Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Altra Instinct 1.5 Review: Or, Who's Got Altra Mania?

Altra Instinct 1.5 profile and outsole

The Altra Instinct 1.5 (not 2.0? Hmm.) is a zero-drop, amply cushioned shoe with a toe box wide enough for your toes to have a party. This update to the immensely popular original Instinct [1.0] is an excellent example of what so many shoe makers should have been doing for years: That is, Altra allowed the cushioning but ignored the heel lift. Let's hear it for zero drop!

Altra Instinct 1.5 both

Consequently, Altra is nurturing an almost cult-like (the cool kind, not the weird kind) following of "Maniacs" who absolutely love their foot-shaped shoes. "Awesome" appears in the review vocabulary fairly often. And, I can understand the mania.

My experience with another Altra shoe, the Adam, prepared me for the distinctive extra midfoot and toe box room that I now enjoy in the Instinct 1.5. But, as anyone would expect, the Instinct has even more features to offer than the barely-there Adam.

Pulling on the surprisingly lightweight, albeit husky, Instinct; I immediately noted the super comfy ankle cuff. Also, the asymmetric lacing design allowed me to secure the upper easily without feeling that it tightened in the wrong areas. I wiggled my toes and stood up for a walk around the room.

I bounced on my forefeet, leaned backwards on my heels, skipped to the fireplace, and bounded onto the coffee table. (Okay, I didn't jump on the coffee table. But, I wanted to!)

The Instinct 1.5 felt good!

Altra Instinct 1.5 profile

Cushioning? What?

Being that I tend to wear shoes with much less cushioning these days, you might imagine that I'd have reservations about running in shoes with this much padding between the ground and my feet. After all, the Altra site indicates that the Instinct 1.5's stack height is 22mm. So, yeah, you'd be right in your imaginings. You know me well.

Now, imagine my surprise when I first ran in the Instinct 1.5 and noted a degree of ground feel not too far off from that of the Merrell Road Glove! These are not a pair of squishy-cloud shoes.

Seriously, the smart folks at Altra respect the ground and decided to make Instinct wearers respect it, too. Thus, their rendition of Dual-Layer EVA over a rubber outsole conveys a density similar to what we're feeling in other minimally-centric shoes these days.

'Course, there's more of it, the EVA cushioning. So, please don't think I am saying that the ground feels the same in Instincts as it does in Road Gloves. It's just that the feeling is similar.

Altra Instinct 1.5 outsole


Since I'm being all honest and open with you, I'll admit, too, that I had doubts about the Instinct 1.5's ability to flex properly while facilitating a proper run. I mean, look at it. I defy you to roll it up into a ball. Before my first run, I pictured myself clopping across the pavement like a horse in these bulky shoes.

Well, score another point for the Altra design team, because they know exactly where their shoes need to flex in order to make a natural stride attainable. The FootPod™ outsole lives up to it's description on the Altra site:

Altra Instinct 1.5 front angle
...This outsole maps the bones and tendons of the human foot. With canted lugs mapping your foot, this unique outsole provides a natural, all-purpose traction system for a variety of surfaces from road to treadmill to dirt paths.

Similarly, the unobtrusive toe spring amplifies the smooth transition from ground to air and back during rapid leg turnover. I don't see that feature in the photos of the original Instinct. So, I expect that this is a nicety of version 1.5.

Yes, I was surprised by how easily I practiced a forefoot or midfoot strike in the Instincts. For a traditionally cushioned shoe, the Instincts provide the flex a runner needs on flat surfaces. (Trails? No, not for me. I'll pick something else)

Insole Options

If you've already read anything about Altra, you know that they typically provide two different removable insoles (sock liners, foot beds, etc.) with their shoes. There's a strengthening insole — for those who like it flat — and a sculpted insole — for those who like something under their arches.

Altra Instinct 1.5 back angle

I chose to run first without any additional insoles, mostly because I just wanted to see how the shoes performed with as little cushioning as possible. You can see the inside of the shoe sans insole pictured above.

The insole-free run was comfortable enough underfoot. But, I found that subtracting the extra millimeters that the optional insole usually occupies created an even higher toe box. This turned out to be a little too much for my low-volume feet to handle. So, I sustained a blister on the top of my toe.

