Initial Take: Brooks Pure Connect

Brooks Pure Project has arrived in Malaysia last weekend! Read on for a reviewer’s initial take on Pure Connect.

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When Brooks’ PureProject was announced earlier this year, it generated much interest. According to the company, the PureProject is not only about developing shoes that encourages natural movement in a lightweight package. The shoes are built to be closer to the ground and thus better feel of the surface, utilizing less material than conventional shoes and more importantly breaking the conventional molds when one describes a certain type of footwear.

The PureConnect, PureFlow, PureCadence and PureGrit

Speculations about these “Feel More with Less” shoes instantly intrigued runners seeking to run in lighter, less impeding shoes. While I totally dig the “Less” part, I was a little apprehensive of the “Feel More”, which conjures up impressions of feeling the pebbles and rocks stabbing into my sole. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for less shoe, but personally still prefer one that retains a blend of cushioning – something along the lines of Brooks’ Green Silence, with added cushioning, the Saucony Kinvara and the Nike Zoom Speed Lite. That’s the reason why I can’t wear the FiveFingers :) .

The PureProject comprises 4 models of footwear from the performance/neutral oriented Connect to the neutral/stability Flow, stability Cadence and the appropriately named trail model Grit.

Brooks started taking pre-orders for the PureProjects in the US for October delivery sometime middle of the year. I found out from some of my friends that the flagship Brooks boutique at the Curve was taking pre-orders as well, which meant a few Malaysians will also have a chance at experiencing the Pures as part of the October worldwide soft launch. A very limited number (less than 100 pairs for Malaysia) of these shoes are allocated to the market and only the Earth (green) and Water (turqoise) colorways are available for the soft launch for the men and women respectively.

So are the PureProjects living up to their expectations? I had the chance to try out the PureFlow and PureGrit in the store and was pleasantly surprised at how light and flexible the shoes were. The models in the Pure series are of different weight from the lightest Connect (7.2oz)  to the “heaviest” Grit (8.9oz) which was developed based on Scott Jurek’s feedback. The Grit is an interesting one – I’ve not worn a trail shoe that’s this light, low profile yet cushiony and flexible. My Cascadia seemed like an abomination now that I’ve tasted the Grit. But purists wearing Merrell Trail Glove, Fivefingers Treksport and NB Minimus who have steel-plated soles may not enthuse about it as much. Suffice to say that the one-piece outsole Grit is the closest I’ll be able to wear on the trails without crossing over to the realm of hardcore minimalist. But this post isn’t about the Grit so let’s get on with my initial take on the performance model, the PureConnect.

I wore the PureConnect to the office the very next day after picking it up. The early brief reviews to come out from those who have been running in them are somewhat similar. They said the Connect fits like a glove, has a race-like feel and feels soft underfoot. I can vouch for all that and more. Due to the glove-like upper, the experience is like wearing a snug spike. The overlay as we know it on conventional shoes are not to be found here. Instead, the upper while appearing simple, have a few thin layers melded together. The surface closest to your skin is made of a kind of soft perforated and elasticated fabric (like the type found on the Kinvara – photo below).

The perforated inner sleeve.

The perforated inner sleeve

On top of the perforated layer are 7 very thin bands on both the lateral and medial sides, separated by a broader Nav Band. The Nav Band (common throughout all PureProject models, but in various dimensions) wraps over the instep to provide the glove-like fit that every wearer report. The heel section is minimal yet possessed a very comfortable collar. An integrated tongue with just a hint of padding completes the upper. There are plenty of large reflective trimmings throughout the upper to provide low-light visibility.

The Nav Band runs across the top of the foot, down to both sides of the shoe.

The lighter shade of the Nav Band. Close-up showing the layered mesh upper.

The midsole is a two-piece construction, tougher rubber plugs provide some measure of durability on the podular shaped plugs on top of the BioMoGo foam (biodegradable midsole). Inside the foam reside the Brooks DNA material. There are large cut-aways in the midsole, revealing the shoe’s footbed, saving more material and weight, increasing flexibility.

Ideal Heel on the left, cracked heel on the right. Both rounded.

