for a long time the only runner i knew, and knew vaguely, was my uncle Michael. Everyone else i knew either walked or played football. I never really even saw him run, but he was thin, had shorts and my parents called him a runner. What interested me most was that he had a pair of Hi-Tec Silver Shadow, good condition and actually used for running.
This was the early/mid 80's and you were judged by how good a footballer/fighter you were and what gutties/trainers you wore. Not being anywhere near skilled or fierce enough, self preservation stimulated interest in sports shoes.
Today you have gutties (always a more descriptive word than trainers or runners) in all shapes, sizes, colours never mind brand and brands within brands... do you pronate? heel strike? need support? have flat feet? will you be using them for trail, road or a little of both? mainly inside or outside? and of course any good runner will have at least two shoes they rotate between. Free running... bollo*ks! Good gutties don't come cheap!
Skipping through the hardcore asics, brooks, saucony and beyond the nikes, adidas and fashionista puma etc, the latest kid on the block are Hokas. If you haven't heard of Hokas, you most definitely will have seen them, with their distinctive looking large foam sole. They are expensive, you'll not see any on sale without a £100+ price tag... that's presuming of course you can get them for sale in your size. The premise is that the increased size of the sole, provides a more natural foot strike and offers more protection. All this without any extra weight.
Do they work though?
Yes. I first came across them at the Energia 24hr race in July, when one of the GB ultra runners Matt had them and swore by them. Everyone wanted to try them on and appear knowledgable as to the technical reasons for their prowess. However, it was only when i saw Matt Shields wear a pair in November that i thought there must be more to them. In NI running circles, Matt is like a demi-god for his knowledge and contribution to running. He's no fool and would cover a lot of miles, but he said that he'd been largely injury free because of the Hokas (and also stretching/slow running with JogBelfast... story for another day). Sold, then and there.
As if further proof was needed, Marty Rea (international athlete, PE teacher and life coach) bought a pair and tried them out on a drumbo run. Drumbo is about 18 mile of road hills, and Marty was keen to work on his downhills, which is normally where joints hurt most. Marty said there was a noticeable difference in terms of both his feet and hips, feeling much better. Mindful that pure running was offering 20% off, i went down the next week in time for next Drumbo session.
New shoes will always feel good. Off the bat, not a fan of string pull up shoes (although Hokas do supply traditional laces, bright but seemingly not made of any space age alloy) and the grip doesn't look the strongest. Although there are two trail options with much better grips. Matt has said he's got 1,000 miles out of his Hokas so they must be durable enough. My toes seemed to slip about and i got a blister which i normally never get but i think that is due to the shoe not being tight enough with the string pull up laces (which i find make it harder to get a comfort tight fit all the way along the shoe, rather than tight near tie up and loose at the toes). Unlike Salomon and others there is no where to obviously hide the 'laces' so you have to loop it round the front of the shoe, which doesn't really make a huge difference but noticeable none the less.
Running with them i was cautious to be cynical enough to avoid any emperors new clothes misconceptions but they were comfy and you did really notice going downhills. I didn't have as much hip pain either. Two weeks later i wore trail shoes on a long mixed run and when i returned to Hokas the next day the difference was immediately obvious and immense. So yes they do appear to work. That said i'm still getting hip pain (but may just be upping the mileage). Are they a fad, probably with a little science behind them.
What I do know is, people i trust in the running world, especially ultrarunners and high mileage runners swear by them; the company was bought over and they are extremely hard to get. Allied to that more and more runners are getting them and i haven't heard any criticism to date. I need to buy another pair of shoes for training and racing, and whether they work because of science, voo doo or are just marketing malarkey, i'll be looking first for a pair of Hokas... i'll just need to make sure i'm stretching and doing the miles, but sometimes you get what you pay for and anyone who's ever missed a big race due to injury will know, anything that helps reduce the likelihood of that happening again has got to be at least considered.