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.

7 for 7: Resources

One of the best things about running is just how little is required in order to do it. A pair of shoes (or not, if you’re hard), some clothes, and a patch of real estate are really all you need. Unlike some of my other pursuits, with about a hundred bucks or less you can participate. Of course, there’s always room for more gadgets, tools, specialized clothing, etc…but they’re all optional. You don’t need to drop a minimum of 750 to a grand on a lift ticket/board/bindings/boots/gear like snowboarding. The resources required to run are precious little.

For today’s post, I’m going to address the resources I employ in the pursuit of running, and I’ll go above and beyond the minimums addressed above. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll break them down into the following categories: Gear, Nutrition, and Recovery. Without any further delay…

GEAR

Say hello to my pretty ladies...

Shoes…if the picture above doesn’t say “fetish,” I don’t know what does.

There’s been a lot of talk over the past couple of years about minimalism. If you’re not aware, the shoe industry over the past 20 years has produced ever-increasingly over-engineered products. What began as a means of correcting biomechanical issues and offering more cushioning turned into production of $150 running shoes that looked more like NASA-produced moon boots than means of efficient movement. Recently, though, demand has turned away from these big clunky monsters, and more towards shoes that allow natural movement and muscle response i.e. “minimal” shoes. The evidence to support minimalism is still outstanding, Some say it’s better for you, while some say it’s dangerous. I‘m no scientist. I can tell you that personally, running in minimal shoes has always felt better for me, and my policy is that everyone should be running in as little shoe as possible.

Minimal shoes are characterized by varying lightness and degrees of heel-toe drop in the midsole. While non-minimal shoes run an excess of 10-12 oz a shoe, and 10-15mm of heel-toe drop (think of a down-sloping ramp due to there being more cushioning in the heel than in the forefoot), most minimal shoes start around 9 oz or less, and offer anywhere between 0-9mm of heel-toe drop. The heel-toe drop thing is important because the less gradient there is, the easier it is for you to foot strike in your stride midfoot/forefoot. Anyway, the shoes you see above run from less to more minimal from left to right. The Brooks Launch are the shoes I wear when I feel pretty beat up, sore calves, achilles, etc. The next two, The Mizuno Wave Musha 2, and the Saucony Kinvara are my workhorse shoes. I do most of my regular runs in them. The Saucony Grid A4 are next – those are my speed work/racing flats. Both the Kinvara and the A4 run a 4mm heel-toe drop, and are both very light. Last on the right are my Vibram Five Fingers, which are as close to barefoot as you can get. They’re basically slippers with articulated toes. I do all my strength work in them, and try to do a couple 3-5M runs a week wearing them.

Other gear: My favorite socks are Smartwool, and my favorite shorts are shorty shorts, preferably the ones with split legs. Yep, they may offend your sense of decency but on the back half of a hot track session that last thing I care about is your fashion sense. My favorite shirt the one I leave at home so I can run shirtless in hairy-chested manliness. My sense of minimalism clearly extends beyond my shoe selection, as you can see. The last piece of gear I will mention is my watch. I use the Garmin Forerunner 305, and that enormous hunk of wrist candy is an homage to my nerdy desire for accurate data. If I have a crutch, my 305 is it. I get all twitchy when I forget it, or the battery dies, or it’s acting up.

NUTRITION

The latest in the fight against the Taliban...the BA-K-47. I would eat that weapon.

I think you might be surprised at how I eat. First, you should know that for years, I was a carb monster. Pasta, bread, taters, chips…my food pyramid looked more like…well, a block with some little ones on top of it. I scoffed at the idea that endurance athletes could subsist on anything but a carb-dominated diet. Then, two years ago, I noticed that despite the fact that I was running as much or more than I ever had, I couldn’t lose any weight. In college, I raced at around 160lbs; two years ago I couldn’t get under 190. Some of that was muscle, but some of it was definitely fat and the worst part was that where I used to be able to drop weight easily by simply running more, it wasn’t happening. Additionally, I was having increasing problems with fueling. I was running out of gas way early in training runs, and eating more wasn’t helping at all

So, I checked out this Zone Diet thing, which essentially re-apportions your food like this: 30% carbs/30% protein and fat/30% fiber. Additionally, it recommends cutting as much processed food and especially processed carbs out of your diet as possible. I ran with it, and so far the results have been good. I’m not fascist about it; I simply try to stick to the ratios. We also stick to organic and minimally-processed as much as possible. When I started, I was around 190 – since then I’ve dropped to 170-175 on average. My fueling issues are virtually non-existent. Where I used to have to take in a gel or some kind of caloric intake at least once or twice in a longer workout, I can now do 20-24M only taking on water and electrolytes. I probably go overboard on the protein and fat (1lb of bacon and a dozen eggs a week are nothing) and if I want to lose any more weight I’m going to shift to leaner meats and the “good” fats (nuts, olive oil, salmon, etc).

As far as running-specific nutrition, I use Endurance First Sports Ultragen mix as a recovery drink, and for gels I use Accelgels  since they have protein and the caffeinated Powergels for those late-race boosts. Propel is my drink mix of choice for both hydration during the day as well as during training.

RECOVERY

The one recovery aid we all need, but don’t get enough of, is sleep. Sleep is how your body repairs itself from the wear-and-tear of training, mostly through exponentially increased production rates of human growth hormone. Sleep is a big problem for me, since I like the night life…I like to boogie…8 hours is just about impossible, so I average between 6 and 7. However, most pro runners sleep 8-10 a night AND nap in the afternoons. I guess that’s my excuse for not being faster…

Another recovery resource I use is the time-honored ice bath. Cold, in general, is a very efficient means of both controlling the  inflammation associated with injury, as well as stimulating recovery through vasoconstriction (blood vessels contract, speed blood flow,

Who doesn't like a good kick in the junk?

 which helps move good stuff in and bad stuff out). In college, I took an ice bath every day, and when the runners showed up to the training room, the ball players and other athletes took off since they knew we were going to turn the cold bath Arctic by dumping a ton of ice in. These days, I have less of a tolerance for 37 degree baths, as evidenced by the photo on the right, but I’ve always heard the 50 degrees or so is about what you need to max out the effects. Just don’t try telling Whitis that…that’s his Dr Torquemada take on an ice bath I’m grimacing my way through in the picture.

The last recovery aids I will mention are compression socks/sleeves. Long in use by medical patients with lower leg circulation issues, they’ve come into vogue in the endurance scene in the past couple of years. The theory is that by constricting the blood vessels in the legs, they force more blood through and do the whole good stuff in/bad stuff out thing while you wear them. I use them after long runs or workouts, and now every time I fly to help minimize the amount of blood pooling in my legs during yet another cattle-car ride.

That’s about it for today…now you know I’m a hairy, bare-chested minimalist who sleeps too little, can’t handle ice baths, and wears funny calf sleeves. Check back tomorrow for my thoughts on the concept of recovery.