Since that run, I've used the 3mm strengthening insole whenever I wear the Instincts. It's fine.

Altra Instinct 1.5 front and back

The Big Question

Are you looking for a zero-drop, well-cushioned running shoe with plenty of room for your toes?

If you answer "yes" to at least two and a half parts of that question, then you've just spent a lot of time reading about a shoe you should have already ordered.

I'll elaborate: The big factor here is cushioning. If you've been running in Skoras or something from the Merrell barefoot line, you've been running in shoes with a bit of cushioning. The Instinct 1.5 will give you more of that cushioning. Do you want that for longer runs, perhaps?

Now, suppose you've been running in, um, something like the Brooks Pure whatever. And, you want to see how it feels to run in a zero-drop shoe. The Instinct 1.5 would be an excellent choice for you. It has cushioning, but not the especially squishy Brooks cushioning. And, clearly, the Instinct has that zero-drop element.

I wear my Instincts in a US men's size 12, which corresponds to the sizes I wear in Merrell Road Gloves and New Balance Minimus. So, I guess that means the Instinct fits standard.

Other than the actual Altra store, you could order them from a number of reputable online retailers — NaturalRunningStore.com is a fine place to start your Instinct-buying adventure.

Feel free to pose questions in the comments section. And, as always, thanks for reading!

Altra Instinct 1.5 back angle

Product provided by Altra.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Raven Rock Rumble 10-Mile Trail Race, 2012 Report

As I realized earlier last week that the 2012 Raven Rock Rumble logoRaven Rock Rumble had not yet sold out, my registration finger started to get twitchy. With the denial of my Uwharrie registration still fresh in my brain and a satisfactory time trial just completed on Loblolly, I had a hankering for a dose of race-day adrenaline. So, bam, I registered.

You may not know this, but the Raven Rock Rumble and I have a history. It's nothing personal. It's just that I had a little trouble getting to the race in a timely fashion when I ran it previously in 2010.

So, with that history in mind, my primary goal for this race was to just get there on time and without incident. Fortunately, I managed.

Saturday morning was bright and brisk at Raven Rock State Park. There was a slight breeze to punctuate the 40-ish-degree temperatures, which made waiting for the start and hanging around at the finish a little uncomfortable. But, it was perfect for running.

I ran the three-quarters of a mile from the parking lot to the start area twice as a warm up—maybe to kill time, too. Then I found Anthony and Shannon yukking it up and being encouraging at the start line. Shannon was snapping photos in expert fashion while I assured Anthony that there was no danger of me stepping on his heels.

The horn sounded and we followed the lead bike across the parking lot to the trail. I secured a position behind that tick-shirted runner as we crossed from pavement to trail. And, I was amazed to see that the single-track in this first part of the race had been cleared of leaves. So luxurious!

I lost sight of Anthony after about a mile when I slowed a bit to scold myself for starting out a teensy-weensy bit too quickly. Then I was by myself for a while.

It was very serene out there with the sun filtering through all the orange and red foliage still clinging to the trees. And, much of the single-track after mile one was still covered in leaves. So, the powers that be kept it real for us, too, terrain-wise; which is important, I think, in a trail race—keeping it real.

The ting-tang sound of music emanating from headphones gradually grew more conspicuous behind me. Then I heard footsteps trailing me. And, I had to accept responsibility for keeping more than myself on track for a while. I half listened to the music. Was that Nickelback? I stepped to the side so that the music lover could pass. Quiet again.

Anticipating the infamous Fish Trap Trail hill in the middle of the course, I refrained from going wild with energy during the first few miles. And, I'm glad I did, because that hill was harder to climb than I remembered. Bounding down those steps and over rocks was still my favorite part of the course. But, climbing back up from that descent just really took a lot out of me.

In fact, all the hills at Raven Rock seemed tougher for me this time. Maybe it was because I started faster. Maybe I wasn't as well trained for this race as I'd thought. Who knows, really. It certainly couldn't hurt for me to run more hills during training.

So, with the Fish Trap Trail hill behind me, I followed a yellow-shirted runner to the halfway-ish point with the aid station and the people cheering and taunting and saying stuff like, "There are two girls in front of you! You don't wanna get beat by girls, do you?" 'Course, I knew that the person saying this was kidding—not that I have a problem with being bested by a girl, mind you.

