By Brian Metzler
I’ve said for years that you don’t need expensive, tricked out running shoes to be a runner of any level. Mostly, you need a capable pair that feels good and doesn't inhibit your stride. That being said, running shoes have never been better, as the current crop of kicks offer next level comfort, cushioning and responsiveness so there are some amazing shoes to choose from. Plus, the average price is probably north of $150 per pair and that’s real money, no matter if you’re operating on a tight budget or not. But there are still a few cost-conscious, high-performing alternatives, including the Brooks Launch 10.
The Launch was introduced in the spring of 2009 as a lightweight neutral trainer with a little extra softness and for years carried a $100 price tag. It’s only gone up to $110 in recent years when shipping and materials costs have gone up so much that it became hard for Brooks to justify keeping it at an even hundred bucks. What’s interesting about the Launch is that Brooks temporarily mothballed it in 2011 because it wasn’t sure it would be marketable as shoes with advanced foams began to make headway. But runners, retailers and sales reps begged the brand to bring it back because of how good it performed and so Brooks has made it a staple of its shoe lineup every since.
What’s New: The biggest change from the previous edition is a new engineered warp-knit upper material that provides greater breathability, a more secure fit and feel and a really clean aesthetic. The components and manufacturing techniques of the Launch 10 are all very good, though not necessarily exceptional or best-in-class quality.
Fit/Feel/Ride: The neutral-oriented Launch 10 fits true to size with a medium/narrow interior volume and a slightly more compact toe box than its contemporaries. The fit feels a bit old-school in that way, but it also gives it a locked-down, athletic vibe, too. The step-in feel is soft and comfortable, but not at all plush or fluffy. A thin, padded gusseted tongue helps improve the fit and feel and set up the ride, but, remember, this is a $110 shoe, so it’s not going to feel opulent. The smooth, energetic ride has always been what’s made the Launch so special and that remains in the shoe’s 10th edition. Basically, the shoe gets by on traditional traits that allow it to feel fast and uninhibited. It’s lightweight, flexible and has a moderately thick single layer of semi-soft/semi-firm DNA midsole cushioning that adapts to each runner’s unique weight and stride for a fast experience. That combines to produce a smooth, responsive, inherently stable and very consistent ride without any bouncy sensation at all.
Why It’s Great: It’s great because it’s a very good shoe for $110. Yes, it’s definitely a no-frills model that lacks the modern bells and whistles and interior creature comforts of most modern training shoes. But it doesn’t have a bare-bones feel or serve up a low-quality vibe. It’s always been a pretty darn good shoe that’s ideal for moderate mileage, faster workouts and everyday running. Plus, I’ve always found it to be a durable shoe that doesn’t show wear and tear until after 400 or so miles.
Why You’ll Love It: You’ll love it because you’ll feel foot loose and fancy free running it. It’s light and a little bit responsive, but mostly it’s the uninhibited vibe that you’ll love. Basically, it’s a shoe that doesn’t get in the way of how your foot wants to flex and move as you roll through the gait cycle. It’s a lightweight model with great proprioceptive feel for the ground, which allows it to be agile, fast and easy on your feet for tempo runs, 10-mile long runs, long intervals and even recovery runs.
Weights: 7.4oz. (women’s size 8), 8.3 oz. (men’s size 9) Heel-Toe Offset: 10mm (34mm in the heel, 24mm in the forefoot)
Pro: Prior to the advent of supershoes, the Launch was always one of my go-to speed workout shoes. I still find it ideal for tempo runs, fartlek runs and intervals on the track, even if it lacks the high-rebound bounciness of modern speedsters. Just the other night, I ran to my local track and, without any workout agenda (or motivation), I just rolled into a “straights and turns” session and really enjoyed how the Launch 10 performed. That’s a workout in which, after warming up, I ran the straights at a medium-fast/tempo pace and then floated the turns at a slow to moderate jogging effort. After about eight or nine laps of that—I wasn’t really counting, but that’s the point of that workout—I felt like I had enough and cooled down with a couple of easy miles and called it good. Never once during that workout did I feel like I needed a more advanced shoe, but instead I really appreciated the light, agile and lively ride the Launch served up.
Con: OK, you get what you pay for, and in today’s world, there are a lot of exceptional running shoes that cost $160 or a lot more, and that’s because they’re made from advanced materials and provide exceptional comfort and performance. The Launch 10, as good as it is, just can’t be compared with those models, and it won’t deliver long-haul comfort during 20-mile runs. But those aren’t knocks against the inherent value of the Launch, just a bit of reality.