review: brooks levitate 2

“What shoes are those?”

Those are the first words a friend said to me when I showed up to a group run in my new Brooks Levitate 2s, so it’s safe to say they’ve got a cool look. Even I — a person who avoids buying pink shoes if at all possible — admit that the design is fun and eye-catching. But appearance is arguably the least important aspect of a performance running shoe.

Last fall, Brooks released the Levitate, a performance shoe featuring the company’s new DNA AMP midsole. The shoe’s technology was befitting of its ambitious name, promising a smooth, springy ride, and — what every runner wants — speed.

Now the second edition is out, and while the Brooks Levitate 2 has some notable differences from its predecessor, not all of the changes were positive. Still, it’s very comfortable and fulfills its mission as a performer. If you’re looking for a combination of cushion and velocity, the Brooks Levitate 2s are worth a try.

fresh out of the box.

Brooks Levitate 2 • specs

Surface: Road
Pronation: Neutral
Stack height: High
Weight: 9.9oz (280.8g) women, 11.2oz (317.5g) men
Offset: 8mm
Heel/forefoot: 26mm heel, 18mm forefoot
Midsole: Full-length DNA AMP energizing cushioning
Outsole: Flexible arrow-point pattern
Upper: FitKnit
Price: $150

100 miles in.

highlights

Brooks likens the feel of DNA AMP to that of a pogo stick — you put your weight into it, and it returns the power. The propulsion isn’t really that dramatic, but it’s definitely there. It was evident from my first mile in the Levitate 2s that they offer an incredibly smooth ride, and they maintained their responsiveness over my 100-mile test. I wore them on multiple double-digit runs (the longest was 15 miles), and it was near the end of those long runs that the Levitate 2s’ subtle energy-return system was most apparent. But I appreciated the resilient elasticity of the DNA AMP during shorter runs, too, particularly the two road 10Ks I raced in them.

The insole is supportive — neither stiff nor mushy — which is nice for a runner who likes to feel just a little more road than shoe every time their foot hits the pavement. Still, it’s not a support shoe. The Levitate 2 has a very tapered last (the waist width varies significantly from the ball width), and because I pronate slightly, this didn’t help my tendency to develop hotspots on the insides of the balls of my feet. While I almost always experience hotspots on runs longer than 10 miles, I started to feel them slightly earlier in these.

I started seeing the wear on the outsole about 60 miles in, and it’s noticeably worn now, but it hasn’t affected feel very much. The outsole’s durability is consistent with the outsoles of other Brooks I’ve worn well into 300-500 miles. Beyond that, I didn’t find the outsole noteworthy, though Brooks highlights the arrow-point pattern as a speed feature. It’s not that much different from the previous edition — nor is the midsole, for that matter.

It’s the upper that really distinguishes the Levitate 2 from the original: They both feature a FitKnit upper, but the actual fit is quite different. The Levitate 2 upper provides a closer fit than the original, but it’s also a little more flexible. Based on appearance, I thought the upper was going to be much softer than it is, but it’s actually quite structured. That’s a good thing, because knit uppers sometimes stretch too much over time. While I noticed the fit loosen a bit after about 40 miles, it didn’t present a problem.

drawbacks

What did present a problem was the height of the upper. The knit comes up higher and tapers more than it normally does on most running shoes, just up to my ankles and touching my Achilles. This atypical fit took some getting used to, and while it never caused blisters, it started to irritate my skin after about 70 miles.

notice how the shoe hits my Achilles.

That, in addition to the pronounced padding on the heel counter, made it feel like my socks were falling down. They weren’t, but every time I wore short socks, I really thought they were slipping down to my heel. I wore crew socks for about 90 of the 100 miles I ran in the Levitate 2s, and that eliminated the slipping-sock sensation. I eventually adjusted to the unusual fit. The original Levitate had similar elements, but Brooks seemed to crank them up a notch in the Levitate 2.

I can’t say if that’s why the Levitate 2s are a little heavier, but they are. The original Levitate was 9.7oz (275) per manufacturer specs of the women’s model. The Levitate 2 is 9.9oz (280.7g), and my women’s 10.5s weighed in at 11.5g (326g). That’s heavier than I usually prefer, but the Levitate 2 is a surprisingly light ride, despite the actual weight.

Speaking of size: The Levitate 2s run mostly true to size, though slightly narrow, except in the heel. I felt like I had too much room there, which was odd, considering how well the rest of the shoe fit.

The Brooks Levitate 2 will hit shelves in August at $150, in three colorways for each men and women. They’re great-looking shoes — so much so that when I first wore them to a group run, I immediately received multiple compliments on the design. The DNA AMP midsole has a sleek, silver exterior, and in the model I have, the upper of pink, purple and black with teal accents easily catches the eye. However, the men’s colorways are more subdued, and I hope Brooks eventually gives women more options in this shoe beyond two pink-dominant colorways and one grayscale.

the bottom line

The Brooks Levitate 2 comes through on its promise of a smooth and speedy ride. Like the Levitate that came before it, the second edition is a solid shoe appropriate of it’s $150 price point. That being said, you can get a similar experience from the original, which retailers (including Brooks) are putting on sale in advance of the new release. The fit in the heel counter is a bit unconventional, so it’s definitely a shoe to test out at your local running store. Even though I didn’t initially love the feel of the shoe’s structure, I was sold by the smooth, rhythmic roll I easily fell into during my first several strides

A version of this review was published on Competitor Running on June 20, 2018.

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