Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hoka OneOne Run Shoes - Wear tested

Over the past 6 months there has been only one brand of shoe that I have would even consider running in, be it road or trail, and that is the HOKA ONE ONE, a paradigm shift in running shoe technology which lays the foundation for minimalist 4mm heel-to-toe drop mechanics combined with a 2.5x over sized EVA outsole, giving the wearer the best of two worlds and a downhill running experience second to none.

The history of the brand is an interesting one, two gravity sport enthusiasts, Jean-Luc Diard and Nicolas Mermoud, using their background from developing shoes and apparel at Salomon, came up with a unique concept of reducing fatigue and impact, while still maintaining a good pace, all the time allowing you to go further than ever, in more comfort. The name of the shoe apparently means 'To fly over the Earth' or as some other references mention 'Time to fly' roughly translated from ancient Maori language and is pronounced HOKA OH-NAY OH-NAY, and not the number '1' as the spelling suggests.

Ok, so on to the shoes themselves... I currently run in 3 different models, each of which serving a specific purpose, starting off with the 'MAFATE' we have a thoroughbred trail shoe, designed to take on the gnarliest of trails mainly due to it's aggressive tread pattern and higher degree of (softer)cushioning when compared to the other models, the shoe fits small at half a size to what you'd normally wear, so if you're an 11 it would be wise to size up to an 11.5, at the moment this shoe is used infrequently following the introduction of the new STINSON B EVO earlier this year.

Hoka OneOne Mafate

The image above shows over sized cushioning employed on the Hoka range, what's also interesting to note is the width of the sole throughout the length of the shoe, which aids in providing stability in the absence of medial postings and other stability devices, and since a natural mid-foot strike is promoted due to the low ramp angle, stability is further increased just by getting the running mechanics right.
Un-boxing my first pair of HOKA's

46km run through the Ice and Mud of Belgium's Foret de Soignes
This was only my second run in the shoe!

Most of my running has been on the road for the majority of the time that I've been wearing Hoka's, and this is mainly due to the 90km Comrades Marathon in June, so a shoe was needed to cross the divide and be used as a base training and racing shoe, this saw me purchase the 'COMBO XT' (European name) or STINSON B (American name), which was sold as Hoka's first mult-purpose, multi-terrain shoe. The Combo XT marries the road usability of the BONDI B road shoe with a rugged, high quality upper that can handle any terrain. So far this has been my 'go to' shoe and has covered around 1000km with minimal signs of wear so far, doing everything from tough 50 mile trails to the Comrades and various other 50km+ road ultras and marathons in-between.... This is a shoe which could quite possibly reach 2500km of use before needing replacement and it's next big test will be the Golden Reef Road 100 miler on August 31st

The Hoka Combo XT multi-terrain, all purpose run shoe

Zero 'collapse' after 1000km 
Slight wear on the tread, with most of the tread decals still visible
Most of the wear is in the mid to forefoot region in the center of the sole

Next in the line-up, and latest purchase is the STINSON B EVO trail shoe, which, as the word EVO would suggest, is a complete re-vamp of design and quality by the brand, sticky rubber lugs with an ultra lightweight upper combine to form a winner in my opinion. Speed lacing has been employed, and with slightly less EVA and a firmer cushioning platform, the shoe feels more stable, and faster than anything Hoka has made before!

The Stinson B EVO, a well thought out shoe

So far I have run in the region of 400km in this shoe, mostly on trail with a road 21k and 32k thrown in to test performance, the stickier rubber definitely hampers progress on the road compared to the Combo XT, but after a little getting used to, it's hardly noticeable...

On trails however, this is an absolute bulldozer and doesn't negotiate with trail hazards, it bludgeons them in the face! quite simply the best shoe I have ever run in. 

The EVO has been slimmed down from the 'clown shoe' appearance of the MAFATE and provides a tighter performance orientated fit, claimed to be true to size, I still feel a half size up is non-negotiable.

