Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gear Review: Brooks PureConnect


A while ago, I posted some information on the Brooks PureProject, Brooks' entry into the reduced shoe market. When they were first announced, I was pretty unfazed, being happy with my other shoes, and mainly just satisfied that if Brooks was making other low-drop shoes, maybe that meant they'd leave the T Racer alone and not mess with that shoe's H delt. But then the more I heard about them, the more I wanted a pair! First came Sage's review of the PureFlow, then there was the PureProject Facebook contest, and then, well, I bought a pair of PureConnects. The PureProject line consists of four different shoes: the PureConnect, the PureFlow, the PureCadence, and the PureGrit. More information can be found in my previous post. Well, I've finally got some miles on the Brooks PureConnect, the most race-bred of the group, and now, it's time for a review!

Before I start the review, I'd like to say I meant to take photos before I used these, but I kept forgetting. I finally remembered after they first got muddy, which means that the photos are of relatively new shoes, even though they probably look dirty. I did try to clean them for you though.

The PureConnect is the lightest and lowest-slung member of the PureProject line. It is intended for the neutral, biomechanically efficient runner. The PureConnect weighs in at 7.2oz for a men's size 9 and 6.5oz for a women's size 8, making it slightly heavier than the Green Silence, a stack height of 22/17, and sports an H delt of 4mm. Running Warehouse describes the shoe as such:
The PureConnect is a minimum featured, minimum neutral shoe designed for daily training or racing. It is built with a semi-curved shape.
CUSHIONING
  • BioMoGo DNA fuses BioMoGo midsole and DNA gel cushioning technology for a fully custom responsive ride that adapts to the needs of each and every runner.
MIDSOLE
  • BioMoGo DNA fuses BioMoGo midsole and DNA gel cushioning technology for a fully custom responsive ride that adapts to the needs of each and every runner.
  • Toe Flex uses a toe split in the outsole/midsole materials that allows the big toe to function independently and engage the runner's natural balance during toe-off.
  • Omega Flex Grooves enhance midsole flexibility without compromising cushioning.
UPPER
  • Nav Band is a flexible, stretching band that wraps over the midfoot to help keep the foot secure.
  • Anatomical Last mimics the shape of the foot, resulting in a glove-like feel and allowing the the foot to work as a single unit.
OUTSOLE
  • Ideal Heel consists of a curved outer heel, to encourage midfoot and forefoot striking.
  • Blown Rubber outsole offers durability, responsiveness and flexibility.

"Bubbles" on the sole of the Brooks PureConnect. The black and darker teal are carbon rubber, while the light teal is foam.

The design of the sole is probably the most distinctive part of the Brooks PureConnect. Like the Saucony ProGrid Kinvara, the PureConnect uses a hard carbon rubber over the parts of the sole where the runner contacts the ground the most, while leaving the other parts of the foam (which is a combination of BioMoGo and DNA) uncovered for weight reduction purposes. While it certainly succeeds as far as reducing weight is concerned, it does have the slightly disconcerting feeling that you're standing on bubbles. It's almost how I'd expect a pair of Reebok RunTones to feel (no, I do not own RunTones, but both of my roommates do, so I have seen them in person and can take a guess). However, running shoes aren't made for standing around, and luckily the feeling of standing on bubbles went away as long as I'm running at a decent speed.

As I stated before, the Brooks PureConnect uses a combination of its biodegradable BioMoGo foam and non-Newtonian DNA to form the midsole. This provides an extremely cushioned ride for a 7oz shoe. Seriously, I would never expect a shoe this weight to be this well cushioned. Brooks seems to do a good job in general of making its shoes very soft and cushion-y, since its T7 Racer is also very cushioned for its weight, and the PureConnect is no exception. Don't get me wrong, the PureConnect is no squish-fest, but for a shoe of its weight that is described as "minimal," I was pleasantly surprised by how plush this shoe is. This feature will no doubt turn off the die-hard minimalists, but I don't think they're the target audience here anyway. However, despite having this cushioning, the PureConnect still manages to be a pretty responsive shoe. There are definitely no problems with this shoe feeling "dead" or slow. It's still not quite as fast and responsive as something like the T7 (and definitely nowhere near as responsive as the ASICS Piranha), and it won't be replacing my flats for racing anytime soon (at least not for half-marathon and below), but for something this plush, the Connect still manages to deliver on responsiveness.

