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Shoe Review: Brooks Mach 12 Cross-Country Racing Flat

Amid the rush of new so-called minimalist shoes hitting the market (or soon to arrive in stores), it’s easy to overlook the fact that just about every shoe manufacturer already makes shoes that fit pretty squarely in this category (depending on how you define minimalist – some prefer to call these “reduced” or “transitional” shoes). In fact, current offerings in the road and spikeless cross-country flat lineups may be far more “minimal” than many of the so-called “minimalist” shoes currently being produced (with a few exceptions – Vibram Fivefingers, Terra Plana Evo, and a few others – see my Minimalist Shoe Guide for more). What’s more, many of these shoes can be purchased for half the price (or less) of some of the more heavily marketed minimalist offerings, a few of which I will be reviewing soon – stay tuned!

A few months ago I wrote a very positive review of the Brooks Mach 11 XC racing flat. The Mach 11 has a low heel, only a 4mm heel-to-toe drop, and is very lightweight (7.1 oz in men’s size 9). The only drawback I had identified is that the Mach 11 fits fairly narrow in the midfoot and heel. At the time of writing that review, I was aware that Brooks was set to release the updated Mach 12, and I contacted them to see if they would send me a pair to review and compare to the previous version (they graciously agreed – in the interest of full disclosure, let me state openly that I am receiving no other form of compensation for this review). I have now put in about 35 miles in the Mach 12, and am ready to render my review.

Brooks Mach 12 Spikeless Cross-Country Racing Flat
Brooks Mach 12 Spikeless Cross-Country Racing Flat

Appearance: When I first saw promo pictures of the Brooks Mach 12 on the Running Warehouse blog, I was immediately impressed. Simply stated, this is one of the best looking shoes that I own. The black/yellow color scheme looks great, and the shoe just screams “fast!” I’m a big believer in the power of psychology to raise performance, and when I run in a shoe that makes me feel fast, I do believe that it can provide a small boost. Brooks really paid attention to design detail with this one, and it’s a definite winner from an aesthetic standpoint.

Brooks Mach 12 Spikeless Cross-Country Racing Flat
Brooks Mach 12 Spikeless Cross-Country Racing Flat – Lateral View

Fit: As I mentioned above, my only real complaint with the Mach 11 was the narrowness of fit in the midfoot and heel. The Mach 12 is a complete redesign in terms of both appearance and construction. While it is still a narrow shoe and might not be well suited for a wide foot, the Mach 12 fits my foot better and is noticeably wider in the midfoot – it locks onto my foot like a glove. Like the Mach 11, the Mach 12 rides very close to the ground, and I also measure it as a 4mm drop shoe (same as the Nike Free 3.0, Saucony Kinvara, and the soon to arrive New Balance Minimus lineup – see this post for more on heel-toe drop). Given the low heel, this would be a good choice for someone trying to transition to a more midfoot (entire sole) or forefoot gait. Brooks also managed to shave a full ounce of the weight of the Mach 12 (6.0 oz in size 9), making it one of the lightest shoes that I own – this is a huge plus for me.

My only complaint about the Mach 12 is the exaggerated toe spring (the upturning of the toe). I generally don’t mind a bit of toe spring, but in the Mach 12 it is noticeable when I put them on, but less so when I’m actually running.

Brooks Mach 12 Spikeless Cross-Country Racing Flat
Brooks Mach 12 Spikeless Cross-Country Racing Flat – Medial View

Performance: I have nothing but good things to say when it comes to the performance of the Mach 12. It’s a great shoe to run in, it handles mixed terrain well, and it doesn’t get in the way too much when I try to work on moving my landing more toward my mid/forefoot (the presence of a slight heel raise does make it a bit harder than in my Vibram Fivefingers Bikilas though). For example, I took them to the track last week and did 20×200 intervals at about 5:40 min/mile pace and was able to shorten my stride and land on the forefoot almost the entire time – it’s a near perfect shoe for speedwork. Yesterday afternoon I did my 20 mile long run in them over very hilly terrain (wasn’t planned, they were the only shoes I had with me when I decided to go) – while I wouldn’t recommend them as a marathon shoe unless you are very well adapted to a low-drop shoe with little cushion, I made it through the 20 miles without much trouble, and my feet feel fine today. I could easily envision myself using them for race distances up to the half-marathon.

