Editor’s Note: Guest reviewer Christian Messerschmidt is a 38 year-old runner from Germany and has lived in the Carolinas for ten years. He’s been running for 20 years and switched from heavy heel-striking to a more graceful stride 2 years ago- just for fun. After a 10 year work and family related competition hiatus, he has started preparing for races up to the marathon at the beginning of the year and is still trying to get close to his personal bests established in his 20s. His dream is to finish a Western States 100 with a silver belt buckle.
As a recent convert to Vibram Five Fingers and numerous racing flats (it’s been two years since I ditched my traditional stability shoes), I had been longing for just “a little more shoe” between me and the road. It has been ridiculously wet all summer in the Carolinas and so I have had to shift many runs back to the pavement owing to the trail conditions – hence, I wanted to treat myself to a bit more cushioning in a zero-drop shoe.
I chose the Altra “The One,” a newly released neutral performance trainer by the strong new contender to “The Big Seven” shoe companies.
Altra markets this shoe as being able to “handle any run on any occasion,” from track repeats to the marathon to a leisurely recovery run.
Sizing and first impressions
I had some initial issues with sizing – most of my running shoes are 12.5 US, yet this one felt a bit short on the 3 little toes in this size and overly roomy in a size 13 US. I recommend you research the fit for yourself in Shoefitr if you mail order this shoe, it can fit slightly tricky. Also, it tends to fit somewhat smaller than the “Instinct”. I settled for the 12.5 as the toe box was roomy enough for me and I felt more comfortable being “in touch” with the shoe. Altra customer service was courteous and quick in handling the exchange and did not charge for shipping. (Editor’s note from Pete: I just purchased The One myself and opted to go a half size up from what I wear in the Instinct 1.5)
The first no-sock run in the Altra in the rain confirmed what we already knew from Kermit The Frog: “It’s not easy being green”- I emerged from the shoes with bright green feet- the color washed off easily enough and did not irritate my skin, so this was really more of an amusement. Indeed, the shoes broke in very easily, I ended up running a 10K race in “The One” after an easy initial 3 mile recovery session. I appreciated the extra cushioning on the hilly road course (running downhill was pain-free when compared to my Vibrams), but was less impressed by how heavily soaked the shoes got in the pouring rain. The quick dry mesh on the upper and drainage holes in the soles were heavily challenged by these conditions.
I am very impressed by how Altra manages to give the runner a roomy feel in the forefoot without compromising control and while allowing anchoring of the big toe. I attribute this both to the comparatively low toebox and the “contour footbed” insole that molds to your toes and provides good grounding.
The heel fit is medium wide and the upper is not too bulky – the asymmetrical lacing gives you plenty of options for a more personal fit. The laces themselves are freakishly long, so I just cut and burnished the ends to prevent the threads from coming apart.
The mesh upper breathes well and feels durable. After 2 months and 150 miles in the shoes, there is no sign of tearing or excessive stretching of the material. Running without socks has given me no blisters or hot spots.
Similarly, while the blown rubber sole is starting to show a wear pattern (see below), I am confident that I will get at least 500 miles out of this pair. The sole provides decent traction even on wet roads and handles gravel and non-technical trails very well. Overall, I am very impressed with the build quality of this shoe – great workmanship and all materials used seem to be of a superior grade with an organic feel to them.
The shoes weigh in at around 8.5 ounces for my size and the stack height of 18mm provides a sound compromise in terms of ground feel, flexibility and cushioning.
I am very happy that I’ve been able to add a new shoe to my rotation for long runs and easy recovery runs. While it is not “The One” for me as I will continue to race in the likes of the New Balance Minimus Zeros (MR00) and do all my track work in Vibrams, this green performance shoe has filled an important void as a comfortable and reliable road trainer and I give kudos to Altra for real innovation and added value in today’s running shoe market.
The Altra The One is available for purchase at Running Warehouse, Zappos, and Amazon.com (20% off right now at Amazon with code NEWFALL2). Altra can also be shipped to locations outside the US if purchased from Optimal Run or Take it On the Run.