Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Brooks Pure Grit: Finally a Trail Shoe That Works for Me!

Brooks Pure Grit
Spring has sprung in Michigan, and many runners are starting to think about hitting the trails again. Several friends at my local club are preparing for their first trail races. With new trail runners, one of the most common questions is about trail shoes. I don't usually like to give shoe recommendations because every person's needs are different, but I do have to rave about the trail shoes that I am currently running in, the Brooks Pure Grit, because I think they are absolutely awesome.

I have never been a fan of trail shoes. When I first started running trails, back in 2003, I spent a small fortune on a variety of trail shoes, none of which ever worked for me. I probably spent $300-$400 dollars over a period of about two years trying different trail shoes before I just decided that my Mizuno Precisions would work just fine thank you. I even found that the more worn out they were, the more comfortable they seemed to be on the trail, which worked perfectly for my shoe rotation and budget. When the Precisions started to lose their road cushion they became my "new" trail shoe.

The problem with most of the trail shoes I tried at that time was related to a lack of flexibility. Back then trail shoes differentiated from road shoes primarily through their more aggressive tread and the rock plate that they included in the shoe to help protect the feet from stone bruises. Both of these severely hindered the flexibility of the shoe.

I am a mid to forefoot striker with very high arches. Flexibility, especially in the forefoot, is the number one consideration I have with running shoes. It was easy to see why trail shoes and I did not get along.

Fast forward to 2010-2011 and my re-entry into trail running. This coincided with the whole barefoot running craze and especially the rush to get the Vibram Five Fingers.  I was not even tempted to jump on that bandwagon -- not because I am immune to the latest fad but because I have a condition known as syndactyly, which means that my second and third toes are fused together. Vibrams were not an option for me.

Still feeling that I ought to give trail shoes a chance, I went in to my local running store and tried on several popular models but found none that felt better for me than the Kinvaras that I was wearing for the trails at that time.

However, at the Flirt with Dirt race last spring, the Brooks rep had a table. I was hanging out after the race and went over to take a look. I told her about my situation with the trail shoes, and she told me I was in luck. She showed me the prototype for a shoe that would be out in the fall. She said they would be absolutely perfect for me. It was an unusual trail shoe: unusually light, unusually flexible, with an unusual sole, with a strange division between the big toe and other toes. I promptly forgot the name, but I did manage to remember that they were weird looking and that they were Brooks.

When the Pure Grit hit the market I did not rush out to buy them. I was recovering from a ruptured spleen and was still a little leery about heading out on the trails. Plus, I wasn't really sure I wanted to waste money trying a new pair of trail shoes. I had actually gone into the running store one day to buy road shoes when I saw the shoes and recognized them as the ones the Brooks rep had shown me. I tried them on. They felt fantastic! It was one of those things where you slip into a shoe and say "ahhhh."  I felt like I was wearing slippers. I had to have them! The price was not horrible, $99.95, but not cheap either. Although I had fallen madly in love with the shoes, the little doubting voice in the back of my mind was hoping this was not going to be another $100 wasted on trail shoes that I wouldn't wear.

So what did I do? Did I break them in carefully and test them out gradually on the trail? Well of course not. I had a trail marathon the next weekend. How could I run the marathon in my crappy worn out road shoes when those beauties were in the box? I broke one of the cardinal rules of running. I wore the shoes for the first time for the trail marathon. Now just so you won't think I am totally insane, let me just say that this particular marathon had loops, so I had also packed other shoes in case my experiment did not pan out.

The running shoe gods were smiling on me that day. Despite the fact that I got off course and ran 28.2 instead of 26.2, my feet were absolutely comfortable. These shoes ROCKED!!  I have just now completed my second trail marathon in the shoes, and I will have to say now that I have more time in them: These shoes totally ROCK!! The best thing I can say about them is that most of the time I forget that I have them on. That is high praise for a trail shoe.

I am not going to pretend to be a professional shoe reviewer. There are plenty of professional reviews of the Grit that you can take a look at, such as the one at the bottom of this post by Sage Canaday.  I will just tell you some of the things that I like about the shoes.

First of all, they are incredibly flexible, especially in the forefoot, and very light (7.6 oz for the women's). They also have a very snug and slipper-like fit. This may not suit everyone because they are also fairly narrow in the toes. If you are the type of runner who likes a really wide toe box, these may not be the shoe for you. The upper is mesh and breathes well. They just feel light and good on my feet.

Another thing I like about the shoe is how they make me feel when I run in them. The shoe is considered a low profile shoe, minimalist type shoe. It has a 4mm "drop" (the difference in height of the midsole between the heel and the midfoot), which is the same as the Kinvaras. This helps those who are trying to run more naturally and with a midfoot strike.  This 4 mm drop is not as drastic as some other minimalist trails shoes, such as the Merrell Trail Glove or  Vibrams, which have a zero drop. This is good for easing into more minimalist footwear without injury. However if you are not used to a more minimal shoe, the Grit would definitely be one you would want to break in slowly. I would not even mention something like this (I am not a shoe techie) except that I really do feel when I am wearing them that they are helping my running form.

An added bonus for me about the shoe is that Scott Jurek, seven time winner of the Western States 100 and one of my ultrarunning idols, helped design them. (Silly I know, but still it makes me smile.)

What this all comes down to is that if you are looking for a trail shoe, this one is definitely worth a try-on. If you want to know more about the technical end of things, take a look at the video below by Sage Canaday of the Hanson Brooks Running Project. 

1 comment:

  1. Wore these on the Bayshore Half Marathon. They did great. They may become my road shoe as well.


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