Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Brooks Pure Project

UPDATE 4/2/11: Brooks has recently released more information on the Pure Project, including pictures of the shoes and details about the technology itself! Check out my new post on the updated data!
UPDATE 11/16/11: Review of the Brooks Pure Connect now posted!
UPDATE 2/9/12: Review of the Brooks PureFlow now posted!

A while ago, when I was in high school (so sometime before 2003), I saw a shoe at Champs Sports that was marketed as mimicking a bare foot. It looked super gimmicky and like it was marketed towards weekend warrior types rather than serious athletes (I can't even remember if it was a running shoe). Obviously it did not do well, because I can't even find information on it today. Then, in 2004, Nike developed the Free, a flexible running shoe that was supposed to simulate barefoot running, after talking to then-Stanford coach Vin Lannana about training barefoot. There were a few Free models available, rated on a number scale with 1.0 representing barefoot running and 10.0 representing a traditional trainer. In 2007, seeing as I was running on a Nike-sponsored store team, I gave in out of curiosity and bought a pair of 5.0 (now known as the Free Run) and a pair of 3.0 (more on that later). Meanwhile, Vibram was producing a "barefoot alternative" of their own, intended for paddling and sailing, known as the FiveFingers. However, it all hit the mainstream with Christopher McDougall's 2009 book Born to Run. Born to Run set off the minimalist and barefoot explosion, where people suddenly decided to try running sans shoes, claiming that it cured all their injures (also more on that later) and allowed them to run more naturally (aaand more on that later too). At first, it was mainly small companies that catered to this market (outside of Nike), with lesser-known companies like Vibram and Terra Plana producing minimal shoes meant to do little other than protect the sole of the foot from rocks. Then the running companies started to get involved. In 2009, New Balance axed their 790 (why, NB why?!) and replaced them with the MT100 (now the MT101), and in 2011, they released their Minimus line. Similarly, in 2010, Saucony introduced the Kinvara, the first of a line of more minimal shoes (along with the Mirage, Peregrine, Cortana, and Hattori), and reworked some of their racing flats to decrease the heel-toe differential (like the A4 and Fastwitch). Additionally, other small companies popped up, like Altra, Somnio, Luna, and Soft Sole, as well as companies better known for non-running shoes, like Merrell. Early last year (2010), Brooks CEO Jim Weber released a letter detailing his thoughts on the matter, as well as a lot of other information from "The Experts," who are all generally considered authorities on the topic. Despite the information, people continued to post on Brooks' website begging for a minimalist shoe. Brooks has now responded with Brooks Pure Project.

The way Pure Project is supposed to work is to provide shoes that focus on "feel" rather than the "float" currently offered by the core line. This is supposed to offer runners "choice," by placing a vertical axis of "float vs. feel" over the current neutral to motion control spectrum.
Looking at the graph, all of the current shoes fall somewhere on the positive Y portion of the graph (quadrants I and II for you math geeks). The less support a shoe has, the further left (lower X-value) it will be. For example, the T7 would fall left of the Ghost, which will be left of the Adrenaline, and the Beast will be all the way on the right side. Now, with the introduction of negative Y-values (quadrants III and IV), Brooks is introducing shoes that prioritize feeling the ground over cushioning and dynamic stability. One thing where I think Brooks is going in the right direction is that they're not assuming that "feel" should automatically mean all the way on the left of that graph. Saucony got it right in that not everyone who wants to go minimal has the biomechanics to ditch all their support. The Mirage and upcoming Cortana cater to those people. The fact that Brooks has not eliminated the X-axis for the bottom half of the graph gives me hope that Brooks will also address this.

