Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review: Altra Running Paradigm-Max Cushion, Supremely Refined

Running shoe design continues to evolve and Altra Running pioneers in minimal cushion, FootShapeTM toe boxes and  "Zero DropTM" shoes (no height difference heel to toe) is evolving too. With the Paradigm Altra maintains its heritage of incredibly comfortable toe boxes and zero drop and now applies it to a maximally cushioned, super light shoe. Hoka One One now has real competition in the space they invented.
Altra founder Golden Harper gave me a full update on the line and was kind enough to send me a pair of the Paradigms to try. My preview of the Spring 2015 Altras here. Paradigm not expected to change.

The Paradigm has 34mm of stack height front and back according to Altra and 25mm according to Running Warehouse. Will inquire as to measurements difference. Most conventional "well cushioned" shoes have 20mm or less in forefoot and 24-28mm in the heel.  The advertised weight is 9.1 oz in a men's size 9. My 8.5 Paradigms (review sample provided at no charge, opinions herein entirely my own) weighed 9.5 oz on my digital scale. I will not quibble over the difference as there can be manufacturing differences. From Altra: "As for the weight discrepancy, manufacturing tolerance is usually about an ounce in either direction.  Our weights are based off of weighing production shoes when they show up in a size 9. " These weights are incredibly light for such a supremely cushioned shoe. They fit me true to size.
Altra Running Paradigm

Comparison to Hoka One One 
I have run in a multitude of the earlier Hokas such as the Mafate, Bondi, and Stinson all with similar stack heights. I loved the ride but found them slow and soft given my no knee lift, heel striking stride. The challenge is to provide either enough forefoot flexibility for all that foam and/or create a rocker effect. Newer Hokas such as the Huaka and Clifton reviewed here have reduced their maximal forefoot  height somewhat and are now fantastically flexible fast and light, about the same weight as the Paradigm and even lighter for the Clifton. However, Hoka uppers are often not quite there in terms of fit and comfort for me. Don't get me wrong I will still reach for my Huakas when I want to go fast with super cushion, but for supreme comfort Paradigms will have a place in my rotation.

Altra hits it out of the park with the Paradigm creating a super cushioned,  supremely comfortable long run shoe.

  • The FootShape toe box allows my foot to splay spread out fully, yet I do not feel it is too wide as the midfoot upper hold is just snug enough with the lacing also effective. The overall upper is supremely comfortable, among the best or in fact the best for a long run trainer I have ever put on.  
    Altra Running Paradigm- FootShape
    There are no seams at all in the upper. The front toe area has a relatively thick welded overlay and might be a bit low, others have reported the same. I feel the overlay when standing but not when running. I think the toe box height has to be kept fairly low to keep that foot shaped foot in place, at speed! More miles will tell the story on overall upper durability. I tend to be easy on uppers.
    Altra Running Paradigm
    The tongue is a simple leather-ette with a bit of cushioning front and back except at the very top and sides to I assume prevent slipping.  It works.
  • The midsole is just firm enough, somewhat firmer than Hoka Clifton or Skechers GoRun Ultra, but not quite as firm as Hoka Huaka. Not mushy or overly soft. Not as energetic as the Boost shoes or Huaka but still in no way a marshmallow for such a massive amount of cushion. As I put some miles on the midsole I expect the midsole to firm up further, great. 
  • The heel landing midsole outsole crash pad combination is similar to the Huaka, with even less of an angle. Paradigm does not have a steep rear crash pad of the Clifton and which for me leads to an overly soft heel landing when combined with the soft foam and then a sense of loss of snappy propulsion forward. The adios Boost has a steep crash pad but due to the firmness of the outsole and the thinner cushioning works incredibly well. Smart choices by Altra in the heel area of the Paradigm.
    Left to Right: Hoka One One Clifton, adidas adios Boost, Hoka One One Huaka, Altra Running Paradigm
Forward propulsion to toe off is also aided by what Altra calls NRSTMNatural Ride System, a soft A-Bound EVA layer and collar which is a higher on the medial side to gently control pronation. It works for me, no sense of a firmer medial side or plate as in many "support" shoes, a type of shoe I avoid like the plague.

