Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Altra Golden Spike: Unique and Radical Racer Tackles Track and Trail

Review and Impressions by Patrick Caron, Sam Winebaum, and Grace

Editor's Note: Road Trail Run is thrilled to feature testing and reviews of the Altra Golden Spike by two very fast young New England runners.
Photo Credit: http://jonfrederickphotography.com
The Altra Golden Spike ($90) is a radical new take on the "track spike" from Altra Running, the Utah based run innovation company well known for their Zero Drop and Foot Shaped toe boxes. Track spike is in quotes as while the Golden Spike is a superb track spike, in the hands of our testers it has also proven, for those who prefer a more minimal agile run a superb "flat" for trails, grass, and even some road. And not to worry The Golden Spike is still an Altra with Zero Drop and a Foot Shaped toe box. 

At a very light 5.7 oz/162 grams US size 9 (including removable spikes), with a very decent 15mm midsole stack, this speedster is the epitome of versatility. If cross country and track is in your run repertoire it's a great choice as a fast, protective distance racing and training spike. If you run on the wild and minimal side, and want to race on up to lightly technical trails, the Golden Spike is a new and exciting option.
Photo Credit: http://jonfrederickphotography.com
And where did the cool name come from? Of course "Going for the Gold" but Golden is also the first name of Altra founder and chief designer Golden Harper. In a nod to its Utah roots, the Golden Spike marking the 1869 completion of the Transcontinental Railroad was driven not far from Altra's HQ in Northern Utah. 

Before we get to Patrick Caron's review, and Grace's impressions, this old runner, who rarely raced in spikes in his prime, took the Golden Spike out for some intervals last month. I was scared! 
What happened? A perfect amount of cushion for the track and unbeatable grip. A real pleasure to run fast in and the legs none the worse for wear the next day. I was sad I had promised to send them to Patrick and I certainly didn't think I was going to feel that way going in. The fit was race flat snug with a unique sensation of foot splay over the "drive mechanism", the spike plate. The cushioning was equal to a race flat.

Patrick Caron's Review
Editor's Note Patrick, only 19. is setting the New England distance scene on fire this spring. He followed up a stellar 2:46 at Boston with a victory and course record at the technical MtA 50K, wearing of all things the Golden Spike. None the worse the wear from all the rocks and roots on that course, in May he won the 50 mile at the Salomon Pineland Farms Trail Festival, running away from the field for an 11 minute victory in 6:14. Patrick prefers low drop and minimal shoes for all his racing and is a big fan of the Altra One 2.5 for his training so the Golden Spike seemed right up his alley.

Photo Credit: http://jonfrederickphotography.com


The upper of the Altra Golden Spike is superb. As Altra describes it, “the shoe is made of ultra lightweight, hydrophobic mesh,” and this was noticeable, considering one of the first long test runs I took them on was during a torrential downpour in the woods. My feet of course became soaked after a couple muddy miles, but the shoes did not hold onto any of the water and guck, wicking it all away surprisingly well. 

The fit of the Golden Spikes is true to size, although when I first slipped them on, they felt somewhat loose compared to the typical snugness of a cross-country or track spike. This feeling of freedom was welcomed though, as they were not at all sloppy running in, and after several miles in them, my feet had no complaints.


When I first took these shoes out of the box and slipped them onto my feet, I immediately noticed how firm the midsole was compared to the Altra One 2.5’s I’ve been training in for the last 1-2 years. The One 2.5 has been my go-to shoe for road, track, and trail running due to the superlight, zero-drop aspects it embodies, as well as the generous toe box which really lets you splay out your foot for maximum grip, balance, and impact distribution. The one downside to the One 2.5 was that is a tad too soft for any real racing, in which I would prefer a slightly lighter shoe with more responsiveness and spring. Having the Golden Spikes on my feet, I could already tell I had found a shoe from Altra that was a solution to both of these problems. When running in them, they had a smooth and responsive toe-off, and I could barely notice them on my feet. The cushioning was adequate as well (although even the most minimal shoes I am happy with in terms of the cushioning they provide), and for what little midsole was there, it had a lot to offer.

