Friday, January 6, 2012

Gear Review: Brooks Launch


With all the hype about all the new minimalist offerings on the market, it's easy for traditional performance trainers to get lost in the mix. And that's a shame, because there are plenty of people who want a shoe for fast days that don't quite warrant a flat, and who don't care about a few millimeters of foam. Not to mention, there some really solid offerings in that category. One of those performance trainers is the Brooks Launch, a relatively light, well-cushioned, traditional heel-toe drop shoe from Brooks.

The Launch is Brooks' neutral performance trainer. It weighs 9.1oz for a men's size 9, and has a 27mm heel and 17mm forefoot for a 10mm heel-toe differential. The Launch is described on Running Warehouse as such:
The Launch is a moderate feature, minimal neutral shoe designed for speedwork and daily training. It is built with a semi-curved shape.
CUSHIONING
  • Hydroflow ST cushioning in the heel uses a chamber filled with viscous fluid to attenuate shock, dampen impact forces, and add heel stability.
MIDSOLE
  • BioMoGo full-length midsole offers resilient cushioning and is made of environment-friendly, biodegradable materials.
  • Cush Pod Configuration is a cushioned midsole/outsole design that sets the foot up for an efficient, balanced heel-to-toe transition.
UPPER
  • Air Mesh upper consists of a breathable mesh material.
  • Synthetic Overlays are strategically located to provide a snug, secure fit.
  • Traditional Sockliner offers additional underfoot comfort.
  • Strobel Last with the upper stitched to full length BioS-257, a material which releases a non-toxic, natural additive when placed in active landfill that helps break down the midsole faster.
OUTSOLE
  • HPR Plus is a high abrasion-resistant rubber located in the heel for durable traction.
  • Blown Rubber in the forefoot offers durability, responsiveness and flexibility.
  • Cush Pod Configuration is a cushioned midsole/outsole design that sets the foot up for an efficient, balanced heel-to-toe transition.
Once upon a time, I wore the Nike Pegasus for pretty much everything except for racing. But then Nike kept tweaking it, and it strayed from the shoe that I knew and loved (the best way I can describe the current Pegasus is "Vomero-lite"). It made me long for a simple, flexible, soft, no-nonsense shoe. That's when I found the Launch. Simple. Flexible. Soft. No-nonsense. Pretty similar feel and ride to the Pegasus I was wearing in college, and pretty much fit the bill for what I was looking for.

Torsional flexibility of the Brooks Launch

Forefoot flexibility of the Brooks Launch

One of the features that I liked about the Pegasus is that they had less lateral stiffness and a weaker heel counter than many other neutral trainers. Same deal with the Launch. Plenty of lateral flexibility and a weak heel counter. Obviously, there is some torsional stability provided by the construction of the midsole itself, and the configuration of the carbon rubber on the outsole actually does provide some support, but not enough to completely compromise the flexibility. To go along with that lateral flexibility, it has a nicely flexible forefoot. Obviously, we're not talking about Nike Free flexibility or the kind of flexibility offered by many minimal shoes, but my foot doesn't bend in all those directions anyway (and if you can roll your feet up into a ball...well, more power to you. And post pictures because I want to see!).

The Brooks Launch has a fairly weak heel counter

The Launch also provides ample cushioning. It's not as heavily cushioned as some of the really cushioned neutral trainers, but to expect Asics Nimbus or Nike Vomero level cushioning in a 9 ounce shoe would be ludicrous. Instead, the Launch does what it can with the cushioning it does provide by making that cushioning super soft. It's not super responsive, and I'd probably want something faster feeling if I were using it as a racer, but I bought it as a trainer, not a racer. There's also a Hydroflow unit in the heel for you heelstrikers who like some extra cushion in the heel. If you're expecting a very responsive, fast-feeling performance trainer, the Launch may feel a bit mushy, but if you want soft cushioning in a simple, lightweight package, the Launch is where it's at.

Universally curved last of the Brooks Launch. The connected heel-forefoot outsole also adds some inherent stability.

The Launch is built off of the same universal, semi-curved last that Brooks' other neutral trainers use. It has an upward sprung toe (which is slightly noticeable when the shoe is on...could be a good or bad thing depending on your preferences). It's also built off of the same wide base that a regular trainer uses, which adds more inherent support than the narrow base used by many flats. This, along with its ample cushioning, gives the Launch a distinct "trainer" feel (versus the "racer" feel that you get from flats). Which makes sense...it's a performance trainer, not a racing flat, though it can certainly be used for racing if you so desire (I feel like Leah @ Chasing Atalanta has used the Launch in the past as her racer...go bug her if you want to know how it feels for racing).

