If you read our review of the Brooks Launch 10, you know that I tend to appreciate a shoe that doesn’t try to tell me what to do. It should also be noted that, like many children of the 80s and 90s who grew up on Disney/Pixar, I anthropomorphize just about everything. In fact, you’ll soon find I’ve predicated an entire review on that very quirk. Okay, I think that gets you up to speed…
When the Brooks Ariel GTS 23 arrived and I spotted that “GTS” signifier on the box (which in Brooks parlance stands for “Go-To-Support”), my hackles immediately went up as I envisioned an inevitable, epic battle:
In corner #1, we have the Ariel: an overpronation-fighting, maximum support stability shoe/Disney Princess who gave up her literal voice to better accommodate a man’s world. And in corner #2, we have, well, me: a swarthy skeptic and women’s college grad who—while exceedingly far from a paragon of running form (by land or sea)—still happens to have a relatively neutral foot strike and a wild heart that likes to run free.
The odds, needless to say, were stacked against our well-intentioned friend Ariel before she could even properly introduce herself with an expository, albeit timelessly catchy, opening number.
Let’s find out together just how thinly we can stretch this bit…
Now, I’ve lived long enough to know that we are often most uncertain about worlds we don’t understand (I’m looking at you, King Triton), so I made a concerted effort to face my unknown and remain open to this bastion of aquatic-themed stability. Though I cannot confirm whether Brooks claims the Mermaid link, my particular colorway even happens to be called Nile Blue…
Brooks Ariel GTS 23
Release Date: September 1, 2023
Sizing: True to size
*Only available in women’s sizes*
- Rundown: The Brooks Ariel GTS 23 is a women’s only shoe with max support and protective cushioning.
The fit was great, and the Brooks Ariel GTS 23 went on easily and stayed locked down easily. A regular ‘ole double-knot more than sufficed, and there was no need for fiddling with lacing (another shoutout to Brooks laces). I found it true to my usual running shoe size with a perfect thumb’s width of space at the front and a sensible toe box in the standard width – neither narrow nor overly voluminous.
Time will tell, but if history is set to repeat, I’d anticipate the Ariel will come in multiple widths upon its September 1, 2023 release. So there should hopefully be an option for everyone.
Brooks employs 3D Fit Print technology here, and there is, understandably, a ton of structure by way of an extremely beefy heel counter along with various overlays in the form of plasticky piping (the white lines on my colorway) and bumpy little dots that vaguely resemble…dare I say…scales. The entire upper is very well-padded, especially the half-gusseted tongue and all around the collar. The engineered air mesh atop the forefoot is quite plush and downright silky on the inside of the shoe. I found it breathed better than expected given how substantial the rest of the setup is.
The (Neither Poor, Nor Unfortunate) Out-Soul
For a road shoe, the outsole feels hearty and durable. I took it on paved surfaces, wooden bridges, packed dirt paths, and even on some fine, loose gravel without issue. I was never exactly speeding around in the Brooks Ariel GTS 23, but at cruisy, relaxed paces, it handled it all (short of legit trails and the high seas).
Under the Foot
(aka the Midsole Support Features, aka King Triton is an overbearing parent until he finally comes around)
Assuaged fear #1: Given the Brooks Ariel GTS 23 is categorized as a Max Support shoe, I’d (unfairly) feared an intrusive arch and/or stabby medial post situation, and that was not the case. The GuideRails system does extend quite far forward from the heel counter and was pretty noticeable on both the medial and lateral sides of the foot, but the underfoot feeling was actually pretty chill.
Semi-assuaged fear #2: As someone coming from generally lighter, neutral shoes, I worried the listed weight of 10.7oz was going to feel clunky. Happily, the Brooks Ariel GTS 23 never felt like I’d crossed the wrong sea witch and was now clad in cement enroute to my watery grave, but I still couldn’t seem to get any natural momentum going in the shoe on most of my initial runs.
It felt as though the support features caught me at too weird of a spot in my gait cycle to feel helpful and instead made it feel like I couldn’t push off how I wanted (less in the good, “alignment achieved” kind of way and more in the “you shall not pass” kind of way). And while I love a Sir Ian McKellen cameo, I don’t love feeling like I’m fighting my shoe just trying to get in some easy miles.
