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…

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.

Pumped Up Kicks: Brooks Pure Flow

So this isn’t really a gear review, since I don’t consider the 10 or so miles I’ve logged in my new kicks the requisite amount of mileage to properly review the shoes. However, I thought I’d let you know my initial impressions. Most of you know I’m a big fan of minimalism. I’ve discussed the shoes I wear a couple of times, but you can check out my most “in-depth” post here. My current quiver until Wed of last week consisted of the New Balance MR 10 for the road, the Mizuno Peregrine for the trails and soft surfaces (like nasty mushy spring snow), the Asics Piranha for racing flats, and the Asics Japan spikes for track work. I can remember just five or six years ago, when the choices for minimal running shoes were pretty much limited to racing flats. Everything else was over-engineered, bulky, and just plain ridiculous if you ask me (do you really need a full-sole airbag underfoot when you run?) Fast forward a couple of years, and my, how the tables have turned. If you haven’t picked up the latest Running Times, I highly recommend you do so if you are at all in to minimalism. They also have a new section on the web site dedicated to minimalism. There is a lot of BS and rhetoric out there about minimalism, from ignorant family practitioners who know nothing about exercise phys, to minimalism fascists who push 200+lb individuals into Vibram FiveFingers like it’s a modern panacea. The reality is that the truth is somewhere in the middle, and all completely dependent on the individual and his history, mechanics, and genetics. Everyone has different experiences with minimal shoes, so beware of buying shoes just because Suzy or Johnny Crossfit Level 1 sez they’re the only way to go. Running Times has done a great job of covering minimalism from all viewpoints, and the Spring 2012 Shoe Review is chock full of different options.

One of the shoes reviewed in this issue is the Brooks Pure Flow, which I picked up last week and put through some initial paces. Brooks just put out an entire Pure line of shoes, and of course they put out their advertising spin. I never put much stock in a company’s own reviews or media push, because as always, they are a business first. And a biz needs to make money. But you can check their page out if you at least want to understand their Hyrda-esque development mindset resides.

Anyway, I picked up the Pure Flow last week because the MR10s are going to be ready for recycling in a a few weeks, having logged several hundred miles since last fall. To be precise, the purchase was actually an exchange for a pair of previously purchased studded Salomon Speedcross 3CS. As a general rule, I have a 10 Mile Out Of The Box test, which is to say that I need to be able to put in a 10 miler on new shoes with no issues. If I can’t, the shoe is either over-engineered for me, or just poorly engineered. The Salomons failed me miserably. For me, they were far too rigid, and narrow for my feet and stride. As a result, after only 13 miles, I developed blisters on the knuckles of my little toes, and my feet were killing me. I’m sure they work well for someone else (they better, at around $135 a pop), but they certainly didn’t work for me. So, back to Skinny Raven I went. I emerged an hour later with these bad boys.

Foot swagger.

They are marketed as being mid-range minimal: a low (4mm-ish) heel-toe drop, but more cush than than the Pure Connect lineup. The latter were far too narrow for my feet, much like the old Nike Free 3.0s, which left areas of my sole supported only by a bulging upper (think of a burger patty swelling outside the bun). So, I ended up with the Pure Flow based primarily on fit. The midsole material is the same for all the Pure shoes, Brooks simply chooses to tweak the patterns and outsole areas. Anyway, enough the technical mumbo jumbo. How did they ride?

In a word: Okay. I didn’t have time for a dime on the roads, so I hit the treadmill for some light cruise interval work: 4 x 1M @ 6:00 pace/.5% grade, with 1:00 rest between the miles. The shoes were very comfortable, but my initial impression is that the midsole is too soft for speed work, at least for a 5’11”, 184lb, neutral gait runner (that’s me, in case you were wondering). I hit my splits just fine, but I felt like I was fighting the shoe for speed. It wasn’t nearly as responsive as I like when I’m looking for speed, and I think that’s largely a function of the amount of cushion they put into the shoe. In fact, it reminded me a lot of my old Saucony Kinvara, which were a joke on the track as a result of the mushy ride. Running Times opines it’s an ideal “recovery” shoe, whatever that means, in the latest review and I have to agree at this point. I see this being a good shoe for those day-after or day-of recovery jogs (5-6 miles easy). I’m going to put in some longer runs on the Pure Connect this week and the next, and after about 100 miles on the shoe, I’ll give you my verdict. They feel like they will be fine for longer runs, but the proof is in the pudding. Right now, this shoe is no quiver killer compared to the MR10s, which I have always felt work well for both long runs and faster-paced road work. I’m also planning on picking up the New Balance MR00 today, so expect to hear more on them in the coming week or so.

Until then, compadres, keep logging those miles! Or kilometers, if you happen to be reading this in Euro-land.