by John Schrup
This is the first of a four part series that will cover the much anticipated release of the Brooks Pure Project line. The first will cover the background of the Pure Project and we will wear test the Pure Connect.
Back in April, Ruth and I were invited to Brooks HQ to spend time with the Brooks family and to learn of the new line of footwear they would introduce in October. There were all sorts of pomp and circumstance, cleverly masked as a sales symposium, designed to make us all drink the Brooks koolaid and get all kinds of excited for the Pure Project introduction.
And for many of us in attendance, it worked. The Brooks marketing machine is quite adept, and while not on the scale of Nike, it is obviously doing something right. Brooks is the number one brand in running specialty, and they didn’t get there on their product alone. The product is just about as good as it gets, but without proper marketing, even the best product is overlooked.
I had been to similar presentations from other companies, and so took it all with a grain of salt, and tried as best I could to read between the lines, to see what it was they were really doing, rather than what they were telling us they were doing.
Without going into all the gory details, Brooks took a different path in the marketing of this new “minimalist” or “natural running” line. Whereas Saucony and New Balance introduced their new lines of footwear as something more biomechanically sound or appropriate, the Pure Project marketing was focused on lifestyle choices. Obviously, the differences in marketing strategies are rooted in the company outlook, market-wise. Brooks is number one in the industry, and to suggest that a lower profile, lower offset shoe is biomechanically more appropriate for the human body than, say, the Adrenaline—the best selling shoe in the country–would be to shoot themselves in the foot. They have to play it safe. On the other side, Saucony and New Balance can afford to be more aggressive with their marketing, as they hold considerably smaller market shares and to take risks is much more attractive to them.
The Pure Project line is designed for those who would rather “feel” their runs than “float” through them. Ok. Whatever. The idea being that on one particular day, you might want to float through your run, unconnected to the moment, lost in your i-Pod world and protected by your Adrenalines and Ghosts from all that is running. On another day, you want to get down and dirty with your run, feel it, taste it, your Pure Connects helping you dive through corners and spring up hills, and to paraphrase one of the 20th century’s great philosophers, Ty Webb, “Be the run.”
Again, whatever. The idea behind lowering the heel of a shoe relative to the forefoot is all about allowing the body to run in a more natural position, and not about warm, fuzzy, feel-good unicorns and rainbows running vs. sweat and spit, nimble, heart thumping, aerobic engine block running. Just ain’t so. But Brooks wants you to believe that so that you’ll buy both an Adrenaline and a Pure Cadence.
The Shoe (Pure Connect)
And so, on October 1, to much fanfare, the Pure Project line was introduced. By most accounts, sales are going very well, and by our accounts, sales are going very, very well. Personally, I was caught up in the hoopla, and so the fires of my expectations were doused when I was able to wear each of the four models. I was seeded a pair of the Connect, the most “feel” of the line, the lowest profile, the lightest. Even for the most “minimalist” of the line, you can’t feel a dang thing under your foot. The cushioning is a wonderful combination of soft and responsive, and the feel is Super Ball bouncy, but there is no earthly feel. There is definite “pop” off the ground, which I’ll happily take. The bouncy feel does give me a very slight hint of instability, but nothing that is really all that bothersome. The T7 has more road feel, if you’re interested. They do feel fast, and there is no argument there.
Of the four—Connect, Pure, Cadence and Grit—the Connect is the fastest feeling. An almost track spike-like fit, the upper wraps the foot very cleanly and there is almost no extra material to be found. I’ve run in it about every other day since I first wore them three plus weeks ago, and the fit is the best part. The Nav-Band, an elastic band that wraps the foot and is used in the design of each of the four models, is in these incarnations, entirely worthless. The Nav-Band on the Connect is just snug enough to engage the foot, not so on the other three models, where it lies loose on the shoe and foot and is thus a waste of a perfectly good elastic strap. The midfoot wrap of the Connect is quite snug, and for many will be a bit aggressive. I really like the way it feels, because it leaves no room for separation between the foot and the shoe.
The forefoot of the upper in each of the Pure Project line is supposed to have a more anatomically correct, more natural fit, one that follows the contours of an actual foot and allows the metatarsals to splay. I’ll give it to Brooks that there is a small difference in the shape of the toe area of the shoe, but certainly not nearly as visible as in, say, the Minimus Road from New Balance.
The midsole and outsole are low profile (14 heel/10 forefoot) and they are separated between the first and second to ensure proper toe off. I can’t say that it will do that for everyone, but when I’m walking around, I can feel my foot drop medially over the big toe. When I run, there is no such sensation. At most, there might be the feel of a quicker roll off the toes, which is a good thing, but if that was the intended result, I can’t say. I like the shoe and like the direction that Brooks is taking with design (the marketing is goofy, but again, whatever) and I expect that the next generations of the Pure Project line will be even nicer. Brooks is really good at that.
In the next three weeks, I’ll wear test each of the other three Pure Project models. But for now, I’ll leave you with a shoe that is arguably of a better design than any of the core Brooks models (yeah, I said it; because they’re actually designing something for the human body and not for some focus group) but not…quite…there…yet. Would I buy a pair? Absolutely! Would I change things if I could? Absolutely.