Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Time to Fly! A review of the Hoka One One Kailua Tarmac

Remember how I said I never wanted to run a full marathon?

I take that back.


And it’s because of these beauties…

"Time to Fly! reads the insole's slogan - it's true!


The Hoka One One running shoe concept is one created by and for ultra-marathoners.  Far from minimalist, Hoka has somehow managed to combine a distinct lack of fancy foot movement management tricks with a great, big sole and low heel-to-toe drop to create shoes that allows one to “run more relaxed.”  Hoka says its shoes are designed to be lightweight, while offering midsoles that are “30 percent softer than the material used in traditional running shoes.”  With a fairly large outsole, the seemingly bulky shoes promise to grip and stabilize in both trail and road models.  Many ultra-marathoners swear by the Hoka brand to take them comfortably through challenging 100-mile races.

In my search for the Perfect Shoe, I tried the HokaBondi-B model some time ago.  It wasn’t right for me.  The technology of it was great – I could absolutely see how the gigantic sole would cushion well – but I had the same issue with the Bondi-B I have with 95% of the running shoes on the market: the heel was too roomy.  Thanks to freakishly narrow heels and a bum Achilles, I need a LOT of support around my heel and lower ankle.  And the Bondi-B fell short of my needs.  Bummer.

Now, I did find the Perfect Shoe late last year – the BrooksPureFlow.  It’s really been a fantastic shoe for me – minimal stability, lots of cushion, a little arch support, low heel-to-toe drop, and the best heel hug I’ve found yet in a running shoe.  The PureFlow took me through IT Band recovery and saw me through my first half-marathon.  It’s been so good to me, I bought two more pairs when they were on sale, so I have back-ups.  And that was a good call – because my original PureFlows wore out after a measly 225 miles.

But.  (Yes, there’s a “but”.)  I’ve been finding my body craving a slightly different shoe for recovery runs.  Something a bit more substantial.  With a little more support and cushion.  But not too much.   

Enter the Hoka Kailua.

I stumbled upon the Kailua while shopping RunningWarehouse online.  It’s a new shoe and, I’ve read, the first Hoka built specifically for women.  Running Warehouse’s awesome Shoefitter gadget showed that the Kailua should fit me very similarly to my PureFlows.  Read: a much smaller, tighter heel cup than the Bondi-B.  Armed with a discount code, I ordered a pair and crossed my fingers.

First Impressions – out of the box
Taking the Kailuas out of the box, I was first struck by how light they felt.  It’s a bit odd, really, because my eyes were telling me this was a bulky, heavy shoe, but holding them felt no different than the weight of my PureFlows.  Pink was the only color available and it’s okay; I’m kind of over the whole pink thing, but it’s a soft pink and not too awful.  The Kailua’s laces have a cord-like feel to them, unlike any other running shoe laces I’ve experienced, and I wasn’t sure how well they’d feel in motion.

First Impressions – on the treadmill

Lacing up, I found that the shoes are, indeed, far more huggy in the heels and have a nice, high back that gives me terrific support at the base of my Achilles.  The cord-like laces turn out to be great for cinching things up nice and tight where needed, and keeping other spots looser without slipping out of place.  The arch support is just right for my medium but very flexible arches; no sense of running with a hard-boiled egg beneath my arches (I'm talking to you, Asics.)  The toe box is roomy enough that my foot isn’t forced into any unnatural position, but snug enough that I’m not sliding around in there, either.

In case they wound up not working, I first took my Kailuas on a short walk on the treadmill.  And I was immediately impressed.  These may be made for ultras, but they are positively dreamy for a brisk walk!  That’s the one thing I don’t love about my PureFlows; they’re not ideal for a walking motion.  The Kailuas ARE, by golly.  The heel is cushiony enough to absorb impact nicely and the roll to forefoot felt seamless.  I found myself taking slightly longer strides than with my PureFlows, but with no additional stress in my feet, ankles, knees or hips.  Moving into a jog, I was blown away… the energy return in the Kailua is incredible!  I’m a mid- to forefoot striker (I aim for mid-foot, but naturally seem to land toe-ball-heel if I stop paying attention – I totally blame years in the ballet for that) and it’s been tough to find shoes that give enough cushion and spring in the forefoot… the Kailua does, in spades.  It felt a bit like landing on a very small springboard with each step – I felt the cushioned midsole absorb impact as I landed, and then felt that energy power me back up on toe-off.  Pretty nifty stuff!

First Impressions – on the road

Simply put, the Kailuas felt goooood.  At the end of that week, I had a six-miler planned – with lots of walking and some running, as I was still babying my earlier injury.  Since I wasn’t planning on running too much, and the Kailuas had felt so nice walking, I decided to use them.  Six miles.  Practically right out of the box.  How was it?  Magical.  I only ran one out of every five minutes for the first three miles and felt fantastic at the halfway mark.  My heels were stable, my toes weren’t cramped, my calves weren't tightening, and my crabby knee wasn’t crabbing.  So I took it up a notch: 1:00walk/1:00run intervals.  I felt like I flew through the next two miles!  The run felt so springy, wingy, super-good, it was very hard to make myself slow to a walk.  So, for the last mile, I didn’t.  Walk.  Okay, a couple times as I had to wait for a street light or car turning into a driveway, but mostly, I ran.  I can’t fathom how a pair of shoes can magically make me overcome the exercise-induced asthma that requires regular walk breaks so that I may breathe, but I simply did not seem to need them in my Kailuas.  What’s more, my feet usually let me know by around mile five or six that they are about as impressed with my desire to run long as McKayla was with her silver medal. 

Not. Impressed.

But in the Kailuas?  My feet were perfectly happy after six miles.  And the thought flew through my mind too fast to block it: “I could totally finish a marathon in these.”

Say WHAT?!?!

So, now what?

I’ve taken a few more short runs in the Kailuas and I fall more in love with them every time.  I bought them as a recovery shoe, not a distance shoe.  I have an 11 to 12-mile training run this weekend, and a 12 to 13-miler two weeks after that.  And then the Tower of Terror10-Miler two weeks later, followed by the Halloween Halfathon three weeks after that.  My knee still isn’t 100% and I’m terrified of developing IT Band Syndrome again.  I’m quite tempted to take the Kailuas out for some true distance this weekend, but a nagging voice keeps saying “nothing new this close to your races!”

I just don’t know.  Is a six-mile test enough to predict how I’ll hold up in my Hokas in double digit mileage?  Or should I wait until these races are done before putting in more mileage in them?

Stay tuned…

UPDATE:  Sadly, I had to return the Hokas.  It wasn't easy - I had to think long and hard on the decision.  They really are amazing shoes!  But the heel was just too loose and continued getting looser over time.  Cinching the laces tighter wasn't an option, as that dug into the front of my ankle, causing bruising.  It's such a shame, because they were fantastic in every other way!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, V...good post! I'm a guy who's blessed with the same narrow heel issue, so I'm looking forward to the men's or unisex version of these shoes becoming available in the U.S., especially after reading your blog post. I hope your marathon training goes wonderfully! :)