Finding the perfect trail shoe is an elusive task that sometimes takes years. You try one, try another, and another and another. Sometimes you stick with the same one for a few years, sometimes you switch for a run here or there. But the search continues. When people ask me (and you I’m sure), “What do you think about when you are running for so long?” Well…things like this:
The parallels between finding the right trail shoe and the right woman in your life. I know…seems like a stretch right? Bear with me, I’m hopped up on Mountain Dew right now…
I started running in La Sportiva Crosslites. Light, fast, rugged tread to help deal with rocky Arizona trails. It was perfect. Slick, sexy, hugged my feet and gave me that great sense of security on the downhills. Then I met Zane Grey (the wicked mother in law) and she pummeled me into the ground. So the search went on for something a little beefier, something more secure with more protection.
This led me into Brooks country and the ever reliable Cascadia. The love affair went on for thousands of miles. We started out a great match but ultimately we grew apart. She changed from when we started out together and before long, we just were not meant for each other and we cut ties. We moved on. The lust and love was gone and Cascadia was no more. (I’ve recently noticed the new version 7′s look a hell of a lot sexier than version 6…much more fun when they look worse after a breakup.)
After the long relationships I had with Crosslite and Cascadia I was a bit lost in what I wanted. I spent brief amounts of time with Roclite but she was a bit loose in the toe for me. Flings with Pearl, North Face, Salomon all ended up with nothing but disappoint, regret and wasted money on expensive dinners and boring movies. The search would continue on.
The worst of all was my relationship with New Balance and the smoking hot 110′s. I’d seen her around town and despite being loyal to others at the time…she always caught my eye. That hint of mystery, intrigue, and pure sexiness. I had to try them. I had to have them. So after the Cascadia breakup I was ready for a rebound.
The relationship started out with an intense infatuation. An undeniable connection on the trails. After one twenty mile, 4,500 foot jaunt through the McDowell Mountains I was left enamored, giddy, dreaming of our upcoming future.
It was short lived and it soured soon after NewB turned on me at a local 50K, allowing my poor feet to take the beating that she refused to. I dumped NewB at mile 20 for the dark haired beauty, Crosslite’s younger sister, the 2.0. But I never stopped thinking about NewB…always on my mind, wondering if I gave up on the relationship too soon.
Maybe she was just having a bad day…was I being too quick to judge? She deserves another chance…
So it would go, we’d get back together. We’d break up, we’d get back together. We’d have great times, we’d laugh, we’d have fun but every once in a while she would be crazy and my feet would be destroyed and back in the closet went NewB. It wasn’t healthy. It had to stop.
I carried on…traipsing through the trails wondering if I’d ever find the right shoe. I was desperate.
I tried online.
Altra had been internet stalking me for some time now. Always on my sidebar on Facebook, always lerking somewhere while I was wandering through the depths of the internet. I couldn’t avoid her, the yellow accents, the subtle mountain on the shoe’s profile, the long tan shoelaces. So one day they showed up at my doorstop.
Right out of the box you can tell there was something different about this shoe. Certainly not like “the others.”
The toe box is noticeably larger giving the shoe almost a “Croc” like appearance. I read every piece of literature in the box and after trying them on in my living room I definitely felt like I could use a smaller size as my toes were moving around in every direction. But that is Altra’s design to provide a comfortable ride for the foot, freeing the toes to grip independently and at the end of a run leave your feet in better condition than had they been cramped inside a tight toe box for six hours. Hesitant, skeptical, I was committed to give it a shot.
With anything you’ve done repetitively for years, this approach was very different and for the first several runs left me feeling unstable on downhills, and generally like I was going to roll my ankle because I didn’t feel like I had control of where the shoe was going to go when it hit an obstacle. This feeling passed quickly as I became more comfortable with the shoe and learned to use my toes more inside the shoe versus just using the shoe to attack the trail. Soon, I stopped noticing the extra space and it felt natural and a refreshing difference to the cramped space of many a trail shoe tried in the past.
The StoneGuard rock plate is a rock plate that actually works versus others (New Balance 110′s “rock plate” for instance which I’m sure is just a piece of a plastic bottle thrown in there…) that only claim to do as much. I hammered through fields of rocks. In the ground, on the ground, round, sharp, big, small. I found every kind of rock out there and these shoes kept my feet from taking the hits. At 9.9 oz the shoe is very light and to have that weight AND that protection it immediately jumps up the list for runners in places where rocky trails are more frequent than grassy, pine needle covered trails.
The shoe has a strong toe guard, protects against rocks well. There is a tail rudder that is far more pronounced than other shoes meant for downhill traction but I didn’t notice much of a difference. It was handy in getting my shoes off at the end of the run though…
The shoelaces are extremely long. I’m honestly not exactly sure if they designed them so you could take them out and make a tourniquet if you needed but they’re plenty long and to the point where they just flop around hitting the ground if you don’t wrap them in somewhere. I wrap them under the shoelaces themselves and they stay there well enough so it’s not an issue.
The biggest, most advertised part of the Lone Peak is the Zero Drop™ EVA/A-Bound Midsole. A lot has been made about the drop between the shoes footbed and the forefoot of the shoe, with the lower mm drop the shoe has the more it can help promote mid foot striking and remove the tendencies to heel strike while running. Most of the newer minimalist shoes coming out are in the 4mm range but few if any are zero drop as the Altra brand is. The Altra Lone Peak has a 22.5mm heel and a 22.5 mm forefoot. Zero difference between ends of the shoes so essentially a “flat” foot. This puts a definite change in the stride of long time heel strikers and in turn Altra suggest 4-6 weeks of training (or longer for many to gain full benefits) with their shoes while mixing in alternative shoes with more of mm drop as the new stride with zero drop will put a strain on your calves and Achilles muscles. This was a noticeable affect for me and often after runs with the Lone Peaks I would feel the strain on my lower calves from wearing these shoes. This is even after previously logging several hundred miles on 4mm shoes like the NB 110′s. You have to make the commitment to the shoes and the training it takes of these muscle groups to gain the full benefit of the shoes design.
Taken as a whole, the Altra Lone Peak is an excellent shoe. I really grew to love the larger toe box where my toes could be free and independently move and push off more on climbs. The rock plate is a beast. The shoes tread is rugged and after almost 200 miles in these shoes there is barely a difference in the tread. It looks almost brand new and for the number of rocks I’ve pummeled these shoes with I’m impressed with that alone. La Sportiva shoes would be worn half down by now. The exterior of the shoe looks new, no tears from cactus, no separation of the fabric from the outsole. The shoelaces may be long but they don’t fall apart and handle getting yanked by low lying cactus very well. Coming downhill the shoe’s upper holds your foot in place very well, not moving forward, no toe’s slamming the front of the shoe. Very comfortable fit, leaves you confident in the descent and with the zero drop and wide footprint of the shoe they transition well onto forest road or even pavement. Transitioning between the surfaces was easy with no noticeable difference.
My greatest love of the shoe really came with the zero drop. I felt that on the very runnable sections of trails I was running thirty seconds a mile faster simply because I was running on my midfoot consistently (because you pretty much have to with these shoes) and the pace was effortless. I wasn’t trying harder, I wasn’t pushing harder, if you embrace the design of the shoe they just make you run faster. And who doesn’t like that?
So after years of searching can it be that the one I’ve been searching for has finally been found?
Only time will tell but for now, the love affair continues…and maybe…just maybe I’ll be taking the Lone Peaks home to meet Mom.
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