Lately, the Mach 12 has also been my racing shoe of choice. I finished second overall in a small, local 5K in them (my best ever finishing place), and I set a 4-mile PR in them on a very hilly course in early July. Their light weight and low ride makes them an ideal shoe for running fast!

Conclusion: The Brooks Mach 12 is a super-light, great looking shoe that is well-designed for speed – with my recent race performances as an indication, it has certainly proved itself to me. In a market where so-called “minimalist” shoes are starting to pop up all over (many costing upwards of $100), being able to purchase a low drop shoe that is built close to the ground for less than $50 (see Running Warehouse link below) makes the Mach 12 a great choice for anyone wishing to experiment with less shoe without breaking the bank. Who knows, as some of my friends have discovered with the Mach 11, you might just decide that you don’t need anything more!

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Recent Posts By Category: Running Shoe Reviews | Running Gear Reviews | Running Science

About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. RICKSRUNNING says:

    tHANKS FOR BRINGING THIS SHOE TO OUR ATTENTION
    I’m all for shoes that allow good running form and don’t cost an arm and a leg to own.
    Yeah a 20 mile hill run on the roads is a very good test indeed.
    Have you tested the Asics hyper sppeed racing shoe, they are available for a modest amount and fit many of a minimalists requirements, light flexible etc.
    Cheers

    • Pete Larson says:

      Rick,

      Haven’t tried the Hyperspeed, but have eyed it and the Piranha.
      Unfortunately, I have a bit of a logjam of shoes right now, so I need
      to hold off a bit before buying any more. I’m trying out both the
      Saucony Kinvara and Nike Free Run.

      Pete

  2. Hi there,
    I am considering buying this shoe but there’s just one thing stopping me from doing so: durability. So, having run in these shoes for some time, how are they holding up? From the pictures, they look a tad flimsy and not so durable but since you own them, would you suggest making them a training and running shoe?
    Thanks and regards,
    Karan

    • Pete Larson says:

      i’ll be honest and say that durabilitity is the hardest thing for me
      to address. Since I run in and review so many shoes, I tend to not a
      accumulate big miles in any one pair. That being said, I don’t
      consider them flimsy, they held up well on a 20 mile run, and they are
      a lot cheaper than most shoes out there (as are most XC flats). I do
      know several people who have 300+ miles on the Mach 11′s.

      Pete

  3. Corey Singletary says:

    Pete, I was wondering if you’ve found that that the Mach 12s have a more aggressive/secure heel cup than the Mach 11s? Reason I ask is that I bought a pair of the 11s and while the shoes fit well while static, they slide up and down on my heel when walking. The pictures seem to suggest that the 12s wrap up higher on the heel, and if that’s the case they may fit more securely for me.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Corey – the heel counter does extend a bit higher in the Mach 12, but I
      haven’t had slippage issues in either, so tough to say if it will be better.

      Pete

  4. Pete, great blog! I’ve been competitively running for a few years now and have one Full and a few Halves (including a trail Half) under my belt. I’ve only run/trained in “traditional” running shoes and I’m concerned about long-term effects of heel-strike… hence your blog and these shoes. I exclusively train on asphalt (no treadmills, no trails) and I’m strongly considering switching to a minimalist style of shoe. I’m not ready to take the five-finger plunge, but these XCs look like a great go-between. Thoughts on these as trainers for an intro-minimalist?

    Thanks!

    dave

    • Pete Larson says:

      They are about as minimal as you can get right now in a traditional looking
      shoe without going to completely flat, so it’s going to be a lot different
      than any traditional shoe. The Mach’s are great shoes, but you’d need to be
      careful and work them into your rotation slowly. If you want something a bit
      less minimal to start the transition, I’m also a big fan of the Saucony
      Kinvara right now – they are a bit more forgiving than the Mach’s.

