Gear Reviews That Don’t Suck: Brooks Pure Flow

Well, after putting in a few hundred miles, I feel safe saying I can fully review the shoes. I’ve run everything from a couple of miles to 10+, and some long threshold work as well. I’ve run just about every type of surface you could encounter with these shoes, and every type of speedwork short of dead sprints.

This is going to be necessarily short, because I don’t have a ton of positives to relate, but I guess we can start with those:

1) Comfort. I’ve got a wide foot, low arch, and I’d call it a mid-volume foot. The shoe fits glove-like and well. No slop on a fairly straight last. I’m sure you could go sockless with them, although I never really tried it. They are an extremely comfortable shoe to be sure. The cushioning is plush, and I’ll get to the drawback that relates in a bit. But as far as how comfy it is, I found it to be a very comfortable shoe. No obvious features in the shoe that I’d call design flaws, like seams that rub too much or funky sole features that cause serious discomfort.

2) Weight. The shoe strikes a great balance between weight and comfort. When it comes to minimal shoes, I believe the industry recognizes that there is no such thing as “One Shoe to Rule Them All.” It’s clear this was apparent to Brooks with the entire Pure line, which runs the gamut from chunky to lean, based on what you’re capable of handling. These shoes do a great job balancing weight with comfort. If, as a designer, you go too light in the name of minimalism, you take away from the cushion of the shoe. Go too heavy, and it won’t be minimal enough. It’s really a fine line, and I firmly believe it all comes down to midsole material. The Pure Flow balance the two fairly well.


1) The shoes are just too damn squishy. Maybe it’s my weight/height (180lbs/5’11”), but I feel like every stride, I’m looking for the ground. If minimalism is about getting your body in touch with the ground, the Pure Flow run too much interference in the midsole. Yeah, cushioning is great, but the midsole is too cush. I can’t feel the ground. If I can’t feel the ground, I can’t get my body in touch with it. It’s like running on blue sponge cake, if you ask me.

2) How the shoe fits my foot. Having a wide foot with little toes that are hammered down and out from years of tight-fitting shoes means the fit in the toe box is critical. While the toe box is plenty wide for my type of foot, I consistently get hot spots on the knuckles of my little toes. This is a deal breaker for me – I simply refuse to deal with shoes that give blisters.

So in the end, it’s just not the right type of shoe for me, which doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. I’d recommend this shoe for someone fairly new to minimalism AND someone who’s lighter weight. The midsole is just far too squishy for the amount of kilonewtons I happen to generate during the foot strike. I’d be curious to know if the industry conducts any kind of force plate testing with shoes to see how runners of different styles (heel strikers vs. mid-forefoot strikers) and weight interact with the shoe. It stands to reason that if the midsole doesn’t change between a heavy runner vs. a light runner, then all that changes is the amount of force the ground sees during the respective runners’ footstrikes.

But for me, I’ve stopped even running in my Pure Flows. I tried giving them a go for the days when I’m just commuting in/out of work (6.5M each way). But I got tired of fighting the shoe for feel. I’d finish a day and feel like I put in 13M of beach running. That may sound like a lark for the uninitiated, but it can put a lot of fatigue into the stabilization muscles of the lower leg, and that’s not what I’m looking for when I’m putting in 70-80M a week and running a couple of hard workouts a week.

Brooks, let me know when you work on your midsole design. Until then, I won’t be running in your shoes…

Gear Reviews That Don’t Suck: Lifeproof iPhone Products

I have two confessions:

1) I used to hate on iPhones something fierce. Now I own one and love it.

2) I used to deride anyone who ran with an MP3 player. Now I rarely run without music.

Not too long ago, I had a phone, and I had an MP3 player. I tried a couple of times to use a phone as my MP3 player, but it just never worked. In the end, I settled on a player that supported music subscription service, which is far more economical than actually buying the music in digital or physical forms, provided you download more than an album a month (which I do). But when my last MP3 player was phased out by the manufacturer, I realized it was time to combine the two functions. Smartphone tech has blown up over the past couple of years, so I figured I’d take a shot. I tried it out on my Samsung Captivate, and boy did it suck. I used a Rhapsody app, which crashed my phone repeatedly. When the phone finally quit on me, Jen talked me into an iPhone. I’m not sure if I’ll ever go back at this point. I’ve had no problems with using the Rhapsody app, and iTunes works just fine for music you actually own.

One of the clear draws of the iPhone/iPod has been the wide propagation of peripherals. For crying out loud, you can’t go to a Walgreens without finding a whole endcap of products. Enter LifeProof, which makes cases that are water/dustproof and impact-resistant. Anyone who knows me will vouch for my ability to destroy phones. I drop them, drown them, throw them into oblivion, and sweat profusely into them when I run. In fact, I deposited so much salt in my last MP3 player that it actually warped and broke a portion of the casing.

So LifeProof made sense for me. Additionally, they make armbands compatible with the case, so it made even more sense, considering the transition to using my phone as an MP3 player as well. I picked up the iPhone 4S case and armband back in Feb/March, and I’ve put each through the ringer over about 1000 miles or so of winter/spring/summer AK running. I’ll address the case (~$80) first and the armband (~$40) system second.