The Hoka brand is still very much unknown in South Africa, with many people still casting staring eyes my way at start lines, the look goes against what all the magazines preach to us about barefoot and minimalist running, but under the surface this is a natural shoe with the same minimalist principals of the sleekest out there... designed to ensure you can run, and run, and run... all day, all night.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Num-Num Trail 2012 - Race report

A week later and I'm still in awe of the sheer beauty of the Num-Num trail challenge which was held near Badplaas in Mpumalanga, the only race so far that can compare in terms of beauty and difficulty, and done in one day is the Addo, although the Addo involves a lot more 'runnable' trail and nowhere near the technicality of Num-Num, so going into the challenge nursing a bout of ITBS was a bit of a risk, but a risk I'm glad I took in the end, if only to be part of this awesome event

We arrived at the Pongola camp on Friday evening after a fairly quick drive from Secunda on roads which must be getting upgraded for all the Badplaas holiday makers that Secunda houses, on any given weekend there are probably more Secunda residents in Badplaas than from anywhere else!

After a quick registration and goodie bag collection, Chanel and I headed off to get some rest at our home for the next two nights, Misty Valley Lodge.

All this time I was still battling to even walk without a bit of a grimace, the left knee really letting me know that something's not quite kosher, I'd been lazy with the treatment and had basically just refrained from running for a week, before finally deciding to see the physio and really start focusing the use of a TriggerPoint roller on the proper effected areas, this helped but not nearly enough in the short time to be totally confident of a good run.

Race morning! we were at the start bright and early and enjoyed a nice warm cup of coffee and the warmth of a fire, before seeing off the first 2 groups of runners, we took off at 6:50 in group 3... just starting and getting into some sort of a rhythm relieved any thought of pain and it actually felt quite good, this was going to be doable!

The first 4-5km gave us a small taste of what was to come, Chanel struggled in this time, maybe more than she ever has in any race, it wasn't looking good... we arrived at the first CP very slowly, being passed by most of the runners from the 2 groups that started after us. It was here that she decided to pull out of the race, her first DNF ever, a difficult decision.

After saying our farewells I decided to smash it a bit, I was feeling good and with a competitive streak I just had to catch those who had passed us, in no more than 30 minutes this was done! about 20 runners reeled in and I started regaining on the early lost time. 'Smashing it' in this race doesn't mean 4 min/km though, it's was closer to 10/11 min/km, which, on the technical terrain was probably equal if not more of an effort than a road 4 min/km!

in the next few km's we were treated to some beautiful waterfalls nestled into secret pockets of lush ravine forest, I can't remember how many times I said WOW, it was really a slice of natures perfection.

as the time passed on and the k's slowly trickled by, I began to realize that this was only getting tougher, no respite whatsoever... just sheer challenging trail, all of which was either going up, or down, nothing flat at all! Until eventually a 3km stretch of sandy dirt road stretched out in front of us rounding the edge of the escarpment and allowing for the only section of actual continuous running I would have that day. The remainder of the race was spent climbing long, steep rocky singletrack. Gingerly inching down knee-breaking descents or scrambling over ladders and swing bridges, A Spartan race for true warriors.

The last CP I reached before my eventual decision to withdraw was also the 'lunch spot' for the day, incredible what an ice cold coke can do for you, it really lifts the spirits and in my case maybe too much so, as I went flying out of the CP heading down the rocky path, I felt the knee finally give up the ghost.... I could hardly walk never mind even attempt to run and had to resign myself to the fact that I'd be dragging myself to a part of the route that I could be 'rescued' at. The next 8km were sheer torture, I also stopped concentrating on where I was going and focused more on every foot fall to try minimize the excruciating pain.

With only 4km to go to the next checkpoint and being able to see the Camp area, I managed to miss a marker and get lost, ending up high on the ridge, far above the river bank I was supposed to be following, 30 minutes passed in my attempt to regain the trail and it was doing no favors towards how I was feeling. In my absolute stubbornness I didn't use the 'emergency exit' parallel to the camp across the road but decided to persevere and reach the final CP, this involved more ladders, no less than 3! which at this stage made me laugh in a sarcastic sort of way.

In 7h55 I reached 29km, the point that I decided not to continue, it wasn't worth doing real damage to an injury which is still fixable, there's always next year...

 Congrats to everyone who completed this incredible race, and to the winners who posted superhuman times!

A well organized race with huge potential to become one of South Africa's GREAT trail races!

I'll be back :)