      Pete

      • Without having tried them yet, I keep leaning more and more towards the Kinvara as I read more about getting minimal. Seems like a perfect transition shoe, as does the Nike Free. I’ll hopefully get to try them soon and make the switch. I feel pretty comfortable being able to switch to a midfoot strike gait, provided, as you said, I ease into the program. When better then after having just completed a Full?

        Thanks for the advice! Another notch for the Kinvara…

        dave

      • Pete, I bought the Mizuno Wave 3s and they are incredibly light but for someone trying to transition, the heel burns off quite readily. I like the feel of the Wave 3 but does the Brooks Mach 12s wear better for those trying to gradually get off the heel. Its hard to learn and practice the mid to fore foot transition if the shoes doesn’t give you time. The price is certainly more reasonable. Dan

        • Pete Larson says:

          I don’t have enough mileage on either shoe to comment, but my gut tells me
          that the Mach 12 is probably better protected on the heel, and certainly the
          price is right. If you can still find a pair of the Mach 11, they are great
          shoes and can be had for a steal right now.

          Pete

          • Thanks Pete, Searched for the Mach 11s but size 10 are sold out in fact Mach 12 in size 10 are hard to find. But Brooks certainly has them and I have a pair on the way. Look forward to giving them a run. Thanks, great blog. Dan

          • Pete Larson says:

            Good luck with them!
            Pete

  5. Kristinp920 says:

    Awesome reviews, Pete! I’m wondering about the arches in the Mach 12′s. I tried on Kinvaras and the arch was too high for me. Could you compare the two? Thanks, much!

  6. Willbenn23 says:

    how do the mach 12′s do sockless? looks like your not wearing any sock your the picture but i cant tell for sure…

    • Pete Larson says:

      Haven’t run sockless in them for any distance – picture was taken just
      running up and down the driveway, so I’m not sure.

      • Willbenn23 says:

        ok cool. if you ever do, be sure to let me know! iv spoiled myself with my nike frees 3.0 without socks, so that could be a big turn off for me…

  7. Pete – Thanks for brining these shoes to my attention! On the basis of your recommendation (and my appreciation of RunningWarehouse’s paid shipping return policy should the shoes not work out) I received them yesterday, and excitedly ran a great 9-mile tempo run in them today. They felt great, since as you noted they’re super light weight and have a their minimal heel height. Their lack of heel cushioning didn’t bother me at all, since I too am migrating my stride towards a mid-foot landing, and I was especially delighted by the traction that the shoes provide me during my stride (which makes sense, since they were designed as cross country racing shoes!) Bottom line – GREAT SHOES!!

  8. After reading your review and considering some other CC shoes (Saucony Shay, Nike Waffle Racer) to compliment my VFFs, I ordered a pair of the Mach 12s from Running Warehouse and got them right away. Great shoe, but RW only carries up to size 12, and my toes touched the front. It was just enough to make me think it might get annoying or painful on a long run.

    Overall, this is a great design, and the Mach 12 definitely let my foot spread out laterally. The upward curve of the sole almost threw me onto the forefoot. It was really easy to get into the right running position with these shoes. What I liked was that the sole of the Mach 12 did not wrap up and around my foot like the Waffle Racer. The upper of the Nike is amazing in its minimalism, but I couldn’t get past the sole, which seemed to squeeze the sides of my feet slightly.

    Before sending the Mach 12s back, I called RW and spoke with a cross country runner named Lauren, who listened very carefully to my wants/needs and suggested a Mizuno shoe as well as the Adidas XCS spikeless CC shoe. The XCS seemed to be more suited to what I am looking for, and It is only about $6 more than the Mach 12, so I decided to take her advice. They should be here the middle of next week.

