Run Safe

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Altra 'Superior' Experience- Review

I would put myself in the category of an experienced runner and would maybe go so far as to even say I’m a bit of shoe connoisseur.  In my time running, I've gone through lots and lots of different styles of shoes from just about every major running shoe manufacturer out there.   But, again, I'm far from being an expert on the topic.  So why, do you ask, am I now deciding to make a feeble attempt at doing a shoe review?  Because my experience in these shoes was truly 'Superior' to anything I have experienced in my running tenure.   For me not to share my experience would be a disservice to all the fellow Run JunkEes.
Over the past several months I've been on a mission to find the perfect, minimal, trail shoe.  Rewind, I've actually been on a mission to find the perfect shoe since I became a runner, way back in 2006, but recently I have been searching for a new trail shoe.  I wanted something that could provide a mix of everything that I've been looking for; roomy up front, snug in the heal, light weight, decent protection, minimal heel drop, cushioned but firm, and of course something that screams..."Get me dirty!"  I’ve purchased and returned so many pairs of trail shoes in the past month; I'm practically on a first name basis with the refund/exchange department at Runningwarehouse. It's gotten so comical that some of the shoes would barely make it out of the box and I was already slapping the return label on.  They were sent back because they were too heavy, too narrow, not enough protection, etc. Each time I made my next choice, I'd consider the Superior, but I was really skeptical that my legs could handle a zero drop shoe, especially on the trails.  People kept saying give them a try.  I'd listened to podcast reviews, read reviews on-line, but despite all of the positive responses, I'd still choose a different pair.  Finally, it got to the point that there were no other shoes (on my list) so I gave in and order the Altra Superiors.

I'm not exactly a novice to the minimal experience.  I had just recently made it as far as 26.2 in a 4mm drop shoe, but still experienced hip fatigue after about 15 miles.  I also had what I would consider normal soreness the following day.  As someone who has always been a heavy heel striker, the transition to a more minimal shoe, for me, was a slow one.  (Learn more about heel drops here. ) I'd gotten to the point where I enjoyed the minimal shoes on the road but not so much on the trails.  Since I was focusing on a lighter weight shoe, most of what I was wearing offered very little in the way of protection or cushion.  The Superiors were far from what I had been wearing.

 First Impressions

The Superior is a deceptively light shoe-I think   Running warehouse has it listed around 10 oz, which is still on the lighter side for a trail shoe.  Looking at some of the pictures I envisioned them to be heavier. The design of the shoe was narrow in the heel and wide in the toe box, the sole design was also different than anything that I had seen before.  The tread on the shoe actually goes in both directions. From what I've read, it's designed to help with the uphill and downhill traction.  There's also a lip that protrudes from the heal which resembles a skid plate.  One thing that I was concerned about was the straps that are on either side of the shoe.  I'm not sure of their intended purpose but I worried they could be easily caught on something while running the trails.   They only thing I disliked about the shoe was the length of the laces, but in the grand scheme of things, this wasn't a deal
breaker.  When I slipped my feet into these bad boys I instantly knew I had found the fit I was looking for.  They felt like slippers on steroids!! They were soft and roomy, but did not remind me of the other minimal shoes I’ve worn.  While the heel drop was noticeable, so was the combination of support and cushion.  I don’t like a super cushioned shoe but in those longer runs it is nice to have a little something there.
Another feature of these shoes which I thought was interesting was the removable rock plate.  Without it, the shoe felt a little less firm. For me, keeping it in provided the perfect blend of cushioned but firm.  I will point out here, that the more minimal shoes I had tried in the past were lacking in the rock protection department.  I would venture to guess the rock plate in the Superiors would account for an ounce or two of the overall weight.

The Run

Now, I should mention here that this run was my final long run of my 50k training plan. Having done my share of long runs over the past two months, I had a pretty good idea of how I would feel both during and after the run.   The trails I run consist mostly of grass, dirt (mud), tree roots and small rocks. These trails were certainly more along the lines of a less technical trail, with average hills of 100 to 200 feet.  On this particular run, much of the area had experienced localized flooding.  These shoes got nice and wet and muddy.  At one point I was attempting to traverse a swampy mucky area and my foot ended up in the water.  While these are not waterproof shoes, the shoes drained the water well and with the help of the moisture wicking socks, kept my feet dry.   Personally, I feel most waterproof/weatherproof shoes are too stiff and constricting.

The heel "skid plates"
I had worn the shoes on a quick road run just to make sure I was good with the feel and fit and two days later took them out for the big test, a 20 mile trail run.  To say I was beyond pleased in the performance of these shoes would be an understatement. I was blown away by how great my legs and especially my hips felt throughout this entire run.  I was 15 miles into the run and running up hills like I had just started out.  The tread provided a satisfactory grip on the wet hills.  I was probably 18 miles into the run when I remember saying out loud for the 4th or 5th time. "I can't believe how great my legs feel!"  By mile 19 I was trying to convince my running partner that he needed to buy a pair of these shoes. I even laughed at myself for sounding like a cheap salesmen.  I really had no complaints about this shoe.  Even the little straps on the side were a non-factor.  One thing that intrigued me- I never tripped during this run.  Almost without exception, every trail run I go on there is at least one or two times I will catch the front of my foot on a tree root or rock and stumble.  I'm not sure why this didn't happen on this run or even if the shoe had anything to do with it but it was an unexpected, pleasant surprise.
Almost more impressive than the run experience was how I felt the next morning. I awoke with full anticipation of being sore. As I started to get out of bed I realized I felt pretty damn good. I had virtually no soreness. This was truly a first for me. I know my training leading up to this run was partly responsible for my lack of soreness as was my slow transition to a more minimal shoe. However, there is no doubt the Altra design was also to blame. About two days after this run I did have some slight soreness in my glutes, which was not something I normally experienced after a run.  To me, this indicated these shoes changed my stride enough that it relieved the stress on my hip area and engaged larger muscle groups.

Rock Plate is the grey piece.
Suffice it to say these shoes held true to their namesake, providing me with a truly Superior running experience.  We will be spending many, many more runs together and I can hardly wait to run my upcoming 50k in them. 

Resting peacefully after their first 20 mile test run


  1. Great review. I love my Altras, happy to see a new convert.

  2. You make me want to run out a get a pair. Your foot needs sounds similar to mine so I really appreciate your input on this! Not that I need a new pair of shoes, yet...well, a girl can never have too many, right? Thanks!

  3. Great review - very useful information. I have run in the Intuitions when I was transitioning to minimal, but haven't branched out from there. This is great motivation to do so!