Monday, January 27, 2014

Shoe Review! Brooks Ravenna 4

Cindylocks has been at it again.  Yep, I’ve been trying new shoes.  Plural.  Two kinds of shoes.  Want to know how they worked out?  Read on!

Here’s the thing: I really did need a different shoe this time.  Not just a different looking shoe, but a shoe with different mechanics.  See, while I deal with my ITBS-that’s-not-ITBS thing, I’m doing a whole lotta walking in place of running.  If you’ve ever swapped walking for running over long distances, you know that, while the two activities look awfully similar, they are mechanically quite different.  In my case, it’s a huge difference: when I run, I land solidly on my forefoot, nearly toe-ball-heeling my landings, but I walk like a normal person, landing heel first.  Because I’m a forefoot runner, I don’t need the pronation control found in stability shoes and have, in fact, found that even a little of it screws me up.  So I swear by my neutral BrooksPureFlow shoes for running.  But when I walk, my left foot does something screwy in a trickle-down effect from the scoliosis in my back, causing me to overpronate at toe-off.  And that, in turn, messes with my knee.  So a shoe with late-stage pronation control was my goal, but one that wouldn’t make me over-suppinate, either.  Not an easy search, let me tell ya.

Enter trial shoe #1: BrooksRavenna 4.

I chose this model based on several online reviews declaring it to be ideal for late-stage pronation issues without sacrificing flexibility and cushion.  Bonus – it was on clearance at Sports Authority for less than half-price.  Score!

Kinda clunky, but pretty purple and green! Sort of like Barney.

Compared to my PureFlows, the Ravenna is one big, clunky shoe.  Check out that gigantic heel!  I’m used to an undercut heel that doesn’t get in the way of my forefoot landings, so that giant mound of green plastic sacred me.  However, I was surprised by how light the Ravenna felt; it looks much heavier than it actually is (9ish ounces, compared to almost 8 in the PureFlow).  The Ravenna has a roomy toe box, coupled with a narrow, huggy heel cup, which felt perfect for me and my freakishly small heels.  I love that the laces are plenty long, and neon green is just plain fun.  The arch support was good, with just enough in just the right spot.  I bought these in a size 7 (I wear a 6 in street shoes) and they’re roomy enough for my thick SmartWool socks – perfect for winter running, but I’d want to size down a half-size to accommodate my lighter socks in summer.

The Big Green Heel, in all its glory.

My first try with the Ravennas was an easy 2-mile walk on the treadmill.  How’d they do?  Fan-flipping-tastic!  This is a great walking shoe.  Despite looking enormous, I found that the heel didn’t get in my way at all, and I landed mid-heel as usual with no problem.   No over-suppinating, either; I never felt like my feet were being forced outward, as I have in almost every other stability shoe I’ve tried.  But I immediately felt the late-stage control.  As my weight rolled over my toes, I could feel the shoe engage against my left big toe and metatarsal, redirecting my toe-off toward the center of my foot instead of the far inside of my big toe.  It felt odd at first, like a little bubble under my forefoot, but not in a bad way.  Most amazingly, I had NO initial cramping in my outer left foot – a feat no other athletic shoe has managed while walking since a circa-2001 New Balance model that I adored.

After such a good test, I decided to give the Ravennas a try outdoors and wore them for three miles of trail run/walking with Leo.  They covered a variety of surfaces – asphalt, concrete, crushed shell, gravel, dirt, sand, boardwalk – and performed beautifully!  The treads felt equally responsive and grippy on all surfaces and I found that the energy return on the run was superb.  The one thing I missed was ground feel; it’s a fair amount of shoe and I definitely felt less underfoot than I’m used to in my PureFlows.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but it took some adjustment; instead of my feet naturally reacting to bumps, lumps, rocks and roots underfoot, I had to pay attention with my eyes to avoid rolling an ankle. 

Nice tread!

Okay, after two good short-distance tests, I decided to take a chance and try the Ravennas on a long walk/run.  10 miles, to be exact.  My first double-digit distance effort since being struck down at mile 10 of the WDWHalf-Marathon two weeks prior.  I started with lots and lots of walking; almost all of the first mile and a fair amount of the next few, too.  As expected, the Ravennas felt great!  As I added more running into the mix, I was quite surprised to find that the shoes performed really well there, too.  With a much higher heel-to-toe drop than my PureFlows (10mm and 4mm, respectively), I was worried that they’d be a poor match for my forefoot landing.  Nope.  The Ravenna allowed me to avoid a heel strike, and I could land on my toes if I tried… but I quickly found that they encouraged me to land closer to mid-foot, which is a very good thing!  My forefoot landing can sometimes overwork my bum Achilles over longer distances, so the more midfoot landing felt very nice without requiring any extra thought or effort on my part to maintain it; it just seemed to happen naturally when I stopped paying attention and ran by feel.  I’m also used to my feet feeling rather abused by the end of a 10+ mile run, and they were definitely feeling the effort at the end of this one – but nowhere near as much as I’m used to.  Which is odd, really, because the Ravenna feels more springy than cushiony to me.  But maybe that’s just it; maybe the extra spring results in less pounding on my feet?  I don’t know, but I knew I had another 3.1 miles in me at the end, so… yay!

So, is the Ravenna 4 a keeper?  YES!  It’s not the speediest shoe and I think I’ll still prefer the PureFlow for shorter, faster distances (which is good, since I currently have FOUR pairs of ‘em), and there may come a day when I’m all healed and healthy and don’t want/need the Ravenna’s extra support, but today is not that day.  I fully intend to run in the Ravennas for my next half-marathon.  Conveniently, they do not clash with my planned outfit, so that’s that.

Okay, that was pretty long.  And the next shoe review will likely be just as long.  So I'll cap it here and review the Mizuno Wave Sayonara in a second post. Stay tuned!

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