That’s a lot to ask of a pair of shoes. But these are not just any shoes, they are smart shoes: The Altra IQ are equipped with sensors built in to the soles that transmit data to a smartphone app as you run.
After I made it through the shock of my knee blow out in August, I decided this could be an opportunity to come back a better runner, perhaps regain some of my old speed (please?!). I like to think I learned my lesson from my previous ankle ligament reconstruction: I ramped up my run too quickly so I could compete in a half ironman I had no business doing 6 months post surgery. I paid for it by never regaining full ankle mobility and function.
I have been determined to do everything right with this rehab.
Enter Altra IQ. This seemed too good to be true. One of the first shoes of its kind and it happened to be an Altra, the shoes I fell in love with this year.
When I started ramping up my running on the Alter G treadmill, I decided to invest in a pair to see what I could learn.
On my first run in the Altra IQs, it felt like a workout just getting ready:
- Alter G neoprene shorts (tutu) on? Check.
- Altra IQ shoes on? Check.
- Armband with iPhone on? Check.
- Bluetooth headphones on and connected? Check.
- Zipped into treadmill? Check.
- Treadmill calibrated? Check.
- Altra IQ app on? Check.
- Altra IQ shoes talking to app? Check.
- Metronome app on? Check.
I am not used to running so plugged in. I wasn’t sure how much I was going to appreciate it.
I thought the metronome beeping might drive me mad, but it was surprisingly non-annoying and it kept me focused. I tried to turn my music on at the same time, but my brain got so confused between the metronome and the beat of the music that I finally had to give up on the music.
Every few minutes the Altra IQ app lady would come on and tell me what I was doing wrong. I could not make her happy. I was getting a little bit annoyed at her [very pleasant] criticisms and had to remind myself she was just an app. I had the power to turn her off! Though I grudgingly had to admit that she was telling me useful things I could not feel. She stayed on.
The real aha! moment was when I pulled up the summary data from that first run. Specifically the visual data on where I was landing on my foot – the “landing zone”. I expected to be imbalanced at this point, but it was immediately obvious I was landing way far forward on the left foot, which I hadn’t expected. I’ve thought about this a bit and I have two possible explanations:
1) Landing on my left leg with a bent knee is still very difficult. Physically, the quad strength is just not there. Mentally, it scares the hell out of me because it feels like my knee will collapse (sure, I’m zipped into the treadmill and really could not fall – YOU tell that to my psyche).
2) My limited left ankle mobility could also be part of the problem. I can’t flex my ankle fully, which would lead me to land more on my forefoot.
The shoes also report my average cadence, impact rate and ground contact time. The latter two are useful to detect right/left imbalances. They will also change over time if I improve my cadence and efficiency. That’s where the metronome comes in: I have to say it is a simple but amazing tool for cadence work. Why have I not used it before? Why do I not have all my athletes using it? Cadence and how to improve it is a subject worthy of a separate post. Stay tuned.
My take so far: I do think these shoes provide extremely useful feedback and I’m pretty impressed. Whether I can use that feedback to improve my running remains to be seen. Change like this takes time. And there is the small issue that I am still only running at 60% of my bodyweight. Expect a comprehensive report sometime next summer. In the meantime I’ll keep you posted!
Important note to anyone ready to go buy a pair of Altra IQ shoes: Altra shoes are zero drop (i.e. no height difference between toe and heel). If you have not been running in zero drop shoes, you need to work your way into them SLOWLY. If you do not, you will almost certainly injure yourself. You were warned.