Well known for their line of foot-shaped shoes with roomy toe boxes and a natural fit, Altra has become increasingly popular over the last few years, especially among ultra distance trail runners. Despite their growing popularity, they have yet to tap into the short distance market, let alone the world of obstacle racing. With the addition of the Altra Golden Spike to the lineup, that may change. While it’s only their first shoe to cater to high speed racers, they did a fantastic job with it and it has the potential to be a great choice for short course OCR, or virtually any other race where you need to run fast!
Altra Golden Spike Features
Spikes or No Spikes – the Golden Spike, as it’s name suggests, comes with five gold colored spikes per shoe, but you can wear the shoe with or without them. Some companies will offer a spikeless model of their racing shoes, meant specifically for road and trail running when spikes aren’t needed; with Altra, you just have to leave them out if you don’t want them. While a dedicated spikeless model would be cool, it’s not a big deal. The main downside is that after lots of racing and training with the spikes removed, the holes may get so beat up and filled with dirt that you can’t get the spikes in later if/when you want to.
With the spikes in, the shoe basically performs like you would expect a spike to perform. It has great traction (the same amount of traction as any other spike, for the most part) and it feels fast. Aside from the obvious, nothing really changes with the spikes removed. Without them, the shoe has pretty good traction as you can see, similar to some of Altra’s other shoes like the Superior. It doesn’t compare to an x-talon, but the traction is on par with things like the New Balance Minimus or Brooks Pure Grit. It doesn’t look like much, but it grips well while still allowing for decent ground feel.
Top shoe: Brooks Mach 14, Bottom Shoe: Altra Golden Spike
Stack Height, Weight, and Other Specs – like all of Altra’s shoes, these are zero drop. That means that the heel of the shoe is at the same level as the toes. The total stack height is 15mm, so you have a little over a half inch of rubber and foam underfoot for cushioning and support. It’s not really much, and it’s certainly no Hoka, but I found it refreshingly soft compared to my last pair of racing shoes. Even with a touch of cushion, the shoe is very light at 5.2oz for a men’s size 9.0. It’s not the featherweight of something like the Mizuno Wave Universe (2.8oz), but it’s a lot lighter than your average OCR shoe. It doesn’t have any extra material to hold water either, so even when soaking wet, it’s still lighter than Inov-8’s most popular options.
Upper, Tongue, and Laces – it doesn’t look like it in pictures, but the tongue is actually fully attached to the upper, so you don’t have to worry about it sliding around or being uncomfortable. It’s not a super papery, scratchy tongue like some, so it feels good against the top of your foot even without socks. They also used pretty soft laces, so it doesn’t feel like fishing line running across your feet. The upper is somewhat soft, but kind of plasticy too. Not the most comfortable upper I’ve ever felt, but it still passes the sockless test; I’d wear it without socks and not worry about blisters.
Sole, Footbed – The Altra Golden Spike fixes some issues that I’ve had with other Altra shoes in the past. Before, on steep downhill runs in wet conditions, the footbed would slowly start to bunch up in the front of the shoe and become a major pain in the butt. However, the footbed is glued in place with the Golden Spike, so this isn’t a concern.
Natural Fit – Like all of their other shoes, the Altra Golden Spike is what they call “foot shaped”, meaning it has a wide toe box and allows for toe-splay instead of squeezing your toes together. Shouldn’t all shoes be shaped like feet? Why is this an award winning innovation? It seems like common sense to me, but I digress… Anyone who has ever worn spikes knows how uncomfortable they can be. Altra encourages their customers: “don’t settle for the XC spike that hurts the least”. I’d have to agree. The wide toe box on the Altra Golden Spike (lower) is clearly a better fit than my old Brooks Mach 14 spikes (upper).
Colors and Sizing– the Altra Golden Spike is unisex, so the fit is the same for men and women. It’s a bit ironic since they advertise a female specific fit on their other shoes, but I guess when it comes to speed, men’s and women’s feet have the same needs. The shoes come in red, green, blue, and pink. You can get them anywhere from a size 4.0 (women’s 5.5) to a 15.0. This is still kind of disappointing as I know a handful of women that wear a 4.5 or 5.0 who have extremely limited footwear options, but at least there’s a 5.5. The shoe fits a bit large, about a 1/4 size in my opinion, so size down for a competition fit.
Altra Golden Spike Usage
I have used the Golden Spike for various training runs on the road, trail, and treadmill, and it’s a great shoe on all surfaces. I mostly use the shoe with the spikes removed, but they perform as expected when you put them in; they’re metal, sharp, and stick into the ground – that’s about it. Most spikes are so tight and uncomfortable that you can’t wait to rip them off after your race or workout. Not so with the Golden Spike!
Beyond comfort, I’ve really enjoyed their versatility. While remaining super light, they still have enough cushioning that it feels fine for mid distance road runs. You’re not limited to short track workouts with the Altra Golden Spike and it seems like it’s built to handle more miles than your average spike. It’s comfortable enough that you could run a 10k or even a 13.1 if your feet are strong enough to run in a minimalist shoe for that distance.
I ordered my first pair of Golden Spikes a half-size too large which made them far less comfortable. I highly recommend you don’t make the same mistake. While the upper is comfortable when it fits properly, a poor fit will result in pinching around the toes and severe blistering! When it fits well, the shoe is astonishingly comfortable, and not just for a spike. I would still recommend a thin sock, but the upper materials are soft and pliable. If you think you’re between sizes, opt for the smaller size; it’s a pretty flexible shoe and can fit tightly while still feeling good. If it’s too loose then you’ll have the same problems I did with my first pair – not fun.
While most of my experience has been on the road, I think the Golden Spike really shines on the trail. With the spikes removed, it still has excellent traction. Plus, it’s comfortable enough to wear for longer distances and has moderate cushioning (as far as racing flats go). With all that in mind, it will be my go-to shoe for 10k-13.1 trail races!
Altra Golden Spike Durability
It drains exceptionally well and has a glued in footbed, ideal for wet and muddy conditions. I’m tempted to take this shoe out to an OCR to see how it performs. I have no doubt that it would perform well over varied terrain, but I worry about it’s durability through obstacles. It would be fine for a stadium race, but a Spartan Beast might be more than it can handle. It is tougher than a lot of spikes on the market, so it has great potential. Only time and further testing will tell if it can stand up to some of the tougher courses and obstacles.
If you only intend on using the Golden Spike for trail racing, I’d tell you the durability was excellent. Just don’t expect it to compare to something like an Inov-8 or Icebug. While the traction is excellent for dry courses, it simply won’t perform well in mud like a shoe with lugs.
Altra Golden Spike Pros and Cons
- Durable for “normal” use
- One piece construction
- No spikeless model
- Probably not durable enough for long OCR
Altra Golden Spike Conclusion
While the Altra Golden Spike might not be the next big shoe in OCR, it’s worth checking out if you run other short distance events. Try it out for your next road or trail race and see why I love this shoe! You may just fall in love with it and end up wearing it for your next obstacle race. If you do, let me know how it goes. My hope is that Altra will expand their offerings and make a beefier version geared towards obstacle racers!