Friday, September 13, 2013

Is Altra Growing Too Fast?

A year ago I became a HUGE Altra fan after discovering their Instinct 1.0 on sale at In fact, I applied to be an Altra Ambassador and decided to to go all Altra in my training and racing. After only a few months, I owned five pair of Altras for myself. I have recommended Altras to at least half a dozen friends and my wife and son. Buying a pair for my son was a big deal: they were $50, more than double what I normally spend on shoes for him. After all, he is 8 years old and tends to wear out or outgrow shoes every 6 months. Only three weeks after purchasing them, the shoe literally fell apart. Admittedly, he is a boy and hard on shoes, but come on? Look at the photo below. Yes Altra replaced them, to their credit. But it just one example in what is becoming a trend in quality complaints for them.

Last night I was commenting to a friend how much I love my Instinct and was making plans to buy a pair of Instinct 1.5 for myself. Then I started doing some reviews and discovered that they are getting ripped on their own website for a shoddy upper that is wearing out. I had to write this email to my friend this morning:
Steve -
I know you seemed intrigued by my post last night about the Instinct. If you like the Lone Peak, then you'll love the Instinct. I wear mine everywhere -- the gym, cycling, work, around town, etc... -- and they are durable and comfortable. They have 350 miles on them and probably 2x that in equivalent wear from all the cross training.

That said, if you want to get a pair, I highly suggest getting a pair of the 1.0 from a discount/liquidation site. That is the version I have. I Googled and found a few lying around. The new 1.5 have received pretty poor reviews for durability, many people complaining the upper is wearing out after less than 200 miles, some as little as 100 miles.

I am frankly a little disappointed with Altra right now. They had a really good thing going with just a couple of well made, high quality shoes like Lone Peak, Instinct, and Provision. After one year, they doubled their models with new shoes like The One, 3-Sum, Instinct Jr, Olympus, Superior, Torin, and growing. The quality seems to be going downhill with this explosion in models.  Dylan blew out a pair of Instinct Jr in less than a month. The entire out sole just cracked and fell off the shoe. My Torin have held up to less than 100 miles so far, but they feel cheaply made and there was a manufacturing goof where some shoes went out with 6 eyelet and some with 7 eyelet. We'll see if they last. My Superior are starting to shred on the lateral side after 235 miles.

Anyway, I love the Instinct, but would not recommend the 1.5 unless you get a screaming deal and can tolerate a blow out after 200 miles.
There you have it, I went from being one of their biggest fans to being nervous about recommending them to my friends in less than one year. It is worth noting that I am the one who convinced Steve to buy his Lone Peak and watched him destroy the Leadville Silver Rush 50 course in them, wearing a pair of my own as I crewed for him.

Is their insane growth responsible for these issues? I think it contributes. As a fan, I would love to have seen some refinements to the existing models, including new colors and a little more stylish look. But I cannot help but wonder if all the new models were necessary. When I compare their rise to a shoe with a similar cult following, the Hokas have only recently added a 4th model. In fact, they used to offer their shoes in unisex sizes. They started by building a few shoes really, really well. (UPDATE: Hoka is now also making an insane number of shoe models.)

Whatever the case, I really don't care why this has happened, but I know it makes me disappointed. I maybe just a midpack runner with a small blog, but I sure hope my experience with Altra help other runners steer clear of expensive mistakes. I love some of their shoes and the idea on which they created them. But I certainly don't want to continue to spend $100 on shoes that fall apart. And it will be very hard to convince my wife to buy another pair of them for my son if his Instinct Jr don't hold up for at least six months. Make no mistake, I am pulling for Altra, but I am a skeptic of the explosive growth and change right now.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Training Wrap: August

Well, knee surgery is almost four weeks behind me and I am on the mend. Everything thus far has been extremely positive. In fact, the doctor told me on my post-op visit that I am "the best she has ever seen" two weeks after a knee scope. I have about 90% of my range of motion back and about 80% of the strength I had before. However, there are still some kinks and niggles as I erase the remaining inflammation, break up scar tissue and re-adjust to having a biomechanically correct (I hope!) knee again. It takes a while to unwind the compensation and atrophy from months of not using things correctly. I have entered a period where I feel almost myself, but know the last 10-15% will be the hardest to get back.

The doctor's orders aren't super limiting, which is a good sign. I cannot do any squats below 90% and cannot really put any pressure on my knee at a sharp angle. Just about any exercise that is inline and does not go below a 90 degree bend is ok. I'be been hitting the gym about twice a week to lift weights, been riding my bike regularly (nearly 50 miles since surgery), went for a long hike the other day, and even did a short test run today. So far, the weights seem to be upsetting my knee the most. While I certainly consider myself lucky at this point, I am growing eager to put this phase behind me. The doctor encouraged me to ease back into to things. But, for someone that has spent the better part of 2.5 years redefining his own limits, it is really hard to be patient right now.

So the month of August was one of my worst since I began running regularly in 2011 -- 8 hours, 64 miles of biking, 4 miles of running, and 8 miles of hiking. I am off to a pretty good start to September and hope to be near 100% by the end of the month. I did back out of the Lead King Loop race for this year -- I just need to remain patient with things. And I plan to acquire some Hokas soon, in preparation for future ultras.

Plans for 2013 continue to evolve, but here is what I think I know now:

  • I will very likely run a 100 miler
  • Western States 100 is the race if I get in
  • If not, Leadville is likely out
  • Hardrock is in a dark corner of my mind
That is about all I really know! There are several other hundreds I am thinking about and even a few 50 milers depending on what time of year my hundred lands. I know that I have fallen in love with ultra running. I think it suits me and goals to live a healthy, full life. And I think I have some untapped potential to be brought out.