Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First Impressions: Altra Adams

Ever since I became interested in minimalist running shoes and running barefoot, I've been looking for the perfect shoe. What I have sought is a shoe that meets the "Three F's" criteria: flat, flexible and ground feel.

Before the minimalist/barefoot fad hit the shoe industry, there weren't many options. I started with racing flats, Brooks T6 Racers, which I bought at the 2009 Akron Marathon Expo. I even tried making my own shoes. At the end of last year, I bought a pair of Vibram KSOs and got the New Balance MT101s as a gift. And finally, I received a pair of Invisible Shoes to review.

The Brooks were a good starting place. The thinner soles were flexible and provided a small amount of ground feel, but the heel lift is too high. After a few miles, it's all too easy to revert to a heel strike. The shoes have shepherded me through some great race performances and more than 720 miles, but now are perhaps ready for retirement.

The Vibrams meet the Three F's, but they're just not that comfortable for long mileage. My feet blister after just five miles, as the recommended tight fitting doesn't allow for my feet to swell during runs. These shoes are now only relegated to winter running.

The New Balance MT101s are somewhat flat, but nowhere near flexible. While the rock plate protects the feet from rough and jagged terrain, the resulting lack of ground feel makes them good for trails and not much else. I may take them to our local cobbler to zero-out the heel lift.

The Invisible Shoes and my homemade huaraches meet the Three F's as well, but the open sandals won't be suitable for cold weather running.

The search continued.

Back in July, I came across this post at Minimalist Running Shoes, reviewing the Altra Adams. The review asked if this shoe would be "the Vibram Five Finger killer."

From the looks of it, the Adams seemed to meet all the criteria I was looking for, plus provided a more ergonomic design that would allow my toes to splay. Basically, they seemed like the Vibrams, only without the individual toe sockets.

Altra currently offers six models of shoes, three for men and three for women, and all offer a flat "zero drop" sole. All of the company's shoes provide a wide toe box and a foot-shaped sole. I also like how Altra has designed shoes to suit each gender, and promotes learning how to run with good form. This company seems to get it.

Since Altra is a relatively new company, I decided to see if I could finagle a free pair of shoes to review by e-mailing co-founder Jeremy Howlett, Altra's vice president of marketing. Instead of shoes, he sent me a coupon code to pre-order a pair of the then-unavailable shoes.

I waited for a month, but on Friday the Adams finally arrived.

Altra's box and included product literature recommend that you ease into running in these shoes. And so my first run in the Adams was an 18-miler on the Buckeye Trail. A nice slow transition. Without socks.

The Adams come with three insole options: the flat and lightly cushioned "Strength" insole, the molded "Support" insole, or the "SeeNoSeam" stitchless footbed.

I started the run with just the 3.4-millimeter rubber sole between me and the trails. After 10 miles, I returned to my car and inserted the Strength insole. The slight cushioning reduced but didn't eliminate ground feel.

With the wide toebox, the shoe almost feels too loose at first, but I adjusted to this sensation pretty quickly. There was no discomfort from running without socks, even though I'd been getting blisters from all of my other shoes this year. The Velcro straps and the "HeelClaw" kept the shoes in place.

During my second loop of the trail, I mashed my left toe repeatedly on tree roots. The Adams don't offer much protection from not lifting your feet, a minor drawback when you're too tired to run correctly.

The fit is very comfortable. My toes can fully splay with barely touching the sides of the shoe. The upper seems to breathe well, and is quite comfortable without socks. The insole options offer some versatility, providing a little cushioning for those who want it.

After 18 miles, I've already determined to wear the Adams for the Akron Marathon.

After I've logged 100 miles in these shoes, I'll return with a more thorough review.


misszippy said...

Well, Goldilocks, sounds like you found the pair that is just right. Perfect timing w/ the marathon around the corner. Interested to hear more!

Anonymous said...

I purchased a pair of the Altra Instinct two weeks back. So far I am really liking them. Obviously the Instinct is less minimal than the Adam, but I am liking it thus far.

Happy running!

Junk Miler said...

So is the Shoe Roll-Up a requisite for minimalist footwear reviews? I can't wait for someone to up their game and roll it up... with their foot still in it.

Kelly said...

Hey Viper, these do look like an interesting alternative to VFFs. I happened to buy a pair of VFFs last weekend. It was very much an impulse buy. I've had a gift certificate for a running store in Knoxville for almost a year now. Since I live over an hour away from Knoxville, I didn't have many opportunities to drop by the store to see what I might buy, like shorts or something (you know, not shoes). Well, my opportunity came last weekend when visiting Knoxville for a cross country meet. Surprisingly, the running store had VFFs. I fell in love with Bikila LS. As you mentioned about the Adams, the Bikila LS is a very comfortable shoe on my feet. I also like the "LS" lace system. Do the Adams come in a lace?

B. Kramer said...

@Kelly: From what I've read, Altra is supposed to be releasing a laced version of the Adams, called Samson. (Delilah is the female version.) I'm not sure when those are due out. Happy you like you VFFs. I still think I bought my KSOs a bit too small for running purposes. Cheers!

Kelly said...

The Bikila LS is my second pair of VFF. I bought my first pair in 2009. They were Sprints (no upper). Their fit was too small, even though they were the same size (43) as my new Bikilas. I really haven't worn the Sprints very often until recently when I decided to run shod with my son's XC team. They will most likely get lost under my bed again as I prefer the comfortable fit of the Bikilas. I wonder if Vibram will ever make a shoe like the VFF, but without the separated toes, like the Adam.