Mar | 7
Running Tips, Shoes & Gear

The Running Experience: Float or Feel?

Brooks Footwear Product Line Manager Carson Caprara shares his thoughts on the future of running shoes and previews the PureProject collection from Brooks, an exciting new line launching this October:

The marketplace is changing rapidly and there’s a lot of noise and confusion in the running world right now around minimal and barefoot running vs. traditional running shoes. There are many questions about which running style is right or wrong. Should you run mid-foot, forefoot, or is heel striking ok? Monologues abound from both sides of the discussion. “Running shoes are bad,” to “barefoot running is crazy!” The debate is healthy and will positively affect the design and function of all running shoes in the future. However, lately the conversation has become more about who’s right and wrong. So where does the real truth lie? More importantly, why are new runners so intrigued by this debate? What are they really seeking out of their running shoe experience?

To get the bottom of this, we at Brooks partnered with the consumer insights and design firm, IDEO . IDEO is often regarded as the preeminent design and innovation firm. This is due in large part to their unique, qualitative approach to consumer insight gathering and how they synthesize that into inspiration for design.  Our team traveled the country from Chicago to Austin to NYC to talk to new runners ages 25 to 35. We immersed ourselves in their lives. We spent hours in their homes where we did more listening and less talking. We ran with their running groups, shopped with them at running stores, and even set up an “unfocused group” where they were given access to a buffet of materials to build their perfect running shoe. The process was eye opening for our entire team. As we sifted through the enormous amount of information that we had compiled over the previous months, and sorted and resorted the post-it notes that covered the walls of our working space, we began to shed light on five overarching messages that we felt the new runner was trying to tell us.

First, the shoe is the story and the story is the shoe .

Running shoes have become far too complicated with a plethora of technologies. Research has told us consumers are only able to interpret a few technologies at most. They are drawn to function that is more intuitive and design that is more purposeful.

Second, the running world is having one conversation while people (new runners) are having another.

People are tired of always being told what they NEED when picking out a running shoe. They WANT more choice. From the colors to the design to the feel, it is important to them to have a dialogue with a retailer as opposed to a one-sided monologue.

Third, people don’t know what they don’t know.

We spoke with Joe, a Chicago area runner, after he went through a full gait analysis at a local retailer. We asked him what he learned and he said, “I think that I’m a nator…” This was frustrating for me having fit shoes for many years. You are not simply diagnosed as a nator… You are an over-pronator, neutral, or a supinator. However, the message didn’t get through to Joe. He walked away more confused than when he went in. This experience perhaps underlines why the new runner feels disconnected from the current retail experience. They are clearly seeking a more simple understanding of the shoe selection process.

Fourth, people want to be more connected to the run.

This message rang loud in our ears. Since when does the new runner want to connect more to the run? Aren’t they the ones who want to plug in the headphones and get the run over with? Aren’t they solely interested in reaping the physical and mental benefits afterward? This is the point where we realized there is a total mindset shift occurring in the market. This new mindset is all about actually enjoying the run in the moment. Taking the headphones out and connecting more intimately with their surroundings. Feeling the ground under their feet, being more connected with their body, and tuning into every step. They are realizing something that longtime runners have always kept close to the vest: Running can actually be fun, enjoyable, and awakening! I believe this is why our sport is healthier than it has ever been. It is why we are staring at an amazing opportunity to reach out and connect with more people and empower them to experience running in a way that has never been so compelling.

Fifth and finally, not all runners are the same.

Yes we unveiled a new running mindset that is growing at a rapid rate, driven by new and seasoned runners alike. However, throughout our travels we confirmed that not every runner wants to run in this new way. There still are—and forever will be—a large number of those who want to experience running in a less connected way. Those who want to float through their runs, cruise above the ground with ample cushioning, plug in the headphones, or simply escape from their daily stress. This mindset has fueled our sport for decades, and will continue for years to come.

The Running Experience: Float or Feel

When I talk about a running experience, I’m talking about a choice. The choice that is so important to the new runner. There is no right or wrong here… To be honest, what I love about running is the ability to not only choose how I want to experience my run, but to be able to switch it up from day to day. Some days I feel like connecting to my run. Being completely awake and in the moment, hugging the turns, feeling the inclines and declines, and being completely tuned into my internal engine. Trust me, there are also the days when I want none of the sort. Get me as far off of the ground as possible because my everything hurts and I want the shoe to do all of the work. On those days, I totally want to float.

