Monday, April 9, 2012

Gear Review: Brooks Mach 13 Spikeless

I miss spikes. So. Much. Don't get me wrong, I love racing flats too, but there is something unmistakably awesome about slipping on a pair of low-slung racers that hug your foot like a glove. Maybe it's nostalgia for NCAA cross-country and track. Or maybe it's the fact that every time I walk into the National Running Center, I'm greeted by a wall of spikes and a pair of Nike Zoom Victory track spikes that stare at me and beg me to bring them home. But seeing as I don't race track anymore, I really can't justify buying a pair of $110 spikes for track workouts...especially when you consider that would mean I'd be doing workouts in spikes that weigh half as much as my racing flats (3.2oz WTF?). Enter the Speed Dragon...aka the Brooks Mach 13 Spikeless!

The Brooks Mach 13 Spikeless is Brooks' spikeless cross-country racer. The Mach 13 Spikeless weighs in at 6.0oz for a men's size 9 and 5.2oz for a women's size 8, and has a stack height of 14/9 for an H-delt of 5mm. Running Warehouse describes the Mach 13 as such:
Brooks' Mach 13 Spikeless is a cross country shoe engineered for 3k to 10k distances on asphalt, dirt, wood, or rubber surfaces. This lightweight racing shoe has a curved overall shape.
  • To keep weight down, this shoe contains no additional cushioning technologies.
  • CMEVA is a full length compression molded EVA designed for lightweight cushioning and flexibility.
  • Air Mesh covers the upper and is a breathable mesh that allows heat to escape.
  • Synthetic Overlays are strategically located with the purpose of providing a secure fit.
  • Dynamic Arch Straps are located in the midfoot with the purpose of providing a more secure midfoot fit.
  • Strobel Last utilizes a full length layer of foam to provide cushioning and flexibility.
  • Contact Rubber is a thin layer of full length rubber and has an aggressive lug configuration designed for traction.
You can see where the spikes would be on the spiked version of the Brooks Mach 13

Since the Mach 13 Spikeless is derived from a cross-country spike (the Mach 13) rather than a track spike, it is a little more versatile than a true track spike, even moreso than a distance track spike. It's a touch more cushioned and supportive than a track spike would be (please understand we are still talking about spikes, and "more" is relative here...but we'll get to that in a bit). Additionally, seeing as there's no spike plate or spikes, you can take it on harder surfaces than its pricklier brother (unless you throw blanks in the spike, which I've definitely done in the past). However, it's still a spike at heart. This shoe feels most at home on grass, dirt roads, non-technical trails, and tracks...basically same places you'd use the spiked version, though it'll be a little less awkward on hardpacked dirt than a regular spike, and it won't make clicky noises if you hit a stretch of asphalt. While it's not a terrible shoe on asphalt, I still wouldn't recommend buying this shoe as a road flat, since there are definitely better choices out there. However, if you live in a state that prohibits metal spikes for cross-country, or if you are looking for a less aggressive alternative to a track spike for track and grass speedworkouts or fire road tempo runs, it's worth checking out.

I don't think anyone buys a cross-country spike (or spikeless, in this case) looking for cushioning. Cross-country races are short, and you're probably wearing it on a soft surface, so you can sacrifice cushioning and forgiveness for weight reduction. While the Mach 13 is more cushioned than most track spikes, saying a shoe is more cushioned than a track spike is kind of like saying a car is slower than a Bugatti Veyron. So unsurprisingly, like most XC spikes, the Mach 13 is a firm shoe with very little underfoot for cushioning. No surprises here, as Brooks delivers exactly what you'd expect out of a shoe of this class.

Brooks Mach 13 is pretty freakin' flexible.

Brooks Mach 13 has quite a bit of lateral flexibility too.

The Mach 13 is a very flexible shoe. Unlike many track spikes, which often have an aggressive stiffness to them to get you onto your toes quickly, the Mach 13 is a wet noodle. It's an all-around very flexible shoe. This does have the nice side effect of relaxing it for longer workouts and making it easier on your calves, though it's obviously not quite as fast feeling as a more aggressive shoe. The not-18-year-old in me can definitely appreciate this (let's face it, as much as I lust after the Victory, they'd probably destroy my 26-year-old old woman lower legs! And go ahead and make fun of me calling myself old...but I'm not the only person who realizes that I can't do the same things I did as a teenager).

Non-existent heel counter of the Brooks Mach 13

The heel counter of the Mach 13 non-existent. The heel cup also comes up pretty high, so I've been Body Gliding to keep myself from bleeding all over the back of the shoe. Additionally, it's a flat shoe that lacks significant arch support. All of this adds up to a shoe with very little structure. Like cushion, support in XC spikes is generally sacrificed in favor of weight-reduction. No surprises there. I'd like to say that this shoe is for the biomechanically efficient neutral runner, but let's face it...those rules kind of go out the window when we're talking about spikes, because 1) races are generally only 5K-10K, and 2) I hate to generalize, but people who wear spikes are usually fast, young, and light (which means they're not on the course long and can bounce back from practically anything).