Outsole and traction on various surfaces
Photo Credit: http://jonfrederickphotography.com

I was really impressed with the design of the Golden Spike’s outsole. A white,  softer, more plush foam made up the majority of the outsole, while a yellow, more durable rubber material was used in the forefoot as well as a small area around the heel. This rubber was super grippy, and combined with the the five golden spikes on each foot, it was extremely easy to dig into the grass and trail, especially when hills were a part of the equation. Running on the track felt great in them too, and having that foot-shaped design was a game changer when it came to fast starts and accelerating around turns.
Photo Credit: http://jonfrederickphotography.com
How you used them, miles, terrain, races, workouts, etc… ?
Although it might not be recommended, I used these shoes for practically everything. I began by taking them on a few of my favorite trails around where I live, on routes that combined both road and off-road running. I then ventured onto the track with them, and hammered through some hard and long speed workouts with them. 

After having received them in the mail at the beginning of the week, and using them for the majority of my training runs and workouts, I decided to include the Golden Spikes in my racing arsenal when I headed up to York, Maine on a Saturday morning for the Big A 50K. A course that “combines singletrack and ATV trails in the Mount Agamenticus Conservation area with moderate to technical footing,” I was ready to test these shoes to their extreme, and boy did they kill it. Finishing 1st overall by 23 minutes, and breaking the previous course record by over 7 minutes, the morning couldn’t have gone much better. 
Patrick Caron strides to victory in the Golden Spike at the MtA 50K. Photo Credit: Jeff LeBlanc via Facebook
The Big A 50K course begins on the summit of Mount Agamenticus, and proceeds by running up and down the entire mountain a total of three times for a combined 5,800ish feet of elevation over 50 kilometers. At the beginning, I was a bit worried about slipping and sliding as I hurtled down the steep mountain trails, running over lots of exposed rock faces along the way, but once I got into my groove, the miles whizzed by, and the airy, weightless feeling of the Golden Spikes on my feet was all I needed to tackle the tough terrain and wind my way through roots and rocks to a victory.

How did they perform on various surfaces, the ride and any comments on durability this in a more general context as some of your use was pretty extreme?

The Golden Spikes performed like a champ on every surface I took them on (road, track, trail, and mountain), although I found their specialty to be on muddy, dirt trails where speed, nimbleness, and grip were key (hmmm… sounds like a cross-country race!). After running and racing over 100 miles in them, I am especially excited by how well they have held up after all my use and abuse. 

Photo Credit: Patrick Caron
The upper, although a different shade of blue after all the grime they’ve seen, is still intact, and the outsole has been chewed up a bit in the forefoot and around the spots for the spikelets themselves, but otherwise it has held up well and the shoes have plenty of use left for future adventures I plan on taking them on.
Photo Credit: Patrick Caron
Photo Credit: Patrick Caron
Who and what would you recommend them for understanding that most would not run in such a shoe for a rocky 50K

First and foremost, I would recommend the Golden Spikes to any competitive cross-country athlete, and any trackster running distances of the mile or longer. Having raced in many different cross-country and track spikes from an assortment of shoe brands, I can say that not many of them will hold up as well as the Golden Spike after running over 100 miles in them. Congrats to Altra for their success in making a serious racer that is significantly more durable than all the competition.

Along with their obvious use for cross-country and track, I think the Golden Spike is a terrific option for an individual who wants a nimble and lightweight shoe for a trail race, while still hoping for an aggressive tread to handle the roots and rocks that exist along any given course.

What would you compare them to in shoes you have run?
The Altra Golden Spike is in a class of its own. Due to the fact that it is extremely lightweight while still being surprisingly aggressive and durable, It is hard to compare this shoe to another. If I had to compare them to another shoe on the market, I would say they have the firmness and general lightness of the Pearl Izumi EM Road N0, and the cross-country aggressiveness of really any spike. I wear the Nike Zoom Streak LT 2 for the majority of my road and trail races, no matter what the distance (done 5Ks in them as well as 50-Milers), so it is great to have an alternative to this shoe that can handle the more technical terrain of New England with ease.