At this point it was clear that we needed to reexamine the product spectrum. Up until this point we built shoes solely on what we called the horizontal biomechanical spectrum. Our mission has always been to create “a perfect ride for every stride.” So from neutral to support to control, every shoe we built was tied directly to this axis. However, having a single axis leaves little room for consumer choice and experience. The runner’s positioning on the horizontal axis is determined by his or her foot mechanics, not design or experience preference. How are we providing the “perfect ride for every stride” if we aren’t building shoes that offer choice and provide a running experience that many runners are looking for? The time is now for Brooks to turn the running shoe spectrum on end with the addition of an entirely new axis that we call “Float and Feel.” The Float vs. Feel axis will run vertically over the existing horizontal axis. It is all about choice. It’s about having a dialogue with the runner about his or her preferred running experience. It’s about expanding our product breadth and functionality to be built specifically for those who seek a maximum feel experience to those who want the ultimate float experience—all while keeping biomechanics as the focal point for design on BOTH ends of the spectrum.

Our core product is what you already know and hopefully love from Brooks. The core design philosophy is centered around creating the most customized fit, most dynamic stability, and most cushioned ride possible to deliver an incredible floating experience. We will not waiver here…

Our glaring opportunity is to create a new product line designed from the ground up to provide the runner with an incredible feel experience. “Less is more” has become the design philosophy of many brands in the market right now that are chasing the minimal trend. The hard part about that for us is that we don’t feel that “less is more” is a great consumer proposition. It is no doubt an uplifting life philosophy, but a product promise? Runners shouldn’t have to pay more for less technology. We want to build a better, biomechanically sound product in a lighter package that allows the runner to feel more with less.

So on October 1, we will introduce the PureProject collection from Brooks. PureProject is a new line of footwear that promotes a natural ride and a truly unique running experience in a lightweight package. We utilize a new proactive approach to biomechanics called Ideal. Ideal technology is built into the very geometry of these shoes. It was created to promote a runner’s ideal alignment by attempting to shift force application points to align force vectors, and then load internal structures to enhance performance and decrease the risk for injuries. With this incredibly unique product line, the shoes work together with the body to put runners back in the driver’s seat. Let them be completely connected to their runs, hugging the turns, and dynamically tuned into every step.

We want to encourage the runner to choose how they want to experience their runs. There is no right or wrong with Float vs. Feel. It’s all about how an individual wants to run on a given day. It’s about creating dialogue not monologues. It’s about choice. It’s about more WANT and a little less NEED. It’s about having the conversation that the everyday runner is having, not one speckled with confusing and intimidating terms like “minimalism” and “lightweight training.” It’s about making our amazing sport more accessible and enjoyable to the world.

Carson is a Footwear Product Line Manager for Brooks Sports, Inc.

33 Comments
  1. Danny

    Great article! It demonstrates another reason why I enjoy wearing the Brooks line of products.
    It’s not about the flash and popularity of the celebrity wearing the shoe its about what the consumers want and what will keep the consumers in the sport for the long haul. (Although, I admit, some flash is nice ;)..)
    In my opinion there is mass confusion in the marketplace on what shoes are the “right” shoe and what the basic functions of a shoe are and should be.
    I’m very excited to see the new PureProject line of shoes and what they will offer us.

    Danny

  2. Tuck

    Good news from Brooks! I was speaking yesterday to a loyal Brooks customer who is very interested in minimalist shoes. He was quite happy to hear the rumours that Brooks was coming out with a less-structured product. I’ll pass this along to him.

  3. John

    I’m glad to see that Brooks will be offering minimal shoes as well. If I may make a suggestion, please consider offering these in narrow widths. I’m interested in trying out the minimal/barefoot/natural/chi running shoes, but there are none available now in widths other than D for men.

  4. Nicholas Pang

    Great news!

    The Brooks Green Silence is a good start but needs lighter, wider toe boxes, and varying cushioning levels for different runners depending on where they are in their transition plan.

  5. Eshan

    Its nice to see brooks coming out with a leaner shoe. Before I started running barefoot and in minimal shoes, I always used brooks. However, the technology that they mentioned is a turn off. It seems to me that brooks is still obsessed with directing forces and the way our feet move. What I would like to see is a shoe that has a thin, almost or completely flat sole with no support or technology that makes your foot move in an unnatural way. In terms of an upper, a toebox that is VERY wide is something that I have yet to find from any company, and that seems to be the only way to make them wide enough. It also shouldn’t have any support in the heel in the upper, and it should be able to mold to the back of your foot so it doesn’t slip.

