Many years ago now, I had the opportunity to test out Altra shoes during a Runner’s World event. It was the first time, the shoes burst on to the running scene, partly as a result of the Born to Run Barefoot phenomenon.
Except this creator, wasn’t satisfied with running skin to pavement (me either!)
It all started when founder Golden Harper ran a 3:08 marathon at age 10.
Yup, you read that correctly! This might smell like another Paul Ryan “I ran a sub 3 hour marathon” story, but it just so happens to be true.
It should come as no surprise that a boy who runs that fast was raised in a family that owned a running shoe store. Or that they would tinker with shoes at home in the toaster oven…hmm sound familiar, remember that whole waffle iron story and Nike?? It seems all shoes start in someone’s kitchen.Shoe shot source
What are Altra Running Shoes?
ALTER + ULTRArunning = Altra.
The name came to be from a crazy path of Golden altering regular shoes to create a zero drop with cushion…it slowly became a bit of a black market thing. People would literally buy a shoe from the running store owned by his family and then ask him to rip it up and remake it as a zero drop!
Suddenly he realized they were doing this for nearly a 1,000 people. Maybe making a shoe would just be easier.And yes all of this happened before the barefoot craze that was popularized by Born To Run and one of my running crushes Scott Jurek.
What’s the big deal about this shoe compared to things like Vibrams? “this shoe delivers many of the benefits of barefoot running with the comfort, cushioning and support that distance runners love.”
This was the predominate shoe used by Ultramarathon runners (until Hoka One One came on the scene, now it’s split), which makes me think it’s got to be great for those of us doing the measly little marathon in comparison right??
Plus you can get up to 1,000 miles on a pair of shoes because they don’t compress.
What Makes Altra Different?
They have three key features that set them apart from other brands. Beyond the fact that it is NOT a minimal shoe, let’s emphasize that again. Minimal shoes have no cushion and are designed for your foot to really feel the ground, they are mostly a covering.
Zero Drop Feature
Altra Zero Drop as named is a zero drop shoe, but is NOT a minimalist shoe. Wait how is that possible? A minimalist shoe would be something like the Vibram Five Fingers which literally provides only a layer of rubber to protect your foot and no cushion or support.
As you can see here the Altra on top provides that desired cushion, but with a consistency to the shoe that removes the thicker heel. A thicker heel will naturally hit the ground first when you stride, thus turning you in to a heel striker whether you meant to or not!
- Wearing a stability shoe actually weakens your arch. Overtime you consistently need more support.
- Wearing a thicker heel changes your stride (see below)
- No scientific studies actually show that a stability or motion control shoe prevents injury…but many show they cause injury.
And oh yes, I’m giving you photos from 5 years ago when I first tried them because I like it! And well their shoes are still relatively the same.
Jennifer of The Fit Fork shared this:
“The zero drop foundation (same elevation between toes and heel) encouraged me to run more naturally and I appreciated that they had models of all cushion level – because back then, many brands were just bare-bones minimal, making my high-arch, middle-aged feet really take a beating.
The models I am currently wearing are the Escalante for road running and King MT for obstacle course racing.”
Foot Shaped Toebox
This may sound a little odd when you first hear that they make a foot shaped shoe, but once you see it things begin to click. I don’t know about you, but my toes aren’t shaped like the image on the left.
This design allows your toes to spread out, which provides you with the ability to get more power from each stride.
Gender Specific Shoes
Having been inside places like the New Balance technology area, I know that every company makes a male and female last. (A last is the model that is used to form shoes.) But Altra has taken it even further with their last, making changes that truly account for the differences in a woman’s foot:
- Narrower heal
- Longer arch
- Different upper for our foot shape — ever notice how women often get pain on the top of our foot and then need to do some fancy trickery with our laces to relieve pressure?? Yup it’s because shoes aren’t made for that.
Note the above pictures are not to discredit any brand, but to help provide an example of how these are different.
My Thoughts On Running In Them
Since I have been running in the low profile Kinvara for almost 10 years, I’m already a super fan of low profile shoes. Barefoot running didn’t work for me because I felt without any cushion my feet simply hurt or my joints didn’t feel right.
I tested out a few different Altras on short runs and the first thing I noticed was that I didn’t have an calf soreness which often occurs when people transition to a more minimal shoe.
While I thought they were a good shoe, I didn’t fall in love with them and pretty quickly transitioned back to using my other favorite running shoes. This is one of the keys to running shoes for me, there are a lot of great options out there, but we all have something that feels slightly better for us and you’ve got to test to figure it out!
HOWEVER, I have friends like ultra runner Jenny who swears by them: “I’ve been wearing them exclusively for 5+ years now and they are so comfortable. The foot shaped toe box is probably my favorite part. It means that your toes get to splay naturally in the shoe almost like you are barefoot.
The zero drop did take a little bit to get used to when I first started wearing Altras but now I can’t imagine wearing anything else.
My favorite shoes are Superior for trail, Escalante for road training & Escalante Racer for racing. All of them are on Altras more minimal side.”
Have you ever tried these shoes?
What do you think of all the talk about shoes changing our natural stride?
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