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. :)