Big time cushion in a zero drop shoe? Yes, Altra knows how to deliver
Tim and Alex were lucky to receive their pairs a month ago. They put it through some testing and here is their review of Altra’s first « max cushion » daily trainer, the Via Olympus. Note that Altra sponsored a video on our Youtube channel, however this article is not sponsored and Altra does not get to read it before it publishes.
Via Olympus – Specs
Weight: Official: 312g in US10.5 – Actual: 310g (10.9oz) in size US10.5 / EU44.5
Stack height (forefoot/heel): 33/33mm
Durometer score (0 to 100, soft to hard): 26.1/100 for the TPEE-based Ego Max midsole compound
Upper: you can see plushness in the Via Olympus upper
Tim: If you have already tried an Altra shoe, you know that the brand has 2 main priorities : favouring a natural stride (we will discuss this later) and the toebox width.
For this second point, Altra used its Original FootShape fit for the Via Olympus which means that the shoe will be roomier than the vast majority of shoes. Therefore if you have wide feet or you love to feel your toes splaying out naturally you will be happy. I personally quite like this especially for daily trainers.
Once you put your feet in the Via Olympus, you instantly know that the shoe is a daily trainer. The upper is thick and a lot of padding has been added everywhere. From the heel collar offering extra support to the tongue and even the laces, everything is soft and thick. All of these uppers details combined give the shoe the look and the feeling of something really soft and comfortable.
My only remark regarding the upper will concern the lacing system. For my personal needs / preferences I enjoy when the last eyelet rises a bit higher and maintains the foot inside the shoe better. Here I have the feeling that on every step my heel takes off a little bit from the insole even if I use the last eyelet.
Alex: The upper of the Via Olympus is a statement in itself. The thickness of the mesh is real. And the plushness you feel when getting your hands on the shoes for the first time tricks your brain and raises the expectations in terms of comfort. Now I must admit that the upper of the Via Olympus is too much padded for my liking. But if you’re looking for some comfort, you will be served.
My sample pair is 1/2 down from my true to size (« TTS »). I thought this could work like it did in the past with Altra. However the length is probably a tad shorter than with other Altra shoes as the pair ran really short for me. Less than optimal fit experience but this will certainly not be an issue should you go for your TTS. The fit of the Via Olympus is what Altra calls their « Original Footshape » fit. This refers to the OG Altra fit with the widest platforms and roomiest toe boxes. I must however highlight that compared to some « Standard Footshape » fits in Altra’s line (Mont Blanc for instance), the fit of the Via Olympus does not feel that much roomier especially in the midfoot. Keep in mind the sizing issue I faced with this shoe but I believe the thick upper also plays a role.
Midsole and ride – the Via Olympus is consistent with its purpose, long and slow runs
Tim: According to Altra, these shoes should deliver an optimised cushion experience for smooth mileage. Is the objective achieved ?
In my personal opinion, the ride isn’t smooth from the midsole point of view. The ride can be enjoyable (see below in which circumstances) and therefore smooth but it doesn’t come from the softness of the foam. Instead I found the midsole foam rather firm. After some useI still find the foam stiff and I did not notice any improvements here despite 60 kilometers of breaking in the shoe.e.
Like I said above, I nevertheless found the ride smooth for easy runs (~5min/km in my case) of 30-40 minutes. I think this is achieved thanks to 3 items: first, the Balanced Cushioning (which means 0mm drop). As I mainly run in 6 to 10mm drop shoes I do find my muscles less recruited when I go out with the Via Olympus. Second, the rocker included in the shoe helps me to transition from heel to toe which is important for my gait cycle as I’m a heel striker. Thirdand last, the stability of the shoe thanks to a large and wide platform.
Alex: Zero drop? Or should I say « Balanced », which is Altra’s branding of the zero drop geometry? Probably close to that should you use Altra’s measuring technique. But the geometry of the Via Olympus is special and I feel like it’s not as flat as the zero drop legacy may indicate. The Via Olympus comes with a prominent (but not aggressive!) rocker in the forefoot. So the question is where do you measure the drop? At the tip of you toes or at the base of your metatarsals (like Altra does)? Then yes, you will likely find a 33mm stack height both in the heel and in the forefoot. But should you measure the drop according to the World Athletics guidelines, I’m pretty sure you can end up with a 2 to 4mm drop.
These considerations are rather geeky so let us jump to the ride of the shoe. Well first the Ego Max (TPE-E based) midsole feels firmer than on the Mont Blanc line. Not a bad thing because it’s not dramatically firmer. But if you’re expecting the same flavor of Ego Max compound, it’s not. The midsole of the Via Olympus will provide you with some deep cushion and in any event an unprecedented amount of cushion for an Altra shoe. No reel bounciness or explosiveness, more of an homogeneous pillow of deep and dense cushion under your feet.
The ride was surprisingly disappointing in the first kilometers with the shoe. Let’s face it, running in a shoe that is too small does not help. But I was pleased to discover another face of the Via Olympus after a bunch of kilometers out there. Once you break in the midsole, the ride becomes more natural and you really take advantage of the Ego Max compound. The rocker helps to obtain an efficient toe-off and the geometry certainly does not feel as special as a traditional zero drop shoe. The calf load felt lower to me and this make the Via Olympus a friendly shoe for people looking at their first experience with Altra.
Outsole & stability – a no brainer
Tim : I already mentioned the width of the platform and the fact that the shoe is stable. But stability doesn’t mean that the shoe has a good grip. The Via Olympus could be improved in this area to be honest. When the ground is dry, all goes well. But as soon as it starts to be wet then I don’t find myself as safe and comfortable as I would like to be
From a durability point of view, I think that thanks to the thickness of the rubber on the outsole and the stiffness of the foam, the shoe could last for a while without losing its properties. Therefore I would say that if you enjoy the shoe you could log quite a few miles in it !
Alex : Like Tim said, several reasons indicate a good durability for the Altra Via Olympus. I would also add that the width of the platform is so generous that you get a ton of inherent stability out of it. The compression of the midsole on the medial side is limited and the ride is overall friendly for mild and moderate pronators.
Conclusion – long and easy but not necessarily more than that
Tim : On paper, due to its stiffness and weight the Via Olympus has too many drawbacks for my needs to be used on a regular basis. Nevertheless the geometry (Balanced cushioning, rocker and footshape) made me enjoy running at easier paces with the shoe. Therefore I think that I could use this shoe once a week or every two weeks on easy runs but I would not use it more than that. Anyways, if you are an Altra lover, or you just enjoy firmer low drop shoes I really think you could like this new daily trainer from Altra.
Alex : Premium feel and deep cushion with « less » drop than most maximalist shoes? Check the Altra Via Olympus. And make sure you give it a chance past 30-40km to unlock its real potential and discover how nice the midsole foam and geometry can be. The Via Olympus can cover any distance at an easy pace and at €170 it’s a solid competitor against some other thick shoes like the Bondi 8 (review here) or the New Balance More v4.
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