Last year, I have spent considerable time looking for the right pair(s) of shoes for my 2013 marathon cycles. With “looking”, I meant spending hours and hours googling, reading online reviews of shoes, comparing prices at several different online stores and going and out of Athlete’s Foot and Rebel Sports here in Canberra in my quest to find a shoe that sits on the perfect equilibrium between minimalist running and adequate cushioning.
My running form has massively improved after I have switched to low profile (heel to toe offset less than 5mm) and zero drop (heel and toe sits on same level) shoes; I feel like I am running more efficiently and that I am less injury-prone. It took hard work and time to adjust to a new running style, involving prolonged pain in my calves and frustation as I had to initially slow down and limit my distance, but it was well worth it and I don’t want to undo all that. However, given pounding on bitumen is hard on your joints, I feel that some cushioning is in order. After all, a marathon training cycle could see up to 1,000 km or more of total mileage, and given that most of that will derive from road running, imagine what that would do to my joints. But minimalism and cushioning are two worlds that could not be further apart. Could there be a shoe with the best of both worlds?
Introducing: Brooks Pure Flow. As part of the Pure Project line launched by Brooks end of 2011, Brooks Pure Flow represents one of Brooks earliest attempt to tap into the growing minimalist running market, while promoting what it does best for decades, namely make top quality running shoes dedicated to provide protection, support and enhance performance. In the Pure Flows, Brooks has provided just that and a little bit more through some innovative tweaks to traditional running shoe, making them the perfect workhorse for my marathon training.
I have previously run in the Pure Connects – they have served me well in my training leading up to my first Half Marathon and they have helped me master the forefoot strike – but they are not as durable as I hoped they would be and they did not fare well over longer distances. After logging 400 km’s on each pair, I decided to retire both; They shall soon find their way to a pair of deserving feet as I will donate them to Shoes for Planet Earth (blog post on this coming up!).
Back to the Pure Flows: Brooks has actually come out with an updated version of the Pure Flow, the Pure Flow 2. The original ones have been sitting on discount shelves across the world, and as much as I would have loved to get my hands on the new ones, I would rather have two pairs of the original Pure Flows for the price of one (Bargain!). Before sounding like a Brooks salesperson, let me now launch into my review – have much to say after having worn both pairs for 150+ km’s.
1. The are light: At about 240g each shoe (on my dodgy kitchen scale), these babies are pretty light. However, if you were like me and had lighter runners before (Brooks Pure Connect, Vibram Five Fingers), then the shoes would seem a bit more ‘substantial’. Also added by the fact that it is a little bulky. These have initially put me off until I had a chance to slip back into some of my old trainers and put things into perspective. The Pure Flows are definitely some of the lightest training shoes around.
2. Minimalist, schminimalist: The Pure Flows have a stack height of 18-22mm, which means their heel to toe offset is about 4mm. This firmly puts them in the box with minimalist, albeit not zero drop, shoes. The profile of the shoes, combines with the reduced heel (Brooks calls it the “ideal heel”) promoted midfoot/forefoot strike, which is considered to be the efficient way to run. Traditional running shoes have big, cushioned heels designed to provide support and prevent pronation, but many suggest that they are doing more harm than good as the shoes tend to be heavy, clunky, and promote heel striking, a running form linked to typical running injuries, such as the runner’s knee an shin splints.
3. There is just enough cushioning – I mentioned my dilemma above. Not sure if it is age, but I do feel that I need cushioning when pounding the pavement, particularly for any runs above 20km. Besides, when my legs and tired, my running form deteriorates, and a little bit of cushioning could help offset any potential harm from any momentary relapse into heel striking as I readjust my running form. But the cushioning is not too overwhelming as the Pure Flows retain ground feel, and most importantly, stability. The Pure Flows has blown rubber on the outside, a durable foam layer (made out of recycled materials, hooray!) and then inside, just underneath the your foot, there is a later of gel cushioning that is called the Brooks DNA, which supposedly responsive and adaptive. To be honest, I could tell the different layer’s apart. All I know is that running in these babies feel a little bit like running on thin carpet – soft but not squishy.
5. Protective upper – Actually this may be a source of controversy. The only way to describe the upper is that it is thick, despite of it being breathable. It seems like there are layers and layers of mesh there and the area around the side and heel seem to be a little thicker than others. It looks like it is durable and would provide adequate protection and support, but it isn’t quite what you expect in a minimalist shoe… most brands are sporting really thin, sock like upper. It DOES feel bulky when compared to its counterparts, for instance, the Saucony Kinvara. For that reason, I was leaning towards the Kinvara for a while, shame they didn’t fit well. Also, it doesn’t seem like the Pure Flows are comfortable enough to be worn without socks. Some have complained that it gets too hot in the shoes in summer, too – I must say I have yet to experience that and our summers are blistering hot!
6. Mild arch support – Compared to the Pure Connects, the arch support provided by the Pure Flows are very mild, and some would even argue that there is none. You could barely feel the Nav Band, which runs across the arch, designed supposedly to “hug” your feet. The insole is shaped to provide some level of support, but really you can’t really that support, unless you start running in them. There is a little feedback that gently meets your arches. Some argue that you don’t actually require arch support as arches are designed to collapse as a compensating mechanism that absorbs shock from the high impact of running. The debate is still out on that one, but all I can say for now is that, personally, I prefer less arch support than too much.
7. Wide toe box, tight heel – This is the perfect fit for me. The Pure Connects run narrow for me, particularly at the metatarsal area, which was solved by changing lacing method, but the Pure Flows fit right out of the box. The toe box is roomy enough to allow my toes to splay, lending to more powerful push off. The heels are tight enough to keep my feet in the shoes! Bottom line: they fitted me beautifully.
Final take: I would recommend these to anyone accustomed to a forefoot strike and are looking for to increase their mileage on the road as the cushioning do come in handy. I am very happy with these shoes, and my feet and legs can (so far) attest to that. I have decided to run my first marathon in these shoes, by then I would have logged 1,000 miles (including recovery) and ready to move on to my next pair of shoes (perhaps the Pure Flow 2?). Till then, my next quest would be to start a collection of matching running clothes and accessories. Purple is the new pink!
Do you run in the Pure Flows? What do you think of them?