Sunday, June 09, 2019

Altra Running Paradigm 4.5 Review: Massive Zero Drop Cushion with some Bounce

Article by Jeff Beck and Jeff Valliere

Attra Paradigm 4.5 ($150)
Jeff Beck: The Paradigm 4.5 is Altra’s latest version of their massively cushioned road shoe. As a .5 update, this update see only minor changes from the Paradigm 4.0, essentially a slight tweak to the knit upper. While the Paradigm is technically a moderate support shoe, it uses Guide Rail and StabiliPods, which result in a very unobtrusive stability - effectively making it a neutral shoe for neutral runners. Featuring both Altra staples of zero drop and an oversized toe box, the Paradigm 4.5 is an exceptionally cushioned, albeit heavy, daily trainer designed to eat up big miles.

Pros and Cons
Pros: Jeff Beck - Incredibly well cushioned with bouncy, not mushy feeling Breathable upper -Lots of rubber for lasting durability unlike early generation of Paradigm -Massive platform width keeps this high stack shoe feeling stable -Light guidance/stability elements don’t detract for neutral/supinating runners Cons: Jeff Beck - Little touches are wrong, ie laces are way too long, rear pull tab to narrow to put finger in, Seattle Seahawks colorway offensive for Cardinals fans -Midfoot fit is baggy -Heavy, and feels massive on the foot -Zero drop can put extra strain on lower leg

Tester Profiles
Jeff Beck is the token slow runner of the RTR lineup as such his viewpoints on shoe and gear can differ from those who routinely finish marathons in three hours or less.  Jeff runs 30 miles per week, both roads and desert trails in North Phoenix, Arizona. He has a PR's of 4:07 marathon and 5K at 23:39 both he is working to demolish with help from his coach Dave Ames.
Jeff Valliere runs mostly on very steep technical terrain above Boulder often challenging well known local FKT's but is also known to run roads and fast.

Official Weight men’s size 9: 10.5 oz
Sample Weight men’s size 10: 11.4oz/323 grams
Sample Weight 10.5M: 12.2 ounces/348 grams
List Stack Height: 31mm/31mm, 0 drop.
$150. Available now.

First Impressions and Fit
Jeff Beck: The Paradigm 4.5 is certainly an Altra. While many other manufacturers have been improving the size of their toeboxes, Altra is still the king when it comes to room up front, and it shows. While it is a heavier shoe, at least there is lots of bouncy cushioning underneath the foot to offset the weight. Fitwise it is a spot on true to size for length, but another of the Altra’s recurring themes is a sloppy or baggy midfoot fit, and that’s present here as well.

Jeff V:  I had run in the Paradigm 1.5, four or so years ago and they stood out as one of my favorite road shoes and favorite Altra I have run in.  They were light, well cushioned, comfortable, fit me well and I found them to be surprisingly quick and responsive. I used them any time I needed a cushioned road trainer, ran a fast (for me) Bolder Boulder 10k race and even used them on moderately technical trail runs with little issue.  When presented with the opportunity to review the 4.5, I was eager to see how the Paradigm had evolved. I have to say I was quite shocked. Though the Paradigm has evolved, it has become a completely different shoe, adding weight, material and mass.

Fit is true to size, I think, but it feels as though my toes are touching right up against the front tip of the shoe.  When I give the thumb test, there is some room there, so I was surprised to find that what I am feeling most is low overhead height.  Though this has not caused me any issues, I am often aware of it as I run or when I am just walking or wearing the shoe casually. I have found this to be a not entirely isolated fit issue for me when wearing an Altra shoe and have even tried sizing up a half size in other models, but I then find that the shoe becomes overly floppy on my foot and will not secure properly.  I think if you are used to Altra and prefer the fit, you will not be disappointed here, but depending on your foot and preference, may find this bothersome.

Jeff Beck: The Paradigm 4.5 upper has a lot to like, along with a few gripes. First, the knit material is both comfortable, and breathable.

The tongue is pretty thin, but not thin enough to make the laces bite into the top of the foot. The tongue is attached to the rest of the upper with a pair of wings, and they keep it planted in the center of the foot.
The toebox knit gets very loose, allowing you to see through the material, and the result is a very breathable shoe even in hot and long conditions.

Complaint wise they aren’t deal breakers as much as nuisance items. The laces are way too long. It’s the first shoe I’ve ever quadruple knotted, and still had a normal-sized loops. On the flipside, the pul  ltab on the heel is so shallow I cannot comfortable fit any finger inside of it. The reflective stripes on it are nice, and the shoe is easy to put on, so the pul ltab isn’t needed, but having a pull tab that is so small it doesn’t serve an actual purpose is frustrating. Lastly, I found the midfoot baggy. Not as bad as some Altras of the past, where I could actually pinch the extra material, but there is a pretty decent excess in the upper.

