All shoes in the Altra lineup are zero-drop… meaning that there is no difference in the heel-to-toe transition. Many modern running shoes have quite substantial drops, and even several entries to the “minimalist” shoe market still have about a 4mm heel-to-toe drop. The zero-drop is meant to promote a more natural foot strike. Having a more natural foot strike usually translates into lighter landings and less jarring impact to joints.
However, entering into a zero-drop isn’t something to be taken lightly. There is going to be a transition period, possibly re-learning how to run. Unless a person has been barefoot their whole lives, odds are that they’re conditioned to wearing shoes with a more elevated heel. Athletic shoes, dress shoes, casual shoes… it’s almost the standard now. (Unless you’re wearing flip-flops, and even some of those are changing to become “support” shoes.)
Altras are interesting in that they mimic a foot’s anatomy, without actually being a toe-glove shoe. They have a wider toe box, allowing the toes to splay and grip throughout movement. The different models are truly built to be gender-specific. The women’s shoes aren’t just a slightly smaller version of the men’s shoes, they are truly designed for a woman’s foot – which often has differences from a male foot such as: narrower heel, higher instep, longer arch, different toe positioning.
Several models come with multiple insoles, a support and strengthen footbed. The support one is meant to be as the starting point, for those who are new to zero-drop. The strengthen would be the next step and needs to be broken in gently and gradually. And for runners with even wider forefeet, the site provides instructions on lacing variations to help make them an even more customized fit.
Shortly before the Las Vegas RnR Half Marathon, I received a pair of Altra Intuition shoes to try out. I was hesitant to use them too much before the race because I knew I had a lot of miles to go that day and didn’t want to do anything new that could potentially cause any type of discomfort before that. Then right after the race I learned I was pregnant and was immediately struck with first trimester misery.
But now that I’m trying to get out and run more, I’m finally getting the chance to try these shoes. And the timing couldn’t be more perfect… since I’m preggers, I’m getting slower. (Oh… and taking most of the first trimester off helped contribute to that as well!) My runs are shorter distance now and I’m not focused on hitting any goal races or paces during this time. So when I run now, I can focus on my form a lot more.
I try to pay attention, but when you’ve got lots of races on your mind, it’s hard to wrap your brain around the necessary slow down that can come with that focus.
I ran in the support insole for a little while, but I actually found that I prefer the strengthen one. Maybe that is due to the fact that I’d already been using more minimal shoes for a while, thus I had accumulated a little more strength than if I had made the jump from a support shoe immediately into these.
Even though I’d made a change into more minimal shoes, I still find that after a run where I am paying so much more attention to my foot strike, turnover rate and overall form in these shoes… my calves are a lot more sore. I’m making sure I do a lot of stretching and rolling them with The Stick to avoid injury. But I feel like if I do this throughout my pregnancy and for the first bit after, I will probably come back and even stronger runner than before. (That’s my goal/hope/dream anyway!)
I don’t think these are the cutest shoes in the market. Then again, Altra isn’t a behemoth running shoe company that has as much money to make every model in 10 different colors! And running shoes should not be bought for fashion purposes. I think my next pair will probably be the Delilah, it’s a little cuter! And I think the Eve model would be a great addition to my shoe wardrobe for everyday casual wear. There’s even a trail shoe in the lineup!
I think Altra is poised to make a big difference in the running shoe world. The Instinct and Intuition were selected as Best Debut by Runner’s World in March 2012 and Competitor magazine gave them the Editor’s Choice Award for “Most Innovative” in 2011. They’re a company to keep an eye on, as well as take a look at when making a transition into (or staying with) minimal footwear.