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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Shoe Review: The ALTRA Samson/ Delilah

Different is Good
I had never seen an Altra shoe prior to walking into the store. They have an oddly wide toe box and were designed to be fully "zero drop" meaning the heel to toe offset was just that: zero. Having been so used to the industry standard of shoes coming to a narrow, pointed toe, the Altra presented itself as an odd creature. At first I flat out didn't like it. It was too odd looking with the wide toe box in stark contrast to what the industry standard is. I've run in zero drop, minimal shoes before (the minimus zeros) and was fine with that, but aesthetic was just... no. But like any intrepid young runner, my curiosity got the best of me. I just had to see what they were all about. And I'm glad I did.
 
Weight: 6.5 0z
Drop: 0
Midsole: 3.4mm Razor-Siped Performance Rubber BareSole
Outsole: 3.5mm  EVA

Although I initially looked at my feet in these odd-looking shoes with more than a little trepidation, I now see them as possibly the most comfortable shoes I've ever worn. The wide toe box may turn off some at first glace but I implore you to try it. It allows your toes to fully splay in a more natural movement, which I find helps even with basic blisters and preventing blackened toe nails. It should be noted that I am not a barefoot running enthusiast. I don't have any burning desires of getting connected with the ground or having the oft delusional view that running barefoot is the key to being injury free. BUT I do know that running barefoot and training with minimal shoes is a great tool to build minute muscle strength in the foot and ankle and correct poor running form/posture. Having your toes splay helps greatly with balance and posture by distributing your weight throughout your foot and especially your big toe (where most of your foot balance comes from). I can't tell you enough how much I like the wide toe box. It is just so roomy and comfortable while walking or running that I'm surprised I put up with other things for so long. And not only that but the shoe's aesthetics have grown on me as well. Once they are on your feet they actually look pretty good. I don't know if it is because it looks closer to your own foot shape and there is some primordial, ingrained perception that our feet are supposed to look a certain way and we subconsciously love it when we can see our own foot shape (have to throw some stuff in for those of us who are more inclined to conspiracy theories). Even my mother, who saw them just as I did at first, weird looking and different, now wants a pair after seeing them on my feet. I talked a lot about the aesthetic because from what I've heard from people in the store is that they just don't like the look; It's too different. Well, different is actually good. 
http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-zscYs3kDE50/T17J9C16EuI/AAAAAAAAAwo/bgGvw7JJ4pc/s200/2012-03-08+18.04.26.jpg 
Performance: The Samson (men's) and the Delilah (women's) are Altra's barefoot style shoe. Having a mere 3.4mm thick midsole and 3.5mm outsole, the Samson is pretty bare-bones. Those who are looking for something to put on their feet with more padding should consider something else. Those who are looking to really feel the road and every little rock should also look somewhere else however. While the Samson is super light and amazingly flexible (you can roll it up and stuff it in your pocket if you really wanted to), the sole is very dense and very high quality EVA. I've run several back-county cottage roads filled with rocks, as well as done some trail running in them and haven't so much as flinched when stepping on rocks. I wouldn't advise running on hard surfaces with them, especially right at first and if you aren't used to running in a barefoot style shoe as these WILL force you to change your running style. 
Now I've taken to wearing them for every day use. They are super lightweight, super flexible and above all, superbly comfortable. I have found that they may need a little bit of something in the arch for those who either haven't run barefoot before (or if you're like me, haven't run in minimal shoes for a few months). The easiest solution I found was to just shove my old barefoot science in them and that solved the problem almost immediately.

These shoes aren't going to be for everyone (although I encourage everyone to give them a try). They are very minimal and as such require a bit of a "learning curve" to adjust to the minimalist running style. They are don't offer a whole lot of cushioning (heel strikers beware), but do offer quite a bit of protection thanks to the dense EVA rubber. I still find it a little difficult to run on pavement in these but through trails and softer surfaces these work great (although I would watch out for really wet days as there are no lugs what so ever on these puppies and you'll be sliding all over). There really isn't any support in these. Those who need some stability/guidance should look elsewhere. The curious looking toe box is at first startling and may be a turn-off. But that's actually one of it's bets selling features. It allows for free toe movement and for people who need a wider toe box, this is perfect. Even if you have a more straight, narrow foot (me), these still fit like a glove. They also make great cross-training/ gym shoe thanks to their flexibility and wide toe box which helps when gripping and balancing for lifting and plyometric movements.
FITTING TIP: I suggest trying out a half a size down from your normal size (ie- if you're a 9, try an 8.5) for men. However, the women's fit small and I'd suggest going up at least half a size or more.

For those who are looking for a fast, neutral shoe but need more cushioning, also check out the Altra Instinct.

~E

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