Friday, March 4, 2011

Gear Review: Brooks Ghost 3

I wore the Nike Pegasus for nine years. Don't get me wrong, I messed with other shoes for workouts and races and trail runs and whatever else, but the Pegs were my go-to workhorse shoe. I had a few issues with them, for example, the instep of the shoe never quite fit me right, and to prevent extensor tendinitis, I generally had them tied so loose that they never had to be untied, but for the most part, they worked great. They even got me through second semester freshman year relatively unscathed, when I decided it would be a good idea to go from 40 miles per week to 70 miles per week over the span of a month (and the 40 miles per week was already a significant jump from high school). They also got me through my second year after college, when I went from 80 to 100 miles per week in a couple of weeks. What more can you ask for from a pair of shoes?

Um, how about for the company not to change it? Last summer, I ordered my regular pair of Pegs in a size 8, the same size I've been wearing since 2002, and they didn't fit me. Weird. I did a lace lock to prevent my foot from sliding around so much, but predictably, ended up with extensor tendinitis a week later. I also noticed the ride felt like it changed slightly, and less than two weeks and 150 miles after picking up the new Pegasus, I strained my hip flexor (I had never had a hip flexor problem before).

Back at the National Running Center, my friend Rob told me that yes, the Pegasus has changed, but that most people loved it. Well, that didn't bode well for me, since that gives Nike even less of a reason to change it. After trying on nearly every shoe in the store (including a different size Pegasus), I had it narrowed down to two shoes: the Brooks Ghost 3 and Saucony ProGrid Ride 3 (the only two that fit me). I really love Brooks' T Racer, so I went with the Ghost.
As I understand it, the Ghost 3 is a completely different shoe than the Ghost 2. While the Ghost 2 (and the original Ghost) were performance trainers, the Ghost 3 is more of a high mileage neutral trainer, leaving the Launch as Brooks' sole performance trainer and joining the Defyance and Glycerin as choices for runners with neutral biomechanics seeking workhorse shoes.

The first thing I noticed about the Ghost is that the thing is soft. The Ghost uses Hydroflow for cushioning, a technology Brooks describes as "dynamic viscous fluid units for heel and forefoot [that] enhance midsole cushioning." The Pegasus starts out soft too, but firms up considerably after 50 miles or so, and then stays that way until you run it into the ground (which for me, was often 800 or more miles later). The Ghost stayed pillowy for a good 150 miles before firming up. However, after firming up, the Ghost's ride becomes more responsive and really, really nice.

DRB Accel for stability and Hydroflow window in heel for cushion. Sorry, didn't clean my shoes for you.
The Ghost is classified as a neutral shoe, but it's actually quite stable for its class. A hefty piece of plastic gives the Ghost a fair bit of torsional stability, and the heel counter is fairly firm. This plastic, called the DRB Accel, is said by Brooks to be a "shank-like thermoplastic device [that] provides torsional rigidity to midfoot, enhancing support while allowing the heel and forefoot to act independently." The DRB Accel and firm heel counter give the Ghost a decent amount of inherent stability. It's not so much stability that it's going to significantly alter your stride, but it's enough to feel it there and remind you that this is a trainer built for miles. Right now, since I'm still fighting some posterior tibialis tendinopathy, I'm welcoming that little extra bit of stability. (For the record, I don't blame that particular injury on the Ghost...most doctors, as well as myself, seem to agree that it was caused by overcompensation for the hip flexor injury).

Torsional Rigidity
Heel Counter
Despite the torsional rigidity, the Ghost has a flexible forefoot, which may be due to the S-257 Cushsole midsole (a feature shared with the high-end Glycerin). The midsole of the Ghost also uses biodegradable BioMoGo instead of the less-green traditional EVA, so you can feel good about saving the environment when it's time to toss them. All of this makes for a very smooth heel-toe transition. Additionally, the heel is decoupled for flexibility (this was actually the basis of many of the ads for the Ghost), but that's not something I actually noticed when wearing the shoe.

The Ghost also has a nice fit and feel to it. The upper is comfortable without being too narrow (this shoe cleared up my extensor tendinitis in a week), and the traditional mesh is welcome at a time when everyone seems to be putting weird materials in their uppers, from Nike Flywire to whatever is on the Saucony Kinvara. The Ghost is built on Brooks' universal platform, which means that the last is slightly curved, but not as much as a shoe like the T Racer. Like many trainers, it is built on a strobel last. Additionally, the Ghost is supposedly made for people with high arches, but I don't have high arches and it fits me fine.

