Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ahhh, That's Better! - Altra Instinct Shoe Review

I've been waiting (and waiting, and waiting...) for the Altra shoes to finally hit my local shop (Bull City Running - can't say enough good things about this place!) and this week, the Instinct finally arrived. For those of you who don't normally read my blog, I have wide feet. I've been searching for a flat shoe with close to zero heel to toe drop, mainly for road running where I like a bit more padding, that would accommodate my paddle feet.

I had been running in Mizuno Wave Universe 3 racing flats for the past 8 months or so, but my pair was really worn out and I felt unstable on anything wet or slippery. The MWU3's have been great shoes for me, but unfortunately, since the time I bought my first pair, my feet have widened to the point that a new pair is painful to wear, so simply wearing a new pair was out of the question. Sometimes, being a mid-foot runner has it's downsides...

Even the new minimal trail shoes weren't wide enough for my feet, so I was getting a bit frustrated, until I tried the SoftStar RunAmoc. But I still wanted a more substantial shoe with more grip for conditions where the RunAmoc would not cut it (wet, muddy, very technical single track trail or long runs on pavement). What follows is my purely amateur review of the Instinct.

To say I was happy about the fit of the Instincts is a bit of an under statement. I actually almost laughed out loud in the store when I tried them on. They had a simply beautiful wide forefoot and mid foot area that actually fit my foot nearly perfectly. No other shoe, besides my custom built RunAmocs, has felt as good. In the first 24 hours that I wore them, I was concerned that perhaps the left shoe was a bit too tight near the ball of my foot, but after using the Altra recommended lacing technique, I was left with a perfect fit. And I don't use the word "perfect" lightly. I'm a stickler for good shoe fit. The Instincts fit like a snug, beefy version of my RunAmocs, which is high praise from me.

The Instincts come with two insoles - one with a more traditional arch support and padding, and one which is simply a very thin, flat insert which functions to cover the internal stitching of the shoe. Since I'm a mid-foot striker when running, I use the flat insert (I think it's called the strengthening insert in the Altra product literature). This also gives my foot more room inside the shoe, which is a bonus.

Since I've purchased them, I've run a 5K on pavement and a 12 mile trail race (MST 12 Miler race report). On pavement, the shoes feel firm and stable. I especially like the firmness of the sole, since it quietly informs me when I over stride and heel strike. Ground feel is not great, but that's not what this shoe is all about (and I always have the RunAmocs or my Vibram Five Fingers to provide me with form tuning feedback via good ground feel).

What's really surprising is how well the Instincts performed on the trail. I intentionally wore the Instincts for the MST 12 mile trail race, as a sort of trial by fire.

I know what you are thinking.

"Scott, you are an idiot! Never wear new shoes you just bought and have only run 3 miles in for a 12 mile trail race!"

Hey, sometimes idiocy is how I roll (well, a lot of the time this is true, especially when it comes to running). Although I didn't mention it in my race report for the MST 12 miler, let me just say that the Instincts performed fantastically. They had plenty of grip for the wet, and sometimes muddy, conditions of the trail. I finished the race with no shoe induced blisters and my feet felt great! Actually, my feet felt much better after wearing the Instincts than they do when I wear my MWU3's (the Mizunos' have a bit of arch support that aggravates the plantar fasciitis in my right foot).

I really like them. I'm glad I bought them. I can't wait for the Altra trail shoe, the Lone Peak, to be released. It will give me an excuse to buy another pair of shoes (like I need one!).