My friend Jason Fitzgerald, who writes the brilliant blog Strength Running, taught me a philosophy that I think strikes the perfect middle ground in the barefoot-versus-shod running debate:
“Run like a barefooter, but do it with shoes on.”
What Jason means when he says to run like a barefooter is that you should run with a quick cadence, short strides so that your weight stays over your feet, and a midfoot strike, instead of landing hard on your heel. Running barefoot essentially forces you to do these things, since doing otherwise just plain hurts, without all that cushioning that traditional running shoes offer.
This lack of feedback caused by modern shoes, of course, is the main argument for barefoot running. Cushy shoes allow us (encourage us, even) to run in a way that’s unnatural and that, over time, leads to injuries.
The argument for wearing shoes is less subtle: a layer of cushioning between our feet and the ground protects us not just from the impact of the road (which is perhaps much harder than the surfaces we evolved to run barefoot on), but also from rocks, glass, etc.
You can see the appeal of the compromise: Run with the form nature designed us to run with, then throw in a layer of protection from the ground.
Replacing the Green Silence
From my first run in the Brooks Green Silence (which happened to be the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon, thanks to my destructive habit of buying new running shoes the day before a race), I was in love. I had found a shoe that was light, flexible, and comfortable, and one that more than any other encouraged me to land on my midfoot instead of my heel. It was, for me, a perfect compromise between minimalist running and comfort, and that it was eco-friendly certainly didn’t hurt, either.
For two years I ran happily in the Green Silence. And then I found out they were being discontinued.
I thought about stocking up with enough pairs to last me well into old age. Thankfully, I procrastinated, because little did I know that something better was coming.
Then one day late last year, salvation showed up on my doorstep — in the form of a giant chocolate egg.
The box had some sort of Chinese or Japanese characters on it and a warning to crack open the egg with 12 hours, which led me, in my infinite paranoia, to classify it as a suspicious package (I figured the time-urgency was so that the anthrax inside wouldn’t die). I made a few phone calls — no joke — to the delivery company and then to a chocolatier in Portland to find out who sent it, but to no avail. Ultimately, my wife came home, convinced me I was nuts and pointed out that the box said “Run Happy,” and cracked open the egg with a hammer. I made her do it outside, at least.
Inside was neither a bomb nor an evil germ, but a plastic-wrapped pair of running shoes destined to become my favorites. The egg was from Brooks, and inside were the brand new, not-then-released PureDrift.
Introducing the Brooks PureDrift
Running shoes in a giant chocolate egg. If only we hadn’t been as far as you can possibly get from Easter, the promotion would have made so much sense.
I still don’t get it, but the shoes are amazing. The PureDrift aren’t supposed to replace the Green Silence, but in my mind, they do. Only they’re better.
I wish I were more of a running shoe nerd and could talk specs. I’ll try in a minute, but here’s the non-technical, take-home message: the PureDrift have that “barely there” feeling of a slipper or even a sock, which encourages the barefoot running form, yet they provide cushioning far more substantial than, say, Vibram Fivefingers. The sole is flexible enough that it allows your foot to conform to any undulations in the ground (and it still hurts if you come down too hard on your heel, as well it should), but the cushioning provides for a smoother ride and a more pleasant experience than I ever had when I fooled around with quasi-barefooting in Fivefingers for a few months.
(And by the way, all of Brooks’ running shoes are vegan-friendly. A few of their walking shoes are not.)
And now for you nerds out there, here are the specs that matter to me, as compared to the Green Silence:
The Green Silence weighed 6.9 ounces. The PureDrift come in at a whopping 20 percent lighter, 5.6 ounces. The Green Silence had a pretty big heel-to-toe drop of 8mm. (That’s the height difference of the sole between the built-up heel and the toe, which barefooters point to as the main culprit behind injuries caused by shoes.) As for the heel-to-toe drop of the PureDrift? Get this: they come with a removable liner, which left in gives the shoe a 4mm drop, but removed results in a zero-drop experience, just like barefooting. I’ve tried both ways, and prefer the 4mm option.
The PureDrifts have two notches cut in forefoot area of the sole and a wide toebox, which allow the toes to splay out and the forefoot to “flex through its three functional units,” according to the website. Whatever that means.
Although the PureDrift weren’t designed with the obsession on eco-friendliness that the Green Silence obviously were, it’s nice to know that the BioMoGo midsole will biodegrade 50 times faster than ordinary midsole materials.
There’s a downside to light, minimal shoes like this, and it’s that they wear out rather quickly. Brooks says the PureDrift and the other shoes in the PureProject line will last only 250 to 300 miles, as compared to the standard 300 to 500 you hear quoted for other shoes. At 100 bucks a pop, that could get pricey.
The Long and Short of It …
I kinda wish I had more negative things to say about the PureDrift, so as not to gush like someone might just because he got free running shoes in a giant chocolate egg. I’ve read other reviews saying that some runners find the upper to be too loose, so that when tied tightly, the material bunches up, but I haven’t noticed that.
Honestly, I thought it’d be a long time before I found a pair of shoes to replace my beloved Green Silence, and to have discovered in the PureDrift a shoe that I like even more has me over the moon. If you’re a minimilist shoe fan like I am, there’s a good chance you’ll be as excited about these as I am.
PS — Jason is one of several friends of mine whose blog, along with No Meat Athlete, made it onto Greatist’s lists of 60 Must-Read Health & Fitness Blogs for 2013. It’s an honor to be on the list — thanks, Greatist!
PPS — I did two interviews recently that I hope you’ll read/watch:
1. A video interview I did with Jeff Gaudette for the Runners Connect podcast, and we talked a lot about nutrition, running, tips for going plant-based, and my new book.
2. The second is one I did for a new site called VegBelly, where I answered some fun questions about No Meat Athlete, caffeine, music, books, movies, and more.
These were really great interviews; please check them out and share them!