Brooks Ravenna 3 – a trainer to rave about?

I was recently offered the opportunity to try out a pair of Brooks’ new Ravennas – the third incarnation. I took the opportunity to ask a friend and training partner if he’d like to try them out and this is what he had to say…

Once in a while you find a shoe you really get on with, a happy match of features, fit, and performance.  For me, the original Brooks Ravenna was just that: an everyday trainer with enough cushioning to absorb plenty of miles, a touch of support to protect against mild over-pronation, yet a responsive, fast feel.

And then the manufacturer updates it.  Sometimes the new version is an improvement.  Sometimes it’s…different.  I didn’t like the Ravenna 2.  No doubt it was a good shoe, with plenty of glowing reviews and magazine awards – but extra cushioning and new materials, while adding little weight, made it feel too much shoe for my tastes.

The ‘new’ Ravennas

So I was looking forward to trying out the Ravenna 3.  Would Brooks have come up with another great do-it-all shoe?
Brooks pitches the Ravenna as a ‘guidance’ trainer.  It’s the sort of shoe to look at if you can’t quite get away with training in neutral or more minimalist offerings (for me, miles plus neutral shoes equals shinsplints), but don’t need a full-on support or motion control shoe.  The guidance comes from a modest medial post (denser material on the inner side of the midsole), and Brooks’ “Diagonal Roll Bar”, a piece of plastic that adds rigidity to the arch and midfoot of the shoe.  Cushioning comes from Brooks’ BioMogo midsole, and their new “DNA” gel material.  According to Brooks, the way DNA responds to the different forces applied by different runners’ size and stride provides “soft comfort when you want it, firm support when you need it”.

First impressions count

You can't say he didn't really test them!

First impressions were… a pair of running shoes.  They look good, if unspectacular, and have a quality feel about them.  They felt comfortable from the off, and the fit should suit a lot of people: fairly supportive through the midfoot, and generous in the toebox.  (It is a slightly different fit from earlier Ravennas, which had a slightly curved last and a snug wrap around the midfoot).
So far, so good: these look and feel a decent pair of trainers.  My concern was that they seem bulkier than the original Ravennas.  There is nothing in it for weight (10.9oz vs 10.8oz according to Brooks – par for a light-to-moderate trainer).  However, the new shoe has a thicker midsole in both the heel and forefoot (keeping for a 9-10mm heel-toe drop).  This is not bad per se – the Ravennas are still at the lighter end of the market for a shoe with a bit of support – there just feels a bit more shoe here than the original I’d got on so well with.

First run, and – to be blunt – I wasn’t overly impressed.

They felt on the bulky side underfoot, especially in the heel.  The DNA cushioning also had an odd feel to it: footstrike felt a bit like landing on a rubber ball, with a bit of give to it but quite an aggressive return.

Fortunately, I wore the Ravenna 3s for more than one run.  And I came to quite like them.

Second impressions count more!

Perhaps it was all imagination to start off with; by the third time out in them the bounciness had calmed down, and the cushioning felt really good, without feeling unduly mushy.  I’ve now worn them a lot as a day-to-day trainer for easy and steady runs.  They are comfortable, and the touch of guidance does its job.  They are also wearing well, with little wear on the outsole after a couple of hundred miles (past personal experience is that the MoGo midsole stands up to 5-600 miles before it starts to feel tired).

They don’t immediately feel a fast shoe – so I was pleasantly surprised that picking up the pace wasn’t an issue, and they proved up to the task of some tempo blocks in longer runs without feeling too clunky.  Perhaps that is the DNA living up to the promise of being more responsive when needed?  That said, they wouldn’t be my first choice for tempo running or sessions – I just prefer something less bulky.  By comparison, I felt the Ravenna 1s had nailed a sweetspot here.

Final thoughts

And that, for me, is the only issue with these shoes: they aren’t quite the same as the original.  Not many shoes fall in between an out-and-out performance trainer (something like the Asics DS Trainer) and more run-of-the-mill training shoes – for me at least, Brooks were onto something with the original shoe in this line, which the later versions haven’t quite carried forward.

Still, the Ravenna 3s are very good day-to-day trainers.  If you’re looking for a touch of pronation control in a shoe that isn’t unduly heavy, they’re well worth checking out.

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