I'm just like you. And that's okay!
If you’ve participated in a race or two, you may be familiar with the “Athena” category of runners. Sister to the “Clydesdale” category for men, Athena is the 140-150+ lb weight division for women.
I am (and always will be) an Athena runner.
I’ve always been proud to join the ranks of Athena. Athena brings to mind all the glorious Olympian images of feminine athletic prowess and strength. To be included in the Greek Goddess section? Yes, please.
So that got me thinking…if Athena were around today, what sort of shoe might she choose? Would she pick something with stability and correction to support her larger frame? Would she run in sandals? My guess is that she’d likely run barefoot considering her background. But what if, after assessing our modern city streets, she wanted to try a sneaker…
Are you intrigued by the barefoot/minimalist movement but not quite ready to give up wearing regular shoes? Are your toes crying for freedom as your heels beg for mercy? If you’re looking for liberty and respite in a trainer that, well, still resembles a shoe – Altra’s got you covered from heel to toe. The Zero Drop™ sole (the heel is no higher than the forefoot) encourages you to run with your feet and not your shoes. The extra-wide and (get this) foot-shaped toe box provides ample room for those ten little digits to comfortably spread. These foot-friendly elements give you a natural boost in your stride without sacrificing the familiar feeling of an everyday shoe.
Until I laced up my Intuitions, I had just accepted that my ankles would be uncomfortable and my toes would feel crowded in any running shoe. I honestly thought there had to be something biomechanically amiss that resulted in my weird ankle-pop issues and the pesky feeling that the outsides of my toes were turning under my feet as I ran. After just two miles in the Intuitions I realized that my regular running shoes were forcing my ankles into an unnatural position and my toes were turning under my feet – all in the name of corrective footwear. Needless to say I was pretty blown away (and completely sold on Altra)! The Intuitions caused absolutely no ankle awkwardness and my toes were in blissful, spacious heaven.
Another key to Altra’s great fit is their gender-specific design (Athena would approve). I had no idea until recently that most women’s running shoes were just smaller versions of men’s running shoes. You need not be a scientist to understand that the male and female forms are biomechanically different and therefore deserve a shoe that is designed specifically for their respective foot shapes. Rather than “shrinking and pinking” their design as many shoe companies do, Altra built the Intuition from the ground up – a true women’s running shoe!
Being accustomed to a highly cushioned shoe with an elevated heel, my first concern was the Zero Drop™ technology that has become synonymous with the Altra name. Since I’m considered a heavier runner, comfort and support are important to me in a trainer. I was hesitant to try a “barefoot” shoe because I wasn’t quite ready to let go of my impact buffer zone. Whether it’s a need or simply a personal preference, as of now I like a bit of distance between my plodding soles and the road. One reason I chose the Intuition is that it still contains a fair amount of cushion while offering a more natural ride than a standard sole. But would the Zero Drop™ change my form and would that be good or bad?
My form didn’t completely change so much as it improved. I’ve always been a mid-foot/toe runner with little to no heel strike, even in the shoes with the built-up heels that encouraged it. However, as I was alternating between my regular shoes and the Intuitions, I noticed that my form always felt somewhat sloppy and forced with my regular shoes. I never connected my shoes with my form until I ran with the Zero Drop™ (I just thought I was a clumsy runner). Once I fully transitioned from my old brick pals – guess what? I didn’t feel sloppy or forced at all. I felt free. I honestly think I giggled a bit as I ran for the first time in the Intuitions – I felt like a kid again! Running was fun! I’d count that as good.
So if you’re looking for a change of…pace (no really, they improved my speed, too!) and you want to experience a more natural running style without letting go of cushion and coverage – the Altra Intuition (or Instinct for men) is a great shoe to try.
A few things to consider if you’re thinking about Altra:
1. You will need time to strengthen your feet if you’re accustomed to a standard running shoe. I could tell when I first began transitioning to the Zero Drop™ that my ankles were somewhat weak and my Achilles tendons needed to develop some flexibility to adapt from running in shoes with built-up heels. Alternating your regular running shoes with the Altras and going barefoot when you can will help you build foot strength. It took me a couple of months to fully switch – you may need more or less time depending on your body and running form.
2. The Zero Drop™ does not have the arch support of a standard running shoe so keep that in mind if you think you have weak arches. However, the Intuition and Instinct do come with two inserts, one with a bit of support if you need it and another that is completely flat when you’re ready for more strength building.
3. These shoes might make you feel like you can run faster than your body is able to go. This may seem like a good thing (and it is, if you can tame it), but any runner that’s been sidelined with an overuse injury will tell you that too much too fast is usually trouble. Stick with your regular pace at first and work up slowly.
After about 50 miles (treadmill, asphalt, and some grass) in them, I am still absolutely in love with my Intuitions. I was initially pretty skeptical that the pared-down shoes would be enough for this chunky, clunky runner. Hooked by the roomy toe box and slipper-like feel, though, it was difficult to not want them to work for me. Turns out they’re working just fine. I don’t feel like I’m plodding so much anymore – I feel like I’m running. Thanks to Altra, feeling light on my feet is no longer mythical for this Athena.
For more information on natural running, transitioning to Zero Drop™ footwear, or to order your own pair of new favorite running shoes, visit www.altrazerodrop.com. This review is entirely unsolicited – I just really love these shoes!
UPDATE: While at our local Fleet Feet getting my husband a much-needed fitting, I decided to have them record me running and get some suggestions, too. When I first got fitted for shoes a few years back I ran with mild pronation. In the video playback I was pleased to see that I had developed a perfectly neutral gait! The Intuitions turned out to be a great foot strengthener for me and in that helped to visibly improve my form. No matter what other running shoes happen to be in my arsenal, I think I’ll always have a pair of Altra Zero Drop kicks on hand (or foot, as it were)!