Let’s get a little background on the Altra so you can decide on whether you should try them out. They are in fact very reasonably priced for a really well-crafted running shoe.
The Altra brand was first started by a trio of guys who started modifying various types of running shoes in order to come up with a better performing shoe. As one of the creators noted on the Altra website, “For decades, virtually every running shoe has featured pointy toe boxes and heels that were twice as thick and heavy as the forefoot. While shoe companies claimed this design would protect your body from running injuries, the scientific research did not agree.”
With this thinking in mind, creator Golden Harper began to modify shoes in order to give runners an alternative to what was on the market. They melted the outsoles off of traditional running shoes and removed the excess heel elevation. They coined the term “Zero Drop’ to describe how the level cushioning no longer dropped from the heel down to the forefoot. Another change that came to the running shoe industry was their creation of a shoe with a toe-box that mirrored the shape of a healthy foot.
Harper claims their toe box helps to alleviate foot problems, including bunions, neuromas and plantar fasciitis. This was one of the major selling points for me. Within weeks of running in Altra, my neuroma was gone but my calves were sore!
Altra recommends: Rotating your new Zero Drop footwear with your old shoes for the first few weeks. Start using them on short, easy workouts at first, and then work your way up to harder workouts. Try this schedule to allow your muscles and tendons the necessary time to adapt back to their natural state.The first generation of Altra shoes lacked flexible grooves and this contributed to some of the stiffer sensation when running in them. Some runners have noted that in the past Altra were a bit too firm or inflexible. I would agree with that. But let’s give Altra a break. They are a young company, and even with a talented team, they are just beginning to figure out what changes need to be made. Nike has had a long, good run designing shoes for 40 plus years. Altra has recently come out with a more cushioned shoe, such as the Altra Olympus Trail Shoe and the Altra Paradigm road shoe which is similar in concept to the Hoka One One brand of running shoes with a thicker sole. They are very soft!
The Altra has a foot shaped last and has a heel that is the same thickness as the forefoot, thus the name Zerodrop. There are many zero drop shoes (such as the Vibram Fivefingers or the Merrell Barefoot) however the Altra is a bit more cushioned. I definitely like this. It’s a good compromise between a regular shoe and the extreme minimal shoe such as the Adidas Running adiPure Adapt. It has enough cushioning for pounding required by running and still stays within the minimal category. Runs of 30-35 miles a week and single distances of 10-15 miles are no problem.
- Heel and forefoot are the same distance from the ground
- Promotes proper form to reduce initial impact by 3–5 times.
- Natural Achilles loading for better propulsion
- 1-to-1 ratio naturally aligns feet, back and body posture
- Encourages better running technique
- Weight-balanced from front to back
- Keeps big toe straight for greater stability and a more powerful toe-off
- Allows toes to relax and spread out naturally
- Allows foot to naturally stabilize excess pronation
What you’re getting from the Altras really is a light, fast and slightly-cushioned shoe. The outsole (the bottom of the shoe) maps the bones of the foot and this allows for a natural flex. Generally speaking, the shoes are useful both as training shoes and for racing.
One of the things I like about the Zero Drop is that I can use them when I’m doing Crossfit. The flat surface of the shoe allows me to squat or do push presses in the gym, and then run out to the street for distance runs when I’m done with a circuit. Any of their shoes are great for this; even the trail shoes such as the Superiors. I can lift weights, run hill repeats along the trails by my house and cycle through without problem.
All of their shoes do well on the street and are fine for non-technical trails with pebbles and small rocks and can endure light shock from the minimal padding of the sole. For those who love the outdoors and want to get good, strong runs in with a survival/outdoor shoe try the Lone Peak or the Superior for trail running. You’re going to need a more substantial shoe that gives traction if you run on snow or uphill in mud; with these two models you get more protection against trail debris and rock, especially going downhill.