Sunday, September 23, 2012

Gear Review: Brooks Racer ST 5

For some reason, the word "stability" next to a shoe's name sends neutral runners sprinting in the other direction. Runners see a new shoe, ask what type of runner it's meant for, and as soon as they hear the words "stability" or "overpronator," they cast away all thoughts of buying that shoe, terrified that it will overcorrect their stride or force them to run unnaturally. And for good reason (sometimes)...put a neutral runner in the Brooks Beast and you're bound to have problems. But remember, stability in shoes is not black and white, but comes in shades of grey. So what about those so-called "mild stability" shoes, the ones that overlap with more structured neutral shoes? Is there any real reason for neutral runners to stay away, or are we all just brainwashed by myths about foot type and running shoes? Or are there shoes that neutral runners and mild overpronators and possibly even mild supinators can all enjoy? Enter the Brooks Racer ST 5.

The Brooks Racer ST 5 is Brooks' mild stability racing flat. It weighs 8.6oz for a men's size 9*, and has a stack height of 28/16 for a 12mm heel-toe differential. Running Warehouse describes the Racer ST as such:
This Racer ST 5 is a moderate feature, minimum support shoe designed for speedwork and racing. It is built with a semi-curved shape.
  • Hydroflow ST cushioning in the heel uses a chamber filled with viscous fluid to attenuate shock, dampen impact forces, and add heel stability.
  • BioMoGo full-length midsole offers resilient cushioning and is made of environment-friendly, biodegradable materials.
  • Diagonal Rollbar (DRB) in the midfoot is made of dual density BioMoGo foam to reduce excess pronation.
  • DRB Accel is a thermoplastic polyurethane unit located in the midfoot for balanced support and torsional rigidity.
  • Stable Pod Configuration is a stable midsole/outsole design that sets the foot up for an efficient, balanced heel-to-toe transition.
  • Microfiber and Synthetic Overlays are strategically located to provide a secure fit.
  • Element Mesh is a moisture-managing, breathable mesh upper. 
  • Stable Pod Configuration is a stable midsole/outsole design that sets the foot up for an efficient, balanced heel-to-toe transition.
  • HPR Green in the forefoot is made with environmentally-friendly materials and offers durable, skid-resistant traction in dry and wet conditions.
* Because of the weird sizing that I'll describe below (they run a half size large), these shoes will most likely be lighter than the quoted weight.

Brooks Racer ST5 has a medial post (red), but it seems to be fairly unobtrusive and only slightly firmer than the rest of the midsole

The Racer ST feels much like a stripped-down, firmer Brooks Launch. The balance and fit is very similar to that of the Launch, and the biggest difference that I can detect is its firmness. Since it's built off a firmer platform, it's inherently more stable, which is where much of the "stability" comes from. Brooks did put a small Diagonal Roll Bar (read: medial post) in the rear part of the shoe, but it's only slightly firmer than the rest of the midsole. Also, due to its placement, there are a few runners who will likely miss it completely, namely supinators, late-stage overpronators, and some forefoot strikers, depending on their stride (a supinating friend of mine claimed she doesn't even feel the posting at all). This does, however, mean that late-stage overpronators will likely want a shoe with the medial post placed further forward. Additionally, severe supinators may find the ride a bit firm, and moderate to severe overpronators will likely find that the shoe is not stable enough (though it may or may not suffice for shorter races). I can faintly detect the post at the anterior portion of where my calcaneus touches the ground (read: front of my heel), but it's pretty mild, and I have a decent amount of miles on these, including a fast finish 20 miler, and have had none of the problems that I had with other stability shoes in the past. Also, a bit of inherent stability comes from its wider base versus many flats, and the Racer ST's base seems more akin to some of my trainers (while the forefoot is narrower and the heel doesn't flare to the side quite as much, the middle of the base is pretty similar to that of the Brooks PureFlow, actually). Stability-wise, compared to the rest of Brooks' lineup, I'd say this shoe is more stable than the Launch (and obviously all of Brooks' neutral racing flats, hence its designation), but less stable than the Ghost or Defyance (hey, it's still a flat, what do you expect?).

