mundane adventures in running
I’ve done about 100k in my latest trainers. I have a pretty good feel for them, so it’s review time. And, you lucky people, I might as well talk about the misery of the shoes that proceeded them.
Recent trainer purchases have been annoying and unsatisfactory. After wearing out yet another pair of inov-8 f-lite shoes I was lost. I tried going back to vivo barefoot, I tried running exclusively in sandals, I even tried race shoes.
My problem is that I want something really specific: zero drop, a lot of cushioning, and reasonably durable (I hate having to buy new trainers every five minutes). Added to that I seem to have the narrowest ankles in the world. Oh, and I have been spoiled by too many quasi-barefoot shoes and really like me a massive toe box so I can wriggle those little piggies around.
On the recommendation of someone in Run and Become, I tried Mizuno Wave Hitgami 2. Flattish (like a 5mm drop or something), no stability, quite a lot of cushion, light as fuck. These shoes are made for tiny ankles. They are fast. They feel powerful. The traction is good, they corner well, they seem to enhance the spring of my step. Sadly, they are just too narrow for long runs. After about 10k, the toe box starts to feel crampy and restricted. After about 300km the upper was falling apart, after 350km my little toe was poking out.
Mizuno made me feel like a pro: they looked amazing and made me look like a proper runner. Sadly, after not much use they’re already going in the bin.
I went back to Run and Become. I do like Run and Become, but I’ve mined all the possibilities of their stock. I found myself trying similar shoes that I had last time when I wound up compromising by buying racing flats. I was prepared to leave, and to try and resurrect an old pair of shoes with the help of sugru, or reconcile myself to wearing sandals even for long runs in the pissing down rain, when i noticed something in the bargain box. They looked like space shoes, or shoes designed for people with clubfoot. They were huge silvery blue bubbles. Joke shoes. Clown shoes.
“What are those?”
“Oh, those are Altra. We’re not really selling those any more.”
And yes. Altra are the shoe I have been looking for: no heal raise (zero drop, call it what you want to) and loads of cushioning. I went for a run; the last pair were size 14 or something ridiculous. Still, despite their being massive, a 50m trot through Victoria suggested they might be the shoe for me.
Run and Become are not getting behind Altra. They’ve had interest from customers, but the shoes haven’t been big sellers. It’s no great wonder. You really have to take a leap into the world of absolutely not caring about fashion to wear these. They look weird. They don’t look like the kind of thing a proper runner would wear: they’re too big, too round, too clumsy. There’s nothing gazelle like or agile about them. They seem lumpen. A Yorkshire pudding of a shoe. Something designed as a fashion shoe for a young person with premature diabetic foot.
I’m not much of a fashion runner. I care what I look like when I run to a point, but I don’t care if I’m wearing weird shoes. I made it my mission to buy a pair.
Altra shoes are not big in the UK. It wasn’t easy to find stockists. A web search showed a distributor in Portsmouth, Run and Become and a place called London City Runner. I emailed London City Runner on the Friday evening, and didn’t hear back from them. By the Monday morning I’d watched enough youtube reviews of different types of Altar shoes that I’d convinced myself they were the answer to all my running problems. I was, literally, waiting on the doorstep of London City Runner as it opened.
They had a few models in: a trail one, a race one and a training one. The woman serving me was an Altra evangelist (and rode a motorcycle, which is something I don’t normally associate with runners. I don’t know why). After trying on a couple of pairs, I settled on the Torino, the training shoe.
First thoughts: walking around they looked ridiculous. They only had one colour way in stock, yellow and silver. I was wearing skinny jeans and a pair of fuchsia socks as I left the shop. Strong look. Someone referred to them as “space shoes”. Still, they were comfortable: like walking with pillows on your feet. I’d go as far as to say they were more comfortable than Nike Free 3.0, which until that point had been the most lovely cushioned feet in the clouds shoes I’d ever worn
Running: these shoes need breaking in. My first run was actively uncomfortable. I had to pull on the laces to get them tight enough for my ankles. After about 3km, my feet were really starting to hurt: a curious achey, cramping feeling. I stopped to wiggle my feet and loosen my laces, then started again. The sole eventually started to give a bit so it lifted with my ankle better, and the discomfort disappeared.
After a few runs (about 40k), they’ve become really comfortable. Like, amazing. They allow for a lot of movement in the toe, but fit snuggly enough that your foot doesn’t get lost and doesn’t shift about too much. The traction is good. They’re pretty horrible in mud, but they’re not really meant for off road. They don’t have the dynamic, springy, sporty feel of the Mizunos, but that could be my imagination.
They really come into their own on longer runs. The furthest I’ve run in them so far is 30k. They were like a dream.
I normally find that extra protection on shoes forces you to run in a peculiar way, making you step with the shape of the shoe, not how your foot would naturally step. Or that the arch starts to rub, or that as your feet swell they start to feel cramped. All of that is ok for shorter runs, but as soon as you get much over 15km can become really painful. Not so with these Altras. They really didn’t seem to change my running form much at all. I could have been running in sandals. They encourage a light midfoot/ forefoot strike, but protect against the constant pounding of the kilometres.
I’ve found the shoes I’ve been looking for: friendly, footshaped, comfy and long lasting.