Tread and curved last of the Brooks Mach 13

The tread on the Mach 13 is par for the course for an XC spike. It's absolutely fantastic on grass, hard-packed dirt, and the track. It's very obvious that it was designed with those surfaces in mind. It works on the road, and I've used it a bunch on the road, but in my opinion, there are better options for that purpose, since there are mini-lugs for off-road traction and it just doesn't feel quite as ideal for that purpose as a true road flat. At the other extreme, there's not really enough traction for more muddy courses or loose dirt (which is when the real spike would come in handy!). Additionally, there's no rock plate or any other protection for more technical trails. Use the Mach 13 for the purpose for which it was designed, and it will reward you with a great ride. Use it for some other weird purpose, and you'll probably come away scratching your head and wondering how the heck I liked this shoe.

Brooks Mach 13 runs super narrow (compared to Brooks T7 Racer here). Also, you can see my lacing hack on the right shoe.

I'm not sure what I think of the lacing on these. The lacing goes down pretty far into the toebox, moreso than on any of my other shoes. The good part of this is you can customize the fit pretty well. The bad part is that the place where the laces cross closest to the toes can put a little bit of weird pressure on one of my extensor hallucis tendons (the ones that extend the big toe). Anyone who's ever tied their shoes too tightly and given themselves extensor tendinitis knows what I'm talking about, but this isn't a matter of tying the laces too tightly, because it doesn't matter how loose I make's just lacing in a weird place. I fixed this by starting the lacing closer to the heel on the offending shoe, and it seems to have solved the problem. Other than the lacing, the upper is very nice and provides a glove-like fit, and it feels like it was built to be worn sockless.

When I initially ordered the Mach 13, I ordered the women's 7.5, the same size I wear in almost all Brooks shoes (with the exception of the T7 Racer, where I wear a 6.5, which converts to a women's 8). Holy crap, it felt like a climbing shoe, and my feet are pretty narrow too. I could barely even get it on my foot, it was that small. I sent it back and ordered half a size up, and went with the men's version for the extra width (men's D versus women's B), which is the same size as I wear in the T7. This one fit much better, though the toebox is still snug to the point that I can't wear socks with it. No problem for me, since I never wear socks with racers (and especially never with spikes), but something to consider if socks or a roomy toebox is important to you. It actually felt a bit narrower than the T7 and the women's PureConnect when I first got it, though it has stretched a little over time (it took about 80 miles for the upper to stretch for me). It's a spike at heart, and it fits like a spike (though it's also narrower than the Nike Zoom Kennedy XC, my old cross-country spikes and the only other spikes I still had hanging around for comparison's sake). It's also built off of a curved last (similar to the T7).


I love the design on these. It's a little loud, and there's a part of me that kind of likes more subdued shoes so I don't feel like I'm walking around at the starting line of races with a target on my back saying "Beat the girl with the stupid shoes," but there's another part of me that loves crazy loud spikes. I'd never purposely buy a shoe because of the design, but I'm kind of happy that the men's version ended up fitting me better, because I think it's a thousand times more attractive than the leopard print on the women's. Speed Dragon? That's freaking awesome!

Moral of the story is that while the Mach 13 is kind of a one-trick pony, it does that one trick very, very well. I am loving it for its given purpose, but please understand that while it's more versatile than a track spike, it's still a very single-purpose shoe. I know some people have been using spikeless XC flats as minimalist road trainers, but I just don't think this type of shoe is really ideal for that purpose. There are lots of better shoes for that type of running, especially now that there are so many new options on the market. On the other hand, if you want to relive your college days and want a fun and lively little shoe for speedwork on the track or non-technical trails, but you don't think you want something as aggressive as the ultralight spikes that Nike is putting out, look no further, because this shoe will almost certainly put a smile on your face.

The Brooks Mach 13 Spikeless retails for $60 and is available on Brooks' website, as well as at many retailers that carry Brooks products. There is also a spiked Brooks Mach 13 available that retails for $65. As stated earlier, the Mach 13 runs small and very narrow, so size up about half a size, and if you have wide feet or prefer shoes with a roomy toebox, definitely try it on before you order it.

Full disclosure: I purchased the Mach 13 Spikeless 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 Brooks, the National Running Center, or anyone else.


  1. The review of the Mach 13 by the author, Becki, is such a professional, classy, and well-written article! (sarcasm-lots of it)

    1. Of course they're not professional...if they were professional, I'd get paid for them! Tell you what, you pay me, and I'll be sure to make them more professional from here on out. ;)


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