Side view showing the midsole and upper of the Brooks Launch

Top view showing the upper of the Brooks Launch

The Launch's upper is mostly mesh, with a few overlays. It breathes well and fits my foot. No complaints there. Obviously your mileage may vary depending on the shape of your foot, but that's the same story with any shoe. It's pretty roomy, which again, adds to the "trainer" feel, and gives plenty of room for any foot swelling that might accompany high volume training. It's a bit narrower than the Ghost 3 and 4, but it's far, far wider than the T7 or Connect.

Durability-wise, it wears about the same as a regular trainer (which is pretty good for a performance trainer, actually).

Can I add as a side note, the laces on the Launch read "Dig Deep?" This has absolutely zero bearing on the function of the shoe, but that was one of the key phrases my college coach used to yell during races, so it made me smile. The laces stay tied, so I'm happy with the Dig Deep laces. The sole also reads "Fuel the Fire," but while it's a fun touch, that phrase has less personal meaning for me.

DIG DEEP!

When I bought the Launch, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, since I had never worn a performance trainer before. Lots of trainers, lots of spikes, and lots of flats, but I always thought of performance trainers as that weird in-between zone and never bothered to buy a pair. Well, I still can't speak for other performance trainers, but the Launch is far more trainer than racer, and I've been perfectly happy using it as a general trainer. As a warning, I do have a few friends (neutral, fast, and have done some hardcore training) who have said that they don't think it's appropriate for the bulk of their high mileage training, and I do think I'd prefer something a tiny bit more structured for slow, recovery days (and I haven't attempted hardcore high-mileage training in it yet), though obviously everyone's different. I'd recommend the Launch for the neutral, biomechanically efficient runner who eschews minimalism and low heel-toe differential shoes in favor of a simple, soft, decently cushioned, and flexible trainer (or possibly even racer if you prefer lots of cushioning for races). The Launch might not be trendy, but it's a simple, no-nonsense shoe that gets the job done, and that's all I ask of a shoe. It's found a well-deserved place in my rotation.

The Brooks Launch retails for $90 and is available on Brooks' website, as well as at many retailers that carry Brooks products, like the National Running Center. It runs fairly true to size.

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

8 comments:

  1. Love your review, as always. Cbus.

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  2. I always appreciate the format of your reviews. Too many people attempt to say whether a shoe is "good" without describing it in any meaningful way. This is a good example of how to do things better, which is why, minimalist zealot (yeah... I'm one of "those") though I am, I always make a point to read your stuff.

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  3. Thanks Cbus!

    Whoa, minimalist guys read my blog too? Sweet! Seriously though, if it's working for you, awesome! I do firmly believe that people are built differently, so minimalism has to be working great for SOME people, and it's great to hear you figured out something that works for you. I do hope to draw a diverse audience though, which is why I do try to include all sorts of useful information in my reviews. That's also why I sometimes try to hit on stuff the minimal guys would find interesting too (the Piranha review, the guest review of the A4 by an actual minimalist, and I'm trying to convince my friend who wrote the A4 review to do a Trail Glove review, but we'll see). Thanks for the compliment!

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  4. The A4 review is actually how I found your blog in the first place. Like the reviewer, I tend to have achilles tightness in higher heeled running shoes, which is something of a paradox. But of course, I can't pretend to suggest that what I do is "best". Too many fast people run too successfully in something like the Adios for anyone to say otherwise.

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  5. I can see that. A higher heeled shoe puts your Achilles in a constantly shortened position. I actually have super flexible ankles with a huge amount of dorsiflexion ROM...I'm guessing that's why I can go from 12mm shoes to 4mm shoes to probably less than that in spikes and never notice a difference. And hey, it may not be the best for everyone, but if it's best for you, then why not go with it?

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  6. ...Bad choice of words on my part. Constantly shortened is definitely not the right term. "More shortened" might be more appropriate, but it still gets stretched depending on where in the gait cycle you are.

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  7. Thanks in part to you, the Launch is a new favorite of mine, sharing the podium with the Precision 12. I always enjoy reading your no-bullshit gear evaluations.

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  8. Moral of the story, Brooks should send me lots of shoes to review for free. ;) Glad you like them!

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