For the past few years, high-tech running shoes have been largely been focused on one goal: creating the fastest road racing experience possible. Serious runners haven’t been able to hit the pavement for a competition without encountering the latest and greatest carbon plate creations, as nearly every notable running brand got in on the action to make the speediest shoe on the market.
As just about any runner can tell you, however, you can’t take on every training session like it’s your final race, pushing the pace to run as fast as you possibly can. A smart (and importantly, healthy) runner mixes in workouts at different tempos, with short, quick speed sessions, long, leisurely #sexypace runs, and everything in between. Super-fast shoes aren’t a great fit for every workout—but what about the runners who want an extra special experience for that type of training?
Running specialist Brooks has a solution for this type of balanced training: the Aurora-BL, a shoe developed in the brand’s special projects-focused BlueLine Lab. The shoe is an ultra-cushioned, space-age-styled runner that was designed to make logging miles as smooth as a ride on a luxury star cruiser. Speed isn’t the objective here. Instead, comfort and efficiency are the rule of the road.
I went on a wide variety of runs wearing the Aurora-BL, and found that the experience was a bit like what I imagine running in space might be like. Earth’s gravity didn’t seem to drag me down to the pavement as much as usual, especially as I extended my runs to longer distances.
The Aurora-BL Is Designed to Be Different
The Aurora-BL offers a different experience from most other running shoes from the moment you put it on your foot. Instead of a separate tongue like traditional sneakers or a sleek one-piece upper like so many contemporary running shoes, the Aurora-BL has an internal, stretchy sleeve of quilted fabric that helps to lock down the foot. That segment provides a bold pop of color (orange for the mens colorway) in the otherwise see-through upper, which is made of a soft translucent “mono-mesh” material that looks like laminating plastic at first glance, but feels supportive and comfortable once your foot is in the shoe. Just make sure you have a good looking pair of socks, because you’ll be able to see them. A sculpted, silver heel cap adds to the astronaut aesthetic (and visibility in low light conditions).
But the real showstopper is the midsole. The Aurora-BL uses a unique two-piece design, decoupling the heel and forefoot sections to allow for greater freedom of movement. This isn’t obvious when you first put the shoe on, but once I started running, I did feel it was easier to drive all the way through each foot strike than in other shoes. This is also helped by the heel-to-forefoot “Glide Roll” shape, specifically engineered for easy transitioning through the stride. Instead of snapping forward into the next step, which is often the case with carbon plate shoes designed to propel you forward, I felt more like I was rolling through my runs.
The midsole foam is also remarkable. Brooks used a new version of its softest foam, DNA LOFT v3, giving the material a nitrogen injection to make it lighter, softer, and more responsive. I could try to explain further, but I’m no chemistry whiz—basically, Jain says that the nitrogen cell bubbles can be more tightly packed into the EVA foam to bring about this change. Brooks introduced another nitrogen-injected foam, DNA Flash, in its speed shoes, the Hyperion Elite racer and excellent Hyperion Tempo trainer, but Jain tells me that the difference lies in the size of the nitrogen cells: the firmer, speedier Flash foam has small nitrogen bubble cells, while the softer, cushioned LOFT v3 foam has nitrogen bubble cells large enough that you can see some of them with the naked eye. When you put the Aurora-BL on, and you can feel the cushion, which has just a little give and a lot of energy return.
All this foam fuss isn’t just for show. In a world of short-lived, seemingly jet-powered super shoes that only last for 100 to 150 miles before fizzling out and falling apart, the Aurora-BL’s long range stands out. “From a durability perspective, these nitrogen-infused foams are maintaining their integrity for a longer amount of time,” says Brooks BlueLine Lab Senior Manager Nikhil Jain. “We’re finding in some cases, runners are finding no difference between my mile one and mile 250, or mile 350.” Jain says that he’d estimate the Aurora-BL’s lifespan to be anywhere from 350 to 500 miles.
The Aurora-BL Is Space Inspired and Not Long for This World
Performance aside, the shoes look like nothing else on the market. This design was inspired in part by the Apollo 11 Moon mission, according to Jain—but the aesthetic was definitely meant to be more sci-fi than retro. The goal was to break outside the norm. “We wanted it to be weird. We wanted it to be unexpected,” he says.
The products that come out of the BlueLine Lab, like the carbon plate Hyperion Elite racer, are meant to be limited-edition innovations that serve as a testing ground for the future of Brooks’ general release shoes. Only 25,000 pairs of the Aurora-BL will be produced, making it a limited edition item (Jain says that Brooks typically produces 2 million pairs or more for standard models). But you’ll probably see aspects of the space shoe—particularly the DNA LOFT v3 foam—in future Brooks models.
The Aurora-BL is highly cushioned and offers a wide toebox (one of my favorite design features, and the reason I think the “space cruiser” descriptor is so accurate), so it will likely appeal to a wide range of runners, but Jain was quick to note that it’s not meant for people who look for support shoes. While the midsole foam is durable, it’s also not meant for the trail.
Most specifically, this could be the perfect fit for serious runners looking for a souped-up long run or recovery shoe. “This is a concept car for us,” says Jain. Think of it in terms of leveling up to the premium auto model. “When someone is like, oh, you know, I love my Honda Accord,” he continues. “But I want something that, you know, has a little bit more zip is a little bit more luxurious.”
That luxury will cost you. The Aurora-BL isn’t cheap at $200, which is even more expensive than some specialty racers. And with only 25,000 units available globally, the shoes might be tough to get, too. But if you’re willing to pony up and put the effort in to get yourself a pair, you’ll have the chance to take a weird, highly cushioned ride unlike anything else on the road.
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