Jeff V:  The knit upper of the Paradigm 4.5 is excellent and I really appreciate the quality construction, style, ventilation and foothold.  Overall comfort and foothold is very good, but as I mentioned earlier, I am very aware of the low ceiling in the forefoot and find it somewhat annoying.  As Jeff B mentions above, the heel pull loops are too small, even for my skinny little fingers, but the shoes are easy enough to slip into without really needing them.  The laces are a bit excessively long, even if you have thicker feet, I can’t imagine needing all of that lace. The heel collar is well padded and comfortable with good heel hold.  I personally did not experience the midfoot to be baggy and find foothold to be very good for its intended purpose. Breathability is awesome, as I can easily see my sock through the knit and feel a flow of air just as I walk (however it does let in a lot of dust and dirt).

Jeff Beck: Altra’s Ego midsole claims high energy return and great durability, and I would say they nailed it. For such a tall shoe, I didn’t find it mushy at all - this shoe is bouncy. One of my runs in the Paradigm was 12 miles on very tired legs to wrap up a 60+ mile week, and they felt great the whole way. The one caveat with Altra is always to be cautious with zero drop as it can place extra stress on your lower leg. If you haven’t experienced zero drop you should ease into it, and while this shoe is designed to go long distances, you may want to log a handful of shorter runs to get your calves and achilles used to the different strain.

Jeff V:  I find the Ego midsole to be very well cushioned while maintaining a great balance of supportive firmness and response for comfort over long miles.  Despite the high stack and overall size/bulk of the Paradigm 4.5, it is surprisingly responsive and is easy to click off moderately paced miles without feeling like you have to prompt the shoe to go.  For sure maximal, the Paradigm 4.5 eats up road shock and leaves my legs feeling reasonably fresh.
The Guide Rail support system offers me nothing as a supinator, but it doesn’t seem to harm my stride any.

Jeff Beck: The outsole has lots of rubber coverage with a few strategic gaps to increase flexibility. Unfortunately, with 31mm of stack under the foot, there’s never going to be much flexibility. Luckily, a shoe of this stature still works well without much flex, and the rubber coverage will allow you to get a lot of miles out of it before retirement. Early version of the Paradigm had solid rubber coverage, but inexplicably they skipped putting rubber on the lateral toe side of the shoe, and I personally wore through two different pairs of Paradigm 1.0 and one pair of 1.5 due to the exposed midsole wearing down creating an unstable platform. In the 4.5 you won’t experience any of that, and while you may pay the price for all that rubber on the scale, this shoe was never going to be a slipper, and Altra giving it plenty of coverage is a great step in the right direction.

Jeff V:  Jeff sums it up well above and I appreciate the more fully covered rubber outsole vs. the exposed foam for added durability and traction, however I go back and forth with all of the little add ons here and there contributing to the weight increase, as to whether or not this has truly been an improvement to the Paradigm 4.5 specifically.

Jeff Beck: As I stated in the midsole portion, this shoe is bouncy. Like, old school ‘put the quarter in the vending machine to get a rubber ball’ level of bouncy. Altra’s Ego midsole material really puts the pop in your step, and it is surprising how this heavy of a shoe can also be this bouncy. However, you may have noticed from pictures there is not much in the way of rocker or toe spring to the shoe, and it is a very flat platform. That isn’t inherently good or bad as much as personal preference, but I found that I run louder in this shoe than anything else I’ve put on my foot in some time. I spent a few miles in the Paradigm 4.5 on a groomed trail, and even on dirt I could hear the slapping sound with every foot fall. Again, more nuisance than actual complaint, but worth mentioning.

Jeff V:  Jeff describes the ride very well, as the Paradigm 4.5 does have a surprising amount of bounce which helps this large shoe perform.  Despite the outsole not being rockered to take more advantage of the forefoot/midfoot strike, it does transition smooth and easy. I did not find it to be particularly slappy as Jeff has noted.

Conclusions and Recommendations
Jeff Beck: The Altra Paradigm 4.5 is a big mileage, high-stacked, super-bouncy shoe with a breathable knit upper that has some mild fit issues in the midfoot. It is the quintessential Altra shoe, complete with almost obscene levels of toe box room, zero drop, with a high stack and wide platform. The midsole and outsole combine to give a durable long lasting shoe that will go hundreds of miles before giving up the ghost. Faster or more experiences runners will find it appropriate for long runs or recovery runs exclusively, while heavier runners or newer runners could do much worse for a do it all shoe, provided the zero drop design doesn’t do any harm. This heavyweight heavy duty super cushioned shoe will never be confused with an uptempo trainer, but if you are looking for a beast of a shoe to gobble up lots of miles, the Paradigm could be your answer.
Jeff Beck’s Score 7.5/10. Ride: 8, Fit: 6, Value: 9, Style: 6.
(using weighted scoring Ride 50% Fit 30% Value 15% Style 5%)
The bouncy ride is fun, but the shoe is too heavy to make that bounce turn into speed. The fit has issues, and the look of the shoe is awkward. While it is a $150 premium priced shoe, it should easily last 300-400 miles, making it a solid value in the end.