I traded positions with the yellow-shirted guy for the remainder of the race. Another runner (not this "another runner") in NB MT110s also leap-frogged with us for the last five miles until he eventually took the lead in front of me.

AG swag
Inov-8 Trailroc 235s were fantastic on this course.
photo by Shannon Johnstone

The course was really magnificent as far as Piedmont-area trails go. I almost wished that I wasn't in such a hurry to finish running. And, I really hoped to see that rock outcropping for which the park was named. But, no, I didn't see it.

(It was later decided in a conversation with Duncan Hoge, aka first-place Duncan, that the official Raven Rock was just outside the scope of our course that day)

As we closed the loop on the west side of the course, a final daunting climb separated us from the last stretch to the finish. And, that climb was ginormous. I'd been hoping that some mysterious reserve of energy would open and propel me up that last hill for a strong finish.

But, no. I plodded steadily with tiny steps over the rocks and roots in the wake of the NBMT110 runner. There would be no fight to the finish between me and him. But, the relief I felt after crawling over that hill and onto flat ground was enough to make me pick up the pace as much as I could until reaching the line. Volunteers cheered. And, I silently thanked them for that.

As I crossed the finish line with a 16-minute PR over my 2010 time, a photographer from On the Mark Sports snapped a picture; which, apparently, bewildered the hell out of me. (I need to work on my reaction to cameras on the race course. Because, I swear, I didn't feel as grumpy as this expression might make me appear)

So, aside from being terrible at posing for pictures, I've learned that I need more hill work. There seems to be a difference between being good at running hills and being good at running the same hills. Know what I mean?

AG swag
Socks for the age group awards!
photo from Raven Rock Rumble FB page

Thanks again to the volunteers and race personnel who make this rumble happen. Packet pickup was a breeze. And, the post-race replenishment tables were stocked with a marvelous array of carbs.

Thanks to Anthony and Shannon for being so encouraging at the start of the race. This is probably the second time I've ever talked to someone before a race.

Oh, and, reader, if you call yourself a trail runner, you'd better be running this race next year. The course is fantastic!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

What I Was Like When Registering for Uwharrie 2013

I made my first attempt at signing up for the Uwharrie Mountain RunUwharrie Mountain Run 2013 when registration opened to the public on November 1. Like most of the Southeast trail running community, I was poised at my computer, ready to log in on the hour so that I could secure a spot before the race sold out.

I thought I was successful! But, as you'll learn in this brief tale of woe below, I was't.

Naturally, I bear no ill will toward the fantastic team of people that put this event together every year. They're great people!

The registration site is not necessarily deserving of scorn either. Uwharrie is popular! And websites can only handle so much traffic before going all crazy on ya.

I just thought it'd be fun to share this first-time-Uwharrie-registration story with you. It'll be quick. And, I imagine that some of you can relate. So, here's what I was like when registering for Uwharrie 2013...

When I was trying to access the registration page:

Then, I got in and my registration was confirmed! So I was all:

But, a few days later, an email from SPORToften arrives.
And, I'm reading it like this:

We regret that we will be removing your registration(s) from the 2013 Uwharrie Mountain Run and your confirmation will no longer be valid. SPORToften will be refunding your payment as well as all transaction fees immediately...The SPORToften system allowed your registration for the 2013 Uwharrie Mountain Run to be added AFTER the capacity was reached and the event was SOLD OUT...

Reading this last part of the email. And, I'm all:

We recognize this is not a replacement for running Uwharrie, however, we would like to extend a $15 credit toward entry for the 2013 Tar Heel 10 Miler and 4 Mile Run scheduled for April 20, 2013 in Chapel Hill, NC.

I was a little upset.

The next day—a message from the race director:

It is with sincere regret that we learned of the SPORToften registration failure for the 2013 Uwharrie Mountain Run...

We understand that you are very disappointed and we share your frustration. We want to clarify a few important points...[excellent and reasonable points made, recompense offered, good feelings ensued]...

Again, we are very sorry for the trouble. This is an isolated incident and in no way reflects the great tradition and direction of this race and the hard work of many volunteers who make it possible. [Couldn't agree more]

So, I was like...

The End
(until next year)


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