Thursday, March 24, 2011

Gear Review: Brooks T7 Racer

Once in a while, a shoe company gets something right. You wear a shoe and end up falling in love with it, because it's the closest thing to perfection you're going to find without making the Olympic team and having Nike make a one-off custom shoe specially for you. In 2007, I found one of those shoes when I bought the Brooks T5 Racer. At first, they stayed in my closet much of the time, because the store team I was running for at the time was sponsored by Nike, and to be completely honest, it wasn't love at first sight anyway, since coming from wearing spikes in college, I was more into the faster, lower to the ground feel that the Nike Zoom Katana offered. However, when I left that team, I gave the T5 another chance, and God was I ever glad that I did, because it's, hands down, the best flat I've ever worn. When you find a shoe that good, you're always afraid that it's going to get discontinued or get changed. My second favorite racing flat, the Adidas Adizero PR, was discontinued, even though that shoe had a cult following. And though I don't own the A4 or Fastwitch, Saucony just changed those shoes pretty drastically, as I talked about in my last post. Thankfully, the T6 remained mostly unchanged, other than it got a slightly nicer upper that fit my foot even better. In Februrary '11, Brooks released the T7 Racer, and I'm happy to report that the engineers at Brooks must know a good thing when they see it, because, while it looks a lot different from the outside, on the inside, it's still the good ol' T Racer that we've come to know and love.

The T7 is Brooks' entry into the 5K-10K racing flat category (though obviously some people will be able to wear it for longer races too). It's intended for the neutral, biomechanically efficient runner. Brooks' website describes the T7 as follows:

Looking for something "lickety-split"? This incredibly light road-racing shoe is the fastest in the pack, with a new eye-catching upper for fly-by style. The streamlined, asymmetric upper works with the anatomy of the foot to perfectly wrap the arch securely from start to finish.

Triathlete Chrissie Wellington races in the T7 and calls it "an amazing shoe!" She was rocking a pair when she smashed the world record at the Ford Ironman Arizona in November.
Available in men's sizes only. (For women we suggest ordering 1.5 sizes smaller than what you usually wear).

Note: As this shoe is a very lightweight, minimal support racing flat, the vast majority of runners will not find it "enough shoe" for a full marathon. If you have a light frame and a biomechanically efficient stride, however, you may be able to get away with it. We suggest you work up to it in several half marathon-plus races beforehand to see how it works for you before running in it for a full marathon. 

Category: Competition
Weight: 6.4 oz
Platform: Curved
Construction: Strobel
Sizing Note: Men's Sizing/D width only.

T6 traditional lacing vs. T7 asymmetrical lacing
The biggest change to the T7 is the new asymmetrical lacing. I've often heard asymmetrical lacing described as being a love it or hate it kind of thing, but honestly, I didn't really notice it one way or the other. It pulls at the fabric over the toebox so it looks kind of weird (as you can see in the picture), but since I don't actually feel anything different nor does it make the shoe perform any differently, it's not something that I care much about. If anything, it makes it easier to tighten due to having one less eyelet for lacing (which again, doesn't have any effect on the actual performance of the shoe). Otherwise, the upper feels very similar to the T6. Still hugs my foot the same way, still has that great sock-like feel to it (I don't wear socks with racing flats, so this is a big deal for me). I've heard some reports of the toebox being wider, and at first I was a little worried, since I love the narrow toebox of the T6, but it hasn't actually changed at all (both the T6 and T7 are 3.75" across at their widest point in a size 6.5). If there's more fabric in the upper, it's negligible and not something I can notice (the T6 has that weird bunchy fabric thing in the toebox too, but due to the traditional lacing, you don't see it as much, and the T5 definitely had it, and for some reason, it was even more aesthetically noticeable than on the T7). Moral of the story is if the T5 and T6 fit you, the T7 will too. Size it the same way.

