Altra Olympus 5 - 180K Review

Boy I sure do wish I could get a bigger size

Altra Olympus 5 - 180K Review

The Olympus series are Altras most cushioned trail shoes, designed specifically for ultra running with a large stack height, thick protective outer and grippy Vibram soles.

Following my first impressions I had some reservations about my pair (having been a Lone Peak lover for years), notably:

  • They size up a little smaller, concerned about toe bashing and rubbing
  • Poor grip around the heel despite how structured it is
  • Absurdly ineffective laces out the box

Since then I've cover over 180k in the shoes through a mixture of running and hiking, along with a tough muddy marathon to see how dialled in I could get them

How do they hold up?

First Things First, Let's Fix Them Laces

To clarify: the spirit level is for its ruler on the top to measure the lace widths...

The laces seem to be the biggest issue for me: if I could lace through the back eyelets and use something like a heel lock or a double slip knot I figured I could get the grip in the heel better and stop my foot hitting the front of the toe box.

This came after a hill repeats session at the Goat Gully: a steep section leading from the bottom of Avon Gorge to the top that is a good test of whether your shoes are locked down when descending. These absolutely weren't and I came away with some stinging toes no matter how tight I got them.

The problem is the supplied laces are:

  1. Too short by far to lace into the back eyelet with any real ability to tie a knot afterwards
  2. Too slippy to get a decent lockdown if you do manage to get enough length

Tried some Lock Laces but didn't like the pressure they put across the top of my foot, ended up opting for some 140cm, 8mm wide laces off Amazon that had enough extra length and were much better made.

General Use

The trinity of trail: Altra Olympus, Inov-8 Trailfly & Hoka Speedgoats

After a fair amount of breaking in round the house and on shorter runs I'd warmed to them, though not without some hiccups.

Firstly; the outsole traction was exactly what I wanted, the same sticky tackle-anything feeling of the Hoka Speedgoats given by the Vibram Megagrip.

The general fit is also what I was after: being a Lone Peak like super wide slipper feel.

The midsole and stack height made them feel nice and plush, I could see myself doing distance in them and remaining comfortable. However it's the older style midsole compound that feels flatter and "cardboard" like, rather than the newer (and significantly better) Ego / Ego Max midsoles found on the Timp and Lone Peaks.

I struggled to stop the heel slipping and bashing though. Lacing back and heel locking helped, but only so much. Also still conscious that heel locks have caused me issues in the past with tendon damage so I kept them as light as possible.

It seems to be a little worse in these then my other Altra models specifically because the Olympus 5s come with a hard, protective toe protector on the front; the downside of which is if your toes are bashing it's against a rigid bit of plastic.

Trail Mara Time

Took on the Gordano Round; a hilly almost all trail route around Somerset that is usually pretty muddy in the winter. So after a weeks solid rain it was "character building" to say the least.

It was however also the best test of the shoes I could ask for: 6 hours of ascents and descents, technical trails and mucky paths.

The grip: beautiful, confidence boosting, perfect. An absolute convert to Vibram Megagrip, no complaints at all. If I was in Lone Peaks on "maxtrac" outsoles I'd have been on my butt multiple times before the first 10k mark.

The general fit was nice, lots of room and comfort.

The midsole left a lot to be desired considering these are built for long distances; my feet ached something fierce afterwards. I don't know whether it was due to the rough terrain (which in fairness, most shoes would struggle with) or the flatter feeling midsole but I felt myself longing for that cushier Ego Max.

The toe bashing was a constant issue: I relaced and relaced, going through a few types of knots and strengths but nothing seemed to lock them down properly. It has to be said though a day after and my toes aren't in any pain or blistered, a lot of this may be more uncomfortable sensation then race breaking. Still comfort is king when it comes to distance, and these lacked in at the front.

Update May 2022

It's been a month since writing this review and I haven't ran in the Olympus shoes at all since that last test.

I've put them on a few times, only to hate the feel of them, take them off and stick on something lighter and more responsive. I've been running in Altra Lone Peak 7s and picked up some wide size Hoka Speedgoat 5s, both are shoes I vastly prefer to the Olympus.

For comparison;

  • The Lone Peaks have worse grip, but as significantly more comfortable to wear, lighter and feel better underfoot
  • The Speedgoats in a wide version are more comfortable, lighter and still have that ultra-distance focused cushioning, without the clunky feeling

It's pretty damning that they are now sitting in the attic, unloved and abandoned. For folks who are looking at these I can't recommend them, the clunky weight, poor lockdown looseness are all major turn offs.