Brooks Pure Connect 2 Review

(30/7/2013: I’ve written a brief update to this review after running in the PureConnect 2s for about 5 months now.  Read though this review first, then check out the few updates I’ve made here.)

So, I’ve been running in the Brooks Pure Connect 2 for about a week now so I wanted to give you some initial thoughts on it.  I got these trainers though Brooks’ own ‘Try It On’ project, whereby you could – as the name suggests – try a pair of the new Pure range shoes.  I chose the Connect for two main reasons: first, I’ve been running in the Nike Free Run+ 3s the most recently, so I didn’t want to take a step back (pun definitely intended, unless you think that’s lame in which case, not intended) in terms of flexibility and road feel; second, every time I run in the Nike Structure 14s or the Nike Lunarglide 4 my feet hurt.  I got the Structures from Runner’s Need (still my absolute favourite running store!) with a lot of help from the wonderful staff there, and at the time they were perfect for me – I was a new runner, I hadn’t developed my own stride yet and the only thing I’d ever been taught was that runner’s should strike down on their heel and roll forward to bound off their toe.  So that’s how I ran, and the Structure suited that heel-striking stride.  As I progressed as a runner I found myself landing further and further forward on my foot, and now my most natural strike is kind of high-midfoot, or low-forefoot, (if that makes sense?).  Accordingly, I wanted a shoe that would support and work well with my natural stride, would give me some feel of the ground and allow my foot to move naturally.  Don’t misunderstand here, I’m not about to go out and buy a pair of Vibram 5-fingers just yet – but I do like the way that less structured and bulky shoes feel.

Honestly, I had been researching shoes and was already about to go into the store to try a pair of the original Pure Connect trainers out, until I heard that the 2s were on their way and then (from Brooks themselves, via twitter!) about the Try It On project, so I held off a few weeks.  Mr. Neon is in more desperate need for new shoes than I, so I also cajoled him to sign up for Try It On, and he has been running in the Pure Project’s higher stability shoe, the Pure Cadence 2.  He doesn’t know it yet, but he is going to write a guest post for me with a review.

So, onto the actual shoes.  I was super-excited about picking these up from Runner’s Need in Oxford Circus but as I had a sleeping baby with me I didn’t want to hang around too long (I’m sure other mothers appreciate that when you’re out and your baby falls asleep in the buggy you go and get coffee and read a magazine pronto!)  So, I basically just grabbed the shoes and left… and then almost right away tweeted my initial thoughts:

CaptureOnce I got home, we unboxed properly:

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And out came the shoes:

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Okay, so this isn’t a very good look at the shoe itself, so here are the shots from the Brooks Running website, in both colourways:

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And, for the record, here’s what Brooks say about the Pure Connect 2:

You can feel it – With the PureConnect you feel your run from head to toe. This shoe is the lightweight among the PureProject™-styles and can bring out the best in every runner type, no matter how long you want to run. This shoe will enrich your road training. We combined the maximum breathability of the open mesh upper with a low profile midsole. The split toe groove extends through the forefoot, allowing the runner to fully engage the foot and connect to the ground.

So, I’ll start with the obvious.  These shoes are light.  I really didn’t think they’d feel much lighter than the Nike Frees.  To put it in numbers, the Pure Connect 2 is 167 grams and the Nike Free Run+ 3s are a shade over 215 grams.  That doesn’t sound like a lot but it feels like a lot.  The difference between these and my Nike Structures is like night and day (and yes, I did walk around the house with one of each on either foot just to make sure it wasn’t just an illusion in my mind.)  Obviously, the lighter the shoe then theoretically the easier it is for your leg to pick it up off the ground, but from my experience that isn’t always the case – the Nike Lunarglide is much lighter than the Structure but it feels to me like it drags my foot down.

I was also pretty intrigued by the sole of the PC2, which looks as though it is half missing, with some weird kind of raised pods:

2013-02-04 11.02.56(By the by, sorry for the mud-encrusted trainers.  I did try to clean them off a bit, but really, I should have just taken the photo before running, but anyway.)  The dark bits are places where the outer sole does not go – not that you poke through and it’s the soft innersole, it’s still hard but without the rubbery bit.  The pink bits are the ‘pods’ and they are raised slightly from the rest of the green sole, and are a bit harder/tougher.  As you can read in the ‘blurb’ up the top there is also a ‘cut out’ between where the big toe and the rest of the toes go, supposedly for improved flexibility in the toebox.

