The Brooks Mazama is built for running fast. Every feature of the shoe, from the highly responsive midsole to the low profile outsole lugs, screams speed. So much so, that it’s not well suited for longer distances or for rough trails.
The Brooks Mazama is a new entry in the Brooks trail running lineup, and it is clearly designed to be a fast running, high performance shoe. Even the simple act of lacing it up gives the impression of a coiled snake ready to explode. The key to its capabilities is the midsole material, which provides outstanding responsiveness and energy return. A “propulsion plate” underneath the forefoot provides further spring to the Mazama’s step. The 6mm heel-to-toe drop strikes a nice balance between turnover enhancement and agility, although the shoe could arguably have been better served with a more aggressive profile.
The major drawback of the Mazama is its versatility. This is not necessarily a flaw of the shoe so much as a consequence of the design choices: it is meant for running fast, not long and slow. As such the shoe definitely begins to feel harsh beyond 10km to half marathon distances, as well as at slower speeds. The Mazama also is not well suited for highly rugged or technical terrain due to its limited protection and traction.
The Brooks Mazama is an outstanding choice for competitive runners who want a short distance racing and speedwork shoe, but do not want the minimalist protection of something like a cross-country flat. Brooks brand loyalists will likely find the Mazama to be an excellent complement to the company’s more comfort and distance oriented options like the Pure Grit and Cascadia.
Comfort The Mazama is clearly not a comfort shoe due to the focus on speed and responsiveness. The stiff ride becomes increasingly harsh with distance and fatigue. The upper did not present any comfort issues during testing but this tended to not be very noticeable compared to the feel of the midsole.
Speed Although the turnover of the Mazama is quite good, it nonetheless did not quite seem to match the level of the responsiveness of the shoe. The 6mm heel-to-toe drop and 17mm forefoot height do provide a moderately aggressive feel to the shoe without sacrificing agility, both uphill and down. However, something in the 8-12mm range would really help this shoe fly.
Security of Fit The Mazama did not present any fit issues. The slightly higher than average number of eyelets—seven, as opposed to the more typical five or six—helps the runner dial in the fit a little more precisely. The overlays also are very effective in securing the foot without creating any hot spots.
Agility Although the Mazama is not necessarily designed for technical agility, it definitely holds its own. The 6mm heel-to-toe drop is moderate enough to keep the heel out of the way, the somewhat narrow lateral profile of the shoe helps with foot placement, and the overall rigidity lends stability on uneven surfaces. Where the shoe struggles a bit is with surety of foot placement, which is a consequence of the low-profile outsole lugs.
Responsiveness The responsiveness of the Brooks Mazama is clearly its strongest characteristic. The energy return is simply phenomenal, and the shoe sings at speed, particularly on slight downhill grades. The performance on runnable climbs is not quite at the same level, but still among the best in this weight class. The only minor issue here is that at slower speeds the stiffness of the shoe can make it feel awkward and even a little clunky. This is primarily a concern on very steep climbs where the effort is high but the pace is slow.
Protection The stiffness of the midsole material provides a fair amount of push through protection. The propulsion plate effectively acts as a rock plate and further enhances protection in the forefoot area. The protection up top and in front is fairly minimal however due to the lightweight upper material and almost non-existent toe bumper. While this is not atypical for a speed-oriented shoe, it is atypical for a shoe in the 9-10oz weight class.
A competitive road cyclist in his younger years and lifelong outdoor enthusiast, Jacob discovered his love for long distance trail running as an adult. He lives in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Santa Fe. Follow him at Google+.