means: lots of “can you take a picture with my camera?”

[photo via Jack at pixelwiremedia.com / rtbrelay.com]


The shoes’ uppers are constructed from synthetics and pigskin sourced from Maine and cut by hand.





They are cut down, and then the Ns are sewn on. (The shoes we saw being made are the 990s, the company’s heritage shoe.)


The upper is then formed before the sole is put on. Once the sole is put on, the shoe is put in heat to form the shape. It’s then put through a metal detector to make sure there are no pieces of metal in the shoe.



In this factory, the 990, 812 walking shoe and 706 walking shoe are produced. (Walking is a big market for New Balance’s U.S.-made shoes.)

I also thought the corporate culture I saw in the factory was really interesting.


Every year, each associate is responsible for coming up with a problem-solving idea, which is then displayed on this wall.


There was also this poster on the eight deadly wastes, one of which is “unused associate creativity.” The company really values the contributions of everyone.


After the tour, we went down to the Sports Research Lab, which interacts with and tests athletes from high school athletes and runners from local running clubs to elite Team New Balance runners.


It was really freaking cool. We started off trying out a device that measures how your foot distributes weight, aka the loading rate.


You step on this…


And it spits out this graph, which also shows your arches. It can’t show height, but it shoes whether they’re long or not. I think this graph is Sarah’s feet, but they said my arches were long. (Probably because I’m a bigfoot.)


Afterwards, they split us into three groups and rotated us among the stations.

We started off with the Glass Top Kistler Force Plate, which measures the forces people apply to the ground in all directions while a camera below the plate captures the foot landing. It’s one of the only glass top force plates in the United States.


I first walked over it and then ran over it.


The initial bump in this graph shows that I heel-struck a bit, but not too dramatically.


They had tons of competitors’ shoes to test.


Next, we went into the Smash Lab.


We learned that the more firm the foam, basically the more it protects your foot and leg. He showed us with a softer foam, and we saw the machine hit the foam harder and leave an indent. The stiffer foam absorbed more of the impact and didn’t leave an indent.


This MTS Mini Bionix System applies force and torque to simulate an athlete’s use of the shoe. It can replicate 6-8 weeks of wear in two to three days.


This machine measures traction, and how much force it takes to move the foot within the shoe.


[via Monica]

Next, we got to run on a treadmill to measure gait. Even for 30 seconds, running without a sports bra was…interesting.


DO YOU SEE THAT MIDFOOT STRIKE? It is a thing of beauty.

They explained, though, that it’s much easier to not heel-strike barefoot–hence the whole barefoot running trend and their Minimus line.

But still. I’m going to pretend I just have a pretty midfoot strike like that.


Finally, we learned about perception testing.

Do you see his weird goggles? We all have subconscious (and conscious) brand preferences. They found that if they brought in runners who were used to, say, Brooks, and asked them to try on a Brooks and a New Balance, if they could see them, they’d always pick Brooks. They also noticed that some people would always choose the shoe on their right foot, no matter what. So they started using these googles so their testers couldn’t see their feet.

They suggested, that if you’re trying on a few different pairs of shoes, to not just try one on each foot, but to switch the shoe on each foot so you don’t select the shoe you’re naturally biased towards.

And that’s it! Our tour concluded in their factory store, where I ended up buying the skirt I wore on my last leg. #thingsidontneed #notevenalittlebit


If you could go inside any company’s office/factory, what company would be? (Or what cool company have you been inside of?)

Reach the Beach: Day 2

Last we left off, we’d gone through one round of our team, and I was trying to get some sleep in the van, semi-unsuccessfully.

We got to the Van Transition Area (the points where our entire team was together for a little while while we transitioned from Runner #6, Sarah, to Runner #7, Tina) around 11:15, but we weren’t expecting the second van to get in until about 1:30am.

I sort of thought I’d be able to sleep while Tina and Monica, the runners before me, were running. I mean, I wasn’t running, so I could sleep, right? But as soon as our van mom’s alarm went off, we were all up and ready to cheer on the rest of our runners.

Tina and Monica went before me. I’d been a little nervous about the whole nighttime running thing, but watching Monica freak out right before my leg freaked me out a little, too. What would it really be like to run in the dark at 3:30?

In order to stay safe while running in the dark, there were a few things we did: wore reflective vests, sweet New Balance hats with lights and blinking lights on the vest.


[photo of Elizabeth, via Tina]

I don’t have any pictures of myself in the dark, but just picture me wearing a long-sleeved awesome pink New Balance shirt with black capris, and it’s pretty much the same thing.

