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Altra 3-SUM Zero Drop Running Shoe Review

Posted on June 05 2013

Altra 3-sum Triathlon

This is a guest review by John Shepard (@runsheprun on Twitter). John is the owner of Take it on the Run, a boutique running store that he runs out of his home. John is an Altra vendor, and over the past few months has been trying out the recently released 3-SUM Tri shoe. I asked if he’d be willing to write a guest review since I’m not a triathlete, and he gladly agreed. Here’s what he has to say:

Altra 3-SUM Review

I started dabbling in Triathlons last summer. Why? I have no clue, but I got my hands on a free bike (think “American Flyers” starring Kevin Costner era bike) and I had a neighborhood pool to swim in. So, I went with it…

After I was finished with my first Tri, I was immediately thinking of ways to get faster… just like I do after every other race that I’ve ever finished. One area for improvement in the race was in the 2nd transition area where I literally sat there and laced up my shoes (coincidently Altra Instinct 1.5s). It felt like it took me 3 hours to tie the shoes. I needed to change what was on my feet if I was going to banish the “What if…” voices from my head.

Enter the Altra 3-SUM. Even if I wasn’t in the business of selling shoes, I’m a shoe geek, and I get pretty excited about new shoe releases. I was beyond my normal level of excitement however when Altra came out with the 3-SUM. It was going to fill some voids in my shoe arsenal. 1) I needed a racing flat. Racing flats are tough for me to fit in because of my size 14, extra wide foot. 2) I am planning on doing more and more Tri’s. 3) They are a big departure from the aesthetics of Altra’s original shoes. Color Poppin’!

Altra 3-sum side

Ok, so let’s get down to the nitty gritty of the shoe itself. I have put some good miles on them in the last 2 months and here’s my opinion. They are a great racing flat. Altra does one thing better than any brand of shoe that I have tried on: consistency. They keep the fit of their shoes the same. I can go across the brand and know that my foot will fit exactly the same in each make. I know many people have had issues with their sizing (trust me, I sell them and have had a lot of returns), but once your Altra sizing dialed in, expect the same fit across the brand.

Altra 3-sum top

Characteristic Altra Foot-Shaped Last

One differentiator from the rest of the Altra line is that the 3-SUM is lower profile (18mm) than, say, the Instinct 1.5 or Provision. This gives them great ground feel. As someone who isn’t used to low profile shoes on pavement, my feet were barking at me after competing in the River to River Relay where I ran three 5k’s in them in one day. You will feel the pavement for sure. However, this is characteristic of just about any racing flat.

Another characteristic of a racing flat is that they tend to be lightweight. Altra delivered here, with the 3-SUM topping the scales at only 6.7 oz! When I first slipped these on, I was immediately impressed by how light they were. Funny how just a couple of ounces less on your feet can make you feel faster. Not sure if it was a mental thing or the shoes, but I PR’d my 5K time in the first leg of that relay race.

Altra 3-Sum sole

Altra 3-SUM Sole – note the full rubber outsole and the drain holes

Ok, so with every good comes some bad, and I have only a few concerns about the 3-SUM. First off let me make sure that I state this clearly… THESE ARE DESIGNED TO BE A TRI SHOE. Yes, I know it’s obvious, but if you want just a racing flat and don’t plan to compete in triathlons, buy The ONE from Altra.

Here’s why:

The lacing. Altra teamed up with Yankz to provide their drawstrings as laces on these shoes. I totally get it. You won’t be that moron sitting there tying your shoes in a race (i.e., me – see above). However, what I’ve noticed is that it takes a bit of practice with the lacing to figure out the right fit. And no matter how much you think you have tightened each shoe the same, you haven’t. Each foot requires its own combination of tightening and loosening. Furthermore, if you lace your shoes any special way, it’s near impossible to do so with the Yankz. I know this seems like more of a problem with Yankz, but they’re the laces you get with the shoe.

The other big problem – blisters! Tri shoes are typically meant to be worn sockless. It’s a time game, and putting on socks adds time to the transition. This is why most of the elites don’t wear socks. I took the 3-SUMs out sockless for the first time for just a mile and got a blister on the top of my foot. This could have been due to the issue above with the Yankz, but I can’t be certain. Either way, blisters are no bueno. I did remedy this by putting on socks. By no stretch of the imagination do I see myself winning any races in my career, so I don’t care about putting socks on in transition. But, if you aim to shave every nanosecond from your transition, this is a consideration.

Finally, the name. I am just kind of shocked that a name like that could get through. Maybe my head is eternally in the gutter or something. “Having shoe issues? Try a 3-SUM.” Anyway, I just think there are other names to use that reference 3 than that.

So, if you are in the market for a great zero drop Tri shoe, and you don’t mind wearing socks, the 3-SUM is the way to go.

To learn more about John’s approach to selling shoes, or to buy a pair from him, visit Take it on the Run (disclosure: I do not have an affiliate relationship with John, just helping out a friend and fellow shoe junkie!).

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