With springlike temperatures and freezing rain, skiing was a disaster at December training camp, and I forgot to pack my running shoes. After our only ski day, I bought a pair of Hoka One One Stinson trail shoes from High Peaks Cyclery. The other brands I tried on didn’t fit, and I was determined to salvage some training hours. Brian, the owner, said that he has some knee issues and he runs in them.
I will admit to having some skepticism about this brand. Commenting on a spring post, someone recommended them. The same person later submitted a second comment, setting off my bullshit detector. I emailed him directly. Dude. You sound like a social media marketing manager. If you want publicity, send me a pair to review, here’s my address. Oh no, he wrote back; I’m just a regular guy. Yeah right, tell me more.
Yet, of the running shoes available to purchase, they were the best option. So I shelled out the big coin. At $160, they’re almost twice as much as I usually pay for running shoes. Are they worth the price?
Hoka stake their reputation on their huge, cushiony sole, and they claim that their design promotes natural foot movement. That seems to be the rationale for the minimalist shoe movement also. Outside Online recently discussed the cushion vs minimalist controversy.
Unlike the mainstream design running shoes that I usually use, the Hoka has a thin, unpadded tongue to go with its thick sole. The toe box protects you fine if you bash a rock.
My feet are quite stiff, I supinate, and I’m a heel striker. Initially, the feeling of landing on the outside of my foot and falling inward was quite exaggerated, but my footstrike was actually no different. It took a few sessions to get used to.
My first three runs were on snowy and icy pavement in Upper Jay, NY. Trumbulls Road turns in to Jay Mountain Road. It’s three or four miles uphill: one climb followed by flat or rolling road, followed by another climb. One day, I ran into the woods on the trail to the summit of Jay Mountain, but I turned back due to the time and my lack of snowshoes and other necessary gear for a winter hike. The Hokas felt like I had pillows under my feet. Except for a couple of extremely icy stretches, they had adequate grip.
The following weekend, I ran in the woods for three hours on a chilly, rainy day. The terrain is rolling with some serious hills, and moderately technical. When they’re dry, the trails are hard, seemingly with a high clay content. When they get sodden, it gets ugly. The shoes did well on flat, wet trails. On mild sidehills, they slipped easily.
Other runs included an extremely rocky trail that’s good training for the Escarpment race. The Hokas floated over the rock garden, and I didn’t worry about bashing my feet the way I would in mainstream shoes. During an uphill bounding session, I didn’t feel like I was launching myself explosively, and that may be due to the soles.
Are they good shoes? Insofar as shoes go, they’re fine. As with minimalist shoes, there’s a different design philosophy that either works for you or doesn’t.
Do they ameliorate orthopedic issues? I’ve run intervals in them, and easy distance. I still had knee pain during and after some of my runs. They didn’t do anything for the newly arthritic foot. Still, they’re an awfully cushy ride.
Would I shell out $160 for another pair? I’m on the fence about that. And the only way you’re gonna know if they’re for you, you’ll have to try them.