Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Altra Superior 2.0 Review

I've been meaning to do some updates on Altra shoes for a little while now. Unfortunately, I haven't had much time and I really want to wear shoes for 200-300 miles before I critique them. I was really excited to learn of the Altra Superior 2 release over the winter and quickly snagged a pair of size 12.5 in black. I had the original Superior and liked them a lot. My hope was that they would be a trail version of One Squared, one my favorite shoes I've ever worn (and I'll review soon). The original fit of the shoe and feel of the shoe made me quite optimistic that they were at least close to achieving that....

Things I liked:
In general, I found the shoes very comfortable and light weight. Even as a larger runner, I enjoy more minimal feeling shoes and these fit the bill. Also, I felt quite comfortable wearing them as a road shoe when circumstances dictated (like combined road/trail runs during the winter months). I think they nailed the cushion aspect -- just enough enjoy the ride, but not so much that you couldn't feel the road or trail beneath your feet. I really found this an upgrade over the previous models that had significant trail feel and were much heavier. The upper material is quite breathable and dries fast as well. The lugs are more aggressive and grippier than earlier models. The addition of the gaiter trap is a great feature in this shoe as well. And, I think the "removable" rock plate is a genius idea! However, I find myself wanting to put that rock plate in other shoes (like Byron Powell) these days, because...

Things I disliked:
Honestly, the simplest thing to say is that the shoe feels quite cheap to me -- a shoe built to last about 250 miles. I don't mind having a shoe like that, but not at a $110 price tag. Pretty much every element of the shoe is falling apart quickly from 150 miles on. At 200 miles, I completely blew out the lateral side of my first pair. I called customer service and was told that was a common problem. I checked reviews on their website and many customers reported the same issues. I have two friends that have had blow outs on the lateral side as well (one at 122 miles and another at 250 miles). As an aside, they seem to have purged all their reviews from their site, eliminating at least a dozen poor reviews of the Superior 2. I know some of the former reviewers. I don't know if this was on purpose, but it sure stinks.

In addition to my lateral tear, you can see very rapid wear in the lugs both in the front and the back of the shoe. The lugs in the front appear to be chipping away and creating edges that would likely catch and shred, if the shoe was still wearable, that is....

Total shred on the lateral side.... fail!

Cheap looking lugs!

Lugs wearing and showing gaps.
Some lugs off a friend's pair after 232 miles

Another issue I consistently have with Altra is their sizing. I measure out at a true size 11.5 but sometimes wear all the way up to a 13 due to their screwy shoe fits. I found the size 12.5 pretty snug around the tips of my toes -- to the point I got blisters on the tips of my toes on a 38 mile run. I later purchased a pair of size 13s (that I still own and wear). The size 13s feel gigantic to me. How can a size 12.5 feel so tight and a size 13 feel so large? I had the same issue with the original Olympus. Anyway, the newer pair (not pictured) is showing significant wear along the toe-bumper area from toe-scuffs. This section appears like it will wear out quickly as well.

Overall I really find these a comfortable shoe that nearly hit the mark as a serious shoe for those not inclined to go with more and more cushion. The changes from the original Superior were spot on to establish the shoe in this space. Unfortunately, it is a continuation in a long line of quality issues for Altra. And, I continue to find myself wishing that Altra would start to refine what they do instead of reinventing themselves every six months. I'd like to seem some standardization among the lasts they uses so the heel, forefoot, and midfoot are more consistent from model-to-model and year-to-year. I'd also like to see them consider wide options because a wide toe box does not mean a wide shoe.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Moving on from Western States

I feel compelled to write one more post before I let it go. I am approaching two weeks since the race and my moment in the sun has come and gone. People and life move on to the next story (and are probably sick of me on Facebook by now!). Yet, I feel a sense of accomplishment for what I've done and am not eager to prove anything. That is definitely a different feeling from many races in the past. I just finished 78th in the most prestigious ultra marathon in the world. Seventy-eighth may not sound like such a big deal, but is huge for a 190 lb "Clydesdale" athlete running in heat. Make no mistake, the stats prove this was a hot year -- tons of drops and, other than Superman Rob Krar, relatively slow times. Some years 78th place is a 22:30 finishing time.

Anyway, I am content because I feel like all my hard work is starting to payoff. I've learned how to train. I understand nutrition, like I really get it (though don't confuse that with me saying I am perfect at it!). I am not afraid to dig deep and suffer. And, I am gaining a sense of how to pace these races, when to go easy, when to make a move, what's sustainable and for how long. My recovery time -- at least in physical pain -- is diminishing with each race thanks to smart nutrition and proper specific training. There are plenty of things I need to work on, like my feet. I still get this awful blister on my left foot that I must figure out. Is it my gait? Is it hydration related? Is it my downhill running form? Is it poor shoe (or size) selection?

The leads to another thing I am working on, shoes. I don't have any many love shoes right now. I default to Altra primarily because they have wide toeboxes. It helps that they reinvent their line up every few months and you can always find great deals on old models too! Frankly, Altra has several warts in my opinion: inconsistent sizing from shoe-to-shoe and year-to-year, something close to 50% of their shoes have major defects, and they seem more insistent on growth than refining the things they do well. But, the zero drop platform and the wide toebox keep me coming back. What I wouldn't give for a wide model of the Instinct and the Lone Peak. Oh well, I'll keep searching for something better. And, while I'm searching, I think I will once again make an attempt to go back to shoes that are more in the "minimal" category. That may seem strange for a larger athlete, but I prefer it. My feet feel more nimble, my cadence is higher, and I just feel more natural. Going to big cushion (Altra Olympus) certainly hasn't diminished my foot or knee issues in 100s. But big cushion shoes have definitely added weight and lengthened dry time for wet shoes.

As for future races, I still haven't made any official decisions. I do know that I enjoy mountains and trail running. I enjoy slow running, hence my preference for MAF based training. But, I also recognize that the best way to grow as a runner is to do different things. Take time off. Strength train. Road run. We grove certain patterns in ultra running and put a ton of stress on our bodies, in particular the exoskeleton. Sometimes the best thing is to pullback and figure out how to get better and evolve. Plus, it would be a mistake to think that many -- if any -- races will ever go as well for me as Western States. I put all my eggs in that basket and that just won't be easy to do a second time. It put a huge stress on my body, my family time, and my mental focus. Running is part of my identity now and, if I want to continue running for a lot of years, I have to find a peace in my previous accomplishments instead of always chasing the glory of what's next. Given the way the system is structured, I'll likely get into the lotteries again next year only because I don't want to eliminate future opportunity. I'd be just fine if my name didn't get drawn next year. To be totally honest (and selfish), I would absolutely love to comeback to WS100 as a crew member and pacer in 2016!