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April 11, 2014 4 min read

It was only a matter of time before the ever-increasing popularity (and utility) of the over-sized, maximally-cushioned running shoe, a concept initiated by Hoka, caught the attention of other running shoe brands. Enter Altra's new trail shoe offering: the Altra Olympus.

The Altra Olympus is essentially a take on the Hoka concept, yet it retains 2 features that fans of Altra footwear have come to expect and appreciate: zero drop from the heel to the forefoot and a spaciously-wide toebox that feels dreamy as the miles add up. And this shoe is definitely designed with the long haul in mind.

With the Lone Peak 1.5 Altra was the first brand to get me to understand the fact that zero drop did not also have to mean virtually zero protection and zero cushioning underfoot.  A 34mm stack height (similar to the Hoka Stinson Trail) of dual layer EVA in the midsole of the Olympus ensures a plush, comfortable ride that reduces the impact forces on joints and connective tissue and protects the foot from rough, technical terrain. Although the  heel is "overly" cushioned the zero drop platform still encourages a more neutral landing that keeps your feet beneath your center of gravity instead of out in front of you when over-striding, which effectively forces you to brake, or decelerate, with each footfall.

From the first run out of the box, I have really enjoyed putting the Olympus in my shoe rotation. I don't have a need to wear shoes with so much cushion on a regular basis but I find myself gravitating toward the Olympus when I'm feeling particularly stiff, sore, or otherwise "beat up" from hard training sessions or cycles. They feel great too in those post-race days of D.O.M.S (delayed onset muscle soreness) when you want to get out for some active recovery sessions but just feel too pounded to want to run. The extra cushioning has proven to be the additional push I need to get out the door.

One feature of the shoe that virtually everyone has commented on here at Sage to Summit and that I too found exceptionally-pronounced is the rocker in the forefoot. It is significant, exaggerated, pronounced...whatever you want to call it, impossible to ignore, at least initially. Whereas the rocker in the Hoka models is significant but more subtle, the rocker in the Olympus feels like it is shifted farther forward in the shoe and dramatic to the point that you really feel yourself being propelled forward as your foot moves into the push-off phase.  I think this is a turnoff for a lot of people that try the shoe on but it shouldn't be. My experience has been that in only a few runs my foot desensitized to the feeling of "falling forward over a lip" to the point that, instead of fixating on it, I completely forgot about it and simply enjoyed the propulsive effect and smoothness of the shoe's ride.

Although, as I mentioned earlier, I don't log a lot of "regular" training mileage in the highly-cushioned models, I feel the Olympus is a potentially great option for many reasons. If you have wanted to try a supremely-cushioned shoe but are a dyed-in-the-wool zero drop runner, well, then this is definitely the  shoe for you. If you have a really wide forefoot and have found the Hokas to be a bit too narrow then this could be the shoe for you. Anyone plagued by back, knee or other joint issues should check the Olympus out. There is no denying that these highly-cushioned shoes reduce the stress on the body. A lot has been made of the over-striding and improper running mechanics supposedly encouraged by overly-cushioned running shoes but the reality is that you don't have to have a paper-thin sole in order to run with efficient form.

The tread on the Olympus is not very aggressive by trail shoe standards but the outsole utilizes a "trail specific sticky rubber" and I have found the shoe to have adequate, confidence-inspiring grip on steep and/or technical trails. The wideness of the shoe's platform also makes the Olympus inherently stable. The upper is a quick-drying mesh without any overlays, the heel counter is a comfortable compromise of rigidity (for stability) and softness, with a built-in Velcro tab for gaiter-users, and the protective toecap is adequate. All of this adds up to a shoe that I feel would be great for any length and type of trail running, hiking, racing (I think this shoe would be dreamy for the later stages of a long ultra, such as a hundred, when the body feels abused and the feet are swollen.) and fastpacking adventures where the miles add up day after day.

I look forward to a multi-day Sierra backcountry outing this summer with the Olympus on my feet. Check 'em out.

weight: 10.9oz

stack height: 34mm

drop: 0mm

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