Choosing the right shoe is for many of us a bit of science, but also a bit of an art too. I look at my own shoe collection and still feel that I’m learning about what my feet want and how I choose to dress them while out on the trails. I’m a mid to forefoot runner, so tend to go with shoes that are of lower profile and less heel to toe drop. That though is a fine balance with a unit like myself who comes in at 6’4 and 85kgs. I’m not your typical runner build, so some kind of protection is required as I move up towards the 100km mark.
At the start of this year I made a conscious effort to gradually drop the heel to toe ratio, and this effort began with me running 6ft track in my Inov8 190s X-talons. Now these have very minimal tread indeed and to be honest I wouldn’t want to be going more than 50kms in them. They do a good job, but that last section at 6ft down the hill to Jenolan Caves had me hopping about like a man trying to walk across hot coals for a drunken bet. It wasn’t pretty and it cost me time.
There’s always a balance between supposedly encouraging a better or more efficient running style through a lower drop, but having the protection you require underfoot as well. Enter the Altra Superior. Last year we did a review on the Lone Peak and were mightily impressed with them. A low profile shoe, but with the protection underfoot – a real winner in our eyes. So the guys at Altra have come up with another winner in the Altra Superior, their lightest performance off-road shoe. But just what is the difference between the two?
The Lone Peak versus the Superior
In short, the Lone Peak is an out-and-out trail shoe and heavier than the Superior. The Superior is still a trail shoe, but it acts as a kind of halfway house. The 1mm removable StoneGuard and removable 5mm Contour Footbed will tackle the toughest trails but can transition to a lighter, more flexible shoe if you are heading out for a flat or road training session. So for races such as Glasshouse, these seem ideal. You look at them, and due to the size think they will weigh a ton, but they are remarkably lightweight and a joy to put on your feet. The good news is that there’s also a women’s version too!
The Fit (and feel)
So with that out of the way, how do they shape up? As a famous shampoo and conditioner advertisement tells us, you can just wash and go, but in this instance, put on and go. When you put these things on, your foot feels free and contours against the shoe as if you’re wearing slippers.
As with the Lone Peak, the thing that immediately strikes you about these shoes is the massive toe-box. I mean it’s huge, and as I pulled them onto my feet I could hear wide-feet shaped people around the world let out a cry of glee. Finally, we have a shoe manufacturer that actually makes a shoe that is, well, shaped like your foot. No longer do we have to cram our little tootsies into a moulded piece of plastic and material where the foot is expected to give into the shoe for a number of weeks before we can finally feel as though it fits. The foot-shaped design means that your feet can relax and push around the shoe, which is pretty much now my first consideration when I buy shoes.
As a trail runner, my feet and I’m sure yours as well will move around the shoe depending upon the terrain you’re running on. When you run on road, you have a constant motion and movement with your feet that is predictable as the sun rising. With trail running the variances of movement are huge depending upon where you are, which is why I used to lose so many toenails wearing crappy road shoes on the trail that had zero flex in them.
The only thing you will notice pretty much straight away is the zero drop and how much harder your heel is working, even when walking. Hence why it’s so vitally important to make the move down to these types of shoes gradually, set by step and session by session. It’s not the kind of shoe you’re going to put on and head out for a 3-4 hour run in straight away. If you do, you’ll be asking your wife, husband or partner to help you down the stairs the next day.
Running minimal while saving your feet
As we pointed out with our review on the Lone Peaks, the real plus point about these shoes is the fact that you can run minimal and not have to suffer the pain of sharp rocks through the sole, such as happens when you don a pair of Inov x-talon 190s. I love them, but man when you hit a rock 40kms along in a pair of those, the pain is intense, very intense. Similarly you don’t look like a clown on stilts with these. They’re just right and it’s no wonder that Altra has been gaining plaudits from many a reviewer on their range of shoes.
The reason you get such good protection underfoot is the removable StoneGuard™ rock protection system. The Superior also features a ‘Checker Trail’ out-sole for maximum grip and a two-layer mid-sole for maximum energy return. That’s the marketing blurb out of the way. Call it what you want, I work in marketing and PR and I know the score. What it really does is stop your feet from hurting on pointy rocks.
But why do we feel the need to run in minimal shoes with little or no drop from heel to toe in this instance. Each to their own, but many people believe that the lower the drop, the better the running form as it encourages more of a mid to fore foot strike, rather than a heel strike. Thus your running becomes more economical. I read once that running with a heel strike is like a car trying to drive with the handbreak on (watch a slow motion of a heel striker on YouTube to catch my drift!).
The reason I changed my running style over five years ago now was the fact that I used to get all manner of issues with heel striking. Shin splints and soreness were just an everyday occurrence with the old heel strike. Following copious physio sessions and acupuncture, nothing was working until my physio suggested changing my strike to the mid to fore foot strike. I did this over time and worked. As such, the dependency on shoes with a large heel to toe drop disappeared because my strike had changed.
Why am I telling you this? Well having been on a few 2-3 hour runs with the Superior, one thing I am noticing is that even though I’m getting tired towards the end of my runs, I’m still very much bouncing along on my mid to fore foot strike and the running feels smooth and easy. It’s design still encourages you to be upright and tipping forward ever so slightly. But, I still need time to adjust properly and I’m by no means all the way there yet. I’ll be running in the Glasshouse 100kms at the beginning of September, and my plan is to train and use these shoes for the race, such is the confidence I have in them.
I’m a big fan of Altras, and I know quite a few other top-end male runners who are too. These guys really have taken the time to understand our feet and what we want. Quite simply there’s no other shoe out there on the market that allows your feet to take control, rather than your shoe controlling your feet. Top shoe in my opinion – you’ve just got to take the time to really adjust your strike and let your achilles make the adjustment over time, and that my dear trail friends, takes a great deal of patience.
The Technical Stuff
- Ideal Uses: Trail Running, Hiking, Fastpacking
- Designed to Reduce: Running Slow on the Trail
- Platform: Zero Drop™ Platform
- Weight: 7.9oz
- Midsole: Two-Layer EVA / A-Bound™
- Outsole: CheckerTrail Outsole
- Insole: Contoured
- Upper: Quick Dry Trail Mesh
- Lacing Structure: Asymmetric
- Other Features: Removable StoneGuard Rock Protection, Foot-Shaped Design
*The declaration bit – The Altra Superior shoes were provided to Ultra168 free of charge for review purposes. There is in no way any agreement with Altra that providing a pair of shoes for review results in a favorable review. All reviews are conducted independently and no-one at ltra168 has an association or commercial interest in the Altra business or its sellers. The opinions expressed in this review are ours and ours alone.