Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Brooks Pure Project Review

I was pretty excited about the release of the Brooks Pure Project line. If you read these two earlier posts you may have a better idea why. The first is on my transition from traditional training shoes to more minimalist whips and this one explains the why. So when Drew from Rush Running Co sent me a text a few days before the official release letting me know the shoes had arrived and I was welcome to come take a look I jumped at the chance. I arrived and started checking them out. Out of the box I really liked the look. But before I could get much more into it a few more locals showed up including a couple of other TCM runners, an AT100 entrant and a Pinhoti 100 racer (and shoe designer). So Drew and Christian lined the new arrivals out for us to begin our impromptu round table discussion. 
It was agreed that all four models look great. Words like, fast, aggressive, sleek and low were used. But where is the posting? There is none. We were informed that Brooks, for this project, has thrown out the typical categories of stability and control. Theoretically, at least, anybody can wear any of these models and be just fine. Let the debate begin... I could care less about the marketing plan so I grabbed a pair and laced up. The Pure Cadence was first up. Snug fit, great feel, lightweight, plenty of cushion. Soft but not too much. I did notice a bit extra stretch in my Achilles and calf. My premonition to allow some time to transition to these as my mainstay shoe seems spot on at first. 
I look up and see Ryan (the Pinhoti 100 entrant and shoe designer) headed for the treadmill. Not sure which model he had on. The video gait recorder was turned on and off he went. The slow-mo replay showed good results with just a slight overpronation on one foot. Mike (owner of Rush Running and former NCAA runner) was next in a pair of Pure Flow. No issues with him but he is neutral anyway. I tried the treadmill next, all signals were good, nothing seemed too weird. So now some post run (sort of) analysis. Ryan and I both had extra gap with the Nav Band that goes across the top of the foot to help with the fit. We both have skinnier than normal feet. Mine was loose, his was useless. Nonetheless, we both felt the uppers fit snugly despite this. I liked the laces, a flat snake like design. They seem like they would work well not coming untied. Next we all check out the split toe design. None of us felt it while running on the treadmill. Mike thought it was more aesthetic and less functional. That it didn't come down far enough toward the mid foot to offer any real benefit. At least it will save a little weight with the missing material. 
Next  tried on the Grit. No rock plate and a little toe guard. Otherwise the fit and feel was much like the Flow. Comfortable, cushioned, light, snug and responsive feeling. The treadmill test for this model went much like the Flow. All signs point to yes. I wondered about the tread on the outsole as it looked pretty minimal. How would it work on technical stuff or when wet? It looks somewhat similar to the tread on my Pearl Izumi Iso Seek shoes which serves me pretty well. I could just barely feel the midfoot pod on this model. Nothing too weird but just barely noticeable. I can see the Grit being a solid door to trail shoe and a good all around trail shoe short of perhaps wet and technical terrain. 
All models have a 4-5mm heel drop and sit lower to the ground than most other shoes. These are Jurek inspired designs two years in the making. Jurek says these belong somewhere in the middle of the minimalist spectrum. Somewhere between the Saucony Kinvara and New Balance 890. In the end Ryan wants to try both the Flow and Grit. Mike wants the Flow for Twin Cities opting for them over the just arrived K Swiss Kwicky Blade and I was undecided between the Flow and Cadence. 
Fast forward a week. I haven't heard from Ryan yet. Mike did wear the Flow at TCM and at the finish line he gave a thumbs up on them. He had a chance to maybe put 25 miles or so on them before the race. No complaints from him. I picked up my shoes that week. I opted for the Flow. Mainly because of the $30 price difference. Why that much I can't explain. Drew said he took home a pair of Grit and wore them for a 14 mile trail run from his door. He did wear them just walking around for a day before. He told me that about halfway through his run he did feel a twinge in his soleus. Like me he thinks a transition from regular shoes does exist with the Pure Project line. Otherwise a stamp of approval from him. Drew is the Manager at Rush, ran college x-country, is a regular on the local racing scene and can often be found on the podium collecting his hardware. So he knows a thing or two about good shoes. He said they even felt good on the pavement getting to the trail head for his run. 
As for me, I wore my Flow six days after finishing my PR in the 26.2 at TCM for a 6 mile recovery run. Again, the shoes felt great, no issues at all with the fit or feel. My impression of these somehow promoting a mid foot strike seemed accurate. I did not feel the split toe feature at all on my run. No weird feelings in my calves or Achilles either. However, I did feel a tweak in my plantar on one foot. I attribute this to the marathon (completed in racing flats for the first time) and not to the Flow. In all fairness though I felt I should mention it. These shoes seem to have enough arch support in them so time will tell on that issue. A post run inspection did show something I should mention. With the design of the heel and less material used repetitive heel strikes might wear these shoes down faster than your normal trainer. I have a bit of a whip with my stride on my right foot and my legs were still a little dead from the marathon so I think this may explain the wear I saw on my shoe after a six mile run. Apparently I was dragging my heel. Tired legs and a slower than normal pace likely resulted in less than ideal form and me shuffling more than striding as usual. 
More on the heel design. The heels compared to most shoes have a slightly angled design at the very back. Not flat like most trainers. I could just feel it when I first put them on but that sensation quickly faded. And being a more minimalist design there is less material (outsole) back there. So if you plan on using a solid heel strike or drag your heels when tired expect on replacing these more often than say a pair of Ravennas. To recap: I really like the fit and feel of the upper. The laces work well without having to double tie them or use some secret Inca knot, the Nav Band is marginally functional for skinny feet, well cushioned but not overly so, felt light and responsive, didn't feel the split toe thing and love the color scheme. So much better than the Racer ST. These will surely be a mainstay in my rotation once I transition and I look forward to building up my mileage in these.
Update 10/12/2011: Last weekend I wore my Pure Flows to my first overall win at a race taking 1st at the ACOI San Antonio 2 Mile Doctor Dash. I have a few more runs under my belt and really like these shoes. My next purchase will undoubtedly be the Pure Grit.

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