Do you need a bit of support? .... ALTRA Provision 4... First impressions.
Posted on March 09 2020
The trend we see in so many shoes these days is towards softer and softer midsoles, lots of squishy cushioning that is unbelievable light to help you float effortlessly through your runs.
The problem is, for people who have some overpronation issues this creates a problem. "I want support, but I also want lightness" and the problem with most support shoes is that the construction to create the stability adds weight and the difference to neutral shoes is getting more pronounced.
So first of all, what is overpronation
Simplistically overpronation occurs when the foot roll inwards when you transition through your stride. This often occurs in people with flat feet and it can have the knock on effect of creating problems in the knees and hips. It is always a good idea to have a thorough gait analysis done to determine the other areas of your biometrics that might require correction but here we talk about how shoes typically have been constructed to cope with this issue.
The most typical solution has been to make the medial post, so the inner mid section of the shoes midsole from a much more dense material than the rest of the midsole hence resisting the desire of the foot to roll in. Always engaged and always pushing up against the arch. This is usually coupled with extra heel counters and protective measures to hold the foot stable. The consequence is inevitably extra weight in the shoe.
With the trend to lighter and softer cushioning this difference has become more pronounced and the enthusiasm of runners to take a now much heavier shoe is diminishing.
The Provision 4 from ALTRA attempts to tackle this issue in a different way and I have been out for a few runs in the shoe to understand how it works.
ALTRA do not use this hard medial post solution for support in any of their shoes. Their logic is support should only be given when you actually need it and all runners will vary in the degree of support needed, even during a particular run.
The Provision relies on two specific support technologies, one being brand new for this particular model. Lets talk about that first.
This is a brand new innovation developed by one of Altra's founders, Brian Beckstead. The Innovarch is a completely separate arch support that wraps around the foot and is connected to the lacing system
As you tighten the laces, and specifically two loops on the inner side of the shoe, this separate construction wraps around the arch and is almost completely separate from the rest of the shoe. When tight this has the effect of cradling the arch. I will explain later how this feels when out running
GuideRails. Located on the inner side of the shoe, ALTRA add what they call GuideRails which they claim have an effect similar to safety barriers on a motorway. When you foot hits them, they trigger a correction response in the foot. Again, ALTRA claim to be the pioneers in this approach but it has been adopted also by a couple of other brands too.
So how does all of this theory work in practice. I have put in about 50km in the shoes at the moment (so not so far) but took them on my long run yesterday to see how they felt on tired feet.
First of all these are ALTRA's so they have all of the DNA of all ALTRA shoes, the footshape toebox and balanced cushioning (ie zero drop). Over the last 6 months I have found the ability to spread my toes and the much more natural running form created by balanced cushioning to be great to reduce the chance of injury. The Provision has all those advantages.
I have used custom orthotics in my shoes for a number of years now as I suffered from weakening of my arches. The problem with this solution is that it removes the potential for your arches to strengthen with the ever present arch support being there. For the first time in a long time I was tempted to leave them out particularly with this new Innovarch addition.
So, the fit is great, they run true to size and because of the way the lacing works, my instep felt very well held in the shoe. I did 24km on a mixture of easy trails and roads at the end of a 90km week so pretty tired by the end of the run.
They are pretty firm. This is an EVA midsole and compared to say the Quantic midsole of the Torin they feel harder. Probably necessary in a support shoe. But it wasn't unpleasantly hard. The 27mm of stack height is pretty generous.
Initially, I didn't really feel the Innovarch support playing a major role (I don't really overpronate normally anyway). What it did do was provide a really good feeling of "fit". However, as the run progressed I could feel it getting more and more engaged. this was particularly pronounced when running downhill. As I had chosen to leave my orthotics at home I was very happy about this. This is something called "fatigue overpronation" which many runners have during long runs and heavy training periods.
This seems to back up the ALTRA theory that the support engages when you need it and not when you don't. I like that.
It didn't feel like an overly supportive shoe until that point and I have read other reviews of the shoe that have had issues with that. It's worth remembering though that compared to the traditional solution the shoe is considerably lighter. 232 grams for instance compared to the New Balance 860 at 335 grams ... That's a big difference.
As I came to the end of the run I was reminded that one of the things I like about all ALTRA shoes is the way that the natural running shape they encourage means even tired running feels reasonably present.
So what is the conclusion at this stage ---- I would say there is a trade off here between weight of the shoe and the "forced" stability you get from a traditional support solution. For me its a really good trade off and one that will encourage me to leave my orthotics behind as I continue my transition to a more natural running pose, a trade off well worth doing.
I will update as the kms progress.