I really hate changing running shoes. Once I find something I like, I usually stick with it. But when I saw advertisements for Altra running shoes, I knew I had to try them out. (Yes, advertising works!) A big part of how I was able to resurrect my running activities a few years ago was my move to a more natural running style. I did not go all the way to “barefoot” but I did adjust my form to a shorter stride and a mid- to fore- foot strike (I was a long strider with a heal strike previously). My nagging injuries went away and I have been running injury-free for over three years. The right shoe has been a big part of my recovery.
Altra’s advertising claims hit on many of the things that are important to me in a running shoe: low heel-to-toe drop (in Altra’s case it is zero), wide toe box, light weight, and their claim that the shoe has a shape that more naturally aligns with the shape of your foot. So I did my research and eventually purchased a pair of Altras.
My go-to running shoe over the last couple of years has been the Saucony Kinvara series (I had the 3’s and loved them, and I was in the 5’s at the time of my Altra test). Saucony has released the Knivara 6, which I have tried on but not run it. I won’t review the Kinvara’s here, but I will say that over the years I have been extremely satisfied with this Saucony series.
Altra offers a variety of shoes ranging from neutral, light cushioning to cushioned stability shoes. I really felt like the Altra One2 was the shoe for me. At 7.3 ounces and minimal cushioning, it would move me a little closer to the “natural” feel that I was working toward. Reviews had indicated that Altra sizing runs a little small, and upon trying on the One2, I did need to go up a half-size. Although the shoe felt a little odd but not uncomfortable, I convinced myself to give the One2 a try. I should mention here that Altra has released the One2.5 since my trial, and I have not had the opportunity to try out the newer model.
The first thing I noticed about the One2 is that while the toe box was roomy, the shoe is very low profile and the toe box is “shallow” (I felt the shoe pressing on top of my toes). I tried the shoes out on a six mile run. As advertised, the shoe is light and very responsive. I was going at an easy pace but I felt “fast” in the shoes. The One2 is pretty much a racing flat with a little bit of cushioning. As I progressed through my run, my toes were pushing into the front of the shoe even though I’m sure I sized correctly. At the end of the run, I did not have blisters but I had a couple of “hot spots” on my feet. Maybe I was not quite ready for that much “natural.” I wanted to like this shoe but it was just not right for me.
|Altra Instinct 3.0||Altra One2||Kinvara 6|
|Heel-to-Toe Drop (mm)||0||0||4|
|Stack Height (mm)||24||23||22|
Altra Instinct 3.0
Here is one of the things I love about Altra. If the shoes don’t work for you, you can return them even if you have worn them out on the road. So I did. I went to back to Austin Tri-Cyclist (one of our awesome Tri shops here in Austin) with full intention of getting a refund. The guy at the shop was not pushy but he did encourage me to try on a pair of Altra Instinct 3.0. The Instinct 3.0 is billed as moderately cushioned neutral shoe as opposed to the light cushioning in the One2. I had not even considered this shoe on my initial visit to the store. Again, I had to go up a half a size but when I slipped the shoes on, I could not believe how good they felt. I was sure I was going to like this shoe.
I initially tried out the Instinct 3.0 on a five mile run and I had no issues. I did not have the same toe problems that I had with the One2. The ride was very smooth and comfortable. The shoe was very responsive and I agree with Altra in that I definitely feel a spring in each step. The shoe has just the right amount of cushioning for me. The wide toe box provides ample room to allow my toes to spread out (toe splay), which is very nice on longer runs.
I had a slight concern about going to the zero heel-to-toe drop. The Kinvara series has a four millimeter drop and I had gone through some calf soreness when I had initially started running in them. After the first couple of runs in the Instinct 3.0, I had some very minor calf soreness. I definitely recommend starting very slow if you are going from a high heel-to-toe drop shoe to the Altras. I have now done 10+ mile runs with no calf problems at all, and I have had no hot spots or discomfort. I can easily see using these shoes for marathon distance.
The only con I have found (and very minor) is that the stitching at the base of the tongue where it connects to the body of the shoe could be a little smoother. When I put the shoe on, I can feel the stitching on the top of my foot; however, it does not rub at all, and I don’t even notice it when I’m walking or running. The shape of the shoe (contoured to fit the shape of your foot) initially seemed a little strange to me. It didn’t help that the only color the store had in my size was orange. I joked with the Crew Chief that I thought they looked a little like clown shoes. Both the shape and the color took a little getting used to but now I think they look pretty cool.
In summary, the Altra Instinct 3.0 lives up to its billing as a light weight, moderately cushioned responsive shoe that promotes natural running. I am a believer and I will be using this shoe for training and racing.