That said, I am not the target audience of the Brooks Ariel GTS 23, and I had never run in a true stability shoe before. I suspected these early sensations might simply be indicators of the Ariel providing the maximum support it promises. In fact, I’m not sure you could stride askew in this shoe if you actively tried (because I did try, repeatedly, and I couldn’t). The feeling I might still be missing the larger point led me to do two things:
1) just keep putting more miles into the shoe (duh), and
2) experiment with a more pronounced heel strike (as opposed to my usual midfoot strike)
Sure enough, once I crossed the threshold of 20-25 miles or so in the Brooks Ariel GTS 23, the GuideRails started feeling less like getting roughed up by a pair of overzealous, henchmen eels and more like the friendly, bowling lane bumpers Brooks intends. With the halting rigidity out of the way, I felt like I could start to move in tandem with the support features as opposed to feel restricted by them. So you may need to be prepared to muddle your way through a slightly disheartening break-in period in order to get to the good stuff. Perhaps that’s just Ariel’s way of keeping the bipeds humble and helping us better understand her own growing pains when making her way up where they walk, up where they run…
After some experimentation with heel-striking, the shoe even started to feel a touch lighter, and the 12mm drop felt a little less steep. It also allowed me to better take advantage of the DNA LOFT v3 cushioning, since the majority of the 26:14mm stack is under the heel.
I loved the original version of this nitrogen-infused midsole in the experimental Aurora-BL, and while it’s less thick and bouncy here in the Brooks Ariel GTS 23, and even a little hollow and firm during the break-in process, it never failed to leave me feeling incredibly protected on the road and noticeably fresh-legged post-run. So, interestingly, the more features of the shoe I used, the smoother, softer, and less intrusive it felt.
Brooks is probably saying, “told you so, Annie” (because they are definitely reading this and totally care about my opinion…). I personally struggled to entertain going much faster than easy+ effort in the Brooks Ariel GTS 23, but the experience of running in it steadily improved as the miles ticked by—and hell if my ankles and feet didn’t feel rock solid and perfectly aligned afterward.
Brooks Ariel GTS 23 Summary
Overall, if you need a robust shoe that is going to provide great impact protection and have your back on the stability front, the Brooks Ariel GTS 23 is happy to take the…helm (*ahem) and tell your tootsies where they need to go. Given its setup, I could easily see the Ariel as a great walking shoe for those who love a super stable feel as well.
I’ve come to embrace the Brooks Ariel GTS 23 as an opportunity to explore the benefits my running shoes could offer. If you’re also a mostly neutral runner but perhaps are looking to occasionally mix in a lighter touch guidance option on the Brooks front (maybe for those days you’re a little extra beaten up), they offer a huge array of other GTS models where the support features are implemented a bit more mildly than they are here in the Ariel.
And of course, if you’re not particularly looking to be tamed and have never run yourself into injuries due to lack of support, I’d stick with a neutral shoe (here’s our list of best neutral running shoes). The adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has been around forever for a reason.
Like any shoe, there will no doubt be many for whom the Brooks Ariel GTS 23 hits all the right notes, and there will be others among us, like myself, whose strides simply prefer to ride a different wave.
Let’s Bring this Home for those Still Reading
The Brooks Ariel GTS 23 has won my respect, successfully reframing both my perspective on stability shoes and my understanding of the true driving forces behind Ariel’s own quest to be land ready. Who am I to judge a bright young woman, sick of swimmin’, ready to stand and experience the outside world, learn what thingamabobs it might have to offer, and find out what she might have to offer that world in return?
Perhaps finding the love of her life was an unexpected bonus, even a mere side effect of that greater pursuit. Plus, Ariel’s whole gig gave us a straight-up icon in Ursula (who requires we dig deeper still and discover the icon behind the icon: Divine). Despite the fact I’ll always feel more personal affinity for her so-called “villainous” foe, Ariel has at least helped me better understand A Whole New World of running shoes…wait, wrong movie…we were so close to landing it…
And finally, I would be remiss to wrap this up before drawing attention to one final fact: the men’s maximum support counterpart to the women’s Ariel in Brooks’ lineup is called…wait for it…the Beast…. I mean…there’s so much to unpack there…It’s a tale as old as time, really.