One small step or….? My Hoka One One Experience

photoCall me a skeptic or  Moon Shoes:

Leafing through a new Runner’s World magazine, I first saw advertising for the brand Hoka One One. Before I had even thought about these shoe, I concluded they were, and I am being nice, “not for me”. They looked weird, silly, absurd. Furthermore, my running experience was diverse. I’ve cross trained for soccer, worked out vigorously in college cross country and track, and done my long runs diligently.  I never had any complaints about my traditional running shoes. I wondered how could a shoe which was so different be worth it for me?…..But, boy, were we surprised.

The Low Down:

  • Hoka One One is designed to provide a maximum cushioning experience….. Hokas have essentially twice (2x) the cushioning as a traditional shoe. Running sidewalks, roads, and concrete requires good cushioning.
  • Hoka One One is designed to mimic barefoot or natural running.

Obviously this seems counter-intuitive. How can a shoe which is so high off the ground and cushioned be designed with a minimal or natural purpose?

The answer lies in how such a shoe approaches this idea. In a traditional shoe, the difference in height between the heel and the forefoot (toes) has been 12-14 millimeters; roughly half an inch. When we stand on our bare feet, this difference is reduced to 0 millimeters. The train of thought goes that, by elevating our heels, we increase the strain put on our lower legs, arch, and forefoot, when compared to the natural barefoot state. Think of a high heel.

Thus, by reducing this gap, we should reduce some of the strain on our feet. Hoka is not the first to experiment with this change. For example, Saucony has reduced their entire lineup of shoes from 12-14mm to 8, 4, or 0mm.  The crux of this argument is that natural running does not have to mean no cushion; it simply means that a shoe should work with the foot and it should provide a “natural” experience.

 

Well, I finally tried them:

I ended up with a pair of the Hoka One One Stinson B Evo. The Stinson B Evo is a hybrid road/trail shoe. It has an aggressive tread on the bottom, but still has a soft cushioned ride. In a sense, it is a well rounded shoe for all conditions.

I took them out for a run late last week. My initial reaction was they look much worse than they feel. It does not feel like you’re walking on stilts (contrary to popular belief!). Nor does it feel like you will tip over, as the shoe provide a stable platform . The cushion is soft, but not overly pillow. My run took me through a mixture of roads and trails – flat packed dirt primarily with some rocks and roots.

For me, on roads, the Hokas were average at best. Because there was simply so much cushioning under the foot, I didn’t get the feedback from the ground I wanted. I thought “I can’t run fast in this shoe, but I can run all day”. Unfortunately, I only wanted to run 40 minutes and it was getting dark.  It was not until I took the onto the trails they shone. Rocks, root, and pebbles didn’t faze me. I literally felt like I was gliding over any obstacle in my way. Honestly, I had never felt any shoe do this for me. They were thoroughly enjoyable in the woods.

So, after some thought, you probably could call me a convert. The Hoka One One experience is certainly unique. I would highly recommend them to someone who is looking for a great, highly cushioned trainer, and is in the throes of their marathon training.. Or if you walk long distances regularly….I would not however recommend them to someone who is used to a firm, responsive, and lightweight shoe, nor would I recommend them to someone who’s looking for a racing shoe. Overall, they are compelling once you get accustomed to them. Give them a try and you may end up as delighted as me!

 

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