    I haven’t found any reviews of the XCS, but it appears to have a very minimal heel-toe drop, similar to the Mach 12. It also appears to have a generous toe box and a forefoot tread pattern similar to the Mach 12. The XCS doesn’t have the toe spring like the Mach 12, but it should still allow me to get into the proper running position. We’ll see.

    The black XCS is not as flashy looking as the Mach 12, which my wife appreciates. She took one look at the Mach 12 and said it was the ugliest thing she had ever seen. I thought it was pretty obnoxious looking too, but I was able to get past it.

    I also owe a big shout out to Running Warehouse for their good shoe advice, pricing, and great return/exchange policy. They beat the pants off Roadrunner.

    • Pete Larson says:

      I just tried the Waffle race myself and it is incredibly narrow. I fit
      in most shoes ok, but that one was a no go and will be returned. Good
      luck without he Adidas!
      Pete

  9. Runnermatt says:

    I am not sure 35 miles is enough to adequately review a show- is that a mis-print?

    • Pete Larson says:

      Given the number of shoes that I run in, I get a pretty quick feel for a
      shoe – not a misprint. I also rotate shoes frequently so my mileage in each
      rises quite slowly, and allows me to make day to day comparisons. 35 miles
      is my usual threshold that I try to achieve before doing a review.

      Pete

      • Runnermatt says:

        Obviously I disagree but hey, it’s your site and you’re honest about it

        • Pete Larson says:

          No problem Matt. Generally, my feelings about a shoe crystallize after
          just a few runs, and I have found that at least for me, my opinion
          changes little if at all after 4-5 runs.

          Pete

          • Where can I get decent minimilist running shoes for my kids? They have size 4′s…..not sure i can find these anywhere

          • Pete Larson says:

            Don’t exist as far as I know – it’s a problem. Terra Plana Vivo Kids are
            great shoes, but not not running per se. Things will improve soon if rumors
            I hear are correct.

            Pete

          • Naked Feets says:

            Any idea about the Mach 13′s? Release date, differences, etc?

          • Pete Larson says:

            No idea on that one.

  10. PaulDavisTheFirst says:

    The Mach 12 sounded like precisely the shoe I wanted for winter trail running. Alas, as Pete suggested in his reveiew, this is absolutely not the shoe for anyone with wide feet. I’ve done a couple of trail runs in the (8 and 13 miles) and for me, someone who would ideally wear an E or EE if it was available, this shoe is way, way, way too narrow. Despite all the other nice features, I simply can’t wear this anymore.

    If Brooks made a shoe with this overall design but with the forefoot width of, say, their ST3 racers (which my feet adore), I’d be in heaven.

    • Pete Larson says:

      You may want to check out the New Balance RX507 – I have not worn it, but
      it’s an XC flat like the Mach that comes in widths.

  11. Hey Pete,

    First off great blog. I always come here first to check out any shoe I hear about or consider buying. Thanks for all the effort you put into reviewing and detailing all these shoes.

    My question is how do the Mach 12′s fit? I wear an 11 in the adrenaline GTS and an 11.5 in the Trance’s. Should I go for the 11.5′s?

    Thanks!
    Mark

    • Pete Larson says:

      Mark,

      Thanks for the comment! I wear a size 10 in the Mach 12, which is the
      same as I wear in almost all of my other shoes. Fits pretty true to
      size.

      Pete

  12. hello there pete… am lucky to have found your blog… i find it very informative and am still in the process of reading the articles and absorbing them… i am 53 yrs old from the philippines and have been running for 8 months… i am a midfoot strike runner and i strive to be so because i noticed less soreness and injuries compared to when i heel strike… i wear nb 801′s… i am not that advanced in running to aspire to be minimalist and at this stage feel that my feet will benefit from cushioning… my question for you is… are there running shoes with a heel to toe drop of 4mm or lower (easily promoting a midfoot strike) that comes with adequate cushioning (so that my feet will not be too sore from pounding the pavement)… at present my longest run is 12km but i am looking forward to run 21km by year end or early 2011… thank you for sharing your knowledge in running… dennis

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks for the note! For a 4mm drop shoe with cushion, you can check
      out the Nike Free 3.0 or Saucony Kinvara. Newton also makes low drop
      shoes, but are more expensive. Within the next year, there will be a
      lot more options coming from Merrell, GoLite, Altra, Inov8, and New
      Balance.

