Altra Torin 4 and Torin 4 Plush Review | Extensive Testing!

Altra Torin 4 and Torin 4 PLUSH Review
World Record Breaking Road Test!
John O’Groats to Lands End

Yes, you read correctly. Friend and ambassador of Northern Runner, Sharon Gayter reviewed the new Altra running shoes whilst completing a new world record from John O’Groats to Lands End! The Torin 4 Plush did 507 miles and the Torin 4 did 319 miles!

Previously I had only worn the Altra trail shoes, so these were my first trial of the road shoes, but I have been wearing Altra for well over a year now.

I started by wearing the Torin 4 Plush, these were the more cushioned shoes of the two and so favoured these just because I hoped they would protect my body more against the impact of such a long road run.

The Torin 4 Plush were a two tone turquoise colour. The uppers were of a rough material that felt tough and durable and had a traditional lacing system. The cushioning on these shoes was made up of a Quantic midsole (2mm extra compared to Torin 4), which was for soft cushioning and extreme responsiveness while being lightweight. On the subject of weight, these UK size 6.5, weighed in at home at 244g as compared to the Torin 4 which came in at 206g.

The appearance of both of these road shoes, although still having the unique footshape, which allows the feet and toes to splay naturally in a wide toe-box, which is supposed to create a more powerful toe-off, did not look as footshape as the trail shoes and looked a more “normal” shoe. On putting them on I could still feel the spacious, wide toe-box and reassured me that this would allow for my feet to expand as was expected on such a long run.

On putting them on and my first run in these, they felt wonderfully soft and cushioned and the flexibility allowed by the multidimensional grooves on the sole provided a solid base for change of direction and undulations. I did actually wear them on a dry trail route where they performed perfectly and knew I would have no issues to wear these on long runs.

On the first day of running JOGLE, my plan was to do a little more mileage as my legs were fresh and no stiffness and completed the exact mileage planned of 87 miles. This was divided into 6 blocks of 3 hours running with a short break between, so they were on my feet for almost 18 hours. It was towards the end of the 4th block of running that I felt my right foot was scuffing the ground, although I knew I was picking my feet up. At the end of the block in my break I turned the shoes over to look at the sole. The heel section of the sole was coming away from the white midsole and that was dragging along the road creating the scuffing. I took some scissors and cut away the flapping section and realised the left shoe was beginning to come away too. The other issue I was having was that the lateral side section below my ankle bone was rubbing. I do have low ankle bones and I usually cut away the lateral section to prevent rubbing. This was the first pair of Altra shoes that I needed to remedy with scissors to stop this rubbing (almost bruising sensation). My thoughts are that as the material on these shoes felt stronger and tougher than other shoes in the Altra range this must have carried extra rigidity in the material and didn’t allow for as much elasticity as in other shoes.

By the end of the next block of running the scuffing was happening again on the remainder of that heel section and so promptly cut off the rest of that heel section. This did not have any impact on the feel or running in these shoes. As a small justification I was running more slowly than normal, around 5.5 miles an hour slowing to 5 miles an hour by the end of the day, the shorter stride may have had some impact on this but it was nearly all running except for some of the steeper hills such as Helmsdale and Berriedale, which were pretty challenging. By the end of the first day and 87 mile, my feet felt in perfect condition and not a blister in sight.

Day 2 started in the rain, puddles everywhere and a good heavy drizzle falling. I wore the Torin 4. These shoes by comparison looked aesthetically more pleasing in a deep purple and orange contrast colour. The uppers were mesh and by comparison felt very soft and cradling compared to the rough Plush. On putting them on it became evident that the tongue was attached to the sole by an elastic material which initially made putting the shoe on feel tighter to push the foot in and seemed to hold the foot tighter around the mid-foot. I did ponder whether the laces were actually needed as the tongue seemed to hold my foot in position pretty securely and so only very loosely tied the laces so as not to trip on them. On running in them there was no tightness and my feet were securely held with no compression on them and felt very stable.

My first outing in these had been on the same trail route at the Torin 4 Plush, although this was a short 7 mile training run, I had instantly taken to these shoes more favourably than the Plush. The difference in weight, some 38 grams lighter seemed to feel so much more nimble and responsive on my feet. The training run did have some sections of stones and it was on this section that I could feel the difference of the 2mm less cushioning. I had not felt the stones at all with the Plush, but was aware of the odd stone in these shoes. Having said that they are a road shoe and I was wearing them on a dry trail route. But this helped me to determine that the Plush would be the shoe of choice for longer running as the cushioning was far superior and that maybe the Torin 4 more useful in future where less weight was needed on pure road routes and for faster running sessions.

Day 2 did dry up after a very wet first session and soon the sun was shining and the mesh upper allowed for good breathability on a breezy day. It was about the same time as on day 1 that I became aware of that familiar scuffing noise again and on inspection that same was happening on these shoes and that the heel section was starting to come away and so instantly trimmed these up with scissors, although the damage was not as severe as with the Plush shoes. Again this did not have any impact on my running style or affect me in any way.