  • There are deep flex grooves in the right places; namely in the midfoot and along the length of the outsole. This last somewhat similar to Pearl Izumi E:Motion line and Salomon but in the case of Altra in 2 stages. Note the super wide landing platform. Paradigm appears about the same heel and midfoot width on the ground as the Hoka Huaka and Clifton, maybe a bit wider right under the foot.

  • While there is a rocker right up near the toe, I never felt I had to force change body position or stride, that feeling of having to drop forward and then accentuate knee lift, to make it work as I have to do with the similar maxi Hokas but not the more svelte Clifton and Huaka 
  • There is a super fine and "seamless" interface of outsole and midsole. No harsh feeling, of firmer wear surfaces on top of softer foam. Such a softer outsole may wear faster as I have found the similar Hoka combination does. I do not think I will get the wear of my all time favorite outsole midsole combination, adidas boost in combination with the super long wearing Continental outsole rubber but we'll see.
  • I did add my SuperFeet Carbon insoles to firm the heel up a bit and add a bit of drop.  I am not completely sold on zero drop especially when tired.

Paradigm seems to work at the elite long ultra level as Jason Schlarb just placed 4th against many of the best in the world at the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc in his Paradigms. Mind you he wore this ostensibly road shoe for what turned out to be a muddy and quite rough trail. I have not run trails in them.

Where will the Paradigm fit in my rotation? 
To start I am going to use Paradigm for recovery and long slow runs. The ride is smooth, stride is never forced and they are supremely cushioned without being mushy or unstable.

Highly recommended.
$130 MSRP.  Available now.

You can support my blog by purchasing your Paradigms at the links to below. Thank you!


Anonymous said...

thanks for the review! you mention being a heel striker, so i wondered about your doing well in a zero drop shoe (though i later saw that you use superfeet--always?). i'm a midfoot striker (with perhaps a bit of heel). i enjoy running in 4mm shoes like montrail fluidflex and NB 1690, but do sometimes have a bit of achilles strain from them, so i'm wary of pushing the distance.

how would you compare paradigm, torin, and gorun ultra in terms of fit and ride? my feet are pretty narrow and i usually like a snug fit--are the heel and midfoot areas snug on the altras?


Sam Winebaum said...

I run in a mix of drops from zero to 11mm. I have had no issues with the paradigm with the stock insole or the superset which I think makes it a 4mm drop, more my style. and while I enjoy zero drop I prefer more This said I am perfectly happy in the Hoka Huaka at 2mm or so. I need some heel especially on longer hard runs and races as one gets tired and this may be why you feel the achilles. So adios boost at 11mm for my races! . I had the Torin and found the combination of missing heel and firmness too much for me. The GoRun Ultra is real interesting as without the insole with the foot sitting on the finished inside it is 4mm. With the insole it is 8mm. I have used the ultra insole in other shoes to get more drop. Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

thanks so much, definitely helpful. what about the fit/snugness for a narrower foot in the heel and midfoot on the paradigm (and the gorun ultra)?

Sam Winebaum said...

Sorry forgot that part! Both seem plenty snug for me and I too have a narrow foot. This said I rarely focus on heel snugness. As far as midfoot I am surprised given foot shaped wide toe box how well the midfoot is held in the paradigm, wide platform helps I think. GRU is fine too but if used for rough trails and given soft midsole outsole not as beefy in midfoot as it might be. Roads fine for GRU.

Anonymous said...

have you run in either version of altra the one? do you like? if both, how do they compare?

more thanks!

Sam Winebaum said...

Sorry haven't run in either version of the One.

Anonymous said...

using superfeet or other insole in paradigms, don't you have a problem with the front of the insole moving around in the much wider shoe?

Sam Winebaum said...

No issues with Superset insole moving in the Paradigm for me. The heel and mid foot is plenty supportive so I think this keeps the insole in place. Note that you can trim the insole for the shoe width upfront. Mine were originally trimmed for a Hoka Huaka also a relatively wide platform under forefoot.

Anonymous said...

hi sam
is the sizing same with ,for example the hoka's?
i fit in a 11 us on my bondi 3 should i buy the same size for the altra's

thanks for your time

Sam Winebaum said...

sizing for Altra was the same as for Hoka for me true to size. I have a relatively standard width foot, maybe a bit on the narrower side. Thanks for reading!