I've never liked running. Even when I was younger and a competitive swimmer, my least favorite physical activity was running. I had to run multiple miles some days and it was agony, both physically and mentally. Running had a mind-numbing effect on me. As a person who has struggled with attention issues his entire life and only recently received medication to address that, performing a "boring" activity was not something I wanted to do.
But now as I approach 30, I've begun to want more accomplishments under my belt. One of those is running a 5K. So one chilly spring morning, I put on my best shoes, loaded up a couch to 5K program and set out. I barely made it home.
Enough time had passed since my youth that I'd forgotten all about shin splints, but boy did my body remind me. I used to be into bodybuilding, but a knee injury and depression put me out of the gym for a few years, so I wasn't in the best shape when I started this 5K journey. I'm not a small person even at my best physique — and my knee never recovered from its injury because I couldn't ever afford surgery or time off from work.
However, I'm a stubborn guy, one who goes from 0-100 in a heartbeat. My wife likes to joke that I don't do things halfway, often to my own detriment. I'm the kind of person who sprints instead of going for the distance. Such a mentality has served me well in my swimming and weightlifting careers, since both reward speed and power, but you don't train for a 5K like that.
So what does all of this have to do with a pair of shoes? In addition to dealing with shin splints — which, if you haven't experienced, are extremely painful and basically stop you from doing anything but hobble — I have flat feet. Great for swimming, not for any kind of walking or running. Shin splints, flat feet, a knee injury, excessive body weight, all of that had conspired against me becoming any kind of distance runner.
Out of desperation and a genuine will to not give up, I went to a local running store and asked for help. I tried on different shoes, each more different than the last. I tried lots of cushion, but I ultimately decided on a brand I'd never heard of: Altra.
Why I chose the Altra Torin 4.5
Specifically, I chose the Altra Torin 4.5 ($89 to $250 on Amazon), which felt like a whole new walking experience when I tried them on. Altra's claim to fame is the wide "foot shape" design. I don't know anything about running shoes, but it supposedly gives your feet more room than a traditional running shoe.
The Torin 4.5 also has what it calls "zero drop," which, according to the company, "places the heel and forefoot at the same distance from the ground. This natural balance aligns the feet, back, and body posture for less impact."
I paid about $150 for my pair of Torin 4.5. The prices range vary depending on the color and size.
Something about the Torin changed how I walked. For starters, I noticed how much more stress it put on my calves. I know weightlifting physiology, and even though I don't fully understand the Altra effect, I nonetheless appreciate that any time I put on those Altras, my calves get a killer workout. And you know, I'm all for that.
I digress. The Torin certainly felt like a better running experience, but it took a long time for my shins to heal enough to try running again. But a few months ago, I started doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and I've reached a point during these workouts that I can run consistently. I even ran a mile in 12 minutes, something I don't think I've ever accomplished.
Shock: Now I look forward to running
And guess what? I look forward to running. I enjoy putting on my Altras and going for a jog with bouts of sprints to get my heart rate up. Some days, my shins still protest, but nowhere nearly as bad as before. Out of everything, only my knee seems the most upset, but the pain has dulled over the years.
By no means am I saying the Altra Torin 4.5 is the best shoe you can buy, because we're all fundamentally different. Your needs differ from mine. The point of all of this is that finding the best running shoe for you is important if you want to get serious about running. Seek out running stores where the people know what they're talking about. And, in the end, remember that you get what you pay for.
Is running my favorite activity now? Not by a long shot. But it's something I can find joy in doing, even if I still prefer lifting heavy. Fitness is a continual journey of progress and improvement, and I'm happy that my Altras have helped me achieve things I'd never thought possible for myself. Next is that 5K.
If you would like some help, check out our guide to how to buy running shoes before you go online or head to the store.