Monday, October 14, 2013

A triathlete's review of the Hoka One One running shoe

In February of 2013, I ran a 50 kilometer trail race in Nicaragua -- a 50k that involved climbing up and into a volcano and through a jungle.  I ran this brutal race in Saucony A10's, because United Airlines sent my luggage, and my trail shoes, to Atlanta.

Since Saucony A10's are a bad choice for races longer than 5 kilometers, my feet hurt a lot after that race.  The shoes, which were brand new when I started the race, did not survive.

To be clear though, I don't blame the A10's.  They were as unhappy to be running up a volcano as I was to be wearing them.

So anyway, when I returned to the U.S. my feet were still pretty unhappy.  That's when I began looking into footwear options that started and ended with cushioning.

My first test ride in a pair of Hoka Bondi B's was on a treadmill at the San Francisco Running Company.  The shoes instantly made my feet happy.  It was like running on a mattress.

Now at this point, I wasn't worried about whether these shoes were appropriate for running races or triathlons, I just wanted some comfy shoes.  I would have worn nurses' shoes if they were comfortable.

So it came as a bit of a surprise when the Hokas turned out to be really good running shoes. During the first few runs in the Hokas, I not only enjoyed the substantial cushion, I noticed that I was being rolled onto my forefoot for the push-off, whether I intentionally landed on the forefoot or landed more mid foot.  This caused my hamstrings to work a little more, but at the same time, caused me to run quicker by about 10 seconds per mile.

To be clear, I'm not saying the faster mile splits came without additional physiological cost, just that the way the shoe rolled me into the push off seemed to encourage me to run faster, with better forward lean.  And so, I adapted to the slightly quicker pace and those regular 6 mile runs that I used to do in 45 minutes started ending in 44 minutes.  And that quicker running pace remains the same today.  

The other interesting thing about the Hoka Bondi B's was that they reduced the shock transfer to my legs to such an extent that my recovery from long or hard runs became considerably shorter.  In my old running shoes it might take me 3 days to recover from a 14 mile training run on the road.  But wearing the Hokas made 14 mile runs seem like 8 mile runs.  And so, I found myself running long on back to back days more often.

I now also own a pair of Stinson Tarmac's, which seem to offer an even higher amount of cushioning at the cost of another ounce or two.

While I like the Stinsons, the Bondis fit my wide foot a bit better than the Stinsons.  But people with a less wide foot seem to generally choose the Stinsons over the Bondis.

So the real question is, how do the Hokas perform as a triathlon shoe?

The answer is: remarkably well.

Since April of this year, I've raced every triathlon in the Hoka Bondis.  And I wouldn't consider racing in anything else.  The leg soreness that is so common in long-distance triathlons is substantially less in Hokas.

And my run splits have been equal or better than ever.

In a hilly half-ironman earlier this year, the Bondis helped me run down the race leader by allowing me to sprint the downhills without beating up my quads.  In Ironman Lake Tahoe, my legs were in terrible shape after the brutal bike ride -- my legs felt so damaged that I was convinced I would have to walk the run.  But the Hokas allowed me to run the marathon in a respectable time.  In any other shoes, I would have walked the run.

In other words, I highly recommend Hokas for long distance running and for triathlon racing.  In fact, I liked these shoes so much that I've been encouraging other triathletes to give them a shot, and I've become a brand ambassador for the company.

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