So what does this mean for me? Why am I posting this? Aren't I the anti-barefoot nazi? Uh, no. Not at all, actually. As I said before, back in 2007, I bought a pair of Free 3.0s and 5.0s, and though I don't like the 3.0 much and don't use them for running, the 5.0 is not that bad. Heck, I've even attempted barefoot running, but it felt weird and slow and like I was getting little rocks stuck in my feet, so I stopped. Not to mention I felt myself forefoot striking (not even midfoot striking, forefoot striking), and degenerative Achilles tendinosis is definitely not something I want to invite or mess around with. As I touched on briefly in a previous post, I believe minimal shoes are a godsend for the biomechanically gifted (I also mentioned in that post that I predicted that companies would introduce "barefoot" shoes with stability features in them, which is what it looks like Brooks is doing with shoes with negative-Y values that are somewhere other than the far left of that graph...score!). As for the people who traded their Adrenalines for FiveFingers and are healthy now...we'll see. I think that a small minority of them were misdiagnosed and should never have been in Adrenalines in the first place, and are now better off for making the change. However, the vast majority saw their injuries "heal" because they're stressing different tendons and ligaments, and it's only a matter of time before they end up with other (possibly worse) injuries. For those people, shoes like the (X, -Y) shoes on Brooks' Cartesian plane and shoes like the Saucony Cortana and Mirage may be a good solution, offering them the marketing feel that they seek with the support they need. Additionally, not everyone has the right body type for running barefoot, and could use some cushioning. Not all runners are skinny (I'm not even necessarily talking about fat here, because muscle is still weight...I remember one article I read stating that a 125lb Kenyan man running barefoot is exponentially less force per footfall than a 180lb American man running barefoot). While our ancient ancestors may have run barefoot, our ancestors were also tiny and didn't weigh much (Otzi the Iceman, for example, was estimated to be 5'5 110lb). Our ancestors also got caught by a sabretooth tiger and didn't reproduce if they had a mutation that meant bad foot biomechanics, and there's been more than enough time for overpronation and supination to be introduced into the bloodline, but I digress. And as far as running more naturally...meh. Natural forefoot strikers will still forefoot strike in more cushioned and stable shoes, and natural heel strikers need to read this, because Matt Fitzgerald puts it better than I can. I'm not anti-barefoot or anti-minimalist. I'm pro-wearing the best shoe for your feet and anti-jumping on the minimalist bandwagon because it's the cool thing to do, even when your biomechanics aren't right for it.

So why am I actually excited about Pure Project? Well, in the back of my head, I've had this (possibly irrational) fear that Brooks was going to give in to market pressure and my beloved T Racers were going to go the way of the A4 (now a 4mm heel-toe drop shoe) and lose their beautiful 12mm heel-toe differential and fantastically cushy heel with Hydroflow. But now, as long as Brooks makes good on its promise to leave the core line alone, it looks like they're going to appease the minimal market with a completely different line of shoes. Hooray! (And yeah, I'll probably pick up a pair out of curiosity to see if they fit in my training somehow).

Speaking of the T Racer, check back in the next couple of days for a complete review of the new Brooks T7 Racer!


  1. Hey Becki!

    thanks for checking out my blog... your's is freakin' awesome!

    i also really enjoy your posts on the RW shoe forums!

    keep up the awesome work!

  2. Hi Becki, Another great post as usual :) I wanted to let you know that after a couple runs in those Nike Frees (7s) I have come to the conclusion that I don't much care for them. I'm not even sure why, other than the Ghosts just feel better on my feet. I am still planning on trying out the Mizuno Waves (Creation 11 I think) but I have a feeling that my go-to shoe will remain the Ghost 3s. Have a great day! Laura

  3. Seth, thanks for checking out my blog! Glad you enjoyed it!

    Laura, yeah, the Free has a way different feeling than the Ghost! If the Ghosts feel that good, I'd just stick with them. They're a good shoe, and I like them quite a bit, other than the durability issues I've had with them. But if you're looking for a similar feel with a different shoe, there are other options out there too. I don't know much about the Creation, but I do have a lot of friends who love the Wave Rider. The Rider 14 has met with some controversy by the people who loved the 13 though (though to be fair, the Ghost 3 met with controversy with people who loved the 2). Seth, who posted above you, knows more about Mizuno shoes than I do, so you might want to get his opinion (I know way more about Nike and Brooks than a non-company rep should, but little about Mizuno). Saucony ProGrid Ride and Asics Gel Cumulus are also options (Ride was the shoe I was *this* close to buying instead when I bought the Ghosts), and most people who aren't me seem to absolutely love the Nike Pegasus 27. The Brooks Glycerin is also super popular (Glycerin competes with the Creation), but is too cushioned for my needs. Really, those shoes are all going to be very similar in what they do for your feet. The biggest difference is going to be the way the last fits you, that's all.

  4. Do you purposely pick on all the shoes I like?! You will be happy to know I did not wear A4s for running up mt washington in the snow. There are holes in the bottom.

    That is a sweet post though, it's an intelligent bit of information on various levels of cushioning, unlike most blog posts out there on the topic right now.

  5. Did I actually pick on the A4?? I meant to just say I'm glad that the T7 hasn't gone in that direction, and I'm hoping Pure Project means that future iterations won't either. A lot of people really like that shoe. I take it you've become a fan?

  6. Not really a fan but right now its kind of my only option when I'm not wearing five fingers. I think I'm at like 60% of the time wearing a4s. There are definitely things wrong with it from my perspective though.

  7. Great article! You're amazing. Hope to read more from you. Keep it up!
    Thank you for sharing this informative post.


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