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Despite what can sometimes feel like a ton of innovation in the average running shoe over the past few decades, there hasn’t been all that much innovation in its standard silhouette. In fact, if I tasked you with picturing a running shoe at random, you’d likely imagine the traditional running shoe with a semi-pointed toe and a slightly raised heel. Right? Probably with a big ol’ swoosh or some rectangular stripes.
When you think about it, it’s sort of bizarre. How is it that we’ve already hit on the perfect silhouette? It couldn’t have possibly been that easy, could it? Well, one shoe company feels we haven’t reached the peak and has chosen to move away from the standard silhouette and create something a bit different. The company in question is Altra. The shoe? Their latest distance runner, the Paradigm 6. Altra was kind enough to send SPY a sample pair to test.
First things, I have to address the shape. As you can see in the video above, the Paradigm 6 looks like your standard running shoe from the side. But when viewed from above, it’s obvious something is different. That difference is an expanded toe box that allows for a more natural resting position for your toes.
“Altra’s signature FootShape was developed around the concept of creating a more natural, more powerful running position,” says Altra Co-Founder Brian Beckstead. “By creating a toe box shape that allows the toes to relax and spread out naturally, it enables the big toe to remain in a straight position, we’re providing runners with maximum stability, power and comfort.”
And without being a sneaker scientist, it’s pretty easy to see what he’s driving at. Your average running shoe points toward the middle of your toes (much like most of your shoes that aren’t Birkenstocks or Crocs). Now for someone with slender feet (like me), that’s fine. But for those with wider feet, the Altra could be a huge step in the right direction. This expanded toe box, in theory, allows for more wiggle room of your toes without you slipping and sliding around if you’re making hard cuts and turns.
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But before we dive in, you may be thinking, why should I listen to this guy? Let me introduce myself. My name is James Schiff. I’m an ex-D1 Cross Country runner with more mileage under my feet than is (frankly) reasonable. I ran a marathon at age 16 and put in around 50 miles a week from age 13 to 18 and closer to 80 or 90 miles per week from age 18 to 20. Even as a washed-up ex-D1 athlete, I still run 10 to 20 miles a week. All of which is to say, I’ve tried A LOT of running shoes in my life, so I know a thing or two about what shoes are worth their weight in foam.
Altra Paradigm 6: What We Liked
- Roomy without feeling loose
- Cushioning can handle serious mileage
As mentioned above, I have rather slender feet, so slipping into the Paradigm 6 was undoubtedly a new experience. The shoe didn’t feel loose; it just felt roomy. I was warned that the shoes could take some getting used to, so despite wanting to rip a solid 5 or 6 miler, I held off and kept things quick for my first few runs.
Similar to my stalwart running shoe, the Brooks Adrenaline (which I’ve professed my love to in just about every running-related article on SPY), the Paradigm 6 is sturdy with enough support to handle my mid-to-high milage routine. There’s much less of a heel drop in the Paradigm 6 (the amount of height lost from heel to toe) which took some getting used to, but once I warmed up, I felt the footstrike to be natural and quite comfortable. In fact, after a few runs in the Paradigm 6, going back to my Adrenalines felt strange.
But let’s come back to that toe box because that’s truly the star of the show here. My slender foot aside, it was actually incredibly nice to be able to spread out my toes a few miles in. The extra space feels luxurious in a way and allows for a bit more stability than you’d have in your average running shoe. And when you’re pounding the pavement mile after mile, that extra bit goes a long way. I felt in control as I cruised the streets of Los Angeles and never felt like my feet were swelling out past the seams. For those who don’t know, your feet will expand throughout a run, which is why many distance runners buy their trainers a half size up.
Another thing I dug about the Paradigm 6 was the support. As a distance runner, I need some solid foam between me and the pavement. I don’t care if the shoes are bulky; I need the support over the long term. In this regard, the shoes do exceptionally well. They weigh 10.8 ounces, which is relatively comparable to your standard distance trainer. Though you can always make an argument for a lighter shoe, there is weight here for a reason: running is hard on your body. Trust us; your knees will appreciate anything that comes between you and the hard concrete, asphalt or track.
Altra Paradigm 6: What We Didn’t Like
- The look takes some getting used to
- Don’t buy these in red
While the shoe functioned exceptionally well, the shoe’s look is … not quite right. I appreciate changing the standard form to try something new (especially when it works like this), but I do think style is important. Yes, you could say that nobody will be able to see your running shoes if you’re moving fast enough, but let’s be real, you’re not just running in your shoes. You’ll likely skip to a grocery store or coffee shop, or smoothie spot after your run. In other words, you are probably going out in public with these puppies on. And while many of their colors are pretty rad (even with the funky shape), I would not recommend the red. Altra sent me the red for testing, and to be frank, they look a little bit like clown shoes. In fact, my running buddy joked that I looked like Ronald McDonald when I stepped out of my car for one of our morning runs.
Maybe you don’t care at all about looks. And if that’s the case, good on you. But as this is a review, I think it’s worth mentioning.
Verdict: If You Can Get Past the Looks, You’ll Fall in Love
If you often feel too constrained in your running shoes, you NEED to give these a try. Altra is doing something different and getting big names behind their brand (two-time Olympian Kara Goucher specifically helped with the Paradigm 6). It’s one thing to promote a shoe, but to actually give input on that shoe that the company then implemented? That’s one heck of a co-sign.
And why did she do that? Because the shoes work. The shape takes getting used to, but you may ditch every constrained shoe you’ve ever owned (running or otherwise) once you do. Space in the toe box equates to breathing room and stability, which also means fewer blisters. And if you know a runner who is keen for more blisters … you’re lying. They don’t exist.
If you’re looking for a new pair of running shoes, we at SPY.com highly recommend Altra’s Paradigm 6. Just, maybe avoid the red pair, lest you really love McDonald’s.