I love these shoes. They’re the best I’ve worn. Here’s why.
The 2017 trend in running shoes has been the all-knit “upper”:
The entire top portion of the shoe is fabric. This means a couple of good things:
- The shoe feels like wearing a sock. When you lift your foot up you never come into contact with any firm structural elements no matter how tightly you lace these guys. They’re comfortable.
- The shoe breathes well.
- The shoe is light.
- It flexes easily.
… and a couple of not so good things:
- They soak water easily, so avoid puddles.
- This shoe does not do well with lateral movement. You need to be careful around tight corners that your foot doesn’t slip over the edge of the . Don’t try playing basketball or chasing your kid’s errant lacrosse passes.
- They don’t lace tightly, if that matters to you.
- It flexes easily. For some this can be problematic, but for me it’s a plus.
I used my kitchen food scale to measure the right shoe of the three pairs that I’ve run in most recently. The Escalante run half a size smaller so they’re a men’s 12 and the other two are 12.5’s:
- Saucony Hurricane ISO 2: 12.7oz
- Hoka One One Clifton 3: 10.5oz
- Altra Escalante: 9.7oz
I’ve been skeptical of shoe weight in the scale of ounces, but even dropping the 5% of a pound between the Cliftons and the Escalantes is something I noticed immediately the first time I wore them. They just feel light and airy. I barely notice that I’m wearing them.
At the start of this year I wore Saucony shoes – the Hurricane ISO 2 and the Guides were my mainstays. I tend to mildly overpronate. In January I had some achillese problems, and switching from the ISO 2 to the Clifton’s (a “neutral” shoe) immediately solved my tendon problems. I had some concerns about neutral shoes but I’ve run over 1000 miles in them without issue.
I transitioned into Hoka One One Clifton 3’s after being sick and tired of having constant leg pain on long runs. The Clifton’s solved this to the extent that the day I bought them I wore them out of the store and ran a full marathon distance on the C&O canal tow path (slowly) without any lower body discomfort. I drank the Hoka koolaid and I swore I’d never look back. I loved the Clifton 3’s and would have stayed with Hoka if they hadn’t ruined the Clifton 4’s which have an arch support element too close to the heel for my oddly shaped feet. Bear in mind that I wear a size 12.5 shoe but am only 5’9″. That’s proportionally large.
The Hokas are highly cushioned and highly comfortable. When I first transitioned from the Clifton to the Escalante I remember having reservations. I definitely felt the road more with the Escalante than the Cliftons – mainly the impact up though my legs. I didn’t know if the shoes would last, but after 400 miles, many of which were fast and hard, my legs have never felt better.
Let’s take a quick look at a side by side view of the cushioning elements of these shoes:
First, the Hokas are significantly thicker, 1.85″ vs 0.85″ at their thickest. For the Hokas that’s the heel and for the Altra that’s right at the midsole.
Note that the Altras have the thickest cushioning right at the ideal foot strike location – slightly behind the ball of the foot. These shoes encourage you to land where you’re supposed to land. I spent most of the summer working on my form, particularly maintaining a high cadence even at slower paces, before switching to Altras. The transition was easy for me, but could pose problems for toe or heel strikers.
Tread and Wear
The Escalante has an interesting tread configuration (and shape) that mimics the human foot:
Particularly when new, the ridges on the black elements of this shoe feel sticky on pavement, almost like trail shoes. However, they are horrible on virtually every other surface. Grass? Not awful, but don’t inspire confidence especially wet. Packed dirt? You’ll feel slippage when you drop the hammer and open your stride. Mulch? Nope. Wet leaves? Forget it. I would never run trails, even “easy” trails, in these shoes. The poor traction coupled with weak lateral motion support would be a recipe for a disaster. These are strictly shoes for the road, and ideally, dry asphalt or textured concrete. I’ve run in heavy rain with these shoes on asphalt without grip problems. I always take fast downhills a little more carefully in these shoes than in some others I’ve owned.
