post extolling the virtues of spikeless cross country racing flats as more minimalist running shoes. At the time that I wrote that article I hadn't put very many miles in while wearing a XC flat, but lately I've been finding that my Brooks Mach 11 spikeless flats have become one of my favorite shoes. In fact, in the past month I've probably put in more miles in the Mach 11's than in any other shoe that I own (and that's saying a lot!). I've run intervals in them, ran a sub-6:00 mile in them just to see how they'd handle, and have logged runs as long as 10+ and 13.1 miles. I've also worn them on just about every possible terrain, from gravel, to asphalt, to hilly trails. I'm happy to report that they have performed marvelously on almost every run!
Before moving on let me disclose openly that I am a member of BrooksID for 2010, though I do my best to be impartial in my reviews. I have written positive reviews of non-Brooks shoes (e.g., Nike Free 3.0, Vibram Fivefingers, La Sportiva Wildcat GTX), and the shoes I'm reviewing here were actually obtained in exchange for a pair of Brooks T6 Racers that chewed up my heels (these were a personal purchase from Running Warehouse, not a review sample).
Following along with my typical review format, here are my detailed thoughts:
The Brooks Mach 11 is not what I would call a flashy shoe, but I do find them to be good looking. I've worn them out and about on a few occasions, and they don't attract attention and comments like my red/orange Brooks Launch or Vibram Fivefingers. I generally like black shoes, so these work well for my taste.
If you've never worn a pair of XC flats, you should be warned that they tend to be on the narrow side - I wouldn't recommend these for someone with a wide foot. That being said, they fit my average width foot snugly and comfortably, and I have had no problems with blisters or discomfort due to fit. In fact, I find the snugness of their fit to be one of their virtues, and the toe box is wide enough that at least for me, they don't seem to crunch my toes together like some other flats that I have worn. My Mach 11's also fit true to size - I wear a 10 in almost all shoes, including these.
I'd like to speculate briefly on the function of toe spring/toe rocker. I suspect that part of the reason the upturned forefoot tends to be exaggerated in XC flats is because in the spiked model there are sharp metal spikes protruding downward from the forefoot (see below). I'm wondering if the sole was flat whether they might have a tendency to catch the ground during leg swing? In other words, these shoes are designed for a particular purpose, and that is to accommodate spikes for cross-country runners (the spikeless version appears to be the same exact shoe minus the spikes and in a different color scheme). I've also seen reference to the toe spring aiding in propulsion, perhaps as the body rolls over the forefoot (this seems to presume a heel strike). I'm just speculating here, but it doesn't matter much to me as I don't tend to notice the toe spring anyway.
So what is the benefit of running in a spikeless XC flat you might ask? Well, for a runner like me who prefers minimalist footwear, these fit the bill nicely. They weigh in at around 7.5 oz (in my size 10), and have a very low heel, resulting in a small differential between heel and forefoot thickness (hence why they are called "racing flats"). Brooks reports heel height to be 13.5mm, and forefoot height to be 6.8mm, resulting in a heel toe drop of 6.7mm. My own measurements suggest an even lower drop of 4mm (16mm heel, 12mm forefoot), which I tend to believe since these shoes feel genuinely almost flat-soled to me (and you can see this in the pictures above if you compare heel and forefoot height). I'm not sure about the forefoot measurement reported by Brooks, as I measured my Vibram Fivefingers KSO's to have a forefoot thickness of 8mm, and they are certainly thinner soled in the forefoot than the Mach 11's. Regardless of the exact numbers, the Mach 11's have a low, flat profile, and I think I'm mostly midfoot striking in them - this is more apparent on my right foot than my left based on my wear patterns (I have some kind of asymmetry going on that I've known about for awhile - left foot seems to like heel striking, right foot seems more midfoot).
One of my big questions when I first got these shoes was how a cross country flat would handle on asphalt - turns out that they do just fine! Last week I ran 13.1 miles in them almost entirely on roads and sidewalk, and my pace was around 7:40 min/mile on a very hilly route. I should point out that I have been running regularly in low or no-heeled shoes for almost a year now, so my legs and feet are pretty well adapted to the style. I would not recommend that you run a half marathon right off the bat in these if you have never worn a flat before. Like any shoe with minimal cushioning and minimal heel lift, these will take some time to adjust to, and prudence and care should be taken if this is not a style of shoe that you are used to (injuries can and do happen when people do too much, too fast in minimalist shoes). Even I was a bit hasty a few weeks ago when I ran every run for a week in the Mach 11's - started to feel a bit of soreness under the heel and base of big toe on the left foot, but after several days of running in my Brooks Launch (which are more heavily cushioned), all was well, and pain has not reappeared on subsequent runs in the Mach 11's. Listening to warning signs from my body and adjusting shoes or training has been my approach to preventing aches and pains from becoming a more serious problem.
So in summary, I'm thrilled with the Mach 11 from a performance standpoint - I actually think I will be wearing them in my next 5K.
The Brooks Mach 11 is a fantastic flat that possesses many of the attributes that I look for in a running shoe. It's lightweight and has a very low heel, and although it is not as flexible as a shoe like the Nike Free 3.0 or Vibram Fivefingers, that's to be expected in a shoe that is designed to have pointy metal spikes extending from the sole. Even more appealing is the fact that unlike many of the overpriced minimalist shoes on the market these days, XC flats like the Mach 11 can generally be purchased for under $50 - not as large an investment lost if you decide that they're not for you. The Mach 11 can be purchased right now on closeout at Running Warehouse for $39.88 (-10% with the Runblogger discount - see below), and can probably found for a similar price elsewhere since the new Mach 12 model has just been released.
If you have any questions about this shoe, feel free to send an email or drop a comment below. Stay tuned for some forthcoming thoughts on the Mach 12, which should be arriving on my doorstep soon!
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