Altra VIA Olympus Review

This week we have a much-anticipated review, the Altra VIA Olympus. The Altra Via Olympus, like all Altra shoes is designed to allow your feet to function. This allows you to run with a more natural and upright posture and be ‘lighter on your feet’. The current trend is softer, thicker midsole running shoes. From the look of the VIA Olympus you could be forgiven for thinking that the it’s one of these maximum cushioned shoes. However, Altra running shoes are a bit different to most other running shoes. Maximal cushioned shoes are designed to ‘do the job’ of your feet and lower limbs. The soft pillow-like midsole in combination with an oversized outsole cushion and stabilise you, not the natural function of your feet you were born with. Then rocker in the shoes help with propulsion. The shoes are doing the job of your body. Altra shoes are designed to allow your body to function naturally.

The VIA Olympus is made on Altra’s ‘Original’ last. This is the broadest fit with the most volume. This space gives your foot the room to spread on impact. If you aren’t used to having this space in your shoes from the use of snugger shoes, you are likely to find that your feet don’t spread on impact at first. Over time what we have found is that by just having the room in the shoes your feet ‘remember’ how to function! You regain space between your toes and your feet get more flexible and dextrous. This foot function is further encouraged by the firm-ish midsole. Your foot ‘knows’ that it has touched the floor and spreads out to cushion and stabilise you. In very soft midsole running shoes they don’t. This doesn’t mean that the midsole ‘feels hard’ or uncomfortable. It is made of Altra’s Ego, which has an energetic bounce and isn’t in anyway soft, mushy and lacking in energy.

The shock absorption in the midsole is high so you still get the advantages of using a highly cushioned shoe. After long road runs you get less inflammation and stiffness in the joints. You tend to recover quicker than you would in a less cushioned shoes.

The midsole has a stack height of 33mm. A midsole that thick isn’t very flexible, so to make the ride smoother Altra has put a slight rocker in the shoes. This is like the original Altra Paradigm, which had many of the same qualities as the VIA Olympus. The rocker is designed to encourage you to pull your leg upwards when you touch the floor and increase cadence. This is the lightness on your feet we speak of. The rocker isn’t quite like that used by Hoka or Scott in that you aren’t as aware of it. Adding a rocker to the thicker midsole VIA Olympus makes it feel less ‘clumpy’ and gives it that often-described ‘smoother ride’.

All Altra shoes are Zero Drop. That’s nothing to do with cushion or comfort, but essentially the midsole is flat. The foot is in a more natural, relaxed position inside the shoes. This allows it to absorb shock better than when the heel is elevated. It also allows the knee, ankle and hip joints to be more relaxed and able to absorb shock and recoil, sharing out the forces over the whole body. Shoes that have a high heel to forefoot drop prevent the ankles and feet from functioning and increase the pressure on the knees and hips.

If you aren’t used to low or Zero Drop it’s a good idea to gradually increase the time you spend in the shoes. Alternating them with your current shoes. This gives your feet and lower legs the chance to get used to the extra function and strengthen up, without getting overloaded.

A highly cushioned shoe like the VIA Olympus is easier to transition to, as the foot isn’t expected to be immediately strong and flexible. Especially compared to the Escalante or Escalante Racer with low levels of cushioning.

The Altra VIA Olympus is a neutral shoe. However, the broad base and firm-ish midsole give is a very naturally stable feel. The foot also sits inside the midsole, which increases the stability. Furthermore the Zero Drop element of Altra running shoes encourages a more midfoot landing that reduces the chance of pronation. Although the VIA Olympus has no active anti-pronation elements the stable nature of the shoe will reduce pronation to a degree.
The VIA Olympus is designed for the bulk of your everyday training, including being durable enough to do so. They aren’t an ultralight ‘racer’. The men’s UK8 weigh’s 312g and the women’s UK5 weigh’s 255g. However, the combination of midfoot strike and slight rocker help keep them feeling lighter. Like the Altra Olympus 5 trail running shoe, the VIA Olympus is designed for putting in the miles over easier runs and long runs on the road. A perfect fitness base-building shoe.

On my first run during the VIA Olympus review miles I put in I found the midsole surprisingly firm. However, within a few runs it got softer and settled at a level I enjoyed. I personally prefer shoes that feel firm and more responsive rather than soft and lacking in energy return and the VIA Olympus is reassuringly firm and responsive in my opinion. Again, it appears as if it could be soft and bottomless. I can go out and forget that the shoes are on my feet. I find that a shoe with too much of a rocker or a lot of compression or bounce in the midsole prevents me from naturally running along. The heel fit is noticeably snugger than on other Altra shoes and gives a firm, stable hold of my foot. The fit over the top of the foot is also firm and comfortable before opening out to a roomy ‘Original last’ forefoot. I always prefer the wiggle room that it offers your toes.

The major factor that caused Altra to grow in popularity, arguably very fast at one point, was the more unique roomy fit. Many popular running shoes were pointed, squashing toes and frankly not the shape of a foot! Altra’s two most popular models, the Lone Peak 7 and the Olympus 5 (latest versions) both use the roomier Original last, which is not a coincidence and is the same as the VIA Olympus.

In summary if you are looking for a well-cushioned shoe with plenty of room for longer/easy runs that also encourages you to run with good posture and form, rather than ‘take a ride’ in the shoes, then the Altra VIA Olympus is worth a look.

Other Considerations
Hoka Bondi 8: A similar stack height and level of cushioning but, much softer cushioning with a more pronounced rocker. So, the shoe does more work for you. Here is a link to our review: https://www.northernrunner.com/blog/hoka-bondi-8-review/

Brooks Glycerin: A more traditional high heel to forefoot drop with a more pointed toe box. https://www.northernrunner.com/brooks-m59/glycerin-t204

Scott Pursuit: 8mm heel to forefoot, more pointed toe box, more pronounced rocker and softer cushioning. Here is a link to our review which will give you more information: https://www.northernrunner.com/blog/scott-pursuit-review/

Topo Phantom 2: 5mm heel to forefoot. Similar ride and feel. Broad rounded toe box. Here is a link to our review which will give you more information:
https://www.northernrunner.com/blog/topo-athletic-phantom-2-review/

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