Saturday, April 9, 2011

Let me present...

possibly the world's greatest running shoe (trainer at least right now) and company.  I've mentioned it before, but our family is intimately connected (LOL, the guys I work with are going to laugh at that after last night's staff meeting) with Altra Running, a revolutionary new running shoe company making natural footwear everyone can wear.  Altra is also a company that cares about you and your enjoyment of running and I think the story behind Altra Running is pretty neat.

They will come out with 3 models this year.  The Adam/Eve which is a truly barefoot shoe with only a few millimeters under your foot will come out around June.  The ultimate in flexibility, and low to the ground, but NO separate toes which means less rubbing and the ability to wear whatever sock you want, as well as letting the toes spread out naturally, not defined by the pockets they're in.  A great strengthening and form technique tool!
Then there will be the Lone Peak coming out later this summer.  It is a trail shoe for those people who run real trails, real gnarly stuff.  A rock plate sandwiched in just the right place in the shoe offering you cushioning from sharp rocks below the plate and above it next to your foot.  Even a trail rudder on the back giving a graceful nod back to the first trail running shoes.
But today I want to talk about the road shoe, the Instinct and Intuition, which just came out last week and is selling fast and is in stores around the country as well as online through Altra or your favorite tri shop Powertri

I've run in this shoe since last year and I have to say my boys at Altra really know what they're doing and really care about what they're doing and what they make.  Let's go through what makes Altra's shoes different, shall we?  First of all they are Zero Drop.  This is a term that Altra coined meaning there is zero differential between how far off the ground your heel and toe are when in the shoe.  Most running shoes are built on a 2:1 ratio, meaning about 24mm under your heel, 12mm under the ball of your foot.  Thankfully some shoes companies have started lowering that drop getting as low as 4-6mm, but Altra went all the way to true zero.
Why do I need Zero Drop you ask?  To run with better form in order to avoid injury, to run faster, and to run easier.  Research is finally catching up to show everyone that landing midfoot under your body with a bent knee allows healthy shock absorption.  It also then prepares your body to spring off those bent legs and power forward where as landing on your heel puts the brakes on and makes you pull with the hips and IT Band and roll over that leg in front of you.  Heel striking also sends all the impact into your joints (also NOT a good thing, this is why running can be hard on knees).  If I were to tell you to jump as high as you can and land on your heels would you?  I wouldn't, it'd hurt!  Point taken?  Off your heels people!
But it's not necessarily people's fault for running heel-toe.  Sure some people encourage it (not sure why), but for the most part, your typical running shoes don't really give you a lot of choice.  A big heel is physically the first thing that can hit the ground in typical running shoes unless you run on your toes (talk about blowing your calves up quick, DON'T run on your toes) because there is a ramp angle to the shoes.  It's virtually impossible to land flat footed because there is no flat mid section of your foot while in the shoes.  With Altra shoes though, they got the heel out of the way so you can land midfoot and save yourself a lot of pain and energy.

Next is the gender specific foot shaped last.  A last is basically the mold they use to make the sole of the shoe.  Go look in your closet at your running shoes.  Are most of them pointed or tapered in at the toes?  Yep, that's how running shoes have been made up until now.  Now look down at your toes.  Anyone's toes pointed in the middle?  Ok maybe some interesting folks out there, but in general, no, our feet are rounded at the toes.  So logically, Altra rounded the toe box allowing your toes to splay (spread) out absorbing more shock, stabilizing your foot from rolling in excessively, and giving you more to push off of going forward.  Have you ever thought about that, what an important role our big toe plays?  Some pronation is normal, truly excessive pronation can need help, but not how we typically think.  It's not this grey EVA foam that we stick inside shoes that should stop pronation, it's our big toe that should be assisting.  By allowing the big toe to spread out in a shoe, we stabilize and stop that excessive rolling in.  I was just educated in that lesson on pronation a couple weeks ago by my dear cofounder husband, and I think it's pretty cool!  And speaking of pronation, another thing Altra did was to not have a deep arch cut out.  By allowing more shoe under our arches, it also helps support the foot (not command the foot like stability shoes do) and assist the big toe in stabilizing any rolling in at the landing.  Ladies, you've noticed how it's easier to stumble and roll and ankle in in high heels versus flats right?  Right.  And finally, the gender specific part.  Most shoe companies "pink it and shrink it", don't you love that phrase? I do.  They make a men's last narrower and shorter, and add some feminine colors.  Problem with that is anatomically, women's feet are a different shape than men's feet.  Women have more of a triangle shaped foot, men, more of a rectangular shaped foot.  Women have a narrower heel, smaller instep, higher arch, different metatarsal placement, and shorter toes.  So Altra took this too into account and makes all their women's shoes, every single model, off a completely different last than that men's.

