Friday, November 20, 2015

Altra Impulse Review: Stability? Zero Drop? Newton in Reverse?

Review by Peter Stuart

Editor's NoteThe Altra Impulse is an 8.6 oz 243 gram men's 9,  7 oz, 198g women's 8 Zero Drop light, cushioned "stability" shoe with a 23 heel/23mm forefoot. $120, on sale now. I previously reviewed the Impulse and loved it. Peter agrees. One of the finest shoes of the year for both of us and we run in a lot of shoes!

This is another take on the Altra Impulse—as Sam has already done a pretty thorough review of them. See Sam’s review for tech specs and some more detail.

First impression and second chances:
I put these on, ran down the block and put them back in the box to send back to Running Warehouse. They felt a little “slappy” and stiff to me and I didn’t think they’d be a good shoe for me. The fit of the upper was fine, but the road feel was so far from what I’ve been running in lately (barely there flexible soft(ish) shoes). This shoe was a brick! Or was it? For some reason I held on to them and decided to give them a run or two. Boy Howdy am I glad I did!
A funny thing happened about three miles into my first real run in the Impulse. The forefoot gave a little and the magic of this shoe started to reveal itself. It’s all about the Stabili-Pods and the InnerFlex—which sort of take the concepts found in the ON shoes and in Newtons and make a big, springy step forward.

Upper and Fit:
This was my first Altra. Frankly the Platypus shape has always kind of steered me in the other direction. I got used to the more “foot-shaped” look through the Topo Magnifly, and so was a little more willing to try these out. To be fair, the design on the Altra seems to be getting better and these are pretty good looking shoes. Still a bit odd looking to me, but I’ll forgive it for the ride.
These shoes came to me with the “lace lock” formation ready to go—the laces looped back through themselves at the top two eyelets. I found them to fit fine. Nice and snug in the heel, locked in on the midfoot and plenty of room for toe splay. These were a lace up and run shoe for me—no annoying stops for readjustment. I did have to avoid the temptation to tie the laces tighter—but it’s really a visual issue. The asymmetric lacing just looks different. I’ve had no issues with blisters, chafing or irritation. These feel good on my feet.

Midsole and Outsole:
Again, see Sam’s review for the details. Here’s my subjective take on the midsole and outsole. LOVE IT.
Okay, so why do i love it? The combination of the Stabili-Pods and the InnerFlex make for a really special ride. The slits in the side of the outsole allow the front of the shoe to compress into the empty space between the outsole and the midsole. It’s sort of a lugless Newton—or at least an inverse Newton. It also reminds me a bit of the ON shoes (Except way more stable underfoot and without the imploding pods I experienced with ONs).
Editor's Note: Peter's Impulse show almost no wear at 100 miles. Mine at 134 miles also almost like new.
Photo Credit: Peter Stuart

If you land in the sweet spot (by aiming for the pods) you get a really nice compression of the front of the shoe and then a great spring back. This is especially noticeable at speed or, strangely enough, on uphills. Even when I’m not hitting the pods directly I find the ride of the

Impulse to be super smooth. This is one of the things about the Altra that I prefer to the Newton. Later in runs when my form suffers a bit and I’m not hitting the sweet spot as regularly I start to feel that I’m fighting against the Newton Lugs—with the Altra I find they are more forgiving of laziness. They just roll through the miles. I’ve put over 80 miles on these and have seen very little wear.

A word about Zero Drop:
I tend to land pretty much on my midfoot, so the Zero drop doesn’t really seem to affect me one way or another. I know drop is a big deal for some people, but it’s just not for me. That said, if I land just a little farther forward on the forefoot, the ride of the Impulse is even better. I think that’s why they seem to open up on uphills (where I tend to hit forefoot first) and at speed (where I’m leaning and landing farther forward). For me the Impulse have a really smooth transition, but I’d be interested to hear from people who land farther back. It will be really interesting to see what the data from their upcoming IQ system shows as far as footfall and recommendations. I have had zero calf or leg tightness following runs in these—and in fact have felt surprisingly refreshed after a couple of long, hard runs. Can’t say for sure it’s the shoes, but the give of the Pods and the InnerFlex seem to take some of the ground impact forces out.

Stability Schmability:
I’m sure there’s some stabilizing tech in there, but I don’t feel it and it that’s a good thing. If the Varus wedge is lining me up in a slightly more bio-mechanically efficient way then fantastic. If you don’t generally use “stability” shoes, I’d still highly recommend this shoe.

Impulse vs. New Balance Vazee Pace
The Vazee Pace is probably the most similar ride in my shoe closet. It’s lighter than the Altra and probably a touch firmer. I really like both of them and would have a hard time taking just one to a desert island.
Impulse vs. Brooks Launch
The impulse feels smoother to me than the Launch 2. It’s lighter as well. The Launch used to be my workhorse, but I returning more regularly to the Altra these daysImpulse vs. Zante

Impulse is firmer. Zante can start to deaden for me when mileage is up in double digits, but Impulse stays pretty springy. More room around mid foot too. 

The Altra Impulse is, for sure, one of my top shoes of the year. I keep wanting to put them on and run in them. They are good at all paces and really shine at a moderately fast to marathon pace. They come alive for me in the 6:40-7:15 pace area. Don’t get me wrong though, they feel good when I’m running slower too. They are smooth, smooth, smooth. The ride is sublime, the technology seems to have purpose and I don’t feel beat up after runs in them.

Editor's Note: Competitor Magazine agrees with Peter and Sam saying: "With the creation of the Impulse, Altra has developed a featherweight and uber-flexible, performance-oriented training/racing flat that serves up a smooth, stable and absolutely sublime ride."

Peter Stuart's Running Bio
My running career got off to a slow start…in high school I was told I ran like a race walker and was thus relegated to race walking on the track team. I got back into running about 15 years ago and then into triathlon. Triathlon really rekindled my love for running, so about two years ago I hired a coach and really focused on the half and full marathons.  I broke a bad habit of putting in tons of moderately hard miles (and no easy or hard ones) and after plateauing at 3:25 (with some disastrous marathons in there), this past year I brought my marathon under 3:00 and my half under 1:25. Along the way I’ve developed a bit of a shoe problem.

Disclosure: The Altra Impulse was a personal purchase at retail. The opinions herein are entirely our own. RoadTrailRun is an affiliate of Altra Running another retailers and receives a small commission on sales through the links below to support our site.

Altra Impulse is available from Running Warehouse US women's here  men's here 
Altra Impulse is available from Running Warehouse Europe women's here  men's here 
Also  from Altra and other retailers at the display ads below.

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