      Pete

  13. Hey Pete, I’m looking for a durable, minimal shoe for some running and hiking. In my past experience with XC flats (Saucony Shay XC), they actually have pretty poor traction on smooth rock – their outsole rubber tends to be just way too hard and slides around on rock. Do you think I’d get better traction from the Mach 12?

    Thanks!

    • Pete Larson says:

      I haven’t done any smooth rock running, so hard to say. The tread is
      certainly not aggressive or sticky. Have you checked out Inov-8? They seem
      to specialize in that kind of thing and some of their trail shoes have
      sticky rubber on the soles.

      Pete

  14. Hi Pete,

    First of all, this is a really great blog! I absolutely love it, and appreciate all the work you put into it! 

    Short question about the Mach 12, since I have no experience with XC shoes.

    Do you see any problems in getting the spiked version and using it without the spikes on roads and gravel ?
    Sounds stupid, I know, it’s just that I can’t get my hands on the spikeless version here in Germany, while the spiked one is a bargain.
    Judging by the images, there seem to be no differences in construction, so I thought I might give it a try.
    I would use the Mach as a minimal alternative, somewhere between the Merrell trail glove and the Kinvara.

    Thanks a lot!
    doz

    • I bought a pair of spiked Mach 9′s a year ago (a price too good to pass up). I didn’t use the spikes and I filled the holes with silicon so they wouldn’t retain road stuff. They work great on gravel, cement sidewalks, asphalt. Grab your deal.

    • Pete Larson says:

      To be honest, I don’t know the answer as I have never tried it. I assume
      there are metal receptacles to screw the spikes into, but not sure if you
      can feel them underfoot with the spikes removed. On a gravel surface might
      be fine.

  15. I just ordered a pair of these the other day! I read your review on the Mach 11′s and was going to try and get those, but had trouble finding the right size. Lucky, the Mach 12′s were in stock!

    I plan on using them in speed workouts and of course in some local 5k races. I do agree with you on the toe spring in shoes. I find it uncomfortable at times, but during running it feels great.

  16. I have been running in KSOs and Bikilas for the past 8 months with no problems until about a month ago when I developed the dreaded top of foot pain. I have taken 4 weeks off and it seems to be getting better(ish). I love the VFFs, but I am not adverse to trying something different but still minimalist. I have been following your blog and appreciate the unbiased shoe reviews. I have never run in racing flats, but the Mach 12 seems like it might be a good one to try. I have a fairly narrow foot and used to run in narrow Brooks Adrenalines (which now feel way to cushy and slow when I try to run in them). What I like about the Vibrams is that my foot can spread out. I also like to feel the ground, but a little more midsole might be in order considering my “injury.” Do you still feel the Mach 12 is a good option? I’m not a high speed or high mileage kind of guy, but I still like to feel fast. I love the look of the Kinvara, but it seems like it might be too much shoe underfoot.

    Thanks for the great reviews and running insight.

    Aaron

    • Pete Larson says:

      Aaron,

      The Mach 12 is a good choice – much lower and firmer than the Kinvara, but a
      bit more forgiving than the Fivefingers. You also can’t beat the price. I
      ran 20 miles in the Mach 12 last weekend, and though it wasn’t the ideal
      shoe for such a distance, I managed fine. They are currently my racing shoe
      of choice.

      Pete

      • Great! That’s what I wanted to hear. I have a couple of gift cards burning a hole in my wallet, so I will try them out this weekend.

        I am hoping to build back up to 8-10 mile long runs by the end of the year, and I think a little more midsole might be in order for the hard surfaces on which I am forced to run in Chicago. Typically, after about 6-7 in the VFFs, my feet start to feel a bit fatigued.

        Thanks again.
        Aaron

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