Tuesday, August 28, 2012

An overdue and unsolicited shoe review of Hoka One Ones

In my opinion there is no gear more important in running than shoes.  No wait, there is nothing more important than a sports bra....but shoes come directly after that.  The wrong shoes can wreak havoc on your body and affect your form, times, and enjoyment of the sport.  Finding the right shoe is an essential task for every runner, from the novice to the elite.

Lately, there has been an influx of new shoes and shoe types to choose from.  Instead of making it easier to find a shoe, I think it has made that shopping trip even trickier.  What shoe do you get?  Brand, heel to toe ratio, padding, barefoot, neutral, natural, stabilizing, etc, etc, etc??  The options seem limitless....and so do the conflicting opinions. There are folks loudly yelling that the only way to run is barefoot (or as close as you can get to it) and there are folks yelling equally as loud that barefoot running is the best way to get injured.  It is enough to make your head spin.

In my limited experience and equally limited expertise, I find that a shoe with a lower heel to toe ratio is better (4mm or less).  So I guess I lean closer to barefoot running, although I don't think I will ever run completely barefoot.  I read ChiRunning and loved it.  I try to be a midfoot/forefoot striker (although many a race picture will show you that I don't always achieve it) and I think shoes with a smaller heel help you do that.

Shortly after I read ChiRunning I bought my first pair of Newtons.  At that time nobody had them.  I got a lot of strange looks from people checking out my insanely bright orange shoes that did not contain a familiar symbol on the side.  I loved my Newtons and I still think they are a solid shoe choice.  And now races are flooded with Newton clad runners...although you still might be the only one at the gym sporting them.

So why switch shoes?  Well, Newtons are not cheap.  I also hurt my arch and wondered if they shoes were to blame (I don't think they were).  And finally, I read a review of this new shoe called Hoka One One (oh-nay oh-nay).  The reviewer was none other than Marshall Ulrich, and if the grand master of the ultra marathon likes a shoe, well I listen.
This is from last year when I met Marshall Ulrich...I bet he misses me.
Marshall's review promised fewer aches and fresher legs.  Um, yes please!  So I gave them a go.  Unfortunately, these shoes are just as expensive as my former favs.  How expensive?  $170 before tax.  Ouch!  Even more unfortunate, these shoes, in my opinion, are butt ugly.  Here they are:
Red and Yellow Clown Shoes Adult
Red nose not included
Okay, so maybe they are not that bad, but they definitely look and feel clown like in the sea of minimalist shoes that are popular today.  How I actually describe them is like this:  it looks like a pair of skater shoes mated with a pair of Sketcher Shape-ups.  In fact I can not tell you how many times I have been asked if I am running in toning shoes.  Ugh.  The design/colors aren't bad...it is just that they look orthopedic....nobody, especially runners, want to look orthopedic.

Although these things look ridiculously big and heavy, they are actually pretty light.  And the heel does look enormous but the heel to toe drop is still only 4mm.

So what makes these so great?  How are these ugly, giant things any different, or more importantly, any better than the rest of the shoes out there??  This link from Hoka will tell you all about the technology and I will tell you this: they feel luxuriously plush.  The material that Hoka One One uses is amazingly shock absorbing.  It almost feels like running on gymnast flooring.  Now I am not a skinny runner and I have bad knees. I need shock absorption, especially on long runs.  Running down hill?  A dream!  Switching back to other shoes?  Borderline torture on my knees.  I love these shoes and they were worth every penny because I don't feel trashed after a long run....or a short run for that matter.

Now, that said, I will give you a few of the negatives
  • They run small.  I recommend getting a half size or size bigger than your current shoe.  I actually had to take my first pair back because they were too small.
  • They take a while to break in.  I wasn't in love with these shoes the first 2 times I wore them.  There was a definite break in period.  My feet felt a little caged at first (they don't anymore).
  • The toe box is a little narrow in my opinion.  I wish it was wider (yeah, I guess I am saying I wish these giant shoes were even bigger).
  • You take a little bit of an ego hit wearing them.  You don't look a runner in these things....you look like your going to go mall walking.  You are going to get looks from other runners like, "What are you running in?  Amateur!"  When I wore Newtons I felt considerably cooler.  Shoot, when I wore Nikes I felt a lot cooler.
My overall opinion is a positive one and I believe my next shoes will also be Hoka One Ones.  I can't imagine going back to a regular pair.  I don't think every shoe is right for every runner.  If you like to feel the ground, these aren't for you.  I don't like to feel the ground...the ground hurts, so I love them!  Bottom line: Give them a try!  They are a totally different type of shoe and you just might fall in love, I know I did.