Hoka One One.
Now there's a controversial sentence in the world of running if ever I heard one. I like many first saw these and was not impressed. They look awful! But over time I have seen a few people sporting them at races and a friend of mine Leanne had bought a pair and reported that they were "extremely comfortable." This piqued my interest and so I started to read a few reviews here and there just to get the general feel for whether these are just a fad or whether there is something in the ultra cushioned, low heel drop, slightly wider than normal shoe approach.
After reading a few reviews and coming close a few times to pushing the button on a brand new Hoka purchase I finally got lucky on Ebay and managed to get a pair that had been worn only a couple of times in my size. I felt this much more sensible than blowing £120 on a pair, trying them once and then consigning them to my ever growing "Shoes I dont really like" collection. I managed to get this lovely pair for the princely sum of £48 and they came with velcro already sown on them should I decide I wish to use them for Marathon Des Sable 2015 - result!
So on to the review..
Heres a photo of the shoes, as you can see they are rather big! And also rather bright. I have a friend who I run with who is afraid of the colour yellow so I am looking forward to the next time we run together ;-)
The Hype -
As stated on The Endurance Store Website: "There are many shoes on the market designed to promote a 'natural/barefoot' running style, and often this goes hand in hand with a 'minimalist' construction, offering very little (if any) underfoot cushioning. Here is a shoe that promotes a natural running style that has been designed with a considerable amount of cushioning under the foot.This oversized approach ensures a natural stride whether on smooth road surfaces or the most uneven trails. The shoe is lightweight, with a good grip, and a wide platform designed for stability. The close lacing system further enhances stability and support and they offer outstanding impact absorption and a very comfortable underfoot feel. The sole features a rockering profile to provide a smooth, energy efficient stride, propelling you forward with each and every strike of the foot. In our view this is an extremely comfortable, lightweight shoe that in particular excels on the descents. The Mafate shoes would be ideally suited for almost any long distance event."
My initial thoughts as stated are that whilst they look awful, I had read enough to want to give these a go. I put them on and they felt so cushioned as to be expected. I had a little run round the garden and even though they are tall compared to conventional trainers the extra width meant that they felt stable. One of the reasons I wanted to try these were due to a knee niggle that I have been carrying for the last few months; I figured that if the extra cushioning could protect me a little on longer runs this would be a great pay-off. I went out on a trail run to really put these through their paces, deciding to jump straight in and go for a 19 mile run on cliff paths, a few hills and technical sections.
I’m a bit of a gear junkie (aren’t all us runners?) and once I buy something I am keen to use it straight away, hence why I jumped straight in at the deep end with quite a long run on new running shoes (potential schoolboy error??) . I was really pleased with how they felt though and having read previous reviews I definitely concurred with the overall feeling of how the cushioning really makes the ride on the trails very smooth. All of a sudden I was able to step straight on big rocks rather than run round them and not feel a thing compared to wearing a pair of Inov-8’s for example.
I definitely was really tuned in to how they felt and was enjoying the ride and the cushioned feeling. Another thing you will read in reviews is how the shoe, being wider is still stable despite the increased height. I found this to be true in most cases, however I did feel the potential to turn an ankle here and there, something which I tend not to experience in thinner soled shoes.
It was evident that the connection with the ground was lost a little but I guess this is the tradeoff with the comfort. Even though the shoe is a substantial size the shoe is so light which is quite deceptive.
After a while on the trail I noticed that my front left toe was rubbing against something in the toe box, like a seam of some description. I powered on and through the run the rubbing got quite bad. I just zipped up the man suit and got on with it but my poor toe took quite a battering!
I got to the end of the run and my legs definitely felt fresher than in some conventional trail shoes. I do generally over pronate and I felt that the Hokas didn’t really offer me much in the way of support and had maybe put some strain on aforementioned knee injury.
As previously disclose I didn’t like the look of these, but on a practical level after reading reviews I felt that they could be useful in some scenarios; particularly in training and longer races. I think the cushioned ride is awesome and I loved being able to stomp down a rocky path with no real thought to what was in my way. I did feel that there could be more support in the shoe, but I think that is down to my whack biomechanics and fallen arches so will be experimenting with an orthotic in the future to see whether this will help.
Although the day I went out wasn’t a particularly wet day I felt the grip was good with no real issues going up or down hill and I felt I could trust the soles.
I really feel that Hokas have a role to play in ones arsenal of trail shoes. For those that run ultras I think on a course where it is less technical these could really serve a purpose and help to preserve leg freshness for longer which is great news. I don’t see myself using these in the heart of winter on slippy slidy cliffpath routes, but envisage come Spring these will be getting a fair bit of use.