Base comparison of the Racer ST5 (middle) versus the T6 Racer (left) and PureFlow (right). T7 is MIA at the moment, but the base is the same versus the T6.

Torsionally, the flexibility of the Racer ST is very similar to that of the Launch. This really surprised me because that's an area where it's easy to add stability to a shoe. The forefoot is a little less flexible than the Launch...but is still on the flexible side (moreso than the Ghost, in my opinion). This flexibility is good news for me, but considering its target audience, yeah, I was surprised. There is a firm heel counter for some rearfoot control, but it's no firmer nor higher than that of the Brooks Green Silence. It does have a small plastic shank (DRB Accel) built into the sole under the arch, but it seems thin enough to stay unobtrusive.

Brooks Racer ST 5 has quite a bit of torsional flexibility, especially for a light stability flat
Brooks Racer ST 5's forefoot is also on the flexible side
Brooks Racer ST 5 has a firm heel counter to add some rearfoot control

Response, as I touched on before, is somewhere between that of most performance trainers and most racing flats. It doesn't feel quite as fast as other racing flats I've worn in the past, but it definitely responds more quickly and feels faster than something like the Launch. It seems to be a nice in-between shoe for longer races and workouts, especially in the middle of training when the cumulative fatigue is building up, where you crave the response of a faster shoe, but want to put a little more under your foot than many racing flats give. Cushioning is firmer than pretty much any performance trainer I've run in, but there's actually a fairly significant amount of midsole below's just firm midsole (again, which increases stability versus something like the T7 Racer, which also puts a decent amount of midsole underneath you, but uses a softer foam).

The stock laces that come with the Racer ST are those stupid thin ribbon laces. Yes, I'm sure they cut a minute fraction of an ounce from the shoe, but it's not worth it if they don't stay tied. Change 'em. If you're curious, the laces in my pictures are the ones I stole from the PureFlow.

Sole of the Brooks Racer ST 5. Lots on outsole rubber in high contact points. Also, you can see the small plastic shank (translucent grey) in this picture.

Durability seems good, so far. Mine still look and feel relatively new, probably thanks to the firmer midsole and hard outsole rubber.

Fit, as mentioned before, is very similar to the Launch, although the sizing is different (as I'll discuss below). Upper is okay...a little scratchier than what you'll find in the T7 Racer or in any of my Mizunos, but as long as you wear socks you should be okay (eww, socks with racing flats).

One drawback (or benefit, depending on what you're looking for) with the Racer ST is that it's very trainer-like. Yes, it's more responsive and more stripped down than the Launch. But no, it doesn't really feel like a feels more like a firm, responsive performance trainer. There are other mild stability flats that are much racier than the Racer ST (the Saucony Fastwitch comes to mind, for example).

Unfortunately, while the Racer ST has quite a bit in common with the Launch, it's not the Launch replacement I was looking for. While the Racer ST is far more similar to the Launch than the PureFlow, Launch lovers will likely find it too firm for everyday training. Hmph. On the bright side, runners who found the Launch squishy will appreciate its responsiveness.

Despite its "stability" moniker, neutral runners and mild supinators need not shy away from the Racer ST, since its stability is definitely on the mild side, and it seems to be less stable than some of my neutral trainers. Mild overpronators, too, will be happy with this one. I'd recommend this shoe for mild overpronators, neutral runners, and very mild supinators looking for a shoe that straddles the line between performance trainer and racing flat. When looking at these shoes, I had a number of people look at my shoe history and discourage me from buying them, but I kind of wonder how many of them actually ran in the shoe rather than just looked at it and saw the dreaded medial post and assumed that automatically meant "overpronators only," or simply classified it based on black and white categories. The Racer ST is certainly firmer than many neutral shoes, and it's not the fastest feeling flat out there, but it's a shoe that bridges the gap between neutral and stability, as well as between performance trainer and racing flat.

The Brooks Racer ST 5 retails for $90 and can be found on the Brooks website as well as at many retailers that carry Brooks products. It runs a bit large (I wear the same size in the ST5 as I do in the unisex Green Silence and a full size down from what I wear in the T7 Racer and men's Mach 13). It comes in unisex sizing, so women, size down appropriately (I went down 2 full sizes from my normal shoe size rather than the usual 1.5).

