Saturday, August 09, 2014

You do the Hoka Pokey...

I thought I'd share a couple thoughts on my recent purchase of the Hoka One One Stinson Trail.
My Hoka Stinson Trails, from REI, on closeout.

First, I'm running in last year's model. Why? I'm cheap that's why. Seriously, I was definitely on the fence about these and with a retail price of $160+ I was having a hard time justifying the experiment. My track record with running shoes priced over $110 is perfect. I have NEVER had a successful experience with them.  (*Note:I've never tried Newtons (see skeptical/hard time justifying cost), the only other super high-end shoe I've considered.)

Why even experiment? I mean I've run in fairly minimal shoes for the last 2 years. It's a valid question, and while I might say "because the cool kids are doing it" there is very clearly nothing too cool about the Hokas, either from an appearance standpoint or quite literally the temperature of your feet (more on this later). What has been clear, though, is as much as I like the "swift" feeling of minimal shoes, they do have their mileage limits, at least on my feet. I would race a marathon in my Pure Connects, but the operative word is race. You can put up with a lot of discomfort in the name of speed on race day. Training? That's another matter. I do take them on 18-20mile training runs on pavement, and do okay, but there is some wear and tear. Were the Pure Connects competent on trails, I might be tempted to try them up to 50K, but alas they are not. Wet grass=Ice rink. Enter the Pure Grits. A reasonable trail shoe with okay forefoot padding and good traction, but the weight distribution in the shoe is a little funny (too much forefoot making them feel heavier than they are). I have run long in the Pure Grits and my feet were at their limit. In fact that run in fact got the ball rolling on this Hoka experiment. The run in the Pure Grits went well but at the end, my feet, hamstrings, and butt were all objecting. And when I projected the discomfort out another 25miles, well, I needed a plan 'B'. I want to complete a 50miler, but I don't wish to redefining suffering in the process. Maybe I'm going soft in my older age, but comfort, cushy, squishy foot love even at the cost of some weight and maybe speed, it's worth it. I'm not running to beat anyone. I'm running to prove to myself I can.

So how was the run? Well, first I was tall. Like 6'2". Made me feel stronger in a weird way. I also was a bit clumsy...well maybe we'll say less agile. I only had one instance of a stumble where I almost face planted, but I recovered and kept going. Much of the experience was similar to what others have experienced: toe box a little narrow, uppers a little warm, stability a little iffy at times, but... those are all fixable. More miles. Lacing the shoes a bit differently, and the warmth didn't actually bother me while I was running. I noticed it but put it out of my head.

As for the positives: I've found I can carry speed much better in these than other trail shoes, especially when the terrain changes. It allowed me to keep my lower body more relaxed. And maybe it was in my head, but it seemed much easier to run through the grassy pasture/fields. I know people think running on grass is easy, and it is if you're talking nice manicured lawns. Pasture is tough, deceptively tough. Holes, pushing your feet through stiff, dense, tall grass, and it always seems wet. At the end of the run, 22.4 miles in 80 degree heat, I had a few small blisters but nothing major. And the money question, how do I feel? Definitely less stress, less damage. I know this because, 1) my third lap splits were almost the same as my first two (a week ago this was not the case), and ... well ... I can walk around the house right now! That's not to say I was a wreck on previous runs, I wasn't, but the lack of pain in my hammies and butt tell me the cushy, squishy, foot love did it's thing and that was the idea in the first place.