The first time I headed out in Hoka One One's Bondi B model on an evening when I was feeling quite drained from a hard day at the office, I struggled. I'm a mid-weight runner, neutral, someone who likes a bit of cushioning to protect hips and knees, but on looking at the Hoka - 'I thought s'truth mate, these babies are a bit on the bulky side'. My colleague said they looked like snow boots. Anyway I had a sluggish run and decided to put it down to the shoe.
The following week I pulled them on again and headed out on the road. Second time round they didn't seem so 'clumpy', they still looked massive and felt strange but as I got into the run, I started to warm to the comfort the shoe was providing. I actually got into quite a nice groove and extended the planned 6 mile run to 8.
The following morning I compared the weight of the Hoka with my regular 'lighter' shoe, surprisingly it was about 12 grams less. I think the look and visual bulk of the shoe has a psychological impact, your head says the Hoka must be a heavy shoe, they're not.
The manufacturers of Hoka One One's underline two technological aspects. Firstly, they acknowledge the 'oversized' appearance highlighting the much greater volume (2.5 times) of EVA in the midsole compared to standard running shoes. They claim this leads to 'outstanding impact absorption and a highly comfortable underfoot feel' and that the oversized approach ensures 'a natural stride whether on smooth road surfaces or the most uneven trails'.
One very noticeable aspect of the shoe was that on the downhill stretches it performed superbly. The extra cushioning meant that I didn't get the usual jarring as I lengthened my stride and went with the decline.
The Hoka boffins also point to the 'unique patented bucket seat design, recessed between 20mm to 30mm into the midsole to firmly support the heel and allowing precision striking and optimum foot stabilisation'. They reckon this ensures 'a superior level of foot/ground responsiveness', despite the high level of cushioning. My own experience didn't really confirm that, I still felt my foot was wrapped in lots of material with little interaction with the ground beneath me.
The second technological point team Hoka make is the shoe has a 'unique rolling motion which delivers superior underfoot performance. A 50% rockering profile provides a smooth, energy efficient stride transition from the heel strike to the push off. It is this progressive motion that propels you forward with each and every strike of the foot'. My take on this? Maybe. I did get into a nice stride on my second run. Was I just having a good night or was I syncing with the Hoka grove?
Overall thoughts? The jury's out but I'm now officially intrigued and plan to test the Bondi B model more fully. At £135 a pop, few runners will have the resources 'to try them and see' but I think heavier runners, those of us who've had injury problems or people doing high mileage ahead of a marathon should investigate the Hoka One One more thoroughly.
Postscript - a third run with the Bondi B (Hoka is originally an Australian brand) was a positive experience. I seem to be getting use to the bulk of the shoe, I'm enjoying the comfort, can confirm that downhill running is a real bonus of the Hoka and did feel quite a pleasant almost mechanical action which helped me to get into a nice steady stride. One thing I'd hoped to do was closely analyse how the shoes did on a climb - I suspected they might struggle. Two-thirds up a steep hill I remembered I was suppose to be concentrating on how the shoes felt! I think that tells you something, they were doing so well that I wasn't noticing.
Will I make the Hoka my first choice shoe? I'm not quite there yet but they're staying on my shoe rack and they'll get plenty of use this summer.
Check out UK suppliers of the Hoka footwear range on their website.