The running hat with lights was one of the things I couldn’t quite wrap my head around before the race. Would the hat really throw off enough light? Would it really be so dark that I need it? Yes, and yes.

This leg was 6.51 miles. Although when I first saw how nervous Monica was, I became nervous myself, by the time it was my turn, I’d seen how wonderful the team was at supporting her on the course and was less scared. The van “hopscotched,” meaning that Monica would run half a mile, and the van would run up to meet her (cheer for her, jump out in a banana costume.)

Before each leg, NB Monica would ask us what we needed for the leg–when did we want her to stop? Would we need water? (There’s no water out on the course, which makes sense, but is an interesting difference from traditional races.)

I didn’t want to play hero, so I asked Monica to stop just as frequently for me as she had for Monica. I started off the first mile with my lower back really tight from sitting/sleeping in the van, and I was nervous it would hurt for the rest of the run, but I stopped for a second to stretch out a little and, very luckily, it ended up being fine. The first 3-4 miles were pretty dark, but I was less scared than I thought I’d be. I thought I’d be terrified. Every once in a while, in the stretches in between meeting up with the van, I’d think I heard footsteps and turn around to look…but they were my own.

By mile 4ish, I was getting into Foxborough. Not only was it starting to get lighter out (it was after 4 at this point), but there was a nice little downtown with streetlights (streeeeetlights, peeeople…ohhhhh ohh….), so I felt much more comfortable with this overnight running thing. Once I got around mile 3.5-4, I picked up the pace because I was just ready to be done and back in the van. About a mile or so before the end, some dude passed me, and I picked up the pace. I knew I’d never pass him back, but thinking about picking up my pace helped. I gave myself a goal for this leg, too–and it was to run 6.51 in no more than an hour. My Garmin literally said 1:00:00 when I stopped it, for a 9:10 pace. I can definitely run faster in “normal” races, but given the lack of sleep and sitting around, I was plenty happy with this pace.

Elizabeth, Anne and Ashley ran after me, and then it was time for another trip to the Van Transition Area.


Some of the girls tried to go back to sleep, but Elizabeth and I were wide awake, and decided to hop on top of the van. Why? I don’t really know. NB Monica mentioned she’d slept on top of her van when she did Ragnar, and we thought it was a good idea to hop up there.


Sometimes, even bananas get tired. I think she was the only one who actually fell asleep. The rest of us laid outside for awhile and chatted before Monica woke up at 9:30 and we went for coffee.

At this point, basically everyone’s stomach was upset except mine. Considering I usually am the one with stomach issues, I was convinced this meant I was next, and I ate as plainly as I could. We went to Dunkin’ Donuts and I got a turkey sausage flatbread without cheese and an iced tea.


All afternoon, I was antsy to just go run so I could get to the beach, but by the time my turn came around, I didn’t actually want to run.


But, um, I didn’t really have a choice, so off I went.

This leg was my longest, at 6.88, and it was HARD. Hot, hilly, sunny. I wish I had taken pictures on this leg, because it was pretty. I ran past some farms (that didn’t smell pretty) and a winery (which I wanted to stop at), and I tried to make myself enjoy this leg. To be honest, the running part of this leg was no fun at all. I was tired and hot and ready to be done.

Finally I finished! I was so happy to have the running behind me, but at this point, I was really antsy and wanted to reach the beach immediately. However, there were still three runners ahead of me–Elizabeth, Anne and Ashley.


Ashley’s last leg was gorgeous!



31-some hours after we started, we reached the beach.


Our van zipped ahead to get us to the beach (where Van 1 had been hanging since around noon that afternoon) and wait for Ashley to finish.


We did it!






And then we made a beeline for the burrito bowls. After 31 hours of random meals, it was nice to get some veggies.


And a quick beer.


I totally caught Sarah making a quick video in the parking lot. Vloggers will be vloggers?

We taped a quick interview with the RTB videographer who’d been hanging with us for the entire experience, and then it was all over. We boarded our vans and went back to the New Balance offices, where our entire adventure had begun. The upbeat mood we’d all been in for the previous 48 hours was replaced by some quiet small talk, as we all started to crash and realize our adventure was coming to an end.

I said goodbye to all the Boston bloggers, and Monica drove us back to the hotel where New Balance was putting us up for the night. Melissa and Ashley had mentioned earlier potentially going out when we got back to the hotel, but by the time we got back, any talk of that had ended. Ashley and I showered and were in bed by 10:15.

Sunday morning, we had a quick breakfast with Anne and Gretchen, and Ashley and I headed for South Station to come back to NYC.