After spending much time reviewing shoes, this is my first experience with Brooks DNA. Apparently this material provides adaptive cushioning properties depending on the forces levied on it. What this means is that the midsole will provide a soft ride when the pace is slow and responds to a faster pace (read: stronger impact) by changing the feel to a firmer and responsive ride. This is also the first shoe that I know that has a rounded heel section (marketed as Ideal Heel), just like out feet. From the photo above, you’ll see that our heel, and indeed our foot’s lateral and medial lines are rounded and not flared. Unlike the Kinvara, the Connect has little to no midsole flare.
Very little midsole flare on the lateral side.

Medial side shows minimal flaring too.

The shoe grabs you the moment you put it on from the glove-like fit, the low to the ground feel and lightness. Walking around in the Connect, I didn’t feel the presence of the Toe Flex, a split-toe sectioned off part of the midsole designed to provide better toe-off experience. The sockliner has a pronounced arch section and here, again, purists may not approve it, in which case a simple sockliner replacement can be done. It remains to be seen if it causes any problems in the long run for me. Walking in the Connect provides for a very comfortable experience.
Prominent toe spring on the Connect. In contrast to the flat nature of our toes, i.e. they are all in contact with the ground.

The Toe Flex can be felt when running.

As mentioned earlier, the PureProject was meant to provide for more ground feel but as I walked around in the Connect, I’m not feeling the ground. And I definitely don’t feel the pebbles. Instead I definitely feel coddled and protected by the cushy feeling, something purists don’t dig either. Purists want to feel every pebble there is on the road. One final aspect which will disappoint purists – the curved toe section (also known as Toe Spring). As you can see, our toes don’t curl up in their relaxed state. The Connect do have a pronounced upward curve, however. I don’t have a problem with that personally as the proof is in the run. Jason Robillard, a strong proponent of barefoot running doesn’t seem to think it’s something bad either (read his article and explanation here).

The pod-like sole. This photo also shows the cutaway, revealing the footbed.

My first run in the Connect was a 10K on the KLCC track of which I mixed running on the synthetic track as well as on the bricked section of the loop. Started at 6:13 pace and built up to a 5:13 pace. That saw me hacking a lung out at the end of the workout, a clear indication that I’ve yet to get over the cough. Fitness level was another thing :( . The workout was pretty good nevertheless and I observed a few things about the Connect:
  1. In running mode, I was able to feel the Toe Flex, so I was able to push off with my toe. The split section isn’t as deep as that found on Nike Rift where the entire big toe resides in separate section just like the Fivefingers.
  2. Ventilation was great. I was able to feel breeze going into the shoe.
  3. No problem with mid/forefoot running.
  4. The Connect really hugs the foot.

My second run in the Connect took me on the Kinrara 15K route with Frank, where I was landing on the mid-forefoot throughout. The Connect’s fit make running in that manner easier (easier than the Kinvara and even the Green Silence I might add). The tempo was a tad quicker on the return and was surprised me was the responsiveness of the midsole. I can now understand why some wearers commented that the ride was firmer than the Kinvara. It’s because of the DNA midsole, which somehow changes the feel depending on the pace of the workout. I’ll need to get used to the firmer feel over a distance of 34K before deciding if I can wear this for the marathon.

Obviously at just 25K logged in them, the Connect will require more running in before I give my follow-up take. It’s a pretty darn good shoe to me as far as initial feeling goes. I’ll reserve my recommendations once I log up to 100K in them. A point to note: Putting on the shoes take some getting used to due to the stitched on tongue. The stitching goes pretty much all the way up to the collar making moving the tongue out the way to slide in your foot a little tricky.

You could try snipping off the stitching (where my index finger is) to free up the tongue.

The PureProjects will be available for major distribution across Brooks boutiques and authorized retailers like Running Lab from January 2012, for a RRP of RM329. The collection will also have a wide range of colourways. You can download the PureConnect’s specsheet here.

The PureConnect is a review pair courtesy Paragon Vest Sdn Bhd, the authorized distributor for Brooks in Malaysia.

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Brooks Malaysia thanks Jamie Pang from Runners Malaysia, for his review. Do stay tuned for more feedback, after he logs in more miles with Pure Connect. Follow him as he runs happy at his blog here. 

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