Friday, January 2, 2015

Initial Impressions: Altra Olympus and Hoka Bondi 4

After my disappointment with the Bondi 3 and subsequent Bondi 3 donation to the Salvation Army, I managed to find a pair of Bondi 2s at a reasonable price and have been running in those. Unfortunately the sole is on the way out so it was time to get new shoes for an upcoming double marathon. I have wanted to try the Altra Olympus for a while, but I wasn't up for paying full price. I noticed the price dropped significantly at Running Warehouse so I decided to pick up a pair. I had read that they run small so I ordered an 8 rather than my usual 7.5. As soon as I put the shoes on my feet, I knew I needed another half size larger. I've found that if I feel like a pair of shoes feels like they might be too small, they will be by mile 30. Luckily Running Warehouse is great about such matters, and I soon had a 8.5 at my door.

Instantly I liked the upper of these shoes. The inside has nice padding and the quality of the materials is impressive. Of course, they also have that distinctive Altra shape. These are my first pair of Altras so they felt different than what I am accustomed to. The Olympus is a trail shoe, but it is hard to imagine that the tread would be effective on technical trails. What really struck me as strange after putting these shoes on was the "cliff" that seems to occur slightly forward of the ball of my foot. I expected zero drop shoes to be... well... flat. You know, slope of 0 an all of that. As I rolled from my heel to the front of the shoes, it felt as if there was a cliff near my toes. Odd. This strange drop makes it feel as though I should be impacting the ground on the ball of my foot. Do all Altras have this rocker "cliff"? If you know the answer, please let me know. My first run was a 6 mile run on the roads which went okay, but I am fairly certain these will not be my next long distance shoe. 

Women's Size 8.5 comes in at 8.5 ounces (no insole)
I looked around for another pair of Bondi 2s with no luck. I noticed that the Bondi 4s had just been released so with a couple of looming races, I pulled the trigger. I had been told by Running Warehouse that the 4s should be lighter than the 3s (yay!), and I noticed they had changed the tongue of the shoe back to something that looked a little more comfortable.  

Despite Hoka still using my less than favorite upper that they incorporated since changing ownership, I was hopeful that the design change would make things better. For the most part, it has, but the stiffness is still a bit uncomfortable around the ankle area. The tongue of the shoe is significantly better than the one on the Bondi 3s, however. Instead of being a flat inflexible piece of material, it has some very comfy padding. 

Bondi 4 versus Bondi 2 sole
Hoka says they have added better material in key wear areas to increase durability, and the soles do look different. They also look slightly more narrow than the previous versions. Since I've read many complaints about the narrow nature of the Bondi model, I really do not know why Hoka would choose to do this. Perhaps to cut weight?  If so, it worked. 

Hoka Bondi 4 women's size 7.5 - 8 ounces (no insole)
The Bondi 3 came in at 8.5 ounces for a size 7.5, and now the Bondi 4 is 8 ounces. That still isn't as light as the original Bondi which came in at a mere 7.4 ounces for size 7.5, but it is a step in the right direction. I should also mention that I was told the new 4s run a bit larger than previous models, but I chose to go with my regular size, 7.5. I really see very little difference in the 7.5 Bondi 4s and the 2s. I am quite certain 7 would have been too small for me. The 4 seems more narrow than previous models, but things may feel different with added miles.

Left: Bondi 4 Right: Bondi 2

Left:Bondi 2 Right: Bondi 4
Just for kicks, I ran some miles on the treadmill in the Hokas and then switched over to the Altras. The sole of the Altras is significantly harder than the Hokas. The strange rocker shape of the sole felt as if I was slapping the ground with my feet unless I made the conscious decision to run on the balls of my feet. Making this effort in a 5 mile race is doable, but after mile 20 in a marathon my mind isn't up for a lot of thinking. I then switched backed to the Hokas which felt a little odd, but not as odd as the other way around.

If I could combine the feeling of the uppers and the anatomical shape of the Altras with the sole softness and rocker of the Bondi Bs, I think I might just have my perfect shoe. Until then, I'll put in some more miles with both of these shoes and see what turns up. Happy running!


  1. nice review. Its funny I just ordered a pair of Altra Olympus, and they are too small. I'm going to send them back for a 1/2 size larger. I also have been running nearly exclusively in Bondi 3s, and have lived through the 1s and the 2s. I'll have to try the 4s. Bondi's simply wont cut if for me on 100 mile races. I'm kind of lost right now because I've run my last 6 100s in the original Stinsons, which they stopped making. I've resorted to using super glue and a sewing kit to keep these things going. I think they are at the end of the line. I just put an order in for a pair of "speed" Maffette's but i'm not holding out much hope. Ultimately I'd like to be able to run in the Altras's because of the zero drop, but well shall see if I can adapt. Happy New Year!

  2. Will - Have you given the new Stinson Lites a shot? I'm not a huge fan of the new uppers, but the 4s seem to be better than the 3s (so far....)