Oct 2, 2020 | By Kristen Richards | Illustration by Patil Khakhamian
Every runner has their favorite brand of running shoes — the shoes they trust to carry them mile after mile through the trails, on the roads, and around the track. Some running shoe companies claim comfort, others durability or injury prevention. Every company from Brooks and Saucony to Nike have advertised its way into convincing runners that its shoe is the best. Altra running shoes, supported by the science of a more natural running form, are a bit different.
The name “Altra” is derived from the Latin word “altera,” which means “to fix or mend something that is broken.” Harper Golden designed Altra shoes by piecing together scraps of other shoes. Altras came to mimic barefoot running shoes by conceptualizing the idea of “zero-drop” after Golden realized the benefits minimalist shoes have on running form. Zero drop means that the heel and forefoot are the same distance from the ground, and though Altras are still quite cushioned, that extra support doesn’t cause runners to heel-strike. Shoes that are zero drop, like Altras, help minimize impact because the natural balance caused by the heel and forefoot being the same distance from the ground aligns the feet, body, and back, and in turn improves posture.
Altra running shoes also promote a “foot-shape toe box,” meaning that their shoes are designed to have a wider and larger toe box. This not only helps stabilize the big toe for a more powerful toe-off, but also allows the toes to spread out more naturally than most running shoe designs. Altras are different because instead of fitting your foot into a running shoe, Altras allow you to fit the running shoe to your foot.
Altra also used gender-specific technology to help develop a line of shoes called “fit4her.” These women’s running shoes promote the anatomical difference in the shape of women’s feet. Altra was the first company to introduce a line of shoes designed especially for women. This line is designed with a narrower heel, female-specific midsoles, a longer arch and narrower midfoot, a higher instep, and female-specific cushioning, metatarsal positioning, shape, and outsole. This is a lot of terminology to essentially describe a shoe that has been designed specifically for the movement of women runners.
I have been a die-hard Altra running shoe fan after going through my own fair share of Saucony and Mizuno shoes. Altra has trail runners, hiking boots, road running shoes, walking shoes, and cross training shoes. But most of all, I respect the Altra running shoe company because of their commitment to science and understanding running in a new, more natural, way.