How Altra Change My View On Running

A very happy Thursday to you all!

Three warm days in a row plus the very soon arrival of Daylight Savings Time. SHOW ME THE SUNSHINE!

I am sponsored by Altra Running through Sierra Endurance Sports, and would not have been exposed to their products without that sponsorship (and the great staff at Reno Running Company). Disclaimer: I receive free shoes, not monetary compensation, and wanted to use this post to share my experiences switching to a zero-drop shoe. Zero-drop isn’t for everyone, but it’s worked very well for me!

There’s been a lot of running theories in the past decade or so… at first was Vibram Five Fingers and their barefoot-esque, minimalistic approach to running. Born to Run was a huge catalyst in this movement but not a lot came out of it. I read it but didn’t really care for it simply because it was more anecdotal. If I had been raised running 50 miles a day, then yes, I would be a very different kind of runner. As of late, there have been rumors flying that the truly minimal/barefoot experience may actually promote injury (check Google)… some of these extreme, minimal shoes have hardly a strip of cushioning between the scorching concrete and your phalanges, offering a minimal amount of cushioning and shock absorption. I never bought into this hype, so I can’t comment on its effectiveness but it was quite the fad.

A few years later, the pendulum reversed and the maximalist movement came out in full swing. Companies like Hoka offer gigantic shoes that look like they glued sponges to the soles. I also have not tried a maximalist shoe, but as with most things in life, the truth lies somewhere in the middle of these two options, and that is where Altra comes in.

Lone Peak getting a mud bath!

What Altra offers is a wonderful compromise between the two worlds. What I have discovered, in the four months that I’ve been putting on the miles in several  pairs of Altras, is that a cushioned, zero-drop shoe works far better for me than a raised heel. The toe to heel drop ratio is set at zero, meaning that your heel and toes are hitting at the same “elevation” or height. An overwhelming majority of running shoe brands typically elevate the heel significantly above the toes. It takes some adjusting but it feels much better…

Another major feature of Altras is a nice, wide toe box. I’ve struggled with running shoe selection ever since 2007. I’ve got wide feet, but feet that aren’t necessarily long, and getting a comfortable shoe that doesn’t scrape off the skin on my toes or rub my feet till they bleed was hard to find. Even companies that make EE widths didn’t do a very good job… :(

There’s quite the transitional period involved when switching over to their zero-drop setup, but it isn’t too daunting. Mine was very brief (~3 weeks), based on 10 years of running muscle memory and experience. I don’t really classify myself as “a runner,” but I felt the transition was straightforward. I also happen to have fairly large calf muscles, which were able to easily absorb the impact of switching to a much, much lower drop. A few symptoms I experienced for the first two weeks was a burning sensation in the Achilles and “belly” of the calf. It wasn’t a dangerous, red-alarm type pain, but rather a muscular adjustment feeling. Definitely plenty to adjust to, but the results can speak for themselves…

I’m not known for my running prowess, and am built far bulkier than most clocking the long miles on pavement. I typically take an extended break from running 3-4 months out of the year, one because I’m exhausted and two, I’ve always had calf and shin discomfort from many long days in my Mizunos. This year, well, 2016, instead of bailing in November and December, I logged 30 and 37 miles respectively, not a ton of miles, but a lot more than 0, which set me up for a solid, wintery, pre-season January and February at 60 and 84 miles, and I haven’t even started the tough triathlon work yet! Felt great through both of those months, and the kicks certainly contributed to those successes.

I’m never a believer in the silver bullet, so I feel obligated to attribute the new run success to a few other variables in addition to the shoes:

  • New run group – I’ve been out trucking it on Wednesday’s with some new run-suffering lovers. It’s always recommended (from amateur and professional athletes alike) to train with people who are faster than you, for many reasons, but specifically motivation, comradery, and acquisition of fresh skills along the way. This has been a HUGE part of my run training and has been worth it’s weight in gold so far this year!
  • New bike position – TT or triathlon bikes have never been known for their comfort, but I’ve put four years on my Cannondale Slice in a position that may not have been quite what I needed. Again, I suffered from pain in the belly of my right calf on frequent rides and hip tightness, and always attributed it to physiology. I finally bit the bullet (not a silver one) and got my fit and pedal stroke looked at, and holy cow, it changed everything! I now spend my attention and focus on blasting the hamstrings while riding, instead of the oft-hammered and much more visible quads, adjusted the saddled about half an inch, and raised the aerobars. It’s a whole new ride – pain: gone and my FTP is on the rise (thank you TrainerRoad!).
  • Small muscle training – As part of Sierra Endurance Sports, we have the wonderful opportunity to work with Pendola Strong, a local gym for up and coming athletes. We work the mental side of our training but also the smaller, supportive muscles. I have all kinds of new resistance bands, straps, and other gadgets for strengthening, working, and developing the “invisible muscles” which drive support and power in swimming, biking, and running. It takes a lot of work but the dividends paid are exponential.

I’ve got wonderful support groups heading into the upcoming race year, and am excited for everything I get to learn about myself throughout the journey.

So far, the start of the 2017 season reminds me of 2014 – one of my favorite training and racing years ever. The foundation is being laid for another wonderful year, and there are plenty of races to look forward to and be challenged by. Plus, I’ve got one of the hardest, regional half-marathons that my wife and I will be hammering together. You can’t beat that!

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