The minimalist running-shoe market has exploded over the past year or two, with almost every footwear manufacturer rushing out a line of barefoot-inspired running shoes to feed the public’s interest.
Brooks Running, by contrast, has taken its sweet time. The company has only recently introduced a line of minimalist shoes for runners.
Actually, minimalist is a bit of a misnomer here. The shoes in Brooks’ PureProject line provide a noticeable amount of cushioning when compared to other more bare-bones examples on the market. But the PureConnect road running shoe isn’t necessarily supposed to approximate the feel of running barefoot. Instead, the shoe encourages you to run more naturally by tweaking the barefoot model in various, practical ways.
Brooks shifted the PureConnect’s heel forward by 3 millimeters, allowing runners to footstrike closer to the body’s midline. And the split-toed sole makes the forefoot more flexible, particularly the first metatarsal.
The benefit from features was apparent within the first mile of my first run. It usually takes time for me to fall into a more forefoot-centric strike, but these guys make it happen right away. I stood tall during the run, landing slightly more forward on my heel and rolling smoothly to the toe-off. The split-toed sole added flexibility to the shoe and cut weight. The shoe felt soft, yet responsive, a duality that I chalked up to the PureConnect’s DNA midsole material, which is designed to get firmer during faster running and softer when the pace slows down.
The shoe’s upper sports an elastic band that cuts across the topline of the foot, which is designed to provide a snug fit for a wide range of foot volumes. I found it a bit too snug for my foot initially — I had to loosen up the laces a bit, but once I did, the shoes fit much better. The upper material is made up of lightweight mesh that was pliable enough to lend the shoe a slipper-like feel and open enough to keep feet cool and dry during runs when the thermometer hit the triple digits.
All of this materials technology leads to a shoe that feels good whether you’re pushing your pace or just trying to trudge your way through an endurance run.
With most minimalist shoes, I cap my pavement runs at around five miles to prevent injury — the lack of cushioning in most barefoot-inspired shoes means my feet take a pounding. But the PureConnects have that extra bit of cushioning, making them better for longer runs. My feet felt just as good at mile 15 as they did at mile two. Hardcore barefooters may balk at the added cushioning the PureConnects provide, but it’s a nice change of pace to have a shoe that gently encourages a natural footstrike, rather than bludgeon you into it with a lack of cushioning.
That said, they are still minimalist shoes — if you’re looking for a fully cushioned running shoe, look somewhere else, like something from Vibram FiveFingers. But if you’re looking for way to transition to barefoot running, or you need a minimalist shoe with enough cushioning for longer hauls on pavement, the PureConnect is the way to go.
WIRED Comfortable on long runs. Facilitates a natural footstrike. Midsole foam adjusts firmness to runner’s stride. Sock liner is comfortable.
TIRED Midfoot may be too narrow for wide feet.
Photo by Jim Merithew/Wired