About three weeks ago, the box with new shoes arrived from Altra. The minute I opened it, I knew that runners were firmly at the helm of this company. To capture a slice of the growing minimalist running movement, many companies have simply taken their existing shoes, cut the heels off, and given them a new name. Yes, the shoes are important, but only to the extent that they support a different running form. Unlike a lot of their competitors, the folks at Altra truly get it.
The inside cover of the box contains a wealth of information - that starts with proper running technique. The materials immediately cover five critical topics: posture, arm swing, foot placement, and cadence. Only then does the company explain how to slowly make the transition from regular running shoes to this new design. The shoes also come with two different footbeds to assist in the transition. The "Support" footbeds resembles a more traditional one found in mainstream running shoes. The second pair is labeled as "Strengthen" footbeds that have very little cushion. These are not referenced in the literature, but I assumed they are provided to assist in the transition. I started with these.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am a minimalist shoe convert. I started with Newtons several years and transitioned to Vibram Five Fingers about 18 months ago. Altra has a model very similar to Five Fingers, but I did not try them. I have been looking for a more conventional pair of minimalist shoes for different occasions. Now I had a chance to try one.
First, the people at Altra designed a last perfect for my foot. See the pictures. The toe box is exceptionally wide. This design give your toes the opportunity to spread out and develop muscular strength that regular shoes discourage. It also promises to end the loss of toenails that so many runners have regrettably come to accept as a price of the sport.
I tried the shoes at first on a treadmill. This was a week away from my last half Ironman, so I really was in a taper mode. I find the best way for me to taper is to do shorter, much more intense workouts. For three straight days, I did three, one mile-intervals at a 6:15 pace with the shoes. No problems. Vibrams don't perform well, in contrast, on the TM. The heat from the belt typically gets too intense for me to run in those shoes after a mile. The Altra shoes allowed me to maintain the right form on the machine, but the extra insulation kept the heat out.
Three days after the race, I took the shoes out for a "recovery" run on a road with many rocks. Again, the shoe actually felt plush on my feet after a 13.1 mile run on a very hill race course. I ran over small rocks and pebbles with absolute ease.
Finally, these are very good, all-purpose shoes. My wife refuses to be seen in public with me with in my Vibrams. I can wear these minimalist shoes and no one notices. I wore the shoes in Greenwich Village yesterday. They were comfortable on the street and worked well when I used them to try out an exercise bike. If you want to try minimalist shoes, but still want some cushioning, these are a great choice.
You can learn more about the Altra Instinct minimalist running shoes at: www.altrazerodrop.com
Author: Paul Tyler
Paul Tyler is the founder of Triessential.com and a contributor here at TRIJUICE. Triessential offers an iPhone application that provides training tips and motivation every day throughout the entire year.