If I have one complaint about the Ghost, it's its durability. As I stated earlier, I usually put huge miles on my shoes. It's not out of the ordinary for me to put four digit numbers of a pair of trainers before retiring them (that's in miles, not kilometers). However, the forefoot of the Ghost began to break down after only around 300 miles. Forefoot breakdown? Really? I'm not even a true forefoot striker...I graze the ground lightly with my heel first, though I'm non-weight-bearing with that leg until my entire foot is on the ground. While 300 miles is a pretty normal lifespan for running shoes, consider this: 115lb girl who heel strikes and usually gets 800+ miles on a pair of trainers starts to get forefoot breakdown in 300 miles. What is a 180lb midfoot striker going to do? Now, the shoe isn't actually dead yet, but pressing a finger into the outsole's midfoot will reveal that there's already a significant amount of give. Hopefully Brooks will address this for the Ghost 4.

The Ghost 3 comes in at 11.1oz for a men's size 9 and 9.2oz for a women's size 8. It has a heel height of 24mm and forefoot height of 12mm for a 12mm heel-toe differential. It seems to run true to size (I wear an 8 in the Ghost, the same size as I wore in the Pegasus, and 1.5 sizes larger than I wear in the T6, which is the normal men's to women's conversion). The Ghost retails for $100 and can be found on Brooks' website and at many running stores, including the National Running Center.

Full disclosure: I got this shoe from the National Running Center at cost. The opinions expressed in this review are my own and based on my own experience, and they do not reflect the opinions of NRC or Brooks.


  1. I have the Ghost 3s also (in orange/white) and like you, am 115 pounds. On the other hand, I -am- a forefoot striker. And while the Ghost 3s are definitely the most comfy pair of running shoes, I barely got 300 miles out of them as well.

    I went to get a new pair 2 weeks ago, and ended up with Nike Free 7s instead. So far so good, but for whatever reason I'm already thinking about getting something different.

    Have you tried the Mizuno Wave Creations? or Riders? I just don't feel like I've found the "perfect" running shoe yet.

  2. I have tried on the Wave Rider, but the arch was in the wrong spot for my foot. I have some friends who absolutely love the shoe though, and it was on my short list when I went into the store (before I tried it on). I did not try the Wave Creation.

    I haven't played with the Free 7.0, though I've worn the 5.0 (now the Run) and 3.0. The 5.0 isn't bad, but not something I'd want as a workhorse shoe (it's not bad as a performance trainer though), and I wasn't a fan of the 3.0.

    I really do like the fit and ride of the Ghost, so I'm hoping that the durability is improved in the next iteration. As I said above, I tend to wear my shoes into the ground, so I figure I have some more miles left on the Ghost, but if I was wearing it for the cushioning, I'd probably need to replace it very soon.

  3. running that many miles on a pair of are crazy.

  4. The Nike rep yelled at me too. ;)

  5. Great review! The Ghost 3 is my first running shoe, and I'm trying to figure out what to make of it. I have flat feet, I over pronate somewhat, I have a mid-foot strike, I am up to six mile runs, and I feel generally okay. I'm planning to do an iron distance tri later this year. Beneath my knee caps I get a bit sore, and sometimes I'm sore just in front of my ankles. Are these the right shoes for me? I have no idea.

    Sincerely, 165 lb male

  6. The Ghost is actually quite stable for a "neutral shoe," due to the big piece of plastic (the DRB Accel). Depending on your level of overpronation, it may not be quite enough support though, especially if you're getting soreness. The question is whether you're getting pain from the shoes not being stable enough or if it's from training. Both patellar tendinitis and runner's knee (both of which can possibly cause the knee pain you describe) can be caused by both overpronation and not enough support in your shoes, OR from doing more training than your body is ready for (or a combination of both). The ankle pain might be your anterior tibialis...tough to tell over the internet. Did you have a gait analysis done at a specialty running store (or with a podiatrist or physical therapist)? They'd be able to tell you whether it's the right shoe for you. Training-wise, make sure you're not increasing volume or intensity too fast. Your heart and lungs get stronger much faster than your ligaments and tendons (even moreso if you're already in great cardio shape from swimming and cycling!), which makes it really easy to do more than your structure is ready for, which makes you susceptible for injury. For future shoes, if you're not quite sure what shoes would be best for you, I'd recommend having your gait analyzed on a treadmill at your local running shop (or if there's not a good one around, send a video to Running Warehouse...they should have details on their website as to what to do). I hope that helps!

