In the winter, safety and visibility are fundamental for runners. This year, Brooks has developed smart technology to enable us to run safely whenever we want, so we wanted to find out more...
Running in winter is a whole other ball game, especially in terms of our kit. We need cosy kit to keep blue fingers at bay, and we need to make sure we’re visible and safe from commuting drivers on those early morning runs. Being visible is also a consideration for those of us who feel uneasy about heading out when there are fewer people around.
Earlier this year, pre-lockdown, we were invited to the launch of Brooks’ winter running collection and, while that wasn’t the main focus of the event – the assembled gasps were reserved for the astonishing Hyperion Elite – a handful of us were more diverted by a short film of an athlete running at night. In the film it’s dusk, and we can make out a path and some trees. In the near distance, we can see the runner coming towards us. There are high-visibility patches on his torso, his elbows, wrists and legs. As he approaches, we are told that when we first spotted him he was 600 feet away. He runs closer and closer. Nothing surprising to see here. It’s only when he’s just 200 feet away, and in the glow of a streetlamp, that you can see he’s not alone, he’s running with a companion. But that second runner was completely invisible until that point.
It was a bit of a wakeup call for me – I’m one of those runners who happily thought that the reflectivity flash on my shoes, or on the back of my top was enough to get me seen. Turns out, it’s not.
This year, Brooks has launched its Run Visible collection. This is a small running collection that includes both apparel and shoes – high-vis versions of known and loved Brooks classics: the Ghost, the Glycerin and the Levitate. The range comprises key pieces for both men and women, including warm and cold weather items that are designed to work together as an outfit.
I spoke to Helen Spalton, Apparel Merchandising & Key Account Manager EMEA, to find out more about the collection. I was interested to find out how the collection had come about and what the technology was behind it.
“We have a run science lab,” she explains over Zoom. “We go out and interview real runners, and ask them about their running and their daily lives. And what we found is that people who run at night or in low light conditions have a misconception that a small, reflective logo, for example, will keep them safe. That’s not the case.” It’s like she can see into my soul.
Brooks conducted experiments with fabrics and different visibility conditions to find the sweet spot: the mix of elements that would make runners most visible to drivers as well as pedestrians. “What we wanted to do was have the science to back up where we’re placing the reflectivity.”
The Run Visible collection is made up of a number of elements to help you be seen. The key features are the colour blocking design, the fluorescence (the yellow sections), and the retroreflectivity sections (the reflective strips). Brooks discovered that the blend of these elements was the key. “If we’re in complete darkness we can be seen with reflectivity, and if we’re in low light we can do it with fluorescence – the night life yellow we use – because that’s the most visible colour to the human eye,” explains Helen.
Got it? So if it’s low light in the early morning or evening, it’s important that drivers and pedestrians can spot us, even if the light isn’t low enough for headlights to be on. Which is what the fluorescent yellow on the clothing is for. Retroreflectivity is needed when there’s no light at all, and comes from the reflective strips on the clothing. When a driver’s headlight hits the reflective material, the headlights are directed straight back at them. Ideally, our running clothing needs to include both these elements to ensure we can be as visible as possible in both conditions, so that we can, for instance, enjoy our run from 6.30am to 7.30am as the sun rises, safely.
The retroreflectivity materials were sourced from 3M – yes, the people behind Post-Its – in the form of Carbon Black stretch reflectivity. The Brooks apparel team spent time with 3M’s vision scientists at their test track in Minnesota before and after developing the collection. The test track mimics everyday suburban road environments and gave Brooks the ability to test the range in real-life scenarios. The 3M scientists were able to help the team understand the importance of placement. “When we collaborated with 3M and went to their test track, we found that selective use of fluorescence to highlight the joint markers can actually be a better use [than all over],” explains Helen, “And that actually a lot of runners don’t like wearing an all-over fluorescent top either. So we wanted to make the design look appealing, but also back it up with the science.”
Helen goes on to say, “With the fluorescence, we found that more is not always better. The key joint markers are the elbows, wrists and ankles. What we need to do is highlight those areas to drivers. If we can highlight those key motion zones, that is what then allows the brain of the driver to recognise that this is a runner coming towards them. It’s about that perception and recognition distance. So it’s all about the use of it and where we’re placing it on the clothing. It doesn’t have to be all over, which was a bit of a learning for us.”
In the absence of any industrywide visibility standards, Brooks developed their own: the Brooks Visibility Standards, to hold themselves accountable. “This is using contrasting colour in a garment or outfit, selective use of fluorescence and proper use of retroreflectivity,” explains Helen.