Full disclosure: Nothing to disclose...this was a personal purchase. The opinions expressed in this review are mine and based on my experience, and do not reflect the opinions of Brooks or anyone else.


  1. This is a very timely post, as I already had these shoes on order when you posted this and just had my first run in them today, a 5m test run with some faster tempo-pace miles at the end.

    I previously have run in the Racer ST4s...anywhere from 5Ks to a couple of Half Marathons. You had actually been the first to get me thinking about these shoes as my marathon shoe in a post on the RW Forum (which is how I came to start following your blog, which I greatly enjoy). The Racer ST4s are a little old (2.5+ years) so I thought I would give the ST5s a try. I do the bulk of my current miles in Ravennas and Pureflows. Tried the Launch just recently and didn't like it so I exchanged it.

    How would you suggest I test out the ST5's as a potential marathon shoe? Since the 5m test went fine today, I was planning on wearing them on my 17m run this weekend with the last 10m @ Marathon Pace. Think that's a sound strategy? I also have had blister problems from the ST4 (size 11) which I hope to avoid with the ST5s. Shoefittr says I should wear a 10.5 in the ST5s but I thought I'd give my forefoot a little extra room with an 11 instead (I wear 11s in my Ravennas).

    Sorry for all the questions but I just couldn't resist since this blog post was so topical for me! Thanks!

    MrSig (on RW Forums)

  2. Do the 10.5s feel comfortable? You don't want them too loose, which can cause your foot to move around and precipitate blister problems.

    I'd probably wear socks with them, especially since you had blister problems with the ST4. That and I don't think the upper is particularly comfortable sockless. If you're still having blister issues...Body Glide!

    Everyone determines whether a shoe is appropriate for racing differently. I just do a bunch of speedworkouts in them. Other people like to do their long runs in them. Honestly, if they work for a fast finish 17 (with the last 10 at MP? Damn, that sound miserable hah), I think you're more than safe using them for the marathon. That and the fact that you've used the ST4 for halves, anyway.

    Hope that helps!

    1. Aaand, when I said 10.5s, I actually meant 11s, sorry.

  3. Thanks for the reply. Yep, the 11s felt fine on that 5m test run. Of course the 17m this weekend will tell the tale on that front since there will be alot more footswell on that run compared to just the 5m. The "foot sliding around" thing is what I was a little worried about regarding blistering. Will test and see!

    Yeah, not looking forward to that 17m run this weekend. 10m at MP will be grueling to say the least.

    Thanks for the info, Becki!

  4. Update - Did the 17m, did the 10m at MP, and the shoes worked just fine. I think it's possible that they're a tad too big per my earlier post, because they did feel a little sloppy there towards the end. But no blisters and they were definitely soaked by the end of that run. I think if I sized down, I might introduce blisters just from the more cramped toebox. 11m may be the way to go.

    Crossing fingers, but I think I may have found my marathon shoe. Again, thanks for the review and the opportunity to chat this out.


  5. Good to hear! Good luck with that marathon!

  6. Good review, one of my favorite shoes for training, especially in winter when a higher proportion of my volume is relegated to paved surfaces. I find that the Mizuno Musha compares well, though the last for that shoe seems to wrap the arch better.

  7. Thanks Drew, somehow I haven't tried the Musha yet. Will keep it in mind!

  8. One other note, ran in the Puma Faas 250 for the first time today and really like it, felt like a hybrid of the Racer ST and Green Silence, in my sloppy analysis. Could be a really good marathon shoe.

  9. Puma, huh? I keep seeing the Faas shoes online (alright, mainly on LRC), but have yet to actually see them in person.

  10. I got a screaming deal on a few pair via - also got the Faas 200 and have given them a trial run. Looks like both are extinct soon, if not already. Naturally.

  11. Hi,

    I have ran marathons in the Brooks ST and ST 3. Just purchased the ST 5 Brooks running shoes. Currently training for a couple of marathons and hoping the ST 5 will work.

    My question is, are the ST 5's similar to the ST and ST 3's?

    1. Unfortunately, I haven't run in the earlier versions of the ST. I would assume you'll most likely be fine, but make sure to use the ST5 in training before wearing them for the race!


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