I was introduced to Altra Running during my weekly Thursday night KCRC Groupies run several months ago. I had heard of Altra before, but I was wearing Saucony Kinvara’s, and I was happy with them. Then I tried a pair of Altra’s on, and took them for a 3 mile test run.
To say my mind was blown is an understatement. For the first time in many months (since moving to KC and all the dang hills!), my knee didn’t hurt while I ran. I had cushioning under my feet, and my toes were able to spread out. That night, after my first 3 mile run in Altra’s and after talking to the sales rep, Glenn, I went home and read all about Altra’s, and ordered my first pair that weekend.
I chose the Altra Torin, and a few days later, I was the proud owner of a shiny new pink pair of Altras! The review that follows is my own. I was not compensated by Altra or any other company for this review. I bought the shoes on my own, and would like to share my experiences and thoughts with you.
I bought last year’s model of the Torin’s, because they were on sale, and though my test run went great, I wanted to try a bit cheaper pair, and I liked the pink. Altra’s typically run a bit small, meaning you need to order a half size to a full size larger than your normal running shoe. I wore size 11.5 in my Saucony Kinvara’s, (I know, I know, my feet are HUGE!) and I ordered a size 12 in the Altra Torin’s. I could have even probably gone for a 12.5, but they don’t make that size!
Altra was founded in 2009 and has been growing strong and “rethinking the way you run.” Altra is different than other shoes in two big ways, the foot shaped toe box and a highly cushioned shoe with zero drop.
Foot Shaped Toe Box: Golden Harper, one of the co-founders of Altra had been studying the stride and gait of barefoot runners, and noticed that traditional running shoes taper from the mid foot to the toes, resulting in the toes all squished together. He began modifying shoes to allow the toes to spread out more naturally. By spreading out the toe box, stability is increased, and runners are able to push off the big toe, as they tend to do while running “natural,” or barefoot.
At first, when i ran in the Altra Torin’s, it felt like my toes had too much room, they were wiggling around. After 2-3 miles of running, I forgot about how weird my toes were feeling, and I actually didn’t notice anything at all. After several weeks of running in these shoes, I put on an old pair of running shoes with a “traditional” toe box, and almost immediately took them off, they felt so tight and constrictive around my toes.
Altra’s look slightly like duck’s feet or clown shoes, but the comfort and ability to spread your toes out and really push off all your toes is worth it. And you get used to the look after a while; they aren’t nearly as odd looking as I once thought. For runners who need extra toe space for bunions, flat feet, hammer toes, etc, I would definitely recommend trying Altra’s, Just read their reviews on any of their shoe models, and wide forefoot people are rejoicing.
When you first get your Altra’s, you need to transition slowly from your traditional running shoe to the Altra. There are several reasons why the transition must be gradual, mostly involving the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your lower leg. With traditional running shoes with a 4-12mm drop, or more, your Achilles Tendon becomes shorter over time, and you have to slowly adjust and allow it to lengthen back out. The muscles in your calves and shins have the same transition to make. I felt some pain in the outside of my shins for the first few weeks of running in the Torin’s, but now, I have no pain and no discomfort in my shins, calves, or Achilles. I also have no knee pain, likely due to the higher cushioning, the zero drop making me run more on my mid foot, and being able to properly push off with my toes.
Zero Drop: Zero drop means the toes and the heel are the same distance from the ground, there is a 0 millimeter decline from the heel to the toe. From Altra’s site: “This natural balance aligns the feet, back and body posture for less impact. It also strengthens the Achilles and lower calf muscles that have been weakened over a lifetime of running on elevated heels.” More “traditional” running shoes have anywhere from a 4 mm to a 12 mm drop, meaning the heel is up to 12 (sometimes more) millimeters higher off the ground than the toes.
The Zero Drop philosophy does is also popular in many of the barefoot or minimalist style shoes. Altra is not a barefoot or a minimalist shoe, quite the opposite… Altra provides maximal cushion while still having the zero drop. So basically, it’s like being barefoot (heel and toe are the same distance from the ground), but you have lots of cushion to stand on. For example, my Torin’s have a 27mm stack height, or 27mm of cushion in the heel, in the mid foot, and in the toes.
Having a zero drop promotes runners to land mid foot instead of heel-striking. Heel striking often leads to knee pain, and there are numerous debates in the running world about whether or not heel striking is bad, or if mid foot striking is better, and basically, it’s been determined that every runner is different, and injury can occur with either foot strike. For me, I know I have had knee pain in the past, likely due to a weak knee from a previous surgery, and also partially because of heel striking and not enough cushioning. By transitioning and changing to Altra’s, I have noticed I still heel strike, but I tend to land more full-foot to mid-foot and as I tire, I revert back to heel striking.
Golden Harper, one of the co-founders of Altra, actually began creating his shoe by melting running shoes in his toaster oven, cutting out the extra cushioning in the heel, and melting them back together. Once his zero drop shoes and foot shaped toe box took shape, Altra was born. The company conducted many tests before beginning in their small town shoe store, and once people got word of it, the idea exploded, and Altra has been growing ever since. By eliminating the extra elevation in the heel, the shoe encourages runners to land more on the mid foot instead of the heel. As a heel striker, I can tell you I have noticed I am landing more mid foot than previously, and it is something I consciously work on, and the shoes help by eliminating the unneeded heel elevation.
My Torin’s came with 2 sets of insoles, the contour footbed and the support footbed. The contour footbed is very minimal, with no heel to toe difference. The contour footbed is a “transition” insole, with a 3mm drop from heel to toe, to get you used to the feel of the zero drop technology. I had been running in the Saucony Kinvara’s, which have a 4mm drop, so I was able to transition fairly easily to the zero drop.
Altra has a female specific line of shoes, with slightly narrower heels, and female specific arch support and spacing in different areas. I love this, because women’s feet and men’s feet are different, and it’s not just the size or color of the shoe that matters. I feel that my Altra’s are an extension of my feet, and after more than 3 months of running in them, I can tell I will be with Altra for many many years, and many many miles to come.
My pace has increased over the last several months… I can’t say entirely that it is the Torin’s, but I know my knee doesn’t hurt while I run, which makes running more enjoyable, and I know my mileage has been increasing and my pace has been decreasing over the last 3-4 months. I can only say the Torin’s are helping in this transition. I love my Altra Torin’s so much, I’ve recently ordered another pair of the newer model Torin’s. I’m positive they will be just as wonderful, if not more so, than my first pair.
Bottom line, Altra has won my heart, made my legs and feet happy, and has me running more miles, more pain free, and faster than I ever have before. I highly recommend trying Altra, and with their 30 day guarantee, you can definitely run several times and determine for yourself if they will work for you as well as they work for me!
Have you tried Altra’s before? Which shoe?