Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hoka Review

There is inevitably that day that comes in a runner’s life when the shoe they've fallen in love with is ripped away from them by the company that makes it. Either one tweak too many is made in the newest model, or the shoe is discontinued altogether. I have experienced this twice this year. I was excited for the 10th anniversary edition of the Mizuno Inspire, but I am not a fan of the new super stiff posting or the “euphoric” foam cushioning system. And Brooks, well, don’t even get me started on the Trance versus Transcend switcheroo.

So what’s a runner to do? Experiment. So I decided to go maximal or go home! That’s right! I am trying out Hoka One One. Hoka makes maximal shoes that take all the good parts of minimalism, and incorporates those qualities into a shoe with cushion to spare. Most Hoka models have a 4 mm drop, which is comparable to semi-minimals like the Saucony Kinvara or Brooks Pure Flow and Cadence. They have lots of width, depth, and flexibility in the upper like an Altra. They are surprisingly lightweight, and they don’t use traditional posting in their support shoes. Instead, the mid-sole material comes up around the foot so that the foot is guided back in line more naturally. Does that concept of the guidance into a natural neutral position sound too good to be true? Well, if it was, then Brooks probably wouldn't be copying that concept on the new Transcend. And Brooks is a running specific brand only, and just happens to be the leading running shoe manufacturer in the United States. They wouldn't spend a ton of money to copy something that doesn't work.

Let’s be real here, I hated the Hoka Stinson from the moment I saw it. It was the first Hoka I came in direct contact with, and it was U-G-L-Y, and it had no alibi, it was UGLY. I tried it on briefly like a small child that takes the tiniest bite of a vegetable, chews quickly, and swallows while simultaneously gasping like they are dying. I took maybe two steps and took them off. That was in August. A few weeks ago, those very same Stinsons made their way back to me after a friend decided that she probably wouldn't ever really wear them to run in either. I reluctantly started wearing them to work as if to spite Mizuno and Brooks for their betrayal. Then the strangest thing happened; I tried running in them.
Size comparison with ASICS GT 2000 v2

At first, I was slow and dragging on my runs, but I could immediately tell that the cushion would feel amazing at the end of a long run. My concern was that I typically wear a mid to high support shoe, but these neutral-esque shoes were actually feeling ok. I had trouble climbing hills at first, and I spoke to some veteran Hoka wearers who do group runs at the store I work in, and they were reluctant to tell me that it was probably just me and my lack of training that made my runs slow and awkward in the Hokas, and I am glad they found a polite way of telling me that because I kept trying them.

I wore the Stinson Tarmac for my half marathon at the Garden Spot Village Marathon and Half, and I had almost no problems. The cushion was great! This particular course is HILLY, but I didn't have any issues that seemed to be due to the shoe rather than the actual hills themselves. I didn't have any ankle or knee pain after the race, but I did have a few blisters on the ends of my toes. I haven’t had any blisters after switching to the wrightsock until I ran that half in the Stinsons. The plus side is that I usually have either shooting pain, tingling, or numbness in my left leg after a long run due to a pinched nerve in my back, but I didn't have any of those issues after running a half marathon in the Hoka Stinson!

UPDATE: I have been running in Hokas almost exclusively since this post. I have tried the Bondi, Conquest, Stinson Lite, and Clifton. 
The Clifton is amazingly light, yet highly cushioned. Think of this shoe as Diet Hoka. Less weight, and less cushion, but still a taste of that Hoka flavor you love! It would be a good "gateway" shoe for someone wanting to try Hokas, but unsure of the feel and price. It does not work well for me on long runs due to the softness of the shoe not holding up as well to my pronation, but it does well up to about 7 miles for me.
The Bondi was not nearly stable enough for my pronation on any level. I would say this shoe is for strictly the neutral runner. Pronators and Supinators need not apply.
The Conquest is a firmer, but still highly cushioned shoe. It is geared toward the runner who is more likely to pronate or supinate with stiffer "bumpers" that sort of wrap up around the foot. I felt this shoe didn't have a wide enough toe box for me, and there is less of a built in arch than some of the other models. I personally, and this may not be everyone's experience, had lots of plantar fascia pain during long runs in this shoe.
The Stinson Lite seems to be the sweet spot for me. I am on my second Stinson though I moved from the Tarmac to the Lite. I love this shoe. I put in the 4mm liner instead of the zero drop, and I love the slight arch built in, and the stable, yet highly cushioned ride it offers. It has a wide flat base to provide a ride stable enough for long runs without any pronation issues. My back and hips are in MUCH better shape than I was before I started wearing Hokas.

TAKE AWAY: Hokas seem to work well for people who have back issues, chronic joint pain, or people who tend to be injury prone. Not every Hoka model will work for every runner, and Hokas in general are not for everyone. Visit a running specialty store that carries Hokas and ask ahead of time if there is a particular employee who is more experienced with Hokas or anyone who has run in them that works there.


  1. Finding the perfect shoe is so daunting because you don't really know until AFTER you spend the money and are able to do a few hard runs in them. I think I may cry when Brooks stops making my shoe!