  6. Patton Gleason

    Great step Brooks! It’s exciting to hear that you guys are thinking about running in a new perspective, not right or wrong but fresh. It sounds like a project you guys are really passionate about and a ton of thought has gone into it. It would be really interesting to see the data cited for the Ideal Biomechanics. It would probably give us all a bunch to learn from. For the development side, it would be great to see a product from the PureProject introduce dialogue that addressed how long shoes could and should last. Can great technology and optimal form lengthen the life of the shoe? My experience has been that how quickly a shoe broke down says something about the product, but says a ton about the biomechanics of an athlete. The data seems to be indicative of different force patters (ground force reaction time, vertical loading rate, etc.) can be manipulated (not necessarily eliminated or lowered, but different) through gait training. Will Brooks be the ones who match up running form variables and progressive technology in a package that can give an athlete much more control in how long a shoe lasts? If you can make a shoe with a 100% sustainability element, then why not?

  7. Aaron

    Please, zero drop. At least for me, this will make or break the shoe, and be the main determinant for my decision to buy. There’s no reason for running shoes to have elevated heels. Not by a single millimeter. Please don’t make this shoe with an elevated heel.

  8. Levi

    I am excited to see that Brooks is willing to join the “trend.” I look forward to seeing what Brooks is able to produce. I will definitely link to this announcement from my blog.

  9. swingthought

    The other item, besides the no heel lift, or zero drop of a minimalist shoe is: zero effective toe spring. Toe spring is only for shoes with heel lift, and is a requirement with a heel, but a curse without. To simulate barefoot the foot needs to be able to ground flat, as if bare. Good luck! It’s hard to get it right, apparently.

  10. Maxwell

    “The hard part about that for us is that we don’t feel that “less is more” is a great consumer proposition. It is no doubt an uplifting life philosophy, but a product promise? Runners shouldn’t have to pay more for less technology.”

    This is true, we as runners should pay far less for shoes that do far less. Why does the Green Silence cost 100$? That seems like the least you could have done, yet I pay more that than some of your other shoes built on far more ‘expensive technology’. It is a slab of EVA with the most primitive lacing system on the planet. Simple, elegant, … expensive.
    I work in a running shoe store, and fully believe in good running form, and shoes that do not try and hinder that good running form. However my job depends on people purchasing shoes. On one side of the argument it is asinine to me that shoe companies who watch slow motion video capture of their shoes and testers in action would deny that running form can improve, and would expect that a running shoe will fix every single problem down the line. I suppose it is only a matter of time before bulletproof uppers begin to replace gore-tex on shoes, simply because the running shoe companies would like to help those runners that shoot themselves in the foot. However on the other end of the spectrum it is aggravating to wonder why I am being charged MORE for my paper thin neutral shoe with no stretchy toggles, no hilariously ill conceived tongue straightener, and no blubbery fake breast implants in the heel.11`1`1“
    Here is the bottom line, if someone works hard at giving themselves better posture, better turnover, better foot planting, why aren’t we as shoe distributors giving them a reward in the form of a cheaper less overbuilt options? I am glad you are finally building the shoe you had on your desk 5 years ago. I am glad to live in the Seattle area and see my local running shoe company catch up, but please don’t charge me 100$ for something that took infinitely less effort to produce. Reward me, and thank the customer for their hard work, their aversion to injury, and their love of the sport that Brooks shares.

  11. Sock Runner

    I totally agree with you. Of course, not all runners are the same but the tips on how to have a good run can still help. They may not apply to all runners but it all depends on the person–on how to look at running and oneself while running. Thanks for the insights. This was a good read.

  12. Chip LeDuff

    Thank you Brooks for being so in love with running. This love translates directly into what’s going on during each stride of our own running. I think I speak for everyone when I say thank you for putting your heart and soul into everything you do.

  13. Dan

    Hi Carson,

    You’ve got me sold on a new pair of shoes. I’ve had another brand that starts with an “N” and ends with an “ike” for years. They’ve been good shoes, but just reading about the effort your guys go for you customers, I’m going to give Brooks a try.