Days 3-6 continued like clockwork, the Plush did two consecutive days as when I finished day 3 it was raining heavily and the shoes soaked and with starting the next day in rain did not want to put on dry shoes and have two wet pairs. The plan was if it dried up I could change into dry shoes. As a side point here, on every 3 hour block of running I did put on clean socks to try to keep my feet in good condition. At the end of day 6 and around 450 miles run in total I hit my first issue, nothing to do with the shoes but two obstacles appeared in the darkness. The first was going round a major roundabout with underpasses, the first underpass ended in a construction site in the pitch black with a head torch and took some time before I retraced my steps and was eventually found by the crew with the tracker and taken around the roundabout with an hour extra added to my time. I then proceeded through the centre of Preston and to a park where a double whammy hit me. The footbridge that I was due to cross (and went over just 8 weeks previous) was condemned with 8 feet high fences. I sat down in disbelief, very tired and beginning to stagger and stumble badly with sleep deprivation. I had taken only 3 hours sleep a night since the start and the extra hour already was beginning to take its toll. I was 2 miles from my overnight stop but now had to take a 4 mile deviation along a dual carriageway to cross the river. The knock of effect of this was staggering and stumbling badly for each of those steps it took me to navigate around, frequently kicking the ground accidently and stepping sideways trying to stay upright. Sleep deprivation of this magnitude is the same as being drunk and not being able to walk in a straight line. I was off route and there was no way of bring the camper back along this dual carriageway to sleep any earlier and so had to stagger on. I knew I was hurting my calves with the staggering but was trying to focus on reaching the campervan for sleep.

It was a late night and so a late morning proceeded after my allocated 3 hours sleep. I began to walk to ease my stiff legs and then began a slow jog only to be brought to an abrupt halt as my calves were pulling badly, the right worse than the left. Within half an hour I requested an extra pitstop for a massage on my calves to relieve the stiffness. This helped somewhat but became evident that running that day would probably result in a major tear, so conserving my body for the remaining 400 miles I needed to walk to recover. Nothing at all to do with the shoes and simply a result of sleep deprivation. Less mileage was covered over the following couple of days recovering from this damage.

After a couple of days it was a relief to try some slow running again and feel able to cover the distance a little more rapidly, although I was very cautious to keep it slow. The two days of walking would have meant a little more impact on the heels of the shoes and noticed they were rapidly wearing down on both pairs, particularly the Plush, although of course they were doing more miles.

It was at Tintern Abbey, around 610 miles, when my first issue hit with my feet. They had be faring incredibly well up until this point, far better than when I had run a LEJOG back in 2006, but another road closure for vehicles after Tintern Abbey resulted in not being able to find the path around for pedestrians and cyclists in the dark, despite cyclists telling me there was a path. I was with my cycling support crew Izzy when we hit the 8 feet high fences and struggled to find the path around. It took over an hour to complete a section of 400m in the dark, scrambling on steep embankments, stung by nettles and scratched by brambles. On hitting the last fence I got down on all fours to crawl under but this was not possible for Izzy with the bike and took a bit longer for her to find a way around. With a steep uphill section late at night and a four hour block instead of three hours due to the obstacles I knew my feet were feeling very tender and guessed blisters were forming on the soles of my forefeet, confirmed when I stopped for a break. Although I popped them they did fill up again and grew in size in excess of 50p pieces by the next day and were painful for the remaining 200 miles.

It was not until the last 100 miles that the extreme tenderness from battering the tarmac with over 1.7 million steps it took to run this 822 mile route began to take its toll. Compared to running this in 2006; that had started with 350 miles remaining, so again I was very impressed that my feet had stayed in such good condition until this point. Running such distances will create damage but feel the Altras had given such good cushioning and natural footstrike that the effect was to postpone the major pain until this point. Once the pain starts, the quickest way to rid it is to finish and so I powered on until the finish but frequently had to walk as the pain was quite intense on running.

Post event reflection. The traction on these shoes was good; they only ever ran on tarmac and lightly gavelled surfaced and had no issues with grip even in very wet conditions. I did experience thunderstorms and torrential rain that turned the country roads into streams with sub knee height water collections to wade through. I also experienced the hottest day of the year between Carlisle and Penrith and again no issues with traction. The shoes performed admirably with running such mega distance that is really not an everyday occurrence. I started with 10 toe nails and finished with 10 toe nails. The footshape design did not squash or crush my toes as had been experienced previously. My feet had swelled to 2 sizes bigger when I ran this in 2006. On this occasion my feet never expanded at all, I wore these two pairs of shoes from start to finish. The tenderness experienced is simply what happens in super long event. This had been anticipated but the fact that it was only the last 100 miles speaks volumes for the cushioning on these shoes. To say I am impressed with Altra would be an understatement. These shoes were designed for my feet and so perfectly designed for ultras and can highly recommend them to any ultrarunners to try them, you only have to adapt to the zero drop cautiously and they will serve you well.

I have taken photos of the finishing state of these two shoes, the Plush completing more miles are ready for the bin after approximately 550 miles compared to the Torin 4 of just under 400 miles.

Oh, and I did break the world record by running from John O’Groats to Land’s End in 12 days 11 hour and 6 minutes, taking over 4 hours off the existing record, but not quite achieving the sub 12 days I had hoped for. And no, I will NEVER run this again!!

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