A few years ago I was a massive Altra convert, grabbing myself a pair of the Lone Peaks and making the transition to zero drop shoes. But then Nike came along with the Kiger and I fell in love with those for a bit, before they brought out the second version and somehow our relationship drifted. As is the case with so-called ‘upgrades’ in shoes, there were a few tweaks here and there as the shoe gets positioned more to a mainstream market, and we just weren’t compatible anymore – we drifted.
The same can’t be said for the Olympus 2.0s from Altra, it was love at first fit. I managed to bag myself a pair of these the day before the Northburn 50kms. I’d never worn them in a training run, let alone a race, but somehow they just felt right. So I thought I’d take the risk and wear them. I’ve been meaning to get my thoughts down for a review for a while, but a pretty bad injury of late has curtailed my use of the Olympus 2.0s, but finally after a bit of stop/start we have some prose.
Despite the name 2.0, Altra Olympus 2.0 is actually the third iteration and weighs in at just over 300 grams. But the first thing you notice about these shoes is the very ‘maximalist’ foam midsole a la Hokas. It seems that after years of being the choice footwear of clowns, as last of the Hokans, I’ve come to accept that maximal is socially acceptable. 🙂
But perhaps the biggest change that many Altra fans will be very happy about is the new Vibram Megagrip outsole. Grip in the previous version of Altras was a little on the dodgy side to say the least. The addition of Vibram has meant a complete 180 turn in terms of grip underfoot and there was no better place than the highly technical terrain of Northburn to try this shoe on its debut run.
Let’s delve more into the geekiness of shoe scrutiny, and we’ll start at the bottom with that new outsole from Vibram.
The Vibram Megagrip is what’s regarded as ‘sticky’ and is meant to work well across all types of terrains and surfaces.
On first glance however, the lugs (if you can call them that), are not overly large or in your face at all. So I did question just how effective they would be on a particularly technical terrain such as Northburn, which features a variety of surfaces. Coupled with the maximalist build of the shoe and a few thoughts did cross my mind as to how stable they would be.
The outsole features the classic tread pattern of forward and reverse lugs that surprisingly do a great job for traction on all types of surfaces without being overly aggressive. As mentioned, they’re not those type of really ‘luggy’ outsoles that you see on some shoes and the ride is very smooth indeed. I was really impressed with the job they did at Northburn on all types of terrain from hard-packed rocky trails with loose rocks, through to grassy moss and wet rocks.
Overall, the outsole is a huge improvement on versions gone by and shows that the Altra team has listened hard to feedback from athletes and the public alike and looked for the best components to build a shoe of quality from the ground up.
With that, let’s move on up to the midsole.
The first thing you notice with the midsole is the layers of foam contained in this shoe – chunky is a word that comes to mind, but would they feel clunky too?
When I first put these on, I felt like I was walking in moon boots, the ride was incredibly smooth and the cushioning unbelievable. As I stepped off the start line at Northburn, the loose rocks underneath were simply absorbed into the foam of the shoe. Pointy rocks were nothing for these bad boys, taking it all in their stride so to speak.
Of course being a maximalist shoe, there are some doubts around stability and this is probably justified to some extent – there is that bit of give and I did find myself wobbling a little on some of the more technical terrain. But in saying that, because the foam in the midsole is incredibly soft, much of the absorption takes place within that area of the shoe, so you’re not suddenly jutting outwards and rolling an ankle, the shoe adjusts with the terrain well. If the foam had been harder as you see on many other types if shoe, I think the end result could be a lot worse in terms of rolling around. These do a great job of balancing maximal with stability.
Finally, let’s see what the upper is made of.
Practically, it’s a very lightweight upper with lots of breathable mesh. Tick number one, get those basics right. It’s also a very simple construct too, tick number two. I’m a big fan of keeping things simple, the more you add, the more complications that could arise and potential for things to go wrong.
Of course the big drawcard for Altra is the toe box, shaped like a foot. To me, this kind of stuff seems obvious and is a big reason I’m drawn to these shoes. If you’re going to make a shoe, why not design it like the shape of a foot?
Over the years my feet have widened significantly through the sheer volume of kilometres and races I’ve done, so I need a big toe box and I love my feet to splay around in the shoe. I think the Altras do this exceptionally well, allowing the freedom of movement in the foot, while also keeping the sense of the foot being secure in the shoe. If you have narrower feet, you could always make use of the lace lock to give that extra sense of confidence that the foot is locked into the shoe.
The final verdict
As you can probably tell I’m a big fan of these shoes and for those of you looking for maximum cushioning, along with a good sense of stability, you’d do very well with these. As mentioned, the big improvement is the addition of the Vibram Megagrip. It was kind of the missing piece in the pie for Altra and now that’s sorted, you have what is a very ‘tidy’ shoe built for many of the different terrains we’d experience both here in Australia and New Zealand.
Big thanks for Altra New Zealand for shipping me a pair of these over from the US before they were released down under. Shoes were also fully paid for and not given as a freebie.