  14. Randy

    Good plan Dan. I was with that other brand and switched to brooks and have looked back a couple times and tried different shoes that are visually appealing but nothing works with my foot as well as brooks.

    this line will be even better. i’m excited, not really surprised since ive come to expect that loyalty from brooks, about the research put into the ideas behind the development of the pure project. I am a bit suprised that you guys are making a more minimalist shoe now i figured brooks was just gonna try to weather the storm so to speak.

  15. Tracy Harris

    WOWOWOW!
    Brooks has nailed it! I cannot wait unitl this line of shoes is out- as a former national class runner and now a coach I am always telling my kids to learn to FLOAT as you run….feel the ease which your body and shoes ( feet) go hand in hand- this is possible! I have also gone to the minimalist shoe as I have gotten older ( 50) and what a difference. This PureProject will be an EPIC move in the right direction for the future of running and running shoes!

    Remain Curious!

    Tracy Harris

  16. Chris Lowe

    Count me as a +1 to the “no raised heel” contingent. I currently run in Vibrams, Green Silence and the Cascadia 6. I use all three on a regular basis and love each of them. In the winter I most use the GS or Cascadia simply because running in Vibrams in Seattle will lead to numb feet after 15 minutes! What I love about the Vibrams and Green Silence is that there’s nothing superfluous about them. They’re the running equivalent of a track bicycle. With the Cascadia and other shoes I find myself looking at all those little bits of material and wondering how much of that is structurally necessary and how much is simply decorative. To me a “minimalist” shoe is about much more than simply taking away padding.

    PS – still waiting for you to produce a trail variant of the Green Silence. Saucony has a trail version of their Kinvara…

  17. Steve B

    First if the person you mentioned in your study walked out of a running shop more confused than when he went in that says more about the quality of the run shop than anything about footwear. While I can understand that Brooks is a business and needs to follow the money, they should know better than anyone that their hard work over the last 20 years has resulted in great footwear that allows millions to run comfortably, rather then the “Devil Shoes” Chris McDougall has so many believing. Having been around running footwear for years I have to laugh at people, primarily men, who have been sucked into the minimalist hysteria. Take a look around, barefoot running is commerce, follow the money. Merrill for example tried to develop “traditional” running footwear and couldn’t get a the wall, so why not minimalism, gotta make a buck. Shut-up about heel-to-toe-drops, you didn’t have a clue 18 months ago, and just freaking grab some shoes and run. Minimalism has more to do with a new toy and creating some connection to my natural-self fantasy then it does with putting one foot in front of the other.

  18. Peter

    As runners we are over obsessed with out feet/ shoes, and this is a result of good marketing from the leading shoes companies that convince us that we need to buy 250 dollar shoes to put on our feet so we are well protected

    When in reality running is a whole body movement from head to toe, however shoe companies can’t sell us good running form can they,

    in the western world we have become obsessive consumers of material objects such as shoes and are generally to lazy to learn good running form, this mentality suits the shoe companies down to the ground.

    So people let’s get real learn how to run first before u even think about Going out to buy your 250 dollar shoes with there gels, springs, hydro flows etc etc

    Peter
    Australia

  19. Peter

    Just a further note to Brooks and all the other shoe companies out there including minimalist, I have no problem with u all having your silly gimmicks and sale pitches (more fool us)but until you come up with some hard scientific proof ( not in house testing) your shoes and the claims you make hold no cred at all.

    In my humble opinion newton are the only shoe company that have attempted to talk about good running form and all you runners out there should check out there book “natural running”

    Ps.
    And yes newton shoes are a bit gimmicky and over priced, but at least they talk about good running form

    Keep it real,,,,,,,

  20. Adam

    I just saw a preview of this new line in the Brooks tent at a local race and let me say WOW! There are a wide range of products, and I think almost anyone will be able to find a Pure shoe that they will love. I am a product tester and see a LOT of shoes, but I am very excited for the release of the Pure Project. I get most of the shoes I review for free, so I very seldom purchase shoes, but I’ll be first in line to buy a pair of these. Get psyched runners!

  21. Emma

    At last- thank you Brooks. I loved your shoes, (I use them for road, XC and track) but was getting more exasperated as the heels got thicker and the shoes stiffer (on the road shoes) with each upgrade. I can’t wait to try these new lighter models- so excited. Thank you!!!

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