T6 vs. T7 heel collar heights
Another thing to note is that the shape of the heel collar is slightly changed. When I first bought the T5, it ripped up the back of my Achilles because it's fairly high (the T6's heel collar is similar to that of the T5). Eventually the skin over my Achilles kind of formed a layer of dead skin cells over the top, and the shoe stopped tearing it up. The T7's heel collar is still pretty high, though it's shaped differently. I don't notice it, but as I said, my skin back there is pretty tough. If you're prone to busting open that skin, you may want to try on the shoe before you buy it.

T7 vs. Launch insoles
Like the T6, the T7 is build on an aggressively curved platform. As you can see from the picture of the insole of the T7 versus that of the Launch above, it has a significantly more curved platform than the Universal platform that's present on many of Brooks' other shoes (and probably the majority of neutral running shoes in general). While this supposedly makes it ideal for people with high arches, as a medium arched runner, I haven't had any problems with it and actually like that characteristic in a racing flat, though to be fair, I've been racing in spikes for years, which all have had significantly curved lasts. Basically, the curved platform makes this shoe feel fast. However, this platform means that the T7 may not be ideal for longer distances for all runners, so make sure you do some long tempo runs or marathon paced workouts in it before deciding to use it for a marathon (or even a half really...don't race in a pair of shoes you don't do any of your training in). Additionally, I know that a few people like to do the bulk of their mileage in racing flats. Due to the radically curved last, this shoe is probably not ideal for that purpose, and something like the Green Silence or Racer ST 5 may be a better option. Finally, due to the curved platform, the T7 will most likely not accept an orthotic (though if you're really determined, I had friends in college who somehow got their orthotics into their spikes...I have no idea how they did that). The Green Silence and Racer ST are built on the Universal platform and will probably better accommodate orthotics.
Take that, minimalist shoe fans!
Flexibility-wise, the T7 has a good amount of lateral flexibility. There's also a decent amount of forefoot flexibility, though the forefoot does feel slightly stiffer and less flexible than the T6 (emphasis on slightly). The heel counter is firm to provide rearfoot support. The T7 also retains the "how the heck is a flat this light cushioned so well?" feeling of its predecessors. For a racing flat, the T7 is soft, yet still responds well enough that it's not a mush-fest like some other super-cushioned flats (Lunaracer, I'm looking at you). The T7 has a rearfoot Hydroflow unit in the heel for cushioning, and Running Warehouse measures the heel at 22mm and the forefoot at 10mm, for a 12mm heel-toe differential. The higher differential means it doesn't feel ridiculously low-slung like many other flats, and isn't a radical transition from trainers in that respect (the transition is more in the curvature of the last versus trainers, rather than the heel height). The Hydroflow heel cushioning and heel-toe differential, along with the durable carbon rubber heel (Is that the HPR Plus?) and Hyper Pod Construction (described as "Midsole and outsole components are engineered to set the foot in an efficient, balanced position from heel strike to toe-off, offering exceptional flexibility and unrestricted forefoot ride"), tell me that Brooks hasn't forgotten that there are still fast heel-strikers who want great flats. They better not forget that anyway, considering they sponsor some fast heelstrikers. That's not to say that this shoe won't work for midfoot strikers, of course, and I've used its predecessors for everything from mile pace to marathon pace with success (at slower paces, my stride is heel-touch, weight when my entire foot is on the ground, but turns more midfoot at faster paces). To sum it up, I don't want to have to change my stride for a shoe. I want a shoe that's good for my stride, and the T7 fits the bill.