The upper of the PureConnect is also very nice, and hugs my foot well. It is on the narrow side (more on that later), and is built off a fairly curved last. The PureConnect also has a thin tongue that tends to stay in place. Additionally, it is comfortable to wear with or without socks (though it does not seem to be very comfortable with the insole removed, due to the exposed seams, if you're into that sort of thing). It does have a pretty low instep, which may be a problem if your instep is high or if you have very high arches.

The Brooks PureConnect has a lot of forefoot flexibility
And the Brooks PureConnect also has a lot of lateral flexibility

The Brooks PureConnect is a very flexible shoe. It has a lot of flexibility both in the forefoot and in the lateral direction. While it's not as flexible nor will it allow your foot to move quite as freely as something like the Nike Free, it should be more than flexible enough for the majority of people. Despite being stiffer than the Free (which really isn't saying much, considering how flexible the Free is), in no way did it stop my foot from moving how I wanted.

The Brooks PureConnect has a stiff heel counter that adds some rear foot support
The Brooks PureConnect has Brooks' IDEAL Technology in the heel

The Brooks PureConnect has a stiff heel counter that adds some rearfoot support to the shoe. This heel counter hugged my calcaneus fairly well, and is one of the shoe's features that seems to add some inherent stability to it. The PureConnect also uses what Brooks calls IDEAL Technology in the heel. This rounds the heel under the shoe rather than having a piece of rubber sticking out behind your heel, in order to better mimic the shape of your calcaneus. It is meant to move the contact point forward slightly (Brooks claims it moves it forward 3cm to the center of the heel). While it's very possible to heelstrike in this shoe and no shoe will magically change your footstrike all by itself (plus footstrike, like the rest of running, isn't a one-size-fits-all thing anyway), I can tell you that this shoe feels good with either a heelstrike or midfoot strike (no data on the forefoot strike...I have to really try and sprint to get myself to forefoot strike). Very smooth transition with either a heel or midfoot strike.

The Brooks PureConnect has Brooks' Nav Band to give the shoe a glove-like fit

Brooks PureConnect insole

The PureConnect has great arch support for a shoe of its class. I was stunned. When you first put on the shoe, you get this glove-like fit that hugs your arch, courtesy of this piece of elastic that wraps around your midfoot and arch that Brooks calls the Nav Band (probably because it supports your navicular). Of course, the support from the Nav Band disappears once you start running, since it's elastic and pretty much flexes with your foot. The Nav Band continues to touch your arch, but it doesn't actually support it. However, the shape of the midsole picks up where the Nav Band lets off and actually does support your arch, giving the PureConnect a large amount of arch support for a shoe that seemingly has very little structure. It's no stability shoe by any stretch of the imagination, nor is it even a general neutral trainer (it is much less structured than even the Brooks Launch performance trainer), but the PureConnect has far more arch support than any of my racing flats, which will no doubt make it great as a lightweight performance trainer (or even a racer for longer races...wish this shoe was around when I ran my marathon). You can see from the radical shape of the insole that some of the arch support is provided by the insole, while the rest is provided by the shape of the shoe itself.

The Brooks PureConnect Toe Flex doesn't seem to have any effect on the ride of the shoe

Brooks added a ninja-like split toe to the PureConnect. Honestly, I didn't notice it at all. While there's no rubber in the groove for the Toe Flex, there is a hard piece of...something there, which means that your big toe does not bend separately from the others. Running, it feels like every other shoe that doesn't have a split toe.

Another cool thing that I mentioned in another post is the laces. Similar to the New Balance Sure Lace, the Brooks PureProject laces are kinked, which means they do a nice job of staying tied. Small detail, but a nice touch.

The Brooks PureConnect has a very narrow forefoot. For comparison, T7 is on the left, Brooks Ghost is on the right.

