Thursday, November 15, 2012

Trail Love - Altra Superior Shoe Review

I really hate buying shoes. Hardly anything fits my 4E width flippers and I seem to be constantly buying and returning shoes in search of that perfect combination of "fit, grip, drop, and pop" (tm Derscott Industries, LLC). So, for the most part, I just keep running in my slippers and try not to worry about it.

But back in February, I ran  the 20 mile Uwharrie Mountain Run and discovered the limits of moccasins. No, it wasn't the endless miles of hidden roots, rocks, and holes that was their undoing (they actually worked fine for that). It was the stream crossings. Turns out, loose fitting leather moccasins really suck on trails once they are waterlogged and full of dirt. The last few miles of that race were comical. I felt like Uncle Uwharrie had filled a couple of my grandma's old purses with icy, muddy water and then strapped them to my feet. I think he left some of grandma's 20 year old hard candy floating around inside them as well. Running with floppy, soggy, hard candy filled purses strapped your feet is just plain wrong.

I'm sure I also felt Grandma's car keys inside these.

So, when I signed up for the 40 mile Uwharrie Mountain Run this coming February, I knew I was going to need more suitable footwear.

For a small company, Altra makes some really good shoes. I own two pair of Instincts and have raced everything from 5Ks to trail marathons in them. After about 500 miles total, I can honestly say that the Altra shoes just plain work for my feet! I was pretty excited when my local shop, Bull City Running, sent their monthly email news flier out several weeks back and it showed they had a new Altra trail shoe named "The Superior" in stock. I wandered by to take a look, hoping for the best.

Cinderella's Ugly Step Brother
I wear a size 8 in Altra's Instinct, so of course I asked to try the Superior in 8 as well. The size 8 Superiors looked about the same as the size 8 Instincts I had worn into the shop, but for some strange reason they did NOT fit like the Instincts at all. There's a colorful old saying here in the South about the stupidity of wearing anything that is much too small for you - it's like stuffing 10 pounds of manure into a 5 pound bag. The size 8 Superiors were like a 3 pound bag. And my feet are at least 20 pounds of manure.

Turns out, I had to go all the way up to 9.5 in the Superiors to get a similar fit to my size 8 Instincts! I was so shocked by this that I left the store without buying them. Later, I realized that I had forgotten to take the insoles out of the Superiors, like I do for my Instincts. I went back the next day and spent about 30 minutes trying various combinations of sizes and insoles, everything from 8.0 to 9.5.

Just a quick aside about Bull City Running. What a great store! I had boxes and insoles and shoes scattered all around me and spent about 30 minutes walking around the store with various combinations of sizes and insoles on each feet. They never rushed me and were always helpful. If you are local, do yourself a favor and shop there.

The sweet spot ended up being size 9.0 with no insoles. Still a full size up from my Instincts, but not too bad considering I wear 9.0 in other shoe models as well.

Trail Love
Crossing the Eno in Superiors
Ok, so they fit me. I won't bore you with a bunch of shoe specs that you can easily Google, but I'm sure you are wondering how they feel on the trail. Well, after about 50 odd miles of running,  I can honestly say that I love the way they feel! In fact, I've worn them nearly full time (work, home, running) for the past month. I'll spare you any more gushing and just give you some random highlights.

  • They drain quickly following a stream crossing and my foot stays locked in position when the shoe is soaked.
  • The grip is good for the type of trails I run (rocky, rooty, leaf covered East coast forest trails). However, these are not mud shoes, so don't expect super grip in the very slippery stuff. I really like the blocky design of the sole. It feels stable and firm. A more agressive, cleated sole always feels unstable to me on flatter terrain. The Superior sole design is a nice compromise, in general, but a design I much prefer over more traditional studded or cleated trail shoe soles.
  • Rock protection is decent, even without the rock plate (it's a full length removable plastic plate), but if you are bombing down the rocky stuff, you'll want to have the plate in the shoe. I bruised my heel during the 11 mile race flying down a steep, rocky hill because I didn't have the rock plate installed. With the rock plate installed, I feel pretty bullet proof on even the nastiest rocky stuff.
  • After an 11 mile trail race with 4 stream crossings, and a 6 mile "mud" run with 5 cow crap crossings (including a full blown cow poop mountain traverse), the shoes handled several trips through the washing machine with no problems. They air dry in a day or so and look new again. I'm not sure if they will EVER smell the same again after the Misery Run.
  • I would say the shoes are not heavy. They aren't light either. At about 9oz they are acceptable (I'm used to wearing a 6 oz moccasin). But if they were any heavier, I probably wouldn't wear them.
  • They are GREEN! Green shoes rock. Period.