The Shape of Altra

I was a foot fall behind the runner in front of me. Narrow trail. No room to shift left or right. My stride was too long. 2003. High above Honolulu.  A trail run with the Honolulu Runners. A runner directly behind me. I had to change my stride and gait to not clip the heels in front of me. Shift my balance. And still clear the roots underfoot. Suddenly something clicked and I was running differently. Smoother, shorter stride with enough lift to clear roots. I was now landing in his foot prints. The stride felt strange and yet smooth. I would play with the stride over the next few days while I was there, and in the years afterward I would still think of this as the Honolulu gait.

I became interested in gaits and stride length, picking up and reading Danny Dreyer’s Chi Running. I continued to follow research on stride and gait as the barefoot and minimal running trend gained steam. I also noted the other direction taken by Hoka One One. Sure, the Tarahumara can run barefoot, but the injuries accumulating among first time minimalist shoe users suggested that not everyone is built for barefoot running. Still, I grokked the logic in going flat. This summer I drank the flavored fruit punch and bought a pair of Altra Provision 3.0 shoes. Zero drop. I opted for the Altra Provision 3.0 as this shoe seemed closest to the ASICS GT 2000 series I had been wearing since the 1990s. Stability shoes with moderate cushioning.

Altra running form recommendations: Image from the Altra web site
Altra running form recommendations: Image from the Altra web site

The shoes came with a transition guide that explained proper form – which appears to be strongly similar to the form I encountered in Chi running. The Altra claims to enable better form, and with only a short amount of time in them, I concur. The stride, gait, and cadence changes I have been playing with over the past decade and a half are enabled by the Altra shoes.

Altra zero drop: Image from Altra web site
Altra zero drop: Image from Altra web site

The zero drop seems to encourage a flatter landing further forward, as the foot arcs down the heel clears the ground rather than catching the ground as in a shoe with rise. The foot lands flatter, and the extra stretch on the calf does seem to provide more spring back on lifting the foot.

Altra toe box Image from the Altra web site
Altra toe box: Image from the Altra web site

The wide toe box is also different, and yields a sensation of stability on toe off. Wet pavement and uneven sand on wet pavement can be slippery here in the tropics, some shoes tend to slide on the surfaces here. I did not have that sensation with the Altra shoes. Perhaps the shorter, snub nose on the shoes also helps get my foot off the ground a little faster as I lift my foot. The physics eludes my comprehension, but I do seem to be able to move faster in these shoes even when I am not trying to do so.

The Altra shoes are exciting, and my pace was faster than I expected to in a routine run yesterday, overestimating my time of arrival at locations, causing me to have to shift around cars that I met too soon along the road.


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