This is the Altra shoe I’d been waiting for. Zero-drop, foot-shaped but also thin-soled (14mm) and with an incredibly minimal upper. There was a real buzz on the web about this shoe for these reasons, but there were many out-of-the-box disappointed posts and reviews (not foot-shaped enough, cheap materials, too small). I’ve now put 90 miles on them including a 20-mile long run, two 10-mile marathon pace efforts and plenty of easy running and I’m smitten. Here’s why:
The forefoot and tongue is made of a thin, stretchy mesh with ventilation holes. It looks delicate but is not showing any sign of damage. Some sort of welded plastic wraps round the rear and middle of the shoe holding the heel and mid-foot in place. Altra call this A-strap support system. The ankle collar is lightly padded and the d-ring lace holes allow you to easily adjust to fit. I find this a very comfortable shoe.
Compared with a more traditional, solidly built upper, you can move your foot from side to side against the insole slightly, but this doesn’t bother me and more importantly, my foot doesn’t move forward or back and my toes are free to move. So much so, that I can feel how my foot lands and flexes through the big toe joint – perfect! The shoe also looks great, I love the go-faster stripes around the rear, large ‘vanish’ logo and slightly baggy toebox.
Altra market this as a unisex shoe but strangely, it came with a label attached proudly stating the shoe is ‘fit4her’ – which Altra say is their technology to “customise every women’s shoe to the unique anatomy of the female foot”. Perhaps this shoe is built on their female last, but my heel is a pretty average shape that fits in men’s shoes and it fits well in these.
This shoe comes with two insoles. There is a contoured insole and underneath that, a thinner, flat one. The shoes come with a note advising you that you can choose which you want (thinner for racing, thicker for extra cushioning). For me, the shoe fits well and feels great with the thinner flat insole, but will work best for some with the thicker one. Just make sure you don’t keep both in the shoe as there won’t be room for your foot!
The midsole is zero-drop (no heel) with a total stack height of 14mm. As there is no outsole (just two laminated rubber pods at outside rear and inside front) this is a significant amount of cushioning. Personally, my sweet spot would be 6-8mm, and I was unsure whether I would like the feel of this much cushioning beneath my foot, but the EVA is very flexible and light – I liked it a lot from my first run onwards and don’t feel it compromises my running gait.
Altra say that the sole has a propel plate. Some reviews have talked about the ‘pop’ this gives to the ‘ride’. Sorry, but this isn’t a snowboard. You do not ‘ride’ a shoe. A running shoe isn’t a mode of transport – you propel yourself forward with, y’know, muscles and tendons and your own energy. That said, because the shoe holds the foot well, and because it is light, thin-soled and flexible, it does not constrain natural movement and it gives me that most enjoyable feeling – like I am running unshod and free on grass, but on a hard concrete or tarmac surface.
This is a hard-surface-only shoe because there is a slot along the length of the sole that fills with mud and gravel otherwise. In addition, the outsole is limited to two pods. For someone with an average running gait, like me – landing on the outer side of my foot somewhere between mid-foot and heel (depending on pace and freshness) and pronating through the stride to take off with slightly more weight through the big toe joint, the two outsole pods are perfectly placed.
Wear and Tear:
After 90+ miles on road, there are no signs of damage or wear to the upper. The sole is looking a little worn, but no different to shoes (no longer available) like the Nike Mayfly, Inov8 Road-X-Treme 138 and Mizuno Wave Universe. I expect these shoes to last me a considerable time yet.
At last, a foot-shaped, zero-drop racing flat. Combines an incredibly thin, stretchy forefoot upper with a secure heel and midfoot fit and a flexible, lightweight midsole. Like running barefoot on grass. If, like me, you are forever searching for the Nike Mayfly/ Inov8 Road-X-Treme 138/Mizuno Wave Universe 5 replacement – this is it.96/100.
Design intent – ‘ready to race…made for speed’
Weight – 150g
Midsole – zero drop.
Fitting – Run smaller than normal size. I am a Euro 43, UK 8.5 (Inov8 & Vivobarefoot). My Altras are Euro 43.5, UK 9.5.
Fits Correct Toes (All Altra come with a leaflet recommending Correct Toes for bunions, hammer toes and forefoot pain).
I bought these shoes.
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