Altra Lone Peak Review


This was just silly; I don’t know how I let myself get into this situation. 3 weeks before running the Cactus Rose 50 mile race, I realized for the third time that my shoes were just not going to work. This last pair of shoes (Saucony Kinvara TR, for the record), just like the two before it, had begun falling apart within weeks. I was really worried now that if I didn’t get a good pair of shoes, and soon, I would be stuck with running the race in unfamiliar shoes, risking blisters, neuromas, and other foot maladies that could make for a long day out in Bandera. I knew I had to get it right with the next pair of shoes, because with taper coming up I was running out of time to test the shoes and break them in.

The Cactus Rose course in Bandera is chock full of loose, crumbling limestone, and although it doesn’t gain much in sheer elevation compared to the mountain races in Colorado, it is often going up and down really loose, rocky, cactus-covered terrain where you don’t want to take a fall. It is a technical course, with some decent climbs and descents, yet good portions of flats and rolling hills where you can let loose. I was looking for a shoe that was comfortable over long distance, protective, grippy, and lightweight. I had to choose quickly, and choose well, or else I’d have to run in my old-and-busted shoes from last season.

Based on several personal recommendations from friends, I chose the Altra Lone Peaks. They have a reputation as being a minimalist shoe, but they also had a moderately aggressive lugged outsole, a light duty rock plate, and a luxurious 10mm cushioned midsole. I was curious about two features of the Lone Peak: a “zero drop” platform (meaning the foot is flat, heel is level with the toe), and an extra-roomy toe box (said to aid comfort and allow toes to flex naturally.)

Altra is known for Zero Drop from heel to toe

Altra is known for Zero Drop from heel to toe.

I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t have enough time to adapt to the “zero drop” platform, and that the shoe would be too minimalist for the rocky course. I packed a spare pair of shoes at my midway drop bag, but I didn’t need them. The Altras worked really well for the course, keeping my feet comfortable and well cushioned over every last rock.

The outsole wears down quickly, leaving a smooth surface.

The outsole wears down quickly, leaving a smooth surface. Click for larger image.

The Altras really shine for this kind of race, but they don’t seem to hold up well in the long term. A few weeks after the race ended I realized the tread was nearly worn smooth on the outer edges of the sole. I still wear them anyway, but they are really prone to slipping on loose grit over rock. Another bummer is that the heel is completely floppy; there’s really no structure to the heel at all beyond mesh fabric. It’s not a big deal if you’re just running along, but when hiking, and on steep uphills and downhills, the shoes feel like they’re squirming around underneath my heels. It’s never caused me to wipe out, but it’s distracting and I feel like it slows me down on the downhills.

The heel is just mesh fabric with a little bit of yellow plastic

The heel is just mesh fabric with a bit of yellow plastic.

On the bright side, the roomy toe box is really nice (happy toes!), the shoe breathes very well, and it is really surprisingly comfortable, even over longer runs. The zero-drop platform ended up being a non-issue; I was running with a 4mm drop and didn’t feel much of a difference when running or in recovery. Surprisingly, with the thin-moderate cushioning in the midsole, they even feel decent on the pavement. This shoe has a reputation as being for minimalists only, but on my feet they feel like a really nice all-around pair of trail runners.

However, for the price of the Altras ($110 retail) I was hoping for a shoe that I could use for both racing and training for several months. I could learn to live with the odd fit in the heel, but the quick-wearing outsole is really not acceptable for the steep, rocky terrain I like to run. I will probably put ice screws in the pair I have and use them as a winter training shoe, but look for another shoe for general training and racing.

Letting Go

Alternate Titles:

  1. Giving Up, Giving Up, Giving a…
  2. How to Break Up With Your Bicycle
  3. n – 1 (see Rule #12 for an explanation)

I recently consigned my Dahon Tournado. It’s a great bike, and it’s done a great job for me, on everything from long rides in the hill country to single track to the Iron Cross 100km cyclocross race. But I wasn’t using it anymore, so it had to go.

As somebody who’s only been cycling beyond commuting usage for about five years, I still consider myself a beginner. Sure, I can go long distances, on a reasonable variety of surfaces, and sometimes I even feel like I’m not all that slow, but I feel I have yet to attain a level of maturity in my cycling outlook. This self-professed “cycling immaturity” is most evident when looking at my bicycle collection.

Just before I married my beautiful wife, I owned 6 bicycles, a unicycle, a disassembled longboard, and I was in the process of building up a tricycle. Like a magpie, I sought out shiny bits of human-powered beauty and surrounded myself with these trinkets, loving them for the way I saw myself reflected in their polished surfaces.

Each machine represented a dream which never quite seemed to materialize. A mountain bike for epic singletrack adventures (I never got around to singletrack because I didn’t have a car to drive to the trailhead and road adventures always interested me more.) A folding bike for travelling by bicycle in distant lands (the bike handled poorly for my size and I never travelled with it.) A tandem recumbent bicycle for toodling around with my sweetie (my sweetie hated the idea of being caught dead on a tandem recumbent bicycle.) And so on.

As an engineer, it’s hard for me to own a tool as hackable as the bicycle, without considering the implications of said hackery. Put another way, each bicycle is an open-ended game of configuration, specification, and modification, to which I find myself drawn like a moth to a flame. More simply, each bicycle consumed my waking thoughts, and I devoted myself to more technical daydreaming than I care to admit.

Since then, life events (marriage, and several moves) have resulted in my flock slowly but steadily shrinking. Although I grieved for the loss of each of my bicycle alter-egos, I admit to feeling a sense of relief every time another one rolled out the door. It is true that I have acquired several replacement bicycles in that time, but the trend has certainly been downward. The most recent release of the Dahon Tournado in question marks a remarkable turning point: I now own only one complete bicycle.

As a consequence of my growing cycling maturity (I prefer to believe that I am growing up in maturity rather than down), I have come to realize that it is more about the rider than the bike. It’s easy enough to nod along at this simple axiom, but much harder to buy into the ramifications of this phrase:

  • There are cyclists who can do more on steep mountain pavement on an ’80s Diamondback mountain bike, than I could do on a state of the art carbon fiber dream-cycle
  • There are cyclists who can do more on technical singletrack on a wispy road bike, than I could do on a plush full-suspension trail bike
  • There are cyclists who can pull more weight on a fixed gear in the hills than I could with a stump-puller touring setup
  • Anything of note I ever accomplish on a bicycle will be due to hard work and logistics first and bicycle technology last

And so here I find myself selling a perfectly good bicycle, because it can’t do anything that my other perfectly good bicycle can’t do, and I find the mental weight of ownership dragging me down.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t have other new bicycles already pedaling around in my head. And I am already struggling with newfound anxieties over single bicycle ownership (“What if it gets stolen?”). But I am also really jazzed to have arrived at a benchmark of owning a single bicycle which, so far, has enabled all my needs: long road rides, easy single track, commuting, and light touring. I now have the option to buy another bicycle to advance a particular passion (for example, if I learn I just love aggressive downhills.) More importantly, I don’t feel like I have any bicycles getting in the way of the simple joy of going out for a ride.


I don’t mean to put down anyone who enjoys collecting bicycles. It is a fun and harmless hobby, and, especially for period-correct restorations, can be fulfilling and instructive for others.

The Dahon Tournado bike I sold was a stout, customized, and well-loved touring bike which splits in twain for air travel. It is being consigned by Seasoned Outdoor Exchange of Boulder.

The bike replacing both it and my erstwhile road bike is a Yeti Arc-X cyclocross bike. I am already daydreaming of upgrades to enhance its abilities both off-road and on-.