Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The short but full life of trail-running shoes

The blue heart is a patch Beat sewed into my tights after I ripped a hole in them during a fall. I'm hard on gear.
This weekend, Beat gave me a new pair Hoka Mafates, the fourth pair I've owned. It wasn't a special occasion; he's just sweet and orders shoes for me because he knows I'll probably continue to use an older pair until the shoes are literally in pieces. But I was surprised, because my third pair of Mafates aren't even that old. They were Beat's birthday gift to me before UTMB, in August, which was only five months ago. It seemed ridiculous that I should already need yet another pair of shoes, but when I put the new Hokas next to the old ones, the evidence was clear.

Apparently the Hoka Mafates once had lugs ... and weren't the color of a mummified rat
I have no idea how many miles the old shoes have on them, but I can think of more than 300 miles of racing they've been through (UTMB, Bear 100, five 50Ks, and a road half marathon.) Not to mention all of that rugged hiking in the Alps, a muddy fall here in Cali, and a life that's about 95 percent trail use. Still, relative to most runners who race ultra distances, I tend to log lower-mileage training weeks. A typical week of running falls in the range of 20 to 25 miles, with more if a race is involved. But the racing piles up, hiking scuffs soles too, and another 400 miles or so of training puts even a five-month-old pair of shoes well past their prime.

So yay, new Hokas. Even though I feel guilty for wearing through an expensive commodity at this rate, their price tag appears small next to the value of adventure and fun I've had in these shoes during the past five months (and also pales in comparison to cost of wear that I put on bike parts in a similar amount of time.)

Friends and others have asked me to write my opinion about Hokas, as I clearly am a fan, but I am reluctant to weigh in on this polarizing subject. For starters, I'm far from an expert on running shoes. Honestly, I find shoe science to be the most boring subject there is in the realm of my hobbies, and I can't bring myself to get excited about anything involving the phrases "heel drop," "rocker," or "toe splay." I've never analyzed my own running form, but others who have watched me flail about on trails tell me I appear to be a mainly a mid-foot striker, probably because I frequently employ the ultra-shuffle stride. But don't even try to drag me into the minimal versus maximal debate. I have no frame of reference; my feet find their way into hurty things when I walk barefoot around my apartment. And my feet are usually the body parts that hurt if anything hurts after a long run. If it weren't for feather-soft pillow shoes, I wouldn't run. Period. That's what wheels are for.

But if I could provide any endorsement for Hoka, it's this. Two and a half years ago, I wasn't a runner, even in the most basic sense. Then I decided to go nuts and run really long distances. Hokas aided me in this quest with few — and all relatively minor — issues. While some runners claim that Hokas lack stability, I haven't felt any notable difference in my footing with the Hokas versus my "regular" trail-running shoes. (Brooks Cascadias. And yes, I'm equally clumsy.) Especially since Mafate 2 is equipped with grippier lugs than the Mafate 1 (there, see, I used a quasi-shoe-science term.) Most of my typical runnerly injuries (shin splints, knee pain) developed after periods when I wore the Cascadias for the majority of my training runs, either because I wanted more reliable traction or was trying to "break my feet in." I always went back to the Hokas. They work for me. Why try to fix something that's not broken?

And, after this ringing endorsement, if you are dying to try a pair of your own, I'm including a handy Amazon affiliate link. Because, you know, every nickel toward Hoka pair number five helps. :)


  1. I'm noticing the between post ads more than the ones in the sidebar, but didn't mind the hoka link as the post was all about 'em- if that helps at all!

  2. Hi Jill,

    Thanks for the review of the Hokas. I have been very curious about them ever since I saw them on a photo of Beat you posted several months ago. If you don't mind, I have a few quick questions about them. Do the Hokas have good arch support? Do they run true to size? And, could you hike in them? I have been afflicted with plantar fascitis for what seems like forever and am on the perpetual quest to find the perfect shoe so I can run/hike painfree again. Any insight you could share would be most welcome. Thanks much!

  3. Hi! I had the same questions as Maureen, as I have the same issues. And the patch on your shorts is adorable since Beat sewed it on! How cute!

  4. The Mafate 2's seem to be fairly true to size, with a decent toebox (I got wide feet). Since I use orthotics in all my shoes I can't comment on arch support. I would, hoever, suggest you may find good orthotics can help with PF. That said, finding someone who makes good orthotics can be a major quest.
    The Hokas are reasonably different I think they're worth a try - they certainly feel a lot better for extremely long races, and there is a definite difference due to the cushioning. BUT! Don't expect to feel comfortable with them right away. It took me a long time before I felt they "worked" for me (I unwisely ran a 50k with them early on and had to change the shoe during the race due to some lower leg pain. Now I can run 200+m in them no problem). You may want to ramp up slowly on this (kind of) shoe - though Jill didn't seem to have any problems at all.
    Also PF is tedious and very slow healing (as you already know) which is due to very low circulation there. Don't expect any quick improvement from pretty much anything (though you might get lucky). And don't forget to massage your foot frequently, or have someone do it for you :)
    We've also hiked extensively in those over very difficult terrain. The Mafate 2's have a very grippy sole. You may experience some ankle instability (I did), but again, this passes if you stick to them.

