I am beyond excited to share that I have been chosen to run for Altra as an Altra Ambassador this year! I couldn’t be happier, as Altra is a shoe that I’ve been racing in for years now. If you’ve seen me out on the trails or races recently, you’ve likely seen me in my bright red Lone Peaks, but long before Altra became the exploding shoe company it is today, I was really enjoying the brand.
Several years ago, after finishing the Marine Corps Marathon, I was in so much pain at the finish line that I almost started crying. I couldn’t walk right for days and couldn’t run for weeks. When I did start to run, I found I had terrible IT band pain that persisted for months. Long story short, I finally figured out that I was running with poor form and with shoes that promoted my poor form. I had to retool my gait from the bottom up. At the time, there really weren’t any good consensus resources out there on natural running form, so I started just figuring things out myself. I found that if I ran completely barefoot, my IT band pain was gone. Thus, I discovered Vibram Fivefingers and started enjoying running like I never had before. Suddenly running was easy, light, fun, and I was training better than I ever had. Except for one thing…I was ignoring some significant foot pain. I figured it was just some transition growing pains, and kept running through it for weeks. Finally, it gave and I suffered a metatarsal (foot) stress fracture. Ugh.
In hindsight, I was stupid. I was not listening to my body yelling at me to slow down, and like many type-A, knucklehead runners, I put a race goal in front of me and tried to keep getting the mileage in despite my body telling me otherwise. After a month in a walking boot, I slowly started building back up. I was not discouraged about the stress fracture, because I knew I had found something wonderful in my new running gait. Better posture, quicker cadence, better foot landing – all these things led to an easier time running and more importantly running became fun again.
Michelle and I celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary by taking a trip to Shepherdstown, WV and hanging out at Two Rivers Treads, the nations first minimalist-only shoe store owned by an amazing person, Dr. Mark Cucuzzella. This is where Michelle and I were first introduced to Altra. We had great attention at the store and had a lot of help further refining our running form. After trying on loads of shoes, we both LOVED the Altra Samson (for me) and Delilah (for Michelle). This was a zero drop shoe (no heel elevation) with a wide toe box, and a very flexible, minimal sole. Though a minimal shoe, it felt a little more substantial than the Fivefingers and really it just felt like an extension of my foot.
Now I was still a knucklehead and had the Marine Corps Marathon on my race schedule just 3 months after getting out of the walking boot. I trained exclusively in either in my Altra Samsons or completely barefoot. By the time the Marine Corps Marathon came around, I was admittedly undertrained and was a bit concerned on how I was going to do. I had a completely new running gait and was wearing a pretty minimal shoe vs. the previous year (Saucony). Race day came and despite the expected rigors of a road marathon, I finished with the same time as the year before, but when I crossed the finish line – no pain! That was all the proof that I needed to realize that injuries are not prevented by shoes, but rather by good form and improving your strength and stability. For me, I needed a minimal shoe to get there and the Altras proved a wonderful tool.
Fast forward several years and now I’m training for my first 50 mile mountain ultramarathon, and about to open a running store. Just three weeks before the race, our Altra rep Tim Kirk sent me a pair of Lone Peaks, their new trail shoe. “John, you’ll love ’em and you’ll be racing in them in no time!”. I decided to give them a whirl and after my first trail run, I was sold. I was already familiar with Altras of course, but here was the zero drop platform and wide toe box with…cushion! And an incredible trail tread! Right then and there I abandoned the shoes I had planned on racing in and have raced in only the Lone Peaks since.
They saw me to a great finish at the Mountain Masochist 50 miler, then a slow but gritty finish at Hellgate 100Km a month later. In 2014, I have entered the Lynchburg Ultra Series (a race series consisting of 4 ultramarathons, three in the winter/spring) and am currently sitting in 3rd place overall. Not only have I been loving the Lone Peaks on the trail but also the Instinct, their road shoe, for my track workouts and tempo runs.
Yes, I do occasionally run in some other shoes to mix things up, but I always come back to Altras. And as the owner of a running store, Altra is by far one of our best selling shoes. Although they are often a new experience for many runners who have always been fitted in traditional running shoes (high, elevated heel, narrow toe box, unstable midfoot), people consistently say Altras are the most comfortable shoe they have ever worn.
I am proud to represent Altra this year, both racing in the mountains and fitting in the store. Good things to come for 2014 and beyond!
(John’s Ambassador page at Altra is here)