By Brian Metzler
When the maximally cushioned shoe category emerged a dozen years ago, the original shoes looked gangly and cartoonish. Many runners laughed and exclaimed: “What?!” That was way back in 2010 when the running shoe world was consumed by minimalism. But as soon as runners felt the soft cushy feeling in maximal shoes, most realized they loved cushioning. Thus was the genesis of maximally cushioned training shoes and suddenly every brand had at least one model with a high-stack profile.
Fast-forward to 2022 and next-gen cushioning is all the rage, both in training shoes and in carbon-plated racing shoes. After years of evolving its max-cushioned Olympus trail running shoes, Altra has just recently launched its new Via Olympus model for road running with a similarly thick and cushy midsole. As soon as I laced them up and ran about 5 miles, my only question was simply: What took so long?! After my initial wear-tests, I’ve found it to be a soft, buttery-smooth cruiser (but also inherently supportive) and one of the best new models of the year. It looks good, it feels good and it runs very well.
What’s New: Everything about the Via Olympus is new, but mostly it’s about Altra combining some of its best materials and brand-defining qualities (wider toe box and level cushioning platform) into a new rockered midsole shape with a higher stack of its Altra Ego MAX foam. As far as maximally cushioned shoes, it falls into the moderate zone with its 33mm/33mm heel-toe heights. In other words, it’s not a mega-stack shoe like the new ASICS SuperBlast (45mm/38mm heel-toe offset) or the Adidas Adizero PrimeX Strung (49.5mm/41mm heel-toe offset. But it’s the tallest shoe Altra has ever made, even if it’s only slightly higher than the Torin 6 (28mm/28mm), Provision 7 (28mm/28mm) and Paradigm 6 (30mm/30mm). Although it has “only” a 33mm height, it still feels like an exceptionally cushioned shoe.
Why It’s Great: The Via Olympus is great because it's light for its size, smooth and very consistent. The midsole foam has a semi-firm makeup and flex pattern, which gives it a feeling of inherent stability amid the soft, shock-absorbing sensation when the foot hits the ground. The level cushioning (or zero-drop platform as the brand used to call it) helps promote a quicker cadence and consistent, natural form. The rocker-shape of the midsole/outsole chassis, combined with the horizontal flex grooves in the outsole, gives it a feeling of toe spring as the foot rolls forward to the toe-off phase. It’s not a bouncy vibe, but more of a smooth, rolling feeling.
Fit-Feel-Ride: The Via Olympus fits true to size with a medium interior volume that feels snug at the heel and midfoot and traditionally spacious in the toe box. There is a mildly plush feeling in the interior with extra paddling around the heel collar, a thick cushy sockliner and a moderately cushioned (but not gusseted) tongue. The stretchy engineered mesh upper cinches down nicely without binding and is generously breathable. Once laced up, the shoe doesn’t feel at all big or cumbersome like some max cushioned shoes. Instead, it feels light, airy and compact. As soon as you start running, you sense the complementary mix of smooth and semi-firm sensations and the definitive stability the shoe provides.
Why You’ll Love It: You’ll love it because it’s a fairly simple design, but that doesn’t mean basic or inferior. It means that it serves up a consistent, comfortable ride with a pretty clean design ethos. There’s no medial posting or other interior shank in the one-piece midsole to combat overpronation, it’s just the shape and density of the foam midsole and the overall width of the shoe’s footprint. The upper consists mostly of one piece of engineered mesh upper with one thin, narrow TPU support overlay incorporated into the Altra logo on either side.
Altra Via Olympus
Weights: 8.9 oz. women’s 8; 11.0 oz. men’s 9
Heel-Toe Offset: 0mm (33mm in the heel, 33mm in the forefoot)
Pro: I’d highly recommend this shoe primarily for long runs and recovery runs, although I did rev it up to tempo pace with good results. On long runs—especially after about an hour of running—I really appreciated the interior comfort, soft and easy ride and inherent stability. (How long? My longest run was 16 miles. But ultrarunner Ryan Montgomery finished second at the 2021 Javelina Jundred 100-miler in Arizona wearing a prototype of the Via Olympus.) At the other end of the spectrum, the Via Olympus was light and comfy enough for easy midweek recovery runs when my feet and legs needed a break. It’s not ideal for speedy interval work just because it’s not nimble or lively enough.
Con: One minor drawback of the Via Olympus — and with all maximally cushioned shoes — is that it sacrifices “feel” for the ground. While the cushioning is great, the greater distance to the ground doesn’t allow for as much of a proprioceptive interaction with the surface below your feet, and that tends to reduce the feeling of agility while you’re running. Not the end of the world, just something to be aware of.