A couple other things to mention are the heel claw, the way the heel of the shoe is built it really holds you in so that while you do have a big toe box, you absolutely don't slide forward in it.  It's really noticeable, I like it a lot.  And then there's the asymmetrical lacing.  The laces are not on the center of your foot but offset a little to to the inside and at an angle so to take off pressure of the top of your foot.  It will be more pronounced in the future, but even now it's helping me alleviate that pain my Kinvara's gave me last week.  Finally, most EVA (white foam) that is used in shoes and inserts eventually breaks down 70-90%.  That's why we get new shoes, the foam flattens and doesn't give any more.  Altra uses this amazing stuff called A-bound in the insoles as well as the foam at the top of the shoe, right next to your foot, and get this, it compresses a remarkable 7-9% !  That means that even when the bottom and midsoles have broken down over time and it's time for a new pair, you'll still have some cushion and give directly under your foot.  Sweet!

So I've told you all about most of the technology behind the shoes, now lets meet the Altra Intuition.  This is the female road shoe, a trainer if you will, but of course you could race in it if you wanted.  It's 8.1oz making it lighter than many trainers out there.  10mm off the ground at the heel and at the toe means you've got the feeling of a barefoot shoe to help your form thanks to the Zero Drop, but you've got the cushioning of a trainer.  That is what makes the Intinct and Intuition unlike ANY other shoe out there.  Zero Drop AND cushioning!  It really is the shoe for any runner I think and virtually any conditions.  I've taken this on the road, on grass, on the trails, and it's done fine on the them all.  I've run a road marathon in them, won a trail half marathon in them, and I race triathlons barefoot in them (took me about a month of normal wear with socks to break in the heel for barefoot use, not it's just dandy, if the heel rubs you at all wear a band aid on your Achilles for a few weeks)

Now before we go any farther, you must know that there is a transition period to Altra footwear, and they have it spelled out very simply and specifically on their site for runners new to a lower drop, and runner's who have experience with a lower drop shoe. Unless you've been running in true Zero Drop shoes (which have only just come out in the last 6 months, and most of them still have a 1-2 mm drop if you include the insole) you'll need to take 1-4 weeks to transition into being able to wear your Altra's full time. See with traditional running shoes your Achilles doesn't have to stretch and your calf doesn't get to explode and be used as much. But with Altra shoes, your Achilles has the chance to get lower and then help spring you back up and forward and your calves play a bigger role too. So for those first few weeks you'll likely notice some soreness there and need to pay attention to that. You can increase your frequency and distance in them as that goes away. The transition period is just the time needed to strengthen those Achilles and calves to be able to support your new and improved running form. It will be worth it though, I assure you! Please please remember the transition period. Too many people threw on Vibram 5 finger shoes and got really really sore or even hurt because they were cool and the hype and so runners of any and all ability threw them on and ran like they've always run without any guidance how to make that drastic switch. The Altra road and trail shoes won't be as drastic a transition as the Adam and Eve will be, but still deserve your attention.

Alright, here are some pics:

The pretty swirly heel

The sole.  Love the metatarsal placement and design and if you look close you'll see tiny flowers in the background

The way I traditionally laced my shoes, I don't think the extra non-laced space is necessary in the Altra's though with their foot shaped forefoot.  I'll be re-lacing mine into the standard way they come.  It is helpful for a person with one foot wider or longer than another though.

All Altra's come with two sets of insoles, one very flat and flexible to strengthen your arches (blue), and one to support your arches for people who are used to and want more support (pink).  I'm also so excited about the printing in the box.  My hubby designed it and I had no idea till the first shipment came in last week, great job babe!  Every box also comes with a 8 page guide to the shoes, how to wear them, transition, LTR, the Altra story, etc

Another view of the insoles.  A unique option in running shoes, 2 sets of insoles that come with the shoes.
Learn to Run, Love to Run, Live to Run!
ETA:  You can read a report of the Salt Lake City Marathon where I wore the Intuition's here


Sara said...

Very cool Leslie. I'm so glad your husband and his co-founders are getting to realize this dream and get the company and the shoes out there. I will be very interested in these when I get back into running again this winter or next spring.

Nurse Heidi said...

Very cool! I'm going to post this on FB. When my current shoes wear out, I am going to snag me a pair of Altras. I have noticed a BIG difference going to a lower drop shoe. I put on my old ones the other day just to go out in the garden, and they actually hurt me!

James Lawrence said...

I think I will check them out... Thanks Leslie.

Sean Warren said...

I think the coolest part is that they are yours... When the "Les" Model comes out, I will get a pair.....but only if you sign them.

Leslie said...

Ah Sean, you're such a sweetheart, I'll gladly sign you a pair now :)