It is no secret that these shoes, if not controversial, are a subject of debate within the Ultrarunning Community. They look like a crazy surgeon had a load of collagen left over after doing Lesley Ash’s lips and injected it into the soles of his shoes. They aren’t a “normal” shoe.
I am quite a self conscious individual and initially didn’t even consider these as shoes that would work for me- I might fall over or, much worse, get laughed at. OK, I am not a barefoot runner but I have run in low profile shoes for the last few years and so disregarded Hoka’s.
Another reason is that for my first two London Marathons I ran in Asics Gel shoes and had terrible shin splints. I thought this was normal until I discovered that heavily supported shoes encourage a heel strike as opposed to a more natural mid to forefoot strike, which is against the natural norm and hence, serious pain on long runs. Having been through this and more importantly having resolved it, I didn’t want to go down that route again. My third London Marathon and every ultra since has been in low-drop, semi-minimalist shoes.
At the same time I noticed more and more people at races I had entered wearing them. Was this a fad or did they really offer something I was missing? Just looking at their elite team which has included Dave Mackey and Karl Meltzer for years and for 2014 new big name stars on the US scene including Sage Canaday and Michael Wardian, it seemed not.
Maybe it was time to try them out and see what all the fuss was about? I think the decision was cemented at the Brecon Beacons Ultra back in November. Dan Park was wearing a pair of new Stinson Evo’s and raved at their comfort and support- especially on the downhill’s. He had much less pain than in “normal” trail shoes after the race and recovered quicker. Their strapline is ‘Time to Fly’ and Dan said downhill’s were a pleasure and most of all- fun.
Dan won’t mind me saying this (I know because I checked with him before publishing this), but he or I are never going to win a race. This is a key point because we do not buy products to necessarily make us compete better, but to enjoy running better. Sure we both want to become fitter, tougher and ultimately faster, but these three points are all secondary to our main reason for running Ultramarathons- our love of enjoying, not enduring, running long distances and being in beautiful places. Anything that can extend that enjoyment then the better.
I am fortunate in recent weeks to have picked up some sponsorship from Keith Godden and his shop: http://www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com/
Keith is a great guy and knows his market inside out. He has invested heavily in Hoka’s and developing their market share in the UK and Ultrarunning community here and kindly offered me a pair of Stinson Evo’s to try out. Take a look at the website to see the range he has available, from road, to trail to hybrid to mountain focussed Hoka One One’s.
The link to the main Hoka page is here: http://www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com/Hoka-One-One-Shoes-s/1935.htm
And for the Stinson Evo (Trail) in particular is here: http://www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com/Hoka-STINSON-EVO-TRAIL-Shoes-p/hokastinsonevotrail.htm
The new 2014 Hoka One One Conquest models http://www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com/Mens-Hoka-CONQUEST-TARMAC-Shoes-p/hokaconquesttarmac.htm are also shown. Mike Morton was wearing them during the Spartathlon 2013 and doing great until he took drastic action to avoid crashing into a dog. After that it was game over for him. There are some number of other new models and colours that will appear over the next few weeks too. Pre-orders are not possible but enquiries and questions are welcome.
I must admit I usually take a few days or sometimes weeks to write a review of a product. I may revisit this and update it in time, but after only taking them out of the box at 8pm last night and having run for just an hour in them, I had to get all of my thoughts on paper. Sometimes it is best to consider things, sometimes to go with your gut.
They felt weird before I even left the house. Some people call them ‘moon boots’ or ‘marshmallows’ and I can see why. They felt springy but also squashy and somewhat ungainly. I will talk more about this point later, but I think I knew already I would have to learn to run a slightly different way if I was to make the Hoka work for me.
On the side of the sole they have the words ‘anti-gravity’ stencilled on and as soon as I started jogging I felt this. I sunk low into the shoe as I connected with the ground, but was then propelled forward in a way I had not felt with a shoe before. I was still landing with a forefoot strike and a short stride and it felt slightly strange as a sensation but ultimately fine. On the uphill, the rolling motion as I landed help me push off and lift, but they did feel quite heavy to start with. I was new to this and it was like learning to run again after a year off.
After a couple of miles, running as I always do and not changing anything, I have to be honest- I felt exhausted and my legs hurt. This wasn’t good. How could a shoe this bad be so popular or was I just struggling because it was 10pm at night, midweek and I had worked since 7am? I was running a seven mile loop and started to think about slowing to a walk and just poodling home. I started calculating how much it would cost me in postage to send them back to Keith with an apologetic note saying they just weren’t right for me. It took me back to the North Downs Way 100 and I reminisced on how I was searching for excuses to drop from mile 44 to 50.
And then, as these thoughts were running through my head, subconsciously it happened. I had slowed down, not yet to a walk, but certainly a slower jog and I let the shoe take over and almost manage my stride for me. By slowing down and letting go of my controlling instincts, I somehow sped up. I was running easier than I had in months and yet running faster than I have in years. My stride lengthened and I was bouncing along- but importantly not heel striking which was my fear. In part this will have been because they have a similar drop to most shoes I wear, at just 4mm, despite having such a huge sole.
I was burning less energy and even wasn’t as thirsty as I usually am, where I drink at certain points on this route I know like the back of my hand. I am not going to talk about the shoes technical points, there are hundreds of reviews out there where you can see those, but how the shoe felt. Dan has also written a great review of his experience of the shoe here: http://dan-fattofit.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/hoka-one-one-review.html
A couple of years ago, and I’d love to blame the missus for this but cant, I was reversing into Mum and Dad’s driveway and whacked the rear right of the car into their house. Smooth move. When i got a new job, we upgraded the car to an automatic with sensors and, touch wood, I haven’t had any ‘spacial awareness’ issues since.
These shoes felt like going from a manual car to an automatic. They were driving, I just need to accelerate and brake and occasionally steer. I just had to let them run with it and let go of my controlling instincts.
I am a convert, but there is a caveat with that. I ran to work this morning, which is just three miles and is a good burn out to go all out. I ran in my Merrell Road Glove’s (which I love) and are about as far away from Hoka’s as you can get. Sometimes it is great to have an automatic car for those long journeys, but nothing is as fun as a manual on a short, fast trip.
I have read numerous 100 mile race reports as I return to try and beat my nemesis this year. Many of these talk about changing from standard shoes to Hoka’s at the halfway point for some added comfort and push towards the latter part of the race. I completely get this now. I might wear these shoes for a 50 mile race, it depends how quick I get used to them, or I might wear some ‘manual’ shoes. What is for sure is that even if I don’t start a 100 mile race wearing Hoka’s, I would be staggered if I don’t finish wearing them. They are the Mercedes of the trail running world- designed to go all day long without you even noticing you are ‘driving’.
I now just need to look at a road version to complete the picture and, who knows, I might end up a full convert for all distances as I get more and more used to them.
On another note, The Ultramarathon Running Store now sells Ultra Running Magazine in the UK. Since 1981 in the USA this has been a trail running bible so why not get a copy of this month’s edition and see for yourself: http://www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com/UltraRunning-Magazine-s/1941.htm