“By proper use, we mean 300 candle power. The design must outline the human form, and we must source the materials from 3M. Our standards also dictate how big the reflective strips need to be – at least 2 inches long for them to be able to do their job properly. We applied all of this to the design of the products. And once we got the initial prototypes, we then tested them out on the 3M test track to make sure we’d properly applied the science.”
The results of the collaboration are impressive, given that drivers are normally able to spot runners when they’re about 200 metres away. “We tested with vehicles driving at 30mph. At that, we were able to show that when wearing a Brooks Run Visible outfit you could be recognised by a driver 600ft away. That’s a massive gain and gives the driver additional seconds to react to you.”
Design and fit
The look and feel of the collection is as important as its visibility: after all, we need to want to wear the clothing in the first place. “Our ultimate aim is for our clothing to be distraction-free,” says Helen. “Our aim is that you’re out on your run, and you can forget about the kit that you’re wearing, so it’s not distracting you.” Makes sense to us.
The jacket was a key item in the collection – something that would enable runners to get out there no matter what the weather was doing. The jacket has been created in 100% ripstop nylon fabric, which is wind and water resistant. “We wanted to make a jacket that was breathable,” says Helen. “So you can use it in a variety of different weather environments.” Equally, the team has included warm weather kit too – shorts and a tank. Just because it’s dark, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s cold, and as Helen points out, it’s really important to be visible even with just-fading light in the early evenings.
“That’s where the colour element has come in,” she says. “There’s a big focus on low light conditions. Reflectivity doesn’t aid you in becoming visible in these conditions; it works when headlights hit the reflective elements. In low light conditions, we need to be more aware of the contrast in colour – it’s that contrast that enables drivers to recognise that this is a human running towards them.”
“That contrast is either within the garment itself, so with the jacket, or within the outfit. So if you’re wearing the shorts and the tank top, you would have that contrast within the whole outfit.”
The full story
Brooks have had high-vis collections before, of course, but this year is the first time they’ve done top to toe. This year, all the findings from the apparel testing were applied to three of Brooks’ best-loved shoes; the Ghost, the Glycerin and the Levitate. Hugo Chouissa, Brooks Footwear Merchandiser EMEA, explains more: “We wanted to have a nice head-to-toe silhouette, with the nightlife yellow and the carbon black,” says Hugo. “Then it was about getting this reflectivity together, the same as the apparel. All the three styles of shoes have those basic foundations: the high vis, the retroreflectivity and the contrast.”
With shoe design, there were other things to think about. “With apparel, one important consideration is its functionality and longevity with regards frequent washing, whereas with shoes you don’t have the same constraints. So the reflective pieces don’t need to be washable in the same way,” explains Hugo. It was also important with the design to ensure the fit and feel of the shoes was identical to the same shoes in other colourways, despite the fabric being different. “The fit and ride is the most important thing,” says Hugo. “The feel of the Run Visible shoes is consistent in ride and weight with the other colourways, but what is interesting for winter running is that the DNA Amp in the Levitate is not made of EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate), it’s made of PU (Polyurethane). The EVA gets softer when it’s warmer and harder when it’s colder, while the PU is more stable and doesn’t get that hard in the winter.” This makes the Levitate a particularly good choice for cold, winter running.
Greater research and different materials have gone into the three shoes in the collection, but thankfully for us, that’s the only thing that’s changed. “We haven’t changed the price,” reassures Hugo. “We don’t want consumers to have to pay extra for safety. You don’t buy a car without a seatbelt, right?”
Designing a collection like this takes years of research and implementation. And Brooks are already looking at the new developments they’ll be able to implement for winter 2021, such as adding more shoes to the collection, including those from their stability range. What will remain the same is the collaboration between Brooks and 3M, ensuring that its range is thoroughly tested and offers the sort of visibility we should be demanding from all our running kit. With this in place, we know that we will be seen and we can be safe from drivers on every run, no matter the time of day.
However, while being visible, and being recognisable as a runner eliminates one concern, there are of course other issues facing us as women runners. For us to feel safe from potential threats there’s a lot more work to be done: by us, by brands, by society, by policing and by legislation. For now, thanks to the technology implemented by Brooks, we can be sure that we can be seen; what we need to work out is how we can be heard.
The key Run Visible pieces
Carbonite Jacket | £130
Lightweight, breathable, water-resistant jacket with targeted reflectivity in crucial areas.
Carbonite Hoodie | £80
Carbon Black stretch reflectivity and a very cool design adds up to a multipurpose all-season hoody.
Carbonite 7/8 Tight | £80
Lightweight, breathable tights with stylish colour-blocking and high vis elements.
Ghost 13 | £120
The Brooks classic, made more visible: retroreflectivity and fluorescence combine with signature cushioning.
Levitate | £140
The Run Visible look adapted for the Levitates, with their DNA AMP cushioning for brilliant energy return.