Posted by: krusty505 | October 30, 2011

Surfing the 1Cloud

The following are my first impressions of the Hoka One One Mafate trail shoes. This is my first attempt at an actual gear review, so bear with me.

The Backstory

I’m going to keep this relatively short for those of you who have heard this more than once. I’ve been struggling with injuries since April of this year. I had to abandon an attempt at a 100 mile ultra as a result, and I haven’t been able to run like I’d like to since hurting both my back and my knee. Both of these issues have plagued me for decades, but they have become chronic and debilitating this year. I finally found a physical therapist just this week who seems to know what the hell he’s talking about, and he is having me work on my bio-mechanics.  Hopefully, I’m on the right track and on the mend.

As a result of this lengthy rehabilitation process, I’ve been trying different types of footwear. What started as a movement toward minimalism, has turned a full 180 degrees. A few weeks ago I stumbled across Hoka One One (pronounced Onay, Onay), and I think this company is on to something. In a nutshell, these shoes provide mega cushion but promote a natural mid-foot strike by having very little heel-to-toe drop. They also provide excellent support and awesome traction by providing 30% more contact with the ground. For more information on how they work, check out their website.

I got really intrigued by these concepts, which seem valid and well thought out, so I decided to bite the bullet on the super pricey price-tag and try a pair. Unlike shoes from major brands, my local running shop does not allow me to try these shoes for 2 weeks to see if I like them, so I’m stuck with them whether I dig them or not. Fortunately, my first impressions are extremely favorable, and I’m hoping this is the beginning of a beautiful love affair.

My First “Run”

Because I’m still technically injured, I haven’t been truly running per-se, but I’ve been power hiking steeps and sort of trotting the more gentle downhills. Today I decided to hike up the CCC trail in the Sandias and jog down the South Crest Trail back to my car. For a profile of that effort click here.

As you can see, the bulk of the 2,700ft of climbing occurred in just 2 miles, so this is a seriously steep hike followed by a more mellow, but still significant, downhill trot.

Yes, they really do have that much cushion!

My initial impressions were that my feet were definitely going to have to get used to these shoes! They were a bit bumpy and lumpy underfoot, but I was trying to remain open and allow them to “break in,” as I’ve heard that they do require some getting used to. Many people have commented in other reviews I’ve read that the built in rocker in these shoes really helps on climbs, and I have to concur. These shoes are total mountain goats. Aside from my aerobic system, the hills felt almost effortless. Another thing I’ve read about the Hokas is that they are like riding a full suspension mountain bike; that is, rocks and other inconsistencies virtually disappear under your feet. Again, I’d have to whole-heartedly agree. At first I thought this might be a detriment; I mean, don’t we want to feel “connected” to the environment when we are out in a natural setting pushing our bodies to their limits? But honestly, about 45 minutes into the uphill, I had a complete about face on this point. I actually felt MORE connected to the environment because my feet didn’t hurt (by then the bumps and lumps in the shoes had all but disappeared, and I was feeling pretty comfortable in the Hokas). I was looking around at trees, rocks, the sky and just enjoying the hell out of a beautiful fall day, not worrying about my next misstep or fretting over how sore I already was.

They look a bit more "normal" from above.

Another concern I’ve read about with these shoes is the possibility of rolling an ankle because they are so tall, but I didn’t find this to be an issue at all. You sit really low in the shoes, and they are mega wide underfoot, so in actuality, they feel very sure-footed and stable. They don’t bend and flex like a regular running shoe, and certainly not at all like a minimalist shoe, so that does take some getting used to, but basically the floaty feeling was really enjoyable. Again, I think the full suspension mountain bike analogy works here.

I arrived at the crest of the Sandias about an hour and a half after starting and stopped to take a quick pic of my gear:

The tools of my trade today.

Now, came the downhill, my bodily curse! I decided that no matter how good I felt, I would take it easy and keep my pace light and easy. I began a comfortable jog down the crest trail. I could tell immediately that these shoes were going to be superb downhill companions. For those of you who know this trail, it’s rocky and rough, but I could barely feel the rocks as I cruised the 6 miles back to the car. One negative is that because the shoes are so tall, you really need to relearn your stride. Thank God I had my trekking poles because they saved me numerous times when I probably would have taken a serious digger otherwise. You really have to pick up your feet with these shoes and think about placement. I’m sure I’ll get accustomed to it, but for now it’s a bit of a detriment that I have to think so much about how high I lift my feet. One thing I didn’t mention earlier is that these shoes are absurdly light! I think they weigh as much if not less than some of my minimalist products, so you really don’t feel like you’re lugging around giant Frankenstein shoes. In fact, they feel very light and lithe.

OK, now for the other negative. Yes, they do look a bit ridiculous. As Natalie says, they look like “marshmallows.” But hey, people thought that Vibram Five Fingers looked ridiculous, too, and now every other employee is trundling around the local REI outlet in what I think make your feet look like gorilla feet, so I guess it’s a matter of perspective.

Post Run Impressions

So how do I feel now? I’m a little stiff and sore in the back, but my knee feels great! I hope that with my current physical therapy program and the Hokas, I’m actually on the mend. Am I ready to start training for 100 miles? Definitely not, but I’m thinking about it…

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Responses

  1. They really do look like marshmellows! It’s a good thing we have Chris to be our guinea pig and test case for the weird and novel! Nice pics.

  2. Man, those are some sexy shoes! They almost look as awful as the shape-your-butt shoes, or the awesome shoes I got to help with my mega pronation issue. Glad you like them. Please tell me that after one run you aren’t seriously considering a 100 miler again!! 🙂 Oh my!!

    • Actually my butt is really sore today, so maybe they do shape up your butt, too. And you know as well as I do that I’ve been thinking about a hundred miler for quite some tie;)

  3. Wonderful post but I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this subject? I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Thanks!

    • What were you hoping I would add? If you give me some more specifics, I could do some follow up. Thanks.

  4. I’m truly enjoying the design and layout of your blog. It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more enjoyable for me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire out a developer to create your theme? Excellent work!

    • No, I didn’t. Thanks for the complement.

  5. I can’t wait to see how they are down the road! I’d love for you to be able to complete a 100 miler, but mostly because you’re a trend setter and if you like them everyone will be in ’em by spring and by then I will have already bought stock in the company! Would that be considered insider trading?

    • Thanks. Dee. I hope my body responds positively. The way my back felt today, I’m not so sure, but we shall see.


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