The case’s nearest competitor has to be OtterBox, which uses complementary silicon sleeves and ruggedized plastic skeletons to provide impact resistance. But unlike OtterBox, LifeProof is completely waterproof, and much lower volume. One my main complaints about OtterBox is that they take slim-engineered technology and double the volume to the point that you can barely fit it into your pocket. LifeProof’s impact-resistance likely falls short of OtterBox, which makes sense. Put a boy in a bubble and he can live through just about anything. Put a boy in a bubble wrap, and he can survive some bumps and bruises and that’s about it. LifeProof’s slim case is supposed to be able to take a drop of a couple of feet, but that’s contingent on the phone falling on its edges. The face is protected only by a thin sheet of plastic, so I’m confident that a good hit on the faceplate will shatter the glass.

Once you snap the case together and screw in a little widget that secures the headphone port, you have a completely functional, waterproof iPhone. Before you go scuba diving with your phone, you are supposed to to do an hour-long dunk test, which I’d advise you do if that’s your angle. For me, I just need the phone to survive a good rain and my sweat, and I can vouch for the case’s performance under those parameters. After 1000 miles, I’ve had no issues with moisture finding its way inside the case. I’ve also managed to drop it a few times with no ill-effects. 80 bones seems steep, but worth safeguarding your investment if you ask me. I think a new iPhone 4S runs about $600 off-contract, so you have to do your own math. For me, running with it all the time and being pretty clumsy, it’s a no-brainer.

The armband emerges as one of the better-designed systems I’ve seen. It’s got thin neoprene, and addresses a complaint I’ve had with every single armband I’ve ever used: buckle slippage. Most systems, as you tighten them, are apt to cause the buckle to slip from its intended orientation, which is uncomfortable and annoying. LifeProof uses a metal buckle and semi-rigid, thin neoprene to keep the buckle from slipping. With the phone in its case, it simply mounts to a bracket on the armband, which makes it the slimmest armband setup I’ve used outside of an old Rio MP3 setup. If you don’t have Bluetooth headphones, you have to screw a little adapter cable into the headphone port, which keeps the system water proof. Instead of plugging your headphones straight into the phone, you plug them into the adapter cable.

I do have three complaints about the armband. One is that after a month of use, I tore a surface layer of the armband neoprene while tightening the armband. It didn’t go all the way through, but still, it’s either a design flaw or an isolated case, and unsatisfactory if you ask me. My second complaint is that the bracket can dig into your arm, depending on how you orient your setup. On a long run, I actually caused some bruising on inside of my arm, which wasn’t too comfortable. Finally, unless your earbuds are also designed for talking or you have Bluetooth headphones, it’s a pain in the butt if you have to to take a call in the middle of a workout. Maybe it’s not a problem for you, but some calls I have to take regardless of what I’m doing. So I would have to stop my run, unscrew the adapter cable, call the person back, then screw everything back together and continue on my way. I solved this by getting a Bluetooth earbud setup, which I will address in a separate gear review.

In the end, going with a LifeProof setup will set you back about $120, and while far from perfect, it’s the best setup I’ve seen in nine years of running with music in my ears.

Low-Pro for Yo’ Go-Go: New Balance MR00

On my run home on Friday, I stopped by Skinny Raven , and picked up a pair of New Balance MR00. Running Times has a review here, but it’s pretty brief. I tried on the MR00 a couple weeks after they hit the market, around the same time I bought those slices of blue and black sponge cake masquerading as running shoes (Brooks Pure Flow). They fit my feet pretty well, despite having a bit of an elf-boot last. So far, I’ve only got about 10 miles on the shoes – I raced in them on Saturday (3.1), and ran home in them yesterday (7.5), so the jury is still out of course, but here are my initial impressions.

New Balance calls them “zero-drop” but Running Times says they have 1.6mm if drop; I couldn’t care less whether it’s 0 or one-point-whatever. The fact is that these shoes are very minimal when it comes to heel-toe drop, and I feel it when I run in them. In fact, yesterday, for the the first couple of miles, I felt some initial lower leg fatigue similar to what I recall from running barefoot or in my Vibram FiveFingers. I’ve been running in the MR10 for over a year now, and even the transition from the 10 to the 00 is quite noticeable.

The ride? Well, that’s interesting. I expected more of a race-flat feel, but what I’m getting is an ultralight trainer (6.4 oz) feel instead. Odd, right? While I raced in them on Sat, they just didn’t feel like racing flats, like my Asics Piranhas. They feel a little more stiff, and little more dense underfoot. I’m telling you – I need to do some more research on what New Balance is doing with their midsoles vs. everyone else…I’ve been terribly impressed with their ability to create minimal shoes that don’t ride all sloppy. For a guy my size (5’11”, 184lbs), a solid midsole is critical to achieve good proprioreception.

The outsole is done smartly. Vibram rubber only where you need it, and nowhere else. It’s a good idea, nothing new really, just running the midsole as an outsole in certain places, but it keeps it light. The sacrifice, and there’s always a sacrifice, could  be anticipated in shoe service life. I bet these bad boys don’t last me 300 miles.

Anyway, that’s it for now. Gotta run. I’ll let you know what I think as I put in some more mileage.

If I took dozens of artsy photos of my new kick reviews, but never actually ran in them…I’m sure this blog would be, like, super popular.
Check out the outsole Vibram pattern. Ideal for a mid-forefoot strike.