So, enough about that – how about the actual running?  Well, the first run was not so great.  I am used to a much looser fitting shoe and the Pure Connect 2 hugs your foot – and I mean it.  A combination of the elastic around the middle of the foot (the pink bands in the photos) and the off-center lacing system (which you can see in my first photo of the shoes) mean that the shoe does not move off your foot at all.  I’m sure this is actually a good thing, but when you’re not used to it it can be slightly disconcerting.  To top it off, the ball of my foot is quite wide, so I felt that my toes were being squished together from the bottoms.  Toes squished at the tips I can handle, but this was really uncomfortable.  You might have noticed from other photos of my trainers that I lace them all a bit unconventionally – my Structures are double laced (that is, one short lace on the bottom three holes and one short lace on the top three holes) and on one foot my frees are just unlaced at the bottom (kind of, that’s a longer story that it warrants).  I wanted to try the PC2s out with the ‘regular lacing’ first, because you never know.  A few km into the run and I just couldn’t feel my toes any more – but, don’t be discouraged – I will come back to that later.

On that first run I did notice how easy it was to get into my natural stride – I often struggle for the first few kms of a run and feel like I am battling with my self to really get into a rhythm but it was really easy with the PC2s.  That has continued to be the case on each of the runs that I’ve done in these trainers, so I have no reason to suspect that it has been a fluke.  The shoes really support a natural mid or forefoot strike.  At one point – for the purposes of testing – I did try running with a heel strike.  It wasn’t uncomfortable on my foot, but I can’t keep it up for very long.  There certainly is (as you can see from the photo of the sole) enough structure to the back-half of the sole to support a heelstrike, but I wouldn’t really like to say one way or another (perhaps Mr. Neon will have more to say on this in his review of the Pure Cadence 2, as he is much more of a heel striker than I am).

But, back to the problem with my toes.  I experimented.  I played around with some different lacing and eventually just didn’t lace the bottom tabs.  This shot shows the shoe on the left with the regular lacing and the shoe on the right (which is actually the left shoe) with the dropped lace:

picsay-1359892488I ran 18km and didn’t feel like the shoe was ever too loose (that can be a problem with some shoes, which is why I double lace the Structures) and gave me just that tiny bit of extra room.  In fact, it felt much more supportive – what I assume the shoe is meant to feel like – not constricting, but like a big old trainer hug.

The responsiveness of the shoe is great – both on the road and on trails (though the trails around me are really just dirt/mud/grass tracks, it’s the best I’ve got for the test!).  I don’t feel as if the pavement is too hard, there is enough in the sole to prevent the residual shockwave going up your leg – which I sometimes feel with the Free if I land in a way that ‘splits’ the sole open.  On the softer ground they were brilliant, though I wouldn’t recommend doing any real hard trail running in them (though, there is the amazing sound Pure Grit for that).  The grip is actually much better than I expected – I did slide a bit over a patch of mud but they gripped the pavement really well even in the rain (unfortunately the trial started a little too late to get the full snow-experience!)

The only thing I was a little disappointed about was the toe-split.  Don’t get me wrong, the feel of the run is great, the shoe lets you really feel the ground and react to it, but I didn’t get as much toe/forefoot flexibility as I thought I would, from the reading I had done prior to picking up the shoes.  Maybe that has a lot to do with the way that I run, and that as I get used to having the option then I will feel it more, maybe not.

But, the minor cons don’t really detract from what I think is a great shoe.  And, the most important question, I suppose, is will I buy the shoe at the end of the trial?

Not only will I buy the Pure Connect 2 (though, I think, in the blue colourway), but I am going to seriously think about getting the Pure Grit as well – I’ve been on the lookout for a good trail shoe and perhaps this is it!

Finally I want to comment on how awesome an idea the Try It Out project is.  It’s hard to get a pair of trainers that will be okay from five minutes (or less!) on a treadmill in a shop.  Running on a treadmill is a different experience than running on the road or on a track or on trails.  If I had just tried these in the store I wouldn’t buy them, because they felt weird the first time I put them on.  But, a week of running has shown me that these are good shoes for me.  I’m also really pleased that I researched all the Pure Project shoes (including reading reviews of the first generation trainers) before deciding which ones to test out, because I think in the end I made a really good decision for me and the way that I run.  This review is already far too long though, so I will leave it at that!

Oh, except one thing.  Brooks’ slogan is Run Happy, and during the week of testing the PC2 out I have been trying to keep that in mind.  I’m normally a pretty happy runner, but this week I like to think I ramped it up a little bit.

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