Shoe design has progressed massively in the last 5 years and with the explosion of trail running and increase in participation in ultra running we are seeing a myriad of new shoes and designs coming onto the market almost daily. Some are brand extensions with more agressive soles for the trails, some on specialist minimalist shoes and every so often a completely radical design comes out. We saw this last year with the innovative Salomon Sense and that has gone on to spawn many imitations but there is one shoe that no one is imitating.
The introduction of the Hoka brand a couple of years has led to an interesting debate on what makes a shoe better than others. Hoka is distinctive in its oversized design and claims to make you run faster for longer. Well it is obvious when you pick one up that the oversize design is there for all to see. As for its claims to make you run faster or longer or reduce injury – well the jury is out on that one. A couple of us at Ultra168 gave the shoe its usual 10 hour initial trial over a year ago now and one of us ended up injured as a result of wearing them and one of us couldn’t put up with the ridicule from his mates for looking silly so we never persisted with them and they were resigned to the charity bin.
Introducing our reviewer.
So in order to get a more balanced review we turned to ultra athlete Tymeka Warburton from Queensland to give them a thorough test. Take it away Tymeka!
I love running, having completed 15-20x marathons, 4x ironman triathlons, 3x 100km events and too many other running distances from 5km to ultra-marathons to even remember. But like many runners I have always been plagued by injury.
I was born with club feet and as a result of this I have had endless issues with shin pain including chronic shin splints and a number of stress fractures over the years. Improving my running form and strengthening has helped immensely however I still have issues with my balance and days where I cannot run due to pain and soreness, with distance running being my passion an inability to run is a real hindrance.
I am used to running in shoes around 7oz in weight with between 7-20mm of cushioning, which is light, fast and provides biofeedback so I can continue to improve my running form. I have been able to manage my shin issues with days off of running and some cross training, but like all runners I want to run every day.
So I investigated the Hoka One One brand…..
Overview and specifications
The Hoka is an oversized shoes weighing around 11oz with 2.5 times with sole of a normal runner. Hoka’s website states that the shoes reduce the shock/impact by 80% and increases stability as it is 35% wider.
It all sounded good and I was definitely interested, however I avoided purchasing a pair for the following reasons:
- I was a little narrow minded about the look of the shoe,
- The price point, they can be purchased on-line for $229.00, given the access to on-line shopping and cheaper running shoes I could not justify that cost.
- I was unable to locate a store on the Gold Coast that stocked HOKA’s. As this shoes is so different from the “traditional” range of running shoe I was very reluctant to purchase a shoe that I could not try on for that price.
In early December I attended an event on the Gold Coast where HOKA had a stall and I was able to pick the brain of the HOKA staff and an ultra-distance HOKA wearing runner, I was also able to try some on. It was my lucky day a good friend of mine won a pair of HOKA’s at that event, knowing that I was interested to try them out he was kind enough to give his prize to me.
I chose a pair of the Hoka Bondi B’s and could not wait to have a run. I have now had them for about 5-6 weeks and put in over 100km on them and this is what I have found.
There is plenty of room in the toe box and like any good shoe, there is no need to “wear them in” and my toes can splay and move freely. The HOKA has good flexibility and I did not feel my foot movement was hindered.
However due to the extra weight and size of the sole I did scuffed my feet more than a few times on my first run in them. Once I adjusted to it I have never noticed it again. Just be a little patient, especially if you are coming from a minimal shoe.
Now, I usually experience some level of pain and discomfort from road running so for me the landing was the important point. It was is so incredibly soft, like landing on a cloud and springing off of little trampolines and I began to really enjoy the softer landing. My first run in the HOKA’s was around 8km and I ended that run pain free.
With my poor balance the stability of the Hoka also impressed me, the wider sole and the cushion allows the shoe to mould around the ground surface, so wether running over rocks, on grass, dirt, uneven surfaces or bitumen pathways I felt stable and confident.
However, while the cushioning has many benefits I found it also came at a cost. The Hoka website says “run uphill as though wings are carrying you”. I can’t say I agree with this. I love running hills, however in the Hoka’s it just felt more difficult and took away the fun of uphill running for me. The level of cushioning compromised the efficiency of the shoe as much of the foot strike is absorbed into the ground with little rebound when compared to a “traditional” running shoe. This is quite noticeable and I found I had to work much harder to run at my normal speed.
While this is a negative effect if I were to consider racing in the HOKA’s, but could be used as a real advantage when worn in training. They could be a very good tool to gain leg strength and endurance. So from an uphill point of view be prepared to work harder initially but be rewarded later. The additional strength gained may also be of assistance in long term injury management and prevention.
Hoka says: “Fly down and still want to keep on going and going.” This is 100% true. I have always struggled with shin pain and downhill running particularly on the road, finding I have to zig zag my way down to reduce the impact on my shins, however the cushioning in the HOKA’s have allowed me to run at speed, straight down with minimal impact and no discomfort. It has been many years since I was able to run downhill like this, it felt amazing and I found myself willing to do the hard run uphill in the HOKA’s just to be able to enjoy the downhill.
Over the past 18 months I have worked hard to transition from a “heel” striker to a “mid-foot” striker, so I was concerned that I might lose what improvements I had gained. While the Hoka’s don’t prevent me from landing within that “mid-foot/fore-foot” striking position I found they did not encourage it either.
To make that transition I have chosen shoes that provided a high level of bio-feedback from ground to foot. So although the Hoka improved my stability I feel I lost a significant amount of bio-feedback and ground feel, while I could accept this on the road, for me ground feel on the trail is a Must Have.
While at this stage I can’t see myself using solely Hoka One One shoes, overall I was very impressed. I am also able to run most days, as if I do find I am a little sore I can pop on the Hoka’s and have a pain free run, allowing me to hold a good mileage and strengthen at the same time. To do this I have been using it in conjunction with my usual road and trail shoes. The training effect has been fantastic and I find returning to my usual shoe I feel I am light, fast and effortless.
So as you can see, Tymeka’s review echoes a lot of the sentiment we here from around the globe that if you are returning from injury or looking for active recovery then the Hoka range is another option to consider in a plethora of shoes out there at the moment.
*In the interests of transparency these shoes were won by the reviewer as a prize at an ultra event in Queensland