Look! Unlike last time, I cleaned my shoes for you! Oh wait, I lied, they just didn't get dirty on the indoor track.
Like the T6, the ride of the T7 is smooth and fast. It's lightweight, with a claimed weight of 6.4oz for a men's size 9 (the same weight as the T6, though Running Warehouse says that the T7 weighs only 6.0oz...not that 0.4oz is noticeable). That's a normal weight for a flat of its class, and it's slightly lighter than most marathon flats and slightly heavier than the ultralight flats (Mayfly, Piranha, and Universe), though as I said before, it seems to have better cushioning than many flats its weight. It has a very smooth heel-toe transition and a smooth toe-off, thanks to the sprung toe of its last. As I mentioned earlier, the forefoot seems to be slightly less flexible than that of the T6, but that's the only real difference in ride that I can notice. The extra stiffness may decrease proprioception very, very slightly if you're concerned about that (but seriously, if you can't tell where your foot is in this shoe, I'm not sure what to tell you), but it also makes for a nice fast toe-off. I'd venture a guess that the majority of people will not notice a difference between the T6 and T7, and the only reason I noticed anything at all was because I had been told by a friend that the T7 felt stiffer and I was specifically looking for a flexibility change. It's minor, and by the end of the workout, I had all but forgotten about it. And did I mention these flats feel fast? Sometimes you just put on a pair of shoes and they just feel like a continuation of your body, like there's nothing holding you back. With flats, I've had that happen twice: once with the T Racer, and once with the Adizero PR. The T7 continues that proud tradition that began with the T5 and continued with the T6. (Sorry, no action shots because I wasn't going to grab random people at the track and ask them to take pictures of me...plus indoor tracks are dark and pictures usually come terribly anyway.)

Finally, if the T7 is anything like its predecessors, it will be fairly durable for a flat. Racing flats in general don't have very long lifespans, and it's not abnormal for them to wear out at 150 miles or so. I suspect this is a combination of lighter rubber being less durable and faster running being harder on the shoe. However, I can get significantly more than 150 miles on a pair of T Racers before they wear out (though it's still a lot less than I get on a pair of trainers). A friend of mine once commented on this too, stating that she normally threw out shoes when they wore out, but replaced her T Racers when they got gross, because that happened long before they wore out. Obviously I have not had time to wear out a pair of T7s yet, so its predicted durability is based on previous incarnations of the T Racer.

So, will this shoe make you run faster? No, of course not. Training makes you run faster, not magic shoes. But will it help you take advantage of your training? Oh heck yes.

The Brooks T7 Racer retails for $85 and is available on the Brooks website, as well as at many running stores that carry Brooks products, like the National Running Center. Sizing is unisex, so women should size down, and they also run about a half size small, so size up (I wear a 6.5 in the T7, 8 in the Ghost, and a 7.5 in the Defyance and Launch...no socks in T7, medium weight in Ghost and Defyance, thin in Launch). Normally I'd caution women to check for width when buying unisex shoes, but the T7 are narrow and fit me like women's shoes so it probably won't be an issue...narrowest "men's D" width I've ever come across! However, men with wide feet may want to check for width before buying.

Full disclosure: The T7 was graciously provided to me by Brooks in exchange for a review. The opinions expressed in this review are mine and based on my experience, and do not reflect the opinions of Brooks or the National Running Center.

8 comments:

  1. Thanks for the great write up of a shoe I've been interested in trying. Lots of good info here and I linked to you from my site.

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  2. Thanks Mark! Glad you enjoyed the review!

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  3. Wow - you really looked under the hood of these flats! Nice review. Makes me wish I were in shape, and needing some light shoes to run fast. Always like the Brooks shoes.

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  4. Thanks! And you don't need to be "fast" to wear light shoes...they can be great to use for speedwork no matter what your speed!

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  5. Lovely shoes! This is awesome! I love this! Brooks' really is amazing!
    Thank you for sharing this.

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  6. I know this review was far from new, but this was a shoe I used to wear that I eventually transitioned out of. Now, I'm thinking about trying them again, and this very thorough (but not full of garbage...it was all relevant information) review convinced me to pull the trigger. It reminded me of everything that felt right about them that I left due to curiosity about other stuff. Now after "playing the field," I'm ready to return to this kick ass shoe.

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  7. Agree 100 % been using them since the t-5s came out. I have been running for about 30 years and have experianced foot problems in the past, but that all ended when I went to this shoe.No issues for the last 5 years!

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  8. Nicely done... didnt think itd be possible to write that much about such a small shoe :)

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