Friday, August 26, 2011

How the Altras Handled a Half

Too close to my most recent half marathon, I bought my first pair of zero-drop shoes made by Altra -- the Intuition. In theory, I knew they would be light and flexible enough for racewalking. (The brochure says they are designed for "toe off.") I wasn't sure they would have enough support for me to make it through an entire half marathon without killing my feet. (I've tried other lightweight shoes before and around mile 10 my feet were killing me!)

Zero drop means that the sole of the shoe is flat -- the heel and toes are the same distance off the ground. This pair is extremely flexible and is intended to encourage a natural foot motion. To learn more specifics about the shoe, read my July 31 blog post.

I was a little bit worried about blisters. The back of the shoe rubs a little along the top. In training walks, I felt a hot spot on the left foot and ended up with a small blister on my right foot. To be proactive, I applied Body Glide on my right foot and a Blister Blocker patch on my left. The Blister Blocker was pretty old, and didn't adhere quite right, but I didn't know for sure until after the race.

For the most part, these shoes performed great! It is difficult to walk in them if I am not attempting to racewalk. I could tell almost immediately if I wasn't using proper form and I was able to make adjustments before going too far "plodding" as opposed to "floating." (As if I ever really float!) I was especially amazed at how they performed on hills. They are so flexible, my feet seemed to roll with every step uphill. It felt like a very natural motion.

Going downhill was a little bit different. My feet seemed to slap the ground more than I would have liked. But that could have been more my fault than the shoes.

At about the eight-mile mark, I picked up the pace. As I approached the 10-mile mark, I started to get nervous. I could "feel" my feet a little bit, but there was no pain. As I continued, pushing when not going uphill, I felt OK.

But the test is often how you feel AFTER the race. I did not have blisters on either foot. I could still feel my feet, but I did not have pain or an overwhelming need to rip my shoes off. I would not have wanted to go much farther, though. More mileage would have started to get rough. My feet did feel much better when I finally put on my Croc sandals, but they always do. The next morning, my feet were sore when I first got out of bed, but that is pretty typical for me, too.

The main reason I need a little support is that my right ankle can be wobbly, causing my ankle bones to rub in a bad way. (I discovered this at mile 19 of my first marathon.) I did not feel any of that rubbing pain, though my ankle has been popping more than usual since finishing the half. 

So, in conclusion, the Altra Intuition is great for short-distance racewalking and is also pretty good for distances as long as a half marathon. Because I was proactive, I didn't get blisters. Because they are light, I felt the need to work harder to use racewalking form and did not plod as much as typical for me. It is possible that my feet hurt less because I was plodding less. Either way, it is a good thing. As long as there are no major negative changes to these shoes, I will most likely buy another pair.

NOTE: The Altra Intuition comes with two different insoles: Strengthen and Support. For obvious reasons, I have been using the Support insoles. They have a little bit of arch support and are a little bit stiffer. I am currently doing ankle-strengthening exercises. If my right ankle ends up no longer needing support, I will try the lighter strengthening insoles.

I had a pair of lightweight trainers I wore in the Country Music Half Marathon a few years back. By mile 10 my feet hurt so bad, I was miserable. I picked up the pace to finish as fast as possible just to get off my feet. Even walking back to the hotel was miserable. Since then, I have been a little more cautious about buying light shoes.

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