Some sneaker companies want me to “Just Do It.” But what if I don’t want to do it? I’m not into it today, it wasn’t fun yesterday, and generally it is not all that rewarding. In fact, it would be nice to eat pizza and watch TV right about now.
Brooks Running, the 100-year-old shoe company headquartered near Seattle’s Gas Works Park, thinks there can be joy in it — if we’re talking exercise — and the company’s slogan even encourages customers to “Run Happy.” Can a breakthrough in technology help deliver some of that happiness?
I went for a short run Thursday night to try and find out as Brooks invited me and other folks to get a feel for a new shoe called Levitate.
Levitate, which goes on sale today, has been engineered with something called DNA AMP — a new polyurethane-based cushioning system that is designed for maximum energy return. The Brooks folks have literally spent seven years looking for a way to put more spring in your step, and they partnered with the chemical giant BASF Corp. to get there.
BASF, which has a hand in everything from shampoo to the shocks on your car, says that it has created a new blend of its Elastopan Sports Light material, “refining the formula and making modifications to polyurethane on a molecular level” for a midsole that offers advanced comfort and durability — and 70 percent of energy return for every foot pound of force.
The material, which is wrapped in a thermoplastic polyurethane skin, is supposed to expand under a runner’s foot and return more energy as force is applied, meaning less energy is expended during a run. Now, that’s way more than I have ever thought about the chemistry under my foot while running, but if the ability to “Run Happy” starts with happy feet, it seemed to work over the course of about two miles.
Our group of “bloggers and influencers” was led by Kenny Krotzer of the Brooks footwear development team — a guy who clearly looks like he works for a running shoe company — and we set out on the Burke Gilman Trail just across the street from Brooks’ HQ. We mixed into the throng of evening bikers, walkers and skateboarders using the trail and made our way a short distance to Gas Works Park overlooking Lake Union and the Seattle skyline.
I was still happy. And with this view, who wouldn’t be?
After a whole bunch of photos and selfies for the group, we continued on a route that took us through the neighborhood and back to Brooks.
I had a complimentary beer — still happy — and contemplated whether or not I was in any physical distress from that small bit of exercise. My feet and legs did feel good — probably better than they have in the past while using a Brand X shoe that I’ve owned for a while.
Bennett Grimes, a product line manager with 6 1/2 years at Brooks, said the fun factor comes from the bouncy, springy experience the Levitate delivers.
“In our minds it’s going to give [runners] a little bit more motivation, it tends to feel a little bit more fun and it’s going to help you get out the door more frequently,” Grimes said. “For some people, some days you feel really into it, others days you don’t. Our goal with this product is to figure out how to make those highs and lows less dramatic … let’s make a shoe that puts a smile on your face every time you put it on your foot.”
And that would be the point, right? Finding the fun in exercise so that you stick with it and realize the rewards of exercise.
On top of the high-tech sole, Brooks says its Fit Knit upper portion is built to accommodate the movement and expansion of a runner’s foot. There’s a “circular knit process” for breathability and structure and there’s a “flexible arrow-point pattern” on the outsole for to help me move quickly from heel to toe.
The Levitate will sell for $150 and come in two colors for men and two for women. Here’s a video of really fit people making the most of the shoe:
It’s hard to imagine that there could be that much iteration left in the science of running shoes, especially for a company that has been at it for more than 100 years.
But Zach Boteilho, a senior developer who has been at Brooks for 10 years, said things have definitely shifted into a more innovative space in the last few years and new changes in materials and manufacturing and speed to market will have a big impact going forward.
If I can tie my shoes and smile at the same time, I’ll consider that a breakthrough.
The Brooks store at the base of the HQ building at 3400 Stone Way N. in Seattle will open at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and interested runners can visit the store and take the shoe for a test run of any distance throughout the day. There will also be food and drink specials happening.