Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Altra Zero Drop One Shoe Review

I have had my eye on Altra Zero Drop from the company’s beginning, but I have always been hesitant to pull the trigger on one of their models. As I’ve written about before, I have been a minimalist runner for a few years, seeking flexibility first, ground feel second, and concentrating on zero drop last due to the fact that I have been a forefoot lander my whole life. Unless I’m exhausted, heel strike has never been a thought or issue. For a few years I used a rotation between Nike Free Runs, Merrell Trail Gloves, and Vibram Five Fingers Bikila, but I’ve been searching for a full answer. Around November of 2012, I made the decision to dump the Nikes on eBay and work on going Zero Drop all the time. Today my primary shoe rotation includes the Skora Form, which gets the bulk of my miles, the Skora Core, which I use for speed work, and now the Altra One, which I use for road runs and recovery.

Why hadn’t I pulled the trigger? At first they were a hard shoe to nail down and put your foot in, plus they had a reputation for running small (the One fits true to size). Another part of the issue was vanity. Altra had yet to make a shoe that piqued my interest stylistically. I loved the idea of a wide toe box, could deal with the odd look it provided, but I wanted the rest of the shoe to have a dose of swag. Enter the One—this shoe looks the part, a bright lime green color composed of mesh that gives excellent breathability, a fact I actively seek out in Florida. Next I had apprehension over flexibility, especially after having a negative experience when I tried Newton Running out (the shoes were too rigid for my tastes).
Flexibility was the first feature I looked for when I left traditional shoes, and it allowed me to run primarily injury free once I acclimated. While the One doesn’t flex as easily as my Skora models or the Nike Frees, the shoe has a good amount of give, moving the way it should and bending as I go. The shoe does not move as one box, but in sections, just as a foot does. The lightweight, racing design (under 8 oz) adds to the shoe’s flex, for the shoe is Altra’s racing model. All this in mind, I ended up with a pair.
So how does the One perform? In terms of road running, I was very impressed. I use this shoe when my feet are sore and worn down. The padding, a stack height of 18mm, gives them a reprieve and a chance to aid my recovery. They are a shoe of choice for one run on days I run multiple times. The padding took some getting used to, and on my first run, I almost felt constrained by the lack of road feel—it is there, but not to the degree I was used to. Yet, my legs felt good, there was no random pain, no undue side effects, and all in all, the run went well. As I worked to incorporate the shoe in, I grew to enjoy a day of less feel, a day to get my feet back. At the same time, I loved putting my Skora’s back on, to feel the ground again. I can’t describe why the juxtaposition feels so good, it just does.
In terms of speed, I’ve used the One for multiple Tempo workouts, and a couple interval based treks. Impact wise, the shoe flexes, allowing my forefoot to land and my heel to the kiss the ground. The shoe has a bulkier feel than my other models, a fact that can be attributed to their build—they are a racing flat, not a foot glove—but you can still move in it. They feel fast, which is a darn good thing considering they are a racing model. I’m still reluctant to take it on the track, a surface where if I don’t use spikes, I want a shoe that hugs my foot like a glove, and with the numbed ground feel I would avoid the trails, but if you are a road runner, one who wants to run fast, try this shoe out.

  1. The patented Altra Zero Drop toe box. They make a toe box that is wide, spacey, and foot shaped. Your toes are not to touch, are not to crammed together, and I often use one of their graphics, one showing the x-ray of a foot in Altra shoes and one without to illustrate the differences in conventional versus minimal, realistically shaped toe boxes.
  2. A great zero drop shoe for those who want to have some padding under their feet. Typically I run in shoes with a lot ground feel—these are not those shoes. They are made for road running, have solid flexibility, but they do not push every pebble, stick, or bump into your foot. If you want a soft ride with a zero drop experience, this model is for you.
  3. At $99, this shoe is very affordable. I am unsure on total durability, and typically shoes with this style of padding tend to fade away around 400-500 miles.
  1. The tongue drives me nuts. It is composed of a thin fabric and pulling on or adjusting it seems to have an adverse effect on the cloth at the toe of the shoe, pulling it a bit taunt. 
  2.   In with the tongue, it took a few runs before the lacing felt comfortable. I like a tight shoe, but this shoe doesn’t conform to foot easily, thus I often felt that I laced them too tightly and would have to spend time adjusting the lacing system. On one run I had to stop and loosen them completely do to pain on the top of the foot. A longer run in them resulted in a small bruising of the top of my foot.
  3. Lack of ground feel. You have very little, thus keep this shoe on the road and off the trails. I know I listed this as both a positive and negative, but it is. 
  4. Rain. In a few recent rain runs, the shoe slipped a lot, you could hear it not holding on the way it should and my stride felt off.
  5. The turn my feet green, as in the dye leaks off of them into my skin. That cannot be good.


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