Something to note is that it seems that some people are having problems fitting into this shoe because of its narrow forefoot. The toebox seems to be of a similar width, perhaps a bit narrower, than that of the T7, and the last is fairly curved too, which adds to the narrow feeling. It's definitely narrower than the Kinvara, which is probably one of its main competitors. If you have a narrow foot, you'll appreciate the glove-like fit. If you have a wide foot, definitely try before you buy, or consider the slightly wider PureFlow.

If you push off the lateral edge of your shoe, you're likely to see early wear where there is no outsole rubber.

I am a little worried about the PureConnect's durability. The patches of carbon rubber that protect the soft midsole seem like they're thin and sparsely placed, and the lateral toe has no carbon rubber, so if you push off that area of the shoe, you may find yourself wearing a hole in the sole quickly. The lateral toe of my shoe had very significant wear after less than 100 miles on the shoe. Here's to hoping they are more durable than they appear, and that Brooks adds more carbon rubber on the Connect 2. While I don't like to use sole wear as my indicator as to how well the midsole is holding up, if the carbon rubber is gone from the sole, the soft midsole is going to get eaten up by the road quickly. It does seem to be more of a performance trainer/racing flat than a general trainer though, so I guess I shouldn't quite expect to get general trainer mileage out of it, and should be happy if I get the same mileage I get out of my T7s.

The other thing I'd like to note is that the PureConnect has next to no mud traction. Now, if I wanted a trail shoe, I would have bought the PureGrit instead, and when I bought this shoe, I was looking for a road shoe primarily for road tempo runs and road and track cruise intervals, so I'm not expecting wonderful mud traction. However, I do sometimes like to run in the dirt on the side of the road, and after it rains, this dirt often turns into mud. I haven't ever had an issue with any of my other road shoes before, but the PureConnect is definitely a little slick (which shouldn't be a surprise when you look at the tread pattern and realize there aren't really edges, just those bubbles). Of course, as long as you stay on the road (which is where this shoe was meant to be used anyway) or on the track, traction is perfectly fine.


So, the big question that everyone is looking for an answer to: as a "minimal" shoe, how does the PureConnect fare? Well, my experience with reduced shoes is limited, but here goes. The PureConnect seems to have softer cushioning and is built off a narrower base than the Saucony Kinvara, though its flexibility is probably similar. Also, it is much softer and less flexible than the Nike Free Run or Nike Free 3.0. And from what I've seen of the New Balance Minimus and Merrell Trail Glove (that is, tried them on in a store and ran around for a couple minutes, so no real test), it is much, much more shoe than either of them. So it's not a shoe for the true minimalist, nor is it anything close to "barefoot," but I think we all knew that as soon as we saw it. What it is is a damn good fast shoe, that's somewhere between a performance trainer and an all-out racing flat as far as performance goes, maybe even a marathon flat to compete with the likes of the Nike Lunaracer. And as for the 4mm heel-toe drop...I have yet to notice it, even though most of my shoes have a much higher drop than that. I guess my calves are weird (to be fair, I ran in spikes for years).

The Brooks PureConnect retails for $90 and is available on Brooks' website, as well as select retailers. It is scheduled for a regular release in January 2012, and at that point, it will be available at many retailers that carry Brooks products. I found sizing to run true to size, though as I stated before, the toebox is very narrow, and some people may want to size half a size up.

Full disclosure: The PureConnect was a personal purchase that I bought myself, so there's nothing really to disclose. The opinions expressed in this review are mine and based on my experience, and do not reflect the opinion of Brooks or anyone else.

14 comments:

  1. I'd like to try a Pure or two, but, alas, they don't come in wide. Me and my stupid bunions.

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  2. I bought a pair the day they launched and am having to replace them after 220 miles in 6 weeks, due to wear on heel. This heel wear is not new with me but I have never had a pair show this much wear this fast. Started with Dyads, then one pair of Green Silence, and never got less then 300 miles out of a pair of shoes. Those with mid-foot strike may not notice, but if you have seen unusual wear on previous shoes, be aware of this.

