Rock/Creek: John, you’ve been running in Hoka shoes for quite some time now. What convinced you to take the plunge? Which Hokas do you currently run in, and do you wear different styles for different race distances and terrain? Which big races have you run in these?
John Brower: I bought my first pair of Hoka running shoes, the Mafate, as soon as I heard about them… basically right after they came out. At the time, there were no models to choose from; it was Mafate or bust, so I went big …literally!
I had been looking for a shoe that would offer me underfoot protection for roots and rocks, but that would be soft enough to supply comfort for my feet for longer runs. I had found that many of the minimal shoes, while extremely comfortable and lightweight, just didn’t protect my feet enough on my long runs off-road.
I purposefully bought the bright yellow style, simply because I wasn’t going to hide in them anyways, so why not just let them speak for themselves!
My first impression of them didn’t have to do with their looks or size, but their weight! I couldn’t believe how light they were! When I put them on and bounced around my living room, I knew right away these babies were going to be an amazing ride.
(editor’s note: That’s a great mental image, JB — living-room-bouncing pics or it didn’t happen!)
I have worn the Mafate and the Stinson Evo Trail. I am currently in love with my Stinsons, but I continue to use the Mafate on training runs. The Stinson seems to be just a smudge lighter and a bit more streamlined, and I love them for race day!
In terms of terrain, I certainly think either one will suffice. My longest run (thus far) in the Stinson was the 24 hours of Hostelity…you can read my race report for details on the race, it was definitely a tough one …but with the Stinson under my feet there were noooooo problems.
R/C: Obviously, the big story with the Mafate and other Hoka models is the “maximalist” cushioning underfoot. Do you find that this works particularly well for certain types of runs? Are there other features that stand out for you which are, perhaps, overlooked?
JB: Well, the tremendous cushioning just makes for an incredibly secure run… meaning you don’t have to worry about your foot-fall. You can step anywhere — loose rocks, roots, pointy rocks — with the utmost confidence. This makes for a very enjoyable run! With Hokas, I have the freedom to just run, rarely worrying about what the rock I’m gonna step on is going to feel like.
Another feature of the Hokas I would mention, pertaining to its size, is the surface area under your foot. Some people are concerned that the shoe has no posting or support mechanism built into it; however, the support is inherent in the size, meaning the surface area of the outsole acts as the support for the shoe!
By increasing the surface area that your foot comes into contact with the ground, the “rolling” effect that an over-pronater suffers from is alleviated. This contributes to the lightness of the shoe, by simply reducing the “hardware” that other pronation-preventative shoes have.
R/C: I’ve heard some runners say that the increased stack height is a little daunting; do you feel like you’re too high off the ground, or that you’re lacking stability on trails with lots of rocks, roots or other kinds of tricky footing?
KB: Great question. I have some friends who are prone to have weak ankles. Their ankles will roll anytime they run in the woods and step on an unevenly spaced root or rock. Honestly, the shoe does nothing to prevent this from happening, and I can see where the idea comes from, that your foot being raised would “cause” you to be more prone to roll an ankle. My gut feeling on this is that the person would probably roll their ankle anyways, Hoka or not.
The shoe is designed so that you foot actually “sinks” into the recesses of the cushioned sole. So while the illusion is that your foot is sitting high in the shoe, it is actually not. Think of how a boat floats: you can put tons of stuff in a boat and it still floats… why?
Because the weight is sitting low in the hull of the ship, thus making it “stable”, with a low center of gravity. That is how the Hoka works.
Your foot sits deep into the shoe, so that the center of gravity is lower to the ground, thus creating a stable ride, with no proneness to rolling!
R/C: For races approaching the 100 mile range, does having the extra cushion actually increase your pace and confidence early in the race, or is it simply a matter of not wearing down as much physically when you’re grinding out the late hours of an epic run?
JB: For me, it is not wearing down as much. In long races I start out relatively slow anyways, so I don’t have to worry about how the Hokas affect my speed… but I know for certain that it allows me to progress through the miles with comfort and confidence, knowing that as I get more and more tired, and my gait gets more and more sloppy, the shoe will protect my foot.
I have also seen a tremendous benefit in my ability to recover, with little to no unusual muscle strain or discomfort, just normal muscle wear & tear. This really amazes me about the shoe; it takes so much stress off my tendons, ligaments, and joints, so I never have to worry about those getting geeked up, which makes recovery so much easier!
R/C: I know you’ve done a lot of running for the past several years in minimal footwear with a lower heel drop than traditional running shoes. Was developing that natural foot stride sort of a “gateway drug” for transitioning into the Hoka Mafate? Do they basically run true-to-size?
JB: I was running (and continue to run) in some models of shoes that are anywhere from a 4mm drop to a negative heel-drop. I think this certainly eased the transition into using the Hoka. I think this is what many people lose by simply passing judgment on the shoe before they research it: it has a 4mm heel drop!
It is going to encourage you to run more naturally than a traditional running shoe, meaning it will allow you to run on your mid- and forefoot much more easily and naturally! As has been studied by exercise physiologists, this allows you to run with less chance of injury; however, it is something that you have to work into.
DO NOT throw on your brand new Mafates and hit the trail for a 20 miler! You may end up with some serious calf, soleus, and achilles pain, and that’s no fun…rather, work into them gradually, allowing your muscles and tendons and ligaments to adjust to the “new” gait you are developing. So the shoe is actually a “minimalist” shoe in disguise!
I will say, if you are balling down the mushroom rock trail, you will be thankful for the huge layer of cushion under your foot. While you can run mid-and forefoot on flats and uphills, its tough to not go heel-toe flying down a steep grade!
As for sizing, my foot is very thick, with a high instep, and my feet are prone to swelling quite a bit. While I normally wear a 10.5 in most shoes, I wear an 11 in the Hoka.
Q. Gotta ask this one. The first time our customers try a pair of Hokas on, everyone giggles and admits they look a little wacky. How many PRs does it take before they stop looking goofy in the mirror?
A. It never stops… you may get used to seeing yourself in them after a while, but no one else will get used to seeing you in them! You gotta just embrace the whack. Thats why my first pair of Mafate were canary yellow… and now I wear the Stinson with the Hoka OneOne flagging!