Thursday, 20 June 2013

Hokas Pocus?

I've been keeping my ear to the ground about good ultra shoes in preparation for running the Cotswold Way in August. It's mostly trail and some road, and I'm not sure my beloved MudClaws or cheapo road trainers are best suited to it. I've toyed with the idea of Hokas over the last few months, on account of recommendations from other runners who know their onions when it comes to long distance running, but have been hesitant a) because they look ridiculous and b) I'm a wannabe barefoot runner (who, sadly, over-pronates and has weak muscles and inflexible joints, and probably should just give up on the whole running malarkey full stop). 

And then I had one of those impetuous shopping experiences: I'd heard that Hoka's new Rapa Nuis were a bit less maximalist and ridiculous looking. Interest piqued I found that the online shops had all sold out. I'm a sucker for wanting things I can't have, and felt duly aggrieved that these cushiony trail-friendly shoes were unavailable to me. And then I chanced across the information that Tiso had them discounted in store in my size. It was fate. I had to make them mine.

While in Tisos I actually tried on several Hokas and was interested to see that they varied considerably in fit:
  • The Stinson Evos in size 7 were very short in length. I could feel my toes at the very end (even though I'm usually a 6 to 7 in other trainers). The 8s on the other hand felt far too loose. 
  • The ladies' pink and grey Rapa Nuis in 7 were very slightly too narrow for me (I have widish feet). 
  • The men's (unisex!) size 7 Rapa Nuis were perfect, which was a relief as I have an aversion to pink.
They all felt really quite odd as I jogged around the shop. If I stood on tiptoe, I could actually feel the spongy midsole squish into my arch. I wore them around the house and then out and about on the school run etc, and was amazed at how comfy they were. There was absolutely no rubbing from the inners (I tend to need a lengthy "wearing in" process, especially for my knobbly heel bump). A jog along the canal felt excitingly bouncy, and I noticed at the end of the day after hours of standing/walking/jogging my feet weren't feeling tired and achy as they would usually.

And that m'lud is why I made the mind-bogglingly stupid decision to take them out for a long hilly run. Matt and I had planned a day of toddling around Baddinsgill and the rougher southern tail of the Pentlands in our matching His 'n Hers Hokas. (I can't believe I lured him away from his resolute monogamy to his Inov-8s!) He had nevertheless decided to bring his usual shoes as back-up, whereas I, fool that I am, was sure that these fat-soled gutties would be just fine and scoffed at his suggestion to copy him. 

Guns don't kill people, Rapas do...
Within about three minutes of running up Faw Mount, I realised I'd made a bad call. The lumpy grass and tussocks that would pass almost unnoticed underfoot in hill shoes became ankle-wrecking hazards in my platforms. Matt changed into his old faithful Inov-8s and I struggled on hoping (I knew in vain) for smoother tracks further ahead. The strain of balancing on such uneven ground was incredibly taxing on my calves, and by the top of Faw Mount, I realised I was going to have to abandon the plans for the day. Matt redrew a route off the hills towards trail and road, and heroically resisted any tsking or I-told-you-sos. I ran on to Mount Maw in my socks, marvelling at how well-designed our feet (yes, even mine!) are for carrying us over rough terrain. 

Tussocky terrain. Bad...very bad.

Cauldstane Slap and the Roman roads around West Linton and Garvald enabled me to test the Rapa Nuis on about ten miles of gravelly track and road, which I guess is what they're designed for. I was willing them to feel good, so as to avoid facing the possibility that I'd made an expensive mistake, but they really did fare well. Interestingly, they felt more stable than my hill shoes over the large gravel. Where small rocks might cause my foot to seesaw to the side in my Inov-8s, the Hokas just seemed to engulf them in their smooshiness. It felt a bit like running on that springy tarmac you get in playgrounds. 

Gravelly track: bueno!

Descents (albeit gentle ones) felt particularly lovely: I'm a forefoot / midfoot runner usually, but tend towards heel-strking on descents, and it can feel noticeably jarring on hard ground. Not so in the Hokas, as I bounced and glided down. However, I'm dubious about the ascents. The blurb about Hokas says something about them encouraging a "rocker motion", and I'm not sure this is a good thing for me. It feels like my foot is held in one position, and not allowed to flex properly. I think I must be very forefooted in my ascents, running / walking almost on tiptoe, and the Rapa Nuis seem to hamper this. It feels like I'm missing out on the final springy take-off bit of my stride, and I'm concerned that it might lead to bad running form / less muscle strength if I were to train in them frequently. Any technical terrain which required nimble footwork also felt like hard work, but I think this might be a case of getting used to the out-sized sole. The shoes themselves are quite light, so perhaps I just need to get acclimatised to running with "bigger feet"?

And the day after? Well, surprisingly good considering I ran 16 miles with at least 10 of them being on hard track. I'd expect my knees to be a bit achy, but they seem fine. And no blisters, which I think is quite remarkable!

So, the verdict is out for me on the Rapa Nuis. I'll persevere with them on trail / road runs for a bit, and if they don't work out I can always keep them in reserve for Shawaddywaddy fancy dress emergencies.
They let him out for the day.

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