An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
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Monday, December 3, 2012

Altra Superior Zero Drop Shoe Review

Eric is a fellow triathlete, and a training partner. We also work fairly close to each other at the same company, though our jobs don't interact much, so we'll run together at lunchtime on the company grounds a few days each week, usually in the neighborhood of 4.5-7 miles.

After I had seen the Superior in sneak peaks from Altra, I was excited to give them a try. I did get a chance to try them on a few weeks ago, but I didn't purchase them (oh, the power of delayed gratification).

Well, Eric went out and got a pair this past weekend. Color me jealous. Here's his review from our run today.

This shoe is new to the market and is marketed as a lightweight performance off road shoe. The Superior is a Zero Drop shoe, has a removable rock plate and comes in at 7.9 ounces per the Altra Web site [in size 9, Eric wears a size 13]. This is my first experience with Altra and a zero drop shoe and now with the first run complete I will put them in the “like” Column. I am looking forward to my next run in these shoes.

Most of our daily runs in the past included Dave putting up with me wearing shoes that were not designed for trail running. One set of shoes that I frequently run in were designed for triathlons, having drainage holes in the bottom that “love to pick up rocks and sticks” that poke you on the bottom of the foot. Many times we would need to stop running so that I could dig the offending rock or stick out of the shoe. This is what started my journey to find a trail shoe. Dave had mentioned to me on several occasions about Altra’s and how much he has enjoyed running in them and that I should give them a try [I have a pair of Instincts that have over 500 miles on them]. With Altra adding the Superior to the lineup, now looked like a good time to give the Superiors a try.

The Altra Superiors have a nice look and feel of functionality like it was made for trail running. I like the color combination of grey and green even though I prefer red. If anyone from Altra is reading this, I really like red – just ask Dave or my family. Shoe material looks and feels like it will last the abuse of trail running.  Weight of the shoe is comparable to my other trail shoes that I have run in. The removable rock plate is a feature that I am looking forward to trying out as my running varies from trail to road often.

The first run in the Superiors was during our regular lunch time run at work that covered 4.6 miles. Our trails (fire roads) include a mixture of asphalt, hills, compact dirt, gravel and small to medium rocks and the occasional barking dog, grazing deer or misplaced ball from one of the nearby houses. As with most days in Washington, our trails were wet, had puddles, a few small lakes and a bit of mud giving us just the right conditions to try out the Superiors.

The first thing that I like about the Superior is the ample toe box that Altra builds into the shoe. My toes felt relaxed and not boxed in. The interesting part of getting used to the shoes was the very noticeable Zero Drop. The other trail shoes that I run in have a 4 mm drop. Though the change in drop was noticeable, it was not uncomfortable. You do notice the zero drop on down hills since I am a heel striker to begin with; the shoe gives an immediate feedback to runners that heel strike. Hopefully with time, running with the Superiors I can start to correct this.

The removable rock plate was not noticeable during the run and it was not overly stiff either. It protected my feet comfortably during the varying terrain that we encountered. I tried to hit different types and sizes of rocks to see how the protection and responsiveness of the shoe worked during our run. I was very impressed on the comfort and protection that the rock guard provided. Not being overly stiff and being removable is a great feature. My future runs will be with the rock guard removed so that I can have a comparison. Having a functional and removable rock plate makes the shoe more usable to the type of running that I do. I have found most shoe manufacturers make the rock plate either nonexistent or overly stiff. Altra got it right with the Superior.

Since we had a bit of rain prior to the run, it gave a chance to see how the Superior was going to react when wet and in the mud. Surprisingly with the shoe getting wet, it did not feel heavy. I have had other shoes that with just a bit of water they felt like I was running with bricks on my feet. Having a shoe that drains well is important when you live in Washington as most of our runs throughout the year will include rain to a varying degree. The superior does not have an overly aggressive tread as compared to my other trail shoes and I would say they are more of a road tread like design. The benefit to this design is that they don’t pick up stones, however when you hit the mud they have the tendency to slide, so be aware [we talked about this during the run, and my impression from Eric's description was that the sliding is more a sideways settling]. I did not find that the lip on the back of the shoe [Altra calls this a "Trail Rudder"] flipping up material as other reviewers have mentioned in their articles. More than likely what I was feeling was the lip hitting my inner calf. After a few more runs and getting used to the shoe, the lip on the back should not be an issue. If it does, I may trim a bit of material to help out.

Part of our lunch time runs includes time on asphalt and where the real comfort of the Altras comes into play. As with several of my other trail shoes, I find transitioning from trail to road uncomfortable as you are using a shoe that is designed for trail and not really for the road. In most trail shoes you will feel the stiffness of the rock plate. The Superiors transitioned from dirt to asphalt quite well. They were comfortable and the increased flexibility of the rock plate became apparent. After running on the trails, I had almost forgotten about the zero drop until I hit the road again. As time goes on and I get used to the shoes responsiveness, the feeling of transitioning to different surfaces will become less and less.

Part of our run includes a downhill road route, and again the Superior reminded me that I was heel striking and that I needed to shorten up the stride a bit and work on landing more mid-foot. That is the nice thing with this shoe  -- it does give the runner an instant response when your technique is off. I liked how the shoe felt on the road surface and I am looking forward to trying it out on some of my longer road runs.

Overall I am very impressed with the Altra Superior a give them a definite "recommend" rating as they have resolved several key issues that I was having with my other trail shoes around comfort, stiffness and feedback. Comfort while running is everything and having a removable rock plate is a big hit with me as it adds flexibility. The Superior did not have the stiffness issue that I have had with other trail shoes and transitioned nicely from trail to road. I liked the instant feedback that the Superiors gave and the confidence on handling different surfaces, slopes and conditions. During my first run the shoes felt comfortable with no hot spots or the need to stop and adjust lacing. The bigger toe box was a definite plus and my toes really appreciated having the extra room. I am looking forward to my next run in these shoes and the half-marathon in March where I can the Altra Superiors a try at race pace.

[Note: The first three images are stock images from the Altra website. The last is Eric's actual shoes, after the first run.]

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