With so many brands and styles of running shoes claiming to offer so much in the way of performance and injury prevention, how is a runner to choose from among them all? Since I began training for my first marathon six years ago, I have tried my fair share of shoes, and I’ve come to the conclusion that comfort and fit, and to a lesser degree, the weight of the shoe, are the only factors that matter. Research backs this up: In a 2009 Journal of Strength and Conditioning study of over 1,500 military recruits, scientists found that matching shoe type (stability, motion control or neutral) to foot characteristics (neutral, over-pronator, under-pronator) had no impact on the number of running related injuries the recruits sustained over the duration of their boot camp training.
Some history on me and running shoes: I have pretty bad feet for running. They are so flat that there is no discernible arch at all when I do the wet test – where the indentation for my arch should be, my foot actually squishes outward, making my foot look more like a rectangle than a kidney bean. My second toe is significantly longer than my big toe and I have an unusually narrow heel cup, meaning that it’s hard for me to find shoes that fit well. Finally, I still occasionally experience some pain and numbness from a less-than-perfect bunionectomy I had ten years ago.
My quest to find the perfect shoes for me has ranged from minimalist, un-cushioned shoes to so-called maximalist, highly-cushioned ones across a wide spectrum of brands. I feel like my preference for shoe brand has evolved as my running mechanics have improved. I used to be a heavy heel-striker, but I’ve managed (thanks to several months in the minimalist shoes) to transition to a mid/forefoot strike. I can’t run in the minimalist shoes all the time, though, because at around the 90-minute mark, fatigue causes me to revert to my default heel-strike form, and that much pounding with no cushioning can cause a lot of damage. So I’ve found what I feel is a very happy medium – cushioned shoes that offer many of the other characteristics of minimalist (often called “barefoot”) running shoes.
Altra running shoes combine a foot-shaped toe box and a zero-drop platform with varying levels of cushioning. Pictured above are the two models I bought recently to use for training. My plan is to finally rotate between shoes through the duration of their life (about 300 miles for me, I’ve found) because doing so should cause minor changes in my running mechanics that, in theory, will help prevent an overuse injury. I went with two extremes – the relatively minimally cushioned One-Squared, and the maximalist Paradigm.
The thing that initially led me to try Altras was the fact that their running shoes are entirely vegan, which might sound weird to those of you who aren’t vegan, but won’t to those of you who are. (Most running shoes are not vegan – even if the constituent parts are made of synthetic materials, the adhesives that bind those parts together are usually derived from animals.) I bought a pair of their Provisions about six or eight months ago. They were so comfortable that I burned through them twice as fast as normal because I wore them walking around town more than I wore them running.
I got these two pairs of new shoes the day before I left for a 10-day vacation in Hawaii and didn’t want to pack them, so I only got one pair out on a test run before today – the minimalist One-Squareds. It was a great run, and I was amazed at how light the shoes were. I’m headed out just as soon as I finish this post to break in the Paradigms, which will be a new experience for me – I’ve never run in anything with that much cushioning before. I’ll be sure to leave a comment on my Facebook feed to this post after I do to let you know how it went. Based on my experience with Altra shoes so far, I expect it will be a great run.
The only drawbacks to Altra shoes are the colors (as you can see from the photos above, they aren’t exactly understated) and the price – nothing new comes in at under $120. But, if you don’t mind wearing last year’s model, you can save about 25 – 30% off of that price by shopping the bottom of the page, in the clearance section (that’s what I did). If you’re in the market for new running shoes, check out the Altra web site. I’m not affiliated with them in any way, and I don’t get any commission from any sales generated from these links to their page. I just love the brand and think that many other runners will too.