Guest review by Fred Brossard: Fred Brossard is a French expert on minimalist running. He is the co-author of the book “Barefoot, Minimalism, Natural Running” (Ed Amphora) and is a freelance writer and gear reviewer for http://runners.fr
The French representatives for both Mizuno and Brooks Running recently gave me the chance to be the first in France to review their latest minimalist running shoes, the two Mizuno Wave Evo (Levitas and Cursoris) and the Brooks Pure Drift.
The new Pure Drift is the most minimal shoe in the Brooks PureProject line – it represents sort of a natural evolution towards less structure and less drop. It’s a step down toward barefoot running from the Pure Connect, attempting to keep the best of the Connect and correcting the worst. The Pure Drift is an adjustable-drop shoe – it can be configured to a 4 mm or a 0 mm drop, with the help of a removable insole (Runblogger note – I measure the insole as 5mm heel/2.5mm forefoot with my C-calipers, so don’t think the shoe is 4mm drop with it inserted as Brooks reports). Its weight (size 11.5) is 166 g without the insole / 185 g with the insole (6.1 oz in US size 9).
Mizuno Evo Cursoris (top) and Mizuno Evo Levitas (bottom)
Both of the Mizuno Wave Evo shoes are brand new models, the first zero drop shoes from the Japanese brand. They have been designed entirely from scratch without any ties to other models, not even the lightweight Wave Universe. Both EVO are zero-drop shoes which differ, among other aspects, in the thickness of their sole: 8 mm for the Levitas and 12 mm for the Cursoris. Weight (size 11.5) is 190 g for the Levitas (6.1 oz in US size 9), 215 g for the Cursoris (6.8 oz in US size 9).
Mizuno’s designers have obviously read and studied the “What should a real minimalist shoe feature?” theories that flourish on the web. In their first minimalist offerings, they very seriously tried to respect 5 key principles of minimalist shoe design: zero-drop, wide toebox, minimal structure, light cushioning, and flexibility under the metatarsals which leads to two quite different shoes: the Levitas is a real racer, and the Cursoris is great for smooth, easy runs.
Mizuno Evo Cursoris (top) and Mizuno Evo Levitas (bottom)
Neither Mizuno shoe is as anatomically shaped as the Pure Drift. In fact, it’s like they have no particular shape at all – their light and porous mesh (beware of rain …) just surround the feet and leave them enough space to move naturally. However, this creates a real issue with the lacing system: either it’s too loose and your foot can move out of the shoe or too tight and it crushes your feet. Both shoes are tremendously comfortable (the Cursoris may even be more comfortable than your favourite slippers). There’s no toe spring nor arch support, which is a good point. In fact, the Cursoris has no support at all whereas the Levitas has a supportive cup surrounding the heel, which keeps your foot aligned at high speed. The rear part of the outsole is totally flat without any grip, while the front part has 4 flexibility grooves and separated impact pods (some of which are reinforced with rubber outsole, some of which are not).
On the contrary, the Pure Drift is a near-perfect model in terms of anatomical design. The curved front part of the shoe fits my foot perfectly and comfortably and allows natural movement. No issue here with the lacing system, and the shoe also includes the Navband seen on other PureProject shoes that is supposed to help the shoes to “fit every feet.” No real arch support in the Drift either, but there is some sort of a firm point under the arch that is far less annoying than the arch contour found in the Pure Connect. The heel cup is curved and reinforced but doesn’t provide as much support as the heel cup of the Levitas. When standing still or walking, comfort and fit stays the same with or without the insole. As perfect as all this may appear, there’s however a possible issue with a big toe spring which, at first, I found an oddity for a minimalist, zero-drop shoe.
On the road
In my opinion, all three of these shoes are tailored for road running only or possibly for very dry and flat trails. And I emphasize “dry.” Rain is THE enemy of these three shoes because of their open mesh uppers – your feet will get wet. A wet road is enough to transform the Pure Drift into a swimming pool for your feet.
Frankly speaking, the Pure Drift isn’t a good zero-drop shoe whereas it’s quite an interesting 4 mm drop shoe. It’s not a matter of support or comfort, which to me feel the same with or without the insole. It’s not due either to the strange noises (plastic cracks) that could be heard when running without the insole. Rather, it’s due to the fact that contact with the ground is very hard under the midfoot without the insole whereas it’s far smoother with the insole. When there’s little feedback from the ground due to the thickness and firmness of the sole, I consider that the shoe should at least provide a little bit of cushioning, which isn’t the case for the Pure Drift. Zero-drop speed work training (400/800 meters) was an excruciating experience.
With the 4 mm insole, the Pure Drift is a better shoe, tailored for long and easy runs. I wasn’t annoyed that much by the toe spring and felt comfortable even after more than 25 km. I’ve heard that some reviewers didn’t like the dual toe flex – I did appreciate it, it gives more stability during the propulsion phase. I must confess that I really didn’t like the Pure Connect, which I found too narrow, too stiff, and which I felt had too much arch support. The “4 mm” Pure Drift corrects all of these defects and is a nice cool minimalist shoe, but not the best choice for performance (i.e., speedwork, racing). I’m still wondering why the shoe feels so bad when removing the insole to run it zero-drop. The forefoot cushioning perhaps needs to be a bit softer.
Mizuno Evo Cursoris
Mizuno Evo Levitas
In contrast to the Drift, both Mizuno Evo shoes are tremendous zero-drop shoes (except with regard to the lacing issues). The forefoot cushioning of both shoes is soft and flexible enough to allow a nice and smooth contact with the ground, which makes them very comfortable to use even during long runs. Those accustomed to the Wave cushioning technology won’t be disappointed, both shoes share a small Wave plate under the forefoot which filters a bit of the impact forces and gives back energy during the propulsion phase. That’s all for the shared features because these shoes are just so different from each other!
Heel support in the Evo Levitas (left) and Evo Cursoris (right)
The Levitas is a real racer, clearly tailored for speed, with far less cushioning than the Cursoris. As mentioned earlier, it also has the external heel support which adds some stability. It’s not a shoe for inexperienced minimalist runners. The CURSORIS is very, very, very soft and can be used by anybody. As I wrote before, the CURSORIS is as comfortable and smooth as your favourite slippers. Running with it is like running on cotton wool, seems like you could run 100 km in a row before discovering that they’re zero-drop shoes. Their lack of structure and their overall width induce your foot into moving as it wants in all directions which means that they’re not designed for speed work (they are less stable).
And the winner is …
Being a somewhat competitive runner who does speed and endurance speed work twice a week, I find the Mizuno Levitas to be the best minimalist road running racer I’ve ever reviewed. It has all that I’m looking for in a zero-drop shoe: the perfect mix of comfort and efficiency. I also like the Cursoris, which I use for my two weekly easy recovery runs and which can be used by anybody willing to discover the joys of zero-drop running without any risks. It’s not that I don’t like the Pure Drift, but I just can’t figure out the real usefulness of the dual drop since there’s so much difference between the good 4 mm shoe and the bad 0 mm one.
Update 2/18/2012: Also read Pete’s review of the Brooks Pure Drift
The Brooks Drift is now available at Running Warehouse, and the Mizuno Evo Levitas and Mizuno Evo Cursoris will be available later this month at Running Warehouse.