Friday, October 7, 2016

Hoka Bondi Running Shoes

My pair of original Brooks Pure Flows died.  Not due to mileage (I only had about 250 miles on them), but due to the sole materials failing with age (not wear).  The foam broke down under the ball of each foot, and the rubber tread pieces became hard and slick.  When I slid and nearly landed on my butt during a run, I decided they had become a safety hazard and needed to be replaced right away, without delay.  (Being a Frugal Triathlete, my plan was to run in them until they wore out, no matter what. Fortunately, reason prevailed.)

The main goal for my next pair was to get shoes that would treat my feet gently enough for me to comfortably do my first half-marathon in December (Holiday Half), and my first half-IM in April (Oceanside 70.3).  The Brooks always had me hurting at the 10K distance.

I run with a forefoot strike, so I wanted a zero-drop shoe (or close to it).  And my feet are gradually getting wider with age, so I wanted a spacious toe box.  But most importantly, I needed a bit more cushioning between my feet and the road than my Pure Flows provided.

One thing I absolutely didn't want was to run directly on an EVA sole, without tread lugs.  Many running shoes have eliminated the rubber tread lugs to make the shoe lighter, but all that really does is make the sole wear out barely after they're broken in.  I refuse to buy shoes that won't last at least 350 miles.

I tried over a dozen pairs of shoes: Ten different models from seven separate brands at two local running specialty stores. My initial hopes were with Altra and Hoka, though I eagerly tried anything from anyone that looked even close.  I was a bit wary of Hoka, since I had demo'ed a pair a few years ago and found them to be unstable: I felt I was running on squishy stilts.  But I had heard they had evolved nicely, and certainly deserved a retry.

By the end of a dozen fit checks, and many treadmill and parking lot runs, the Hoka Bondi was the clear winner.  The Hoka Bondi was not perfect overall: It was just the best of what was available when I went shopping.

What's not perfect about the Hoka Bondi?  The toe-box is barely wide enough. If my foot spreads any wider, the shoe will be too narrow.  Plus, the upper isn't tongue-less (more about that below).

One feature I liked about the Hoka was pull-loops behind the heel: They will make transition a little bit faster and easier, and will also be great for hanging them to dry after getting wet.

Unfortunately, the stores that carried the Hoka Bondi didn't carry the full color range.  I refuse to buy light-colored shoes simply because they quickly look dirty, and putting them through the washer can only shorten their useful life.  I'm also tired of wacky day-glow colors that serve only as advertising. I'm paying for shoes, not for the privilege of becoming a running billboard.  I wanted a dark, solid-color shoe.  No bling, but with embedded reflectors for night runs.

Fortunately, the Hoka Bondi comes in black.  Unfortunately, none of the stores I visited carried the black version.  Since my Brooks were dead and I needed shoes ASAP, I couldn't wait for a special order to arrive.  I returned home, found the black ones online, and ordered them with rush delivery.  I also found that there are no Hoka discounts online: My final price was the same as it would have been at a local store.

Right after they arrived I went for a flat 4 mile run at an easy pace.  While the Hokas are a little unstable to walk in (the heel is squishy), they were absolutely wonderful during the run.  In the Brooks, my feet would start to feel hot after only a few miles: In the Hokas, my feet felt cool and comfortable right to the end of the run.  My legs also felt less fatigued: They could have easily done a 10K (though my lungs would have objected).

I'm looking forward to my half-marathon training!

The greatest revelation in the other shoes I tried was the awesome progress in tongue-less upper construction: Many of them felt like socks, with no pressure points at all, yet still with a very secure and comfortable fit.  But none had soles with enough cushioning to give me adequate impact isolation.  Some fit so well that I tried every accessory insole in the store, hoping I could improve the cushioning enough to do the job. Sadly, none worked well enough.

I hope Hoka has a tongue-less upper by the time my Bondis wear out. There's really no reason for a modern running shoe to have a tongue.

Woah.  A year since my last post.  Sorry 'bout that!

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