Jeff V:  Jeff sums it up exactly, a great high mileage trainer with lots of cushion, a bouncy/responsive midsole, a great upper and durability for many miles.  The Paradigm 4.5 is very well suited for high mileage on hard surfaces at slower to moderate paces and recovery runs The zero drop and forefoot fit however may not be for everyone.  Given the weight and mass of the shoe, this is definitely not an uptempo shoe as was the case with the 1.5, but clearly the Paradigm is no longer aimed at that niche.
Jeff V’s Score: 7.35/10:  Ride: 8, Fit: 6, Value: 8, Style: 7
(using weighted scoring Ride 50% Fit 30% Value 15% Style 5%)

Altra Paradigm 4.5 vs Topo Athletic Phantom  (RTR Review)
Jeff Beck: I don’t think I’ve reviewed two shoes in such a short time that are clearly the competition for each other in such a niche market. Both are massively cushioned, both are low to zero drop, both have ample or greater than toe boxes. On paper it should be easy; the Topo is $20 cheaper, lighter, and has a much better fitting upper (not to mention the 5mm drop is much easier to transition to than zero drop), but the Phantom’s midsole is soft and squishy while the Paradigm’s bouncy ride is much more fun to run in. Try them both, see which ride you prefer.

Altra Paradigm 4.5 vs Brooks Glycerin 17  (RTR Review)
Jeff Beck: By comparison the Glycerin almost feels minimalist, and it’s a very well cushioned shoe. The Glycerin toebox is great, but cramped by comparison, while the Paradigm upper is great, but feels rough compared to the Glycerin. Both ready for big miles, the Glycerin is the easy choice for a do-it-all shoe, and the Paradigm is ideal if you have really wide feet and need extra toe room. Ultimately, I’d take the Glycerin.

Altra Paradigm 4.5 vs New Balance Fresh Foam More  (RTR Review)
Jeff Beck: The Fresh Foam More is lighter and even more cushioned, but doesn’t have nearly the bounce of the Paradigm, and while the Altra has some fit issues with the upper, the FFM upper can cause some serious issues. Save $10, go Paradigm for a more fun run with much more room up front.

Altra Paradigm 4.5 vs Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5  (RTR Review)
Jeff Beck: The Hoka is a trail/road hybrid while the Paradigm is a road shoe (that can be used on the trails provided they don’t get too technical), and shockingly the Hoka is less cushioned. It is also not nearly as bouncy as the Paradigm, but I still prefer the Hoka: its toe box is big enough, the cushioning is a nice balance of squish and bouncy, and the fit is dialed in. Running with one on each foot highlights just how clunky the Paradigm can feel. On the upside, the Challenger 5 was my 2018 Shoe of the Year, so it was an uphill battle from the start.

Altra Paradigm 4.5 vs. Hoka One One Bondi 6  (RTR Review)
Jeff V: Both size 10.  The Bondi 6 has more cushion and is about the same weight.  The more “normal” upper of the Bondi 6 fits my foot much better and I prefer having a bit of drop (4mm in the case of the Bondi) while the rockered outsole makes the Bondi 6 transition faster with less effort, where the Paradigm 4.5 can feel a bit ponderous at times.

Altra Paradigm 4.5 vs. Hoka One One Clifton 5: (RTR Review)
Jeff V.  Both size 10.  The Clifton 5 is lighter, though has less cushion (but still feels very well cushioned) than the Paradigm 4.5.  I prefer the more normal fitting upper of the Clifton and the 5mm drop. The outsole of the Paradigm 4.5 has more rubber on the outsole, so will likely be more durable over time.
Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
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1 comment:

NP said...

i had the same problem with the paradigm 4.0 and the material covering the toe area. I normally wear a size 13 in most shoes. It felt like there was a bit too much room up front so i went down to a 12.5 and the first thing i noticed was my toe touching the hard material covering the toe area. I can wear Hoka's in 12.5 without this issue but it seems the height in the toe box for altras needs to be looked at. I bought the Torin 4 in size 13 and again it feels like too much room up front, but i am scared to size down because of the material in the toe area upper.