Hoka-Hey, Hoka-Hi, Hoka-Ho. Hoka-Ready, Hoka-Set, Here we go!
I am a believer in different types of training to help one become a well-rounded athlete. Sometimes this means strength and core training. Sometimes it means cross training. Sometimes, it simply means going outside of your normal, safe, comfortable bubble and venturing out into the great wilderness (literally). In this case, I’m talking about trail running. Real trail running. Not the type that means you simply run in the little dirt path that bikers and overly rebellious walkers have left next to the sidewalk. I’m talking the really technical stuff that you see in some of the great trail races, like Leadville, Bandera, and Western States. Luckily, Austin is home to some of the most extensive trail networks in any urban area. We have the Barton Creek Greenbelt, a network of an estimated 30 miles of technical, rocky, hilly trails that snuggle up to downtown Austin. This is a true gift to any outdoor athlete that has the benefit of living here, so I was determined to make this part of my training regimen. But hang on – I only have road shoes. I have a semi-large collection of daily trainers, performance trainers, racing flats, and some in-betweeners. I headed out onto the Greenbelt a couple times in some trainers, hoping the cushion would be sufficient enough for this type of running, but I was sorely mistaken. I couldn’t grip the terrain, and sharp rocks would constantly find the tiniest crack in rubber outsole to terrorize my feet. I needed some real trail shoes.
Hoka One One, a company that has quickly come into the spotlight in the running world, was very generous enough to send me a pair of Stinson Trail shoes, free-of-charge, for review.
Hoka One One has become synonymous with the so-called “maximalist” movement that is happening in the running shoe industry. They are well known for their hyperbolic stack heights and extensive amounts of cushion. The heights of the Stinson Trail are 38mm (heel) and 32mm (toe). To give some context, the Nike Terra Kiger trail shoe has a 23mm (heel) and 19mm (toe) height. Runners wearing a pair of Hokas can usually be seen from a distance, because they are usually taller than anyone else. The Hoka One One Stinson Trail is deceptively light for such a large shoe, coming in at 11.8 ounces. This isn’t as light as some of my other trainers, but they are marginally heavier than most other trail shoes. If you think the height, appearance, and weight of the shoes is impressive, you should really experience what they feel like. I would equate running in Hokas most closely with running laps in a bouncy castle, and probably (at least) twice as fun. As I was wrapping up training for my first marathon, I tried to avoid running the technical trails in an effort to minimize the chance of twisted ankles, broken legs, and rock shards through the heart. Instead, I spent some time in the Stinson Trail on Town Lake Trail (or Lady Bird Lake, for the politicians out there), which is a very mild and easy going dirt path. These runs proved to be pleasurable enough, but the only thing I could tell was that there was a lot of cushion that just masked any ground feel that I would have normally felt. I knew I would need to really test these babies out on a real trail. I got that chance today.
This morning, Joel S, Travis J, and myself headed to the Hill of Life for 90 minutes of Greenbelt running. Greenbelt veterans know that starting at Hill of Life starts out with a steep descent down into the woods. Travis, who was also testing out a pair of Stinsons, said it best when he said “You can really bomb these hills in these shoes!” You can absolutely fly down those rocky, treacherous descents in the Hokas, with absolutely no feeling of sharp or hard rocks. During my short time of running trails, I’ve learned that it’s really important to have no fear when tackling downhill running or unsteady footing for the sake of your overall pacing (not to mention the muscles you require to continuously hit the brakes downhill). The Stinson Trail really gave that peace-of-mind, knowing that even if your foot landed on an unpleasantly positioned rock you would likely not feel a thing. I loved wearing these on the trail. They have a ton of tread on the somewhat stiff outsole, allowing for excellent traction in some slippery conditions. It’s also a moderately sticky rubber, so it works well on some wet rock surfaces (common on Texas trails).
Hoka One One sends 2 sock liner inserts per shoe, allowing you to choose your own adventure, depending on if you like the extra cushion inside the shoe or not. I started out with the full monty, running with both inserts. This gave me the awkward sensation of not really “sitting” well in the shoe and feeling unsteady. This morning, I left both inserts out, deciding to go socklinerless, something I have tended to enjoy in some other shoes (read: Newton). Although I did experience a new sense of agility by sitting lower in the shoe, I found that there was too much room in the forefoot (weird, right?) and I developed a blister on the outside of my big toe. I think that the sweet spot will inevitably be found in operating with one insert in the shoe, but that is yet to be determined.
I really like these shoes. I really feel that they are going to get A LOT of wear this Spring as I train for some shorter races (and maybe a trail race or two…or three). The retail cost on them seems to be a little higher than many other brands ($160), but you are paying for a lot of shoe, which seems to be able to hold up to a lot of abuse. I predict that I will be able to get about 500 miles of trail on these shoes. Since I am still focused on road running/racing and using trail running as supplemental training, this will more than likely last me an entire training block (unless I find some others to test). Having worn this pair and enjoyed them, I am likely to look for another pair.
Weight: 11.8 ounces
Height: 38mm (heel), 32mm (toe)
Heel-to-toe offset: 6mm
The Hoka One One Stinson Trail can be purchased from Hokaoneone.com.