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  3. Leah, I posted this on your Facebook wall, but realized today that other people might be having the same issue, so I'll repost here: the Flow, Cadence, and Grit are a little wider, and women always have the option of going with the men's D width.

    Anon, thanks for your comment. I wear out shoes in different ways (some trainers end up with a paper thin forefoot, others end up with exposed midsole on the heel, and it's not like I'm changing my stride between two otherwise identical pairs of shoes that are being used for the same purpose), so I'm not sure what will happen with these. I actually didn't even notice the exposed midsole on the heel until you pointed it out. I'll keep an eye out, thanks!

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  4. Becki, I am sending you a photo of the shoes via email.

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  5. Love the shoe but I am pretty dissapointed with the wear..near the toes and ball of the foot the foam is pratically gone (maybe only a couple millimetres left of cushoining..mind you i have ran the better part of 350 kilometres in them (including a marathon) but i just expect a 120 dollar pair of shoes to last longer than 6 weeks of moderate training..due to this fact i would say this shoe is by no means an everyday trainer..however if your looking for a minimal race shoe this shoe was great (ran a full marathon PB: 2:42 in them)

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  6. I love these shoes for so many reasons but the heel drop bothers me so much when I'm standing. I'd spend the extra $90 just to wear them occasionally though. Ugh I want them so badly!

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  7. Haha, kind of expensive to buy a pair for occasional casual use, but then again, I've probably spent money on random things I only use once in a while too. Have you looked at the Green Silence? That has a little bit more heel-toe drop to it (and is a little firmer), but may be an option.

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  8. Well, I just bought these today after reading the phenomenal reviews all over the web, but seeing your photo of the wear and reading anon's comment confirming, I'm having second thoughts. I've been running exclusively in Vibrams for five years, and I recently moved to a place where my nearest "road" is riddled with cracks and potholes (Good ol' Midwest!). I decided it might be time to migrate back to a slightly more cushioned shoe to avoid breaking my ankle. I haven't run in them yet, and they felt extremely awkward when I tried them on in-store. If I don't like them after my first run, they're going back. I'm still debating taking them back without even trying them, haha. That wear rating is completely inexcusable. Thank you for a super thorough review!

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  9. Thanks for reading, N! Let us know what you decide to do!

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  10. I loved your review of the shoe. I have 3 prs of the Connects and really love them. I can attest they are very durable. I usually only get 300-350 miles out shoes but have a pair of Connects that have well over 400 miles on them and think they still have maybe one or two track workouts left till they are fully retired. I will say that each pair has taken me 100 miles to sort break in and until they were perfectly molded to my feet :-)

    Love your reviews!! Keep'em coming..

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  11. Thanks for your comment and glad you enjoyed the review! Interesting that you got so many miles on them...I suppose it's all about where you push off!

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  12. I have a little more than 700 miles in my PureConnects! They look bad at about 300 miles but I don't think the true breakdown of the support starts happening until around 600 miles. In the past 2 weeks I've been having arch spasms and sore feet after long runs. Time to shell out another $90...This will be my third pair though. I still think they are the best out there.
    -Ingrid

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  13. I have been running for a year in the New Balance Minimus but I wanted a little bit more cushion for runs longer than 7 miles. I have only been on one run with the PureConnect and they are much softer but I feel the rubber bubbles under the right mid sole are rolling my foot in quite a bit. The left foot is fine but I feel like I'm running on a slanted sidewalk on the right foot. I just went out for 2 miles and my right leg was hurting from trying to keep my foot stable. I'll try a few more times but then return them if this feeling doesn't improve.

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    Replies
    1. The PureFlow has a wider base and lacks the bubble feeling, though the cushioning is definitely softer than the PureConnect. Surprisingly, I've heard of a lot of neutral runners liking the PureCadence quite a bit...supposedly lacks the mushy feeling of the PureFlow and the bubble feeling of the PureConnect, and do not actually add excessive stability. I haven't had an opportunity to try them myself, but they may be an option. The other option is the Saucony Kinvara, which is somewhere between the PureConnect and PureFlow in terms of cushioning, and obviously does not have the bubble feeling to it.

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