By Brian Metzler
Altra was the last major shoe brand to enter the carbon-fiber-plated racing shoe category, a full five years after Nike pioneered the new design paradigm and two years after every other brand joined the fray. What took so long? It took time for Altra to figure out how to make a modern “super shoe” in its own likeness — namely with a wider toe box and a level (or “zero-drop” platform). But the wait was definitely worth it, as the new Vanish Carbon is a fast and uniquely designed shoe that fits nicely into the primary characteristics of every single Altra shoe since the brand launched 11 years ago.
What’s New: Everything about this shoe is new. Altra has had fast, lightweight shoes for many years before the advent of shoes with carbon-fiber plate embedded in hyper-resilient foams. But the new AltraEgo foam — a modern supercritical TPE-based material — is definitely a next-gen material that can put Altra back in the top tier among shoe brands. That cushy and ultra-bouncy foam pairs with a uniquely shaped, flexible plate and lightweight upper that make this shoe fast and efficient for racing on the roads – from 10K to the marathon.
Why They’re Great: They’re great because they’re light, comfortable, agile and ideal for running up-tempo paces over long distances. They have enough cushioning for long-haul comfort, but they are light and low enough to promote quick-cadence running. What makes them truly special is that they have Altra-specific features: It’s built on a flat or level platform (the same height off the ground in the heel and forefoot) and it has foot-shaped toe box that gives plenty of room for a runner’s forefoot to spread out and perform optimally via toe splay and flexing of the transverse arch.
Fit-Feel-Ride: The Vanish Carbon fits true to size with a medium volume in the heel and midfoot and a slightly wider toe box — though not nearly as spacious as some previous Altra shoes. (It’s only available in a standard width.) The step-in feel is soft, comfortably snug and a bit sparse, thanks in part to the interior arch support mesh that gently wraps each side of a runner’s foot. The new Altra EGO Pro cushioning material feels light, airy and extraordinarily responsive when you first start running, but especially so in the latter miles of a long run. It has a rhythmic feel when running with shorter strides and a quick cadence, but it’s not quite as smooth when running with a longer, loping stride pattern.
Why You’ll Love It: The light, curvy Carbitex plate extends about two-thirds the length of the foot — from the arch through the toes — and fans out in the shape of a W under the forefoot with longitudinal flex grooves that allow toes to move with relative independence. The other unique feature of the plate is that it bends in an upward direction to accommodate for the natural flex of a foot as it goes through the gait cycle, although it remains firm and inflexible in a downward direction to optimize energy return and forward propulsion. Whereas some super shoes feel very stiff all the time, the stiffness of the plate in the Vanish Carbon tends to disappear — or, um, vanish — as a runner’s foot rolls from heel to toe.
Altra Vanish Carbon
Weights: 6.2 oz. women’s 8; 7.3 oz. men’s 9
Heel-Toe Offset: 0mm (33mm in the heel, 33mm in the forefoot)
Pro: The reason Altra builds all of its shoes on a level platform is to allow the heel and forefoot of a runner’s foot to always be an equal distance from the ground and create less tension upon impact with the ground. Unlike shoes with elevated heels and sloping profiles, Altra’s shoes create what the brand calls a balanced cushioning platform for optimal foot alignment and lower-impact footstrikes.
Con: There’s nothing inherently bad about the Vanish Carbon, but it might take some time to adjust to running in this shoe because of its zero-drop platform. If you’ve been running in shoes with a high to moderate heel-toe offset (6mm to 13mm), consider making a gradual transition into Altra shoes built on a level platform. And make sure you’re familiar and comfortable with how it runs long before you lace it up for a half marathon or marathon.