  7. EDIT: When I mention podiatrist and physical therapist, I'm referring specifically to one who's familiar with runners. They'll be a lot more helpful than one who primarily deals with inactive people.

  8. Have you tried Brook's Ghost 4? If yes, what is the difference? I do not run as many miles as you do....but I am having issues with planters fasciitis. My doctor recommended I change my ASICS to Brooks. I wasn't sure of the difference between the 3 and 4. Appreciate your input.

  9. The biggest difference is the 4 uses DNA (the cushioning system that's been used by the Glycerin) and the arrangement of the flex grooves in the sole has changed slightly.

    That seems like a really weird recommendation though. I doubt a change in brands is going to fix much, unless you also change the stability level along with the brand. More likely, either a change in training or a change in the stability level of the shoe (brand name aside) will be more likely to solve the problem. If you like Asics, Asics makes some really quality footwear, and it's very likely that Asics makes a shoe that may work better for you. If you want to move to Brooks, it would be helpful to know what Asics shoe you're wearing now (for example, if you're having problems in the Cumulus, you will probably have the same problems in the Ghost, but may be fine in a different shoe, which can be determined via a gait analysis, whether it's the Glycerin, Defyance, Ravenna, Adrenaline, or something else completely).

  10. Becki-I thought that changing brands was a weird recommendation too. I have the ASICS Gel Cumulus 12. She said that I needed a more stable, neutral shoe. What would you recommend I research? Thanks again! Ana

  11. If you'd like to look at Brooks, I'd check out the Brooks Defyance. Brooks classifies the Defyance as a neutral shoe, but it as pillow-y soft as the Ghost or Cumulus, which is something that can contribute to plantar fasciitis. Another possibility from Brooks is the Ravenna, which has a small medial post and is a little more stable, but isn't so stable that it will overcorrect most neutral gaits.

    If you prefer to stick with Asics, check out the Landreth. It should be pretty comparable to the Defyance. One last shoe that might be worth looking at is the Mizuno Wave Rider, which directly competes with the Cumulus or Ghost, but will offer a little more inherent stability just because of the way the wave technology works.

    Hope that helps!

  12. Thank you so much!

    I will begin to look at all the different shoes and see which one would work the best for me.

  13. Hi Becki:

    Thanks for the response back in July about the pains I was experiencing running in the Brooks 3. I've thought about it many times since then. Guess what? The pain is gone. One theory you suggested was that perhaps I was running beyond my body's capacity, and that seems to be it.

    For context,I'll break my run log into three segments:
    [pain before writing] At the time I last wrote I had run 19 times for a total of 60 miles, with the last nine of those runs accounting for 40 miles.
    [pain after writing] Then over the subsequent five weeks I ran 11 times and 48 miles, all the while feeling tender and often icing my knees (which helped).
    [recent bliss] Then in the last month I've done another 11 runs and 53 miles, and I feel great without resorting to icing.

    Sincerely, 165 [sic] lb male

    PS: I don't really weight 165 pounds. I had thought that, but a visit to a doctor and a scale told me I'm actually more like 145. My average weight over the past ten years is about 150.

  14. Great to hear that you figured out the cause of your pain and got it resolved! I think a lot of people blame their injuries on shoes when it's actually their training that needs to be looked at (though obviously sometimes shoes are to blame, or at least precipitate the problem). Stay healthy out there!

  15. This is a great review! Thanks for sharing this. Keep it up!

  16. Can I use the Ghost 3 on trails as well? I like to run mainly on pavement but sometimes I like to take off on the trails every once and a while. It's not my main running environment.

  17. Yeah, definitely! Most road shoes work on most trails, ranging from fire roads to technical singletrack to even some rocky scrambles. The only time they really don't work is on muddy trails, where the lugged sole of a trail shoe is helpful. And on some of the muddiest trails (particularly the thick clay mud), even the lugs of trail shoes don't help much either. Also, on very rocky trails, some people may prefer a rock plate (which obviously a road shoe won't have), but that's a preference thing. I'd say they're fine for the occasional foray off-road.

    FWIW, I think I like the Ghost 3 more than the 4. The 4 seems like a much more built up shoe, with more underfoot.


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