The pair pictured above has around 40 miles of wear on them. Here’s a side-by-side with a pair with 350 miles (left) of wear on them:
The two areas of fatigue are right behind the ball of the foot and the outside heel. You can see the texture mostly worn away. There is less than 1/16″ in cushioning compression detectable at the midsole point in these two pairs.
For reference, this is what my Hoka Clifton’s sole looks like:
I don’t have a new pair of the Clifton to show you, but as you can see the outside heel is totally worn away and the cushioning is beginning to degrade. As with the altras the midfoot is also worn, but not as dramatically. This pair of Hokas have over 600 miles on them – a record high for a single pair of shoes for me, and have localized compression all over the place that I began to feel, prompting the switch.
Runners always talk about “breaking in” a new pair of shoes but I find it’s rather the reverse: the shoes break me in. Predictably, switching into the Altras caused new pressure points on my toes which resulted in some new blisters, particularly on my index toe which is longer than my big toe. After the second week these blisters had toughed into calouses and I haven’t had any chafing or rubbing issues since.
I have noticed the following:
- The stabilizing muscles on the inside of my calves just above my ankles, particularly on my right leg, have been periodically “bothered” while wearing these shoes. Remember how I mentioned that I slightly overpronate? It’s particularly on my right food and these are neutral shoes with very little stabilization. I’ve historically had issues with this part of my leg in the past. The few (2-3) times I’ve felt discomfort in this area after a run, I simply took it a little easier the day after and haven’t had longterm issues, but it’s something to watch for.
- In my older pair (350+ miles) I periodically experience mild pain on the inside arch of my right foot. Not enough to be concerning or to affect my run, but enough to write this paragraph about. It doesn’t persist and I have a feeling it is owing to localized compression as the shoe ages. Haven’t felt this in the new pair, but have only run 3 times in those.
- I have felt a few minor “pulls” in the arches of my right foot (e.g., the precursor to plantar fascitis). Again, nothing terribly concerning and not necessarily related to the shoes. I have been doing more stretches to help open my stride in preparation for 5k season which could also be at fault here.
This sounds a little like those prescription med commercials where they’re legally required to list everything that happened to everyone in every study regardless of whether there’s any proof that the medication had anything to do with it. Take it with a grain of salt.
Zero drop, zero limits
This is a zero drop shoe. Most of the fastest people that I know run in zero, or close to zero drop shoes. This makes sense to me as I’m a believer in the idea of persistence hunting and a great deal of evolutionary evidence supports the idea that human beings evolved to run. I have much more trust in the evolution of the anatomy of the human foot than I do in the Saucony shoe company (and all the others) with their 8-12mm heel-toe drop.
Since switching to the Altras I have run faster than I ever have before. I don’t know if this is due to their light weight, the benefit of zero drop, improved form, general fitness, or something else. As with everything in running there are so many variables that affect performance that it’s very hard to isolate them, so again, take with a grain of salt.
It’s also worth noting that I went from an 8mm drop with the Saucony shoes down to a 4mm drop with the Hokas down to a 0mm drop with the Altras over the course of about 8 months. I can’t recommend going from 8 directly to 0. That might be too drastic.
They’re expensive at $130 and I don’t expect to get more than 500 miles out of a pair which puts their cost per mile right around 25 cents, about average for high end shoes. You can get a 10% discount on them from Running Warehouse if you check out The Ginger Runner’s review and use the code listed in his description. I decided to buy these shoes after watching his video so I’m paying it forward.
If you have a local running store such as Charm City Run who gives you a return policy it might be in your interests to trial these before you commit. After the first week I thought I might return them, but once I got used to the shoe I started loving it more and more.
I love this shoe enough to buy a second pair. I ran the Baltimore Marathon in the new ones and PR’d by 11 minutes overall and 32 minutes on the course. I’ve historically had leg pain during marathons and with the Altras I was able to go the distance without having any skeletal-muscular discomfort beyond expected fatigue symptoms (cramping). As a caveat, I haven’t run a marathon distance at pace in the Clifton 3s for comparison nor have I run a marathon in Saucony or other high-heel drop shoes since I improved my form so I can’t narrow this down to the shoe alone, but it definitely helped.
Give ’em a try. You won’t regret.