Patrick's Score 4.8 out of 5… I’d award them a gold medal!
-.1 for the length of the shoe laces (Compared to your typical track or cross-country spike, the laces on the Golden Spike are a little too flimsy and a little too long. This led me to be cautious about tripping over them, and also resulted in two knots forming. I ended up tucking the laces underneath the laces further down the shoe).

-.1 for the abrasive inside around the tongue attachment point (Although I did not notice anything my first couple of runs in the Golden Spike, I realized soon after my 50K win on Mount Agamenticus that a piece of the shoe was cutting into both of my feet, around where the tongue attaches to the rest of the upper. Although it wasn’t painful, it was irritating, and this was probably exacerbated by the fact that I was running so long and far in them, and that I do not ever wear socks. The problem was a quick fix though with a little shoe surgery. I removed the laces from each shoe, held back the tongue, and trimmed a small piece of sharp fabric off both shoes, and this did the trick).

Grace's Impressions
Editor's Note: Grace is a middle school hurdler and cross country runner from NH. In 2015 she won 90% of her cross country meets and placed in the state championships.

The things I like about the Golden Spike.
  • The shoes felt weightless and very light when getting them over the hurdles. 
  • Great traction in the toe for sprinting But just enough cushion to rebound, they felt comfortable. 
  • Just enough support and traction for the 100m and straight runs.
  • They were roomy in the toe box when my feet started to swell from the heat and the shoes were very breathable. 
  • They felt like a racing flat with only spikes on the front half of the shoe. It made them much easier in the starting blocks on the track. 
  • Not much got stuck in them either when I ran off the track.

The few things I disliked

  • The lightweight thin material didn't do well when it was cold and rainy. My feet got soaked and dirty.  
  • Having fewer spikes wasn't as good for the turns on the track. I felt like I lost a little traction. 
These are my new favorite track and xc shoes. They fit well and are very comfortable. I feel like a winner when they are on my feet and don't want to take them off. There like slippers! They are so flexible and easy to wear. They stay tied! A very versatile shoe!

The Golden Spike was provided at no charge to Road Trail Run. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

The Altra Golden Spike is available now from:

Altra Running here
Running Warehouse here
Use Coupon Code RTR10 for 10% off at check out.

All Purchases help support Road Trail Run. Thanks!

Patrick Caron's Run Bio
Patrick Caron is a 19-year old trail and ultrarunner hailing from the New England. With an extreme love for running and competing at an early age, he has had numerous trail and road race wins over the years, including the 2015 TARC Fells Trail Winter Ultra and the 2016 Salomon Trail Running Festival 50-Miler at Pineland Farms. Patrick also has several course records to his name, such as the Goat Hill 50K, the Big A 50K, and the G.A.C. Mother’s Day Six Hour to name a few. Patrick’s enthusiasm for the sport extends beyond himself to others, with his work as a running specialist at Marathon Sports, his dedicated coaching for the Boston Bulldogs Running Club, a new non-profit he helped launch to support those affected and in recovery from addiction, and his local fundraising initiatives to create the Bay Colony Rail Trail, a walking, running, and biking path open to all. Patrick is also an avid hiker and mountaineer, having summited many peaks across New England as well as Mount Rainier in the state of Washington. For more information on Patrick and his ongoing adventures, check out his personal website patrickcaron.com


Joel Morris said...

Sounds like what they need is a test in an on-track competition. If they're losing traction on the turns, like Grace said, it's interesting that Patrick recommended them for the mile and up, which have many more turns, albeit at lower speed.

Levi said...

Hi There

How would you choose the size, for instance comparing other shoes or other Altras ?

I am US13 in Saucony and use US12 in the track shoes.
I am also US13 in ALTRA, so should I size down for more precision as we talked about trail shoes ?