Monday, September 5, 2011

Brooks' PureProject: another big step toward minimalist

Innovative, cool and flashy, light, intriguing, functional, ... minimalist, here are some words I associate with the brand new PureConnect!
But, first, an update on my running since I didn't post last week. It's going well with a good 56-mile weekend a week ago (see the aerial pictures taken on my way up to Black Mountain, over the Bay Area morning fog) and 335 miles for the month of August (my second highest monthly mileage in my 13-year running log!). Last time I ran that much in one month was in May 2009 with 346 miles, 3 races (Miwok, QuickSilver and Ohlone) and a 122-mile memorial weekend training to prepare for Western States. I know this looks pale compared to the many 300-mile weeks that Tony Krupicka is used to log, but running is only my second job... Less miles this week as I'm tapering for Rio Del Lago 100-mile next week, but still 44 miles of easy/flat running as I'm trying to maintain my average weekly mileage above 62 miles (or 100 km) for the first time in my running life (I'm at 62.87 mile/week as of this Sunday evening).
Back to the title, I feel so lucky to have received a pair of PureConnect 10 days ago. The next day, I was running in them in the neighborhood at 6 am, then on Friday again. On Saturday, I even decided to get them on the trails for my 29-mile long run. As of today, I already ran 83 happy and "pure" miles in them and I'm hooked!
Here are a few reasons why I like them:

Innovative. There are two main sides of innovation in the PureConnect: the upper one and the sole. I'd say the upper one is even more revolutionary, with the mixture of a synthetic mesh and and layer of foam punched with holes. In one piece from heel to toe and left to right (no sewing).
That provides both a great protection and also amazing breathability (even the sun gets inside the shoe on the above picture!). Of course, if the air can easily flow through these two layers, so dust can too but that's not an issue. I didn't test them in the rain, but I'd expect the water to get out very easily too for the same reasons. Two other big innovations relate to the sole. The first one at the forefront extremity of the shoe with a toe grove or "Toe Flex", separating the big toe from the others and bringing new sensations close to barefoot running.
The second one is the "Ideal Heel" concept which trims the outsole under the heel in a shape enveloping the heel. This is a move toward minimizing the use of this part of the sole, transferring the landing under the ball of the foot as you do when you run barefoot.
Cool and fashy. The bright color, the innovative upper mesh, the unorthodox shape of the heel, here are some aspects which will surely catch eyes in stores. The men collection comes in flashy greens, while the women get a flashy blue and black theme.

Light. At 7.2 oz. the PureConnect is a very light shoe but still not in the flat category. Albeit with great flexibility, there is still a good sole providing great protection for long runs on concrete and asphalt, as well as a roomy toe box.

Intriguing. The thing which intrigues me the most in the PureConnect is their dynamics, that is how the sensations change from standing to running in them. I believe that's going to be an important characteristic to highlight in stores. Let me explain. Most of the shoes have a flat outsole which provides a large contact area with the ground, actually much more than what our foot has been designed for (the difference between a bare foot print and a shoe print). The Pure Connect mimics the bare foot with a non flat out sole and reinforced contact points (black dots). The first sensation, when standing still, is one of instability or rather, a freedom that we lost with conventional shoes and all their cushioning and stability features. That being said, this perception of instability completely disappeared for me as soon as I started running. Now, I am Neutral but be assured that, if you tend to under or over pronate, Brooks has you covered with additional Stability and Support with the PureFlow and PureCadence models, which both have a more classical/extended outsole/ground contact. Most if not all other brands would have come with only one new model, when Brooks comes with a collection to cover the diversity of runners out there; another reason to like and appreciate Brooks' focus and dedication on running!

Functional. I like the classic ample and symmetrical lacing. It is very efficient and keep the shoe tight while spreading the pressure over the top of the foot. Alternating road and trail running, I like the grey color of the laces, white ones tend to look quite dirty with the dust. The laces are thick and wavy (undulated) which is perfect to keep the knot tight.
Minimalist. The outsole of the PureConnect is simple, with very few components and fabrics. It is focused on providing flexibility, ground protection and matching the original foot/ground contact of bare foot running, mainly under the ball of the foot. So, while it is minimalist, it still provides very good protection: indeed, I like the firmness of the sole which I found slightly superior to the one of the GreenSilence. It even holds very well when running on rocks on trails, the shape of the sole also providing great agility on uneven terrain, similarly to what climbing shoes are to rock climbing. Another example of minimalism can be found in the design of the tongue: it is extremely thin yet large and enveloping. With such a shape, it doesn't move at all and provides a great protection from the abundant lacing. Even better it is made of extremely soft fabric which will suit people running barefoot in their shoe (I mean without socks).
More technical information can be found in the PureConnect's spec sheet. And a few more pictures of the PureConnect on Picasa.

By the way, this review is about the PureConnect but the PureProject comes with 4 initial models for 4 different uses and runner profiles. With my focus on trail running, I'm particularly interested in the trail-specific PureGrit which Brooks designed with ultra legend Scott Jurek. You can find more information on the Brooks' PureProject web page and pre-order to be among the first to experience the... Pure Running!

Speaking of minimalist and barefoot running, here is an excerpt of a thread I had with Caballo Blanco (aka Micah True, the hero of Christopher McDougall's Born To Run) on FaceBook this week:
Caballo> While Caballo is not a wildhorse about such marketing terms as Barefoot shoes and minimalist shoes; I prefer to call the running that I hope to attain Lightfooted. In whatever it is we are wearing or not on our hooves

Jean> Well said. I like when you come with new... Marketing concepts! ;-)

Caballo> and let it be known that if anybody steals this to sell crap Caballo will kick some butt
So, let's stay with the minimalist concept per the marketing message used by Brooks on the website. By the way, with all the Born To Run success, it is little known nowadays that Micah and the RarĂ¡muri are not running barefoot, but with very minimalist sandals or shoes. Read Kathy S' interview of Micah to separate some facts from fiction in the best selling book. Anyway, I have heard enough serious injuries from people running bare foot, I'm glad Brooks gets us super minimalist shoes such as in the PureProject collection, yet with great foot protection.

Talk to you in a week after Rio Del Lago, and Run Happy in the meantime!


Kirk said...

Great review of a shoe I cannot wait to purchase! I wore the Green Silence earlier this year and plan to get the PureConnect for my next marathon in May. Thanks for taking the time to review them and the Grits look inviting as well and that may end up in my closet as well next year...

Jean Pommier said...

Thanks for leaving a note, Kirk, and wishing you the best in those shoes. I already ran 330 miles in my PureConnect, they are really working very well for me!