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.
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
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!