    The heart turned out to be way tricky due to the position and the stretchy material. I think I somewhat overestimated my sewing machine skills :)

  5. We're in the middle of an unusual cold snap in the PNW, and on Sunday I saw a guy running in Hokas on trails that were really, really icy. They must be incredibly grippy, 'cause I was sliding every which way even though I had hiking poles.

  6. How do the ads work, Jill? If I click on a link, do you get the nickel? Or do I have to buy something? Thanks for the review of the hokas. I would have bought some just before Christmas, but Runners Edge only had the tarmac model. I wanted to try them on first. I got a pair of Brooks Cascadias instead. I will try and save up my nickels, too for a pair of hokas for the summer. Although the Mariachi will need some new parts by then as well. So it goes.

  7. The Mafates seem to run true to size. I wear a women's size 8.5 and have been comfortable in that size of Mafates. For most of my first year of running, I dealt with pain on the bottom of feet near my plantar fascia. But that faded over the course of training, and I believe Hoka use aided in reducing my foot pain. Long miles just pound your feet no matter what, and I think this alone justifies cushioning. But I also think reducing the impact on my leg muscles and joints helps quicken recovery after long runs. My cycling background has sold me on the benefits of full suspension. :)

    They Mafate 2 is definitely more grippy than the Mafate 1, which was like wearing a pair of fat skis whenever trails got slick. The main reason I've even run as frequently as I have in my Cascadias is because the Mafate 1's were hazardous in wet conditions, but that's changed. I certainly wouldn't wear them on ice (that guy must be brave, Ingunn) but I wore them in the horror mud fest of UTMB without issue, so I'm confident in their traction.

    Norman, the affiliate ads only work when somebody buys something from Amazon, but as long as they click through my site it could be anything, and I get a small cut. My experiment with ads has been positive so far. It's not lifestyle money by any means, but I have a personal blog that I create for fun and that used to make nothing, and now I'm seeing that it has the potential to pull in about $100 a week on its own. I have my hands in a lot of baskets right now, and so my income really does come in in nickels these days. I'm working to figure out how it can all add up into something sustainable. Good luck in your ultra training! I'm sure the Mariachi will appreciate some love as well. My Moots is also in need of some new shoes.

  8. Oh, and Jerry — the old pair of shoes were once the exact same color as the new ones. I think it was the greasy Alps mud of UTMB that really soaked in and never came out. I brush chunks of mud off of the shoes, but I admit I never washed them. Seems a bit pointless, but wow, do they get ugly over time.

  9. I've always said, "A dirty pair of running shoes is a loved pair of running shoes." :)

  10. I get slightly embarrassed when I'm wearing clean trail shoes. You're not running enough if they're clean! :)

    I'm a big fan of the Cascadia, but am also of the "don't fix it if it isn't broken" camp, so I'm cool with them. :) I did try on the Hokas once and could see how people love them for super long distance, like running on mattresses.

  11. I am also a Hoka convert. I started running in them in July and wore them in training and racing at Diablo 50K, Dick Collins Firetrails 50, and Lithia Loop Trail Marathon. I love them. I was running in Cascadias before and the transition, for me, was seamless. Spendy? Sure, but I had to shell out a lot of money for any MRI in April. I have had no running related injury since switching to Hokas. Twenty miles yesterday; no soreness today...

  12. Love my Hoka Bondi B's! Been thru 3 pairs and they have saved my knees thru 80lbs of weight loss. Mileage has built over the year and knocking out 20-30 mile weeks with no pain.

  13. Hi Jill,

    Hokas saved my wife's running (feet issues), thanks to your blog where we first learned about them. I think that these shoes are a great idea, but unfortunately the execution is quite poor, well, they are French made after all :-) Perhaps it is the nature of the cushy material, but durability is very poor. It looks like you got decent mileage out of them, my wife's feet are so sensitive to the point where her shoes break down, she used to get 450 miles out of Brooks Ariels, these are way past gone at 300mi. But Boulder Running Co. has a sale at $119! About the same price as a pair of Schwalbe MTB tires! http://www.boulderrunningcompany.com/hoka-one-one-mafate-edition-womens-trail-running-shoe.html

  14. I fell in love with Hoka's this past year! I spent quite some time mocking the crazy looking shoes, but after feeling unstable in the newest Cascadia's I decided to try something new. They've even been fantastic in the snow because you float pretty well so feet stay dry.

    I've actually gotten about 850 miles out of my first pair before the sole started delaminating, and am well on my way to that with my second pair, so the slightly more expensive price tag is well worth it, as my Brooks were feeling flat around 350 the past few turns.

    What I can't figure out for the life of me, is why Hoka chose to make this round of the Mafate white?


Feedback is always appreciated!