Entering The Arms Race

Following on from the infamous Nike Vaporfly 4% and their Next % running shoes, a number of companies have now released their own carbon fibre-plated models.

Sub-2 hour marathon barrier smashed
Sub-2 hour marathon barrier smashed

Being a bit of shoe-geek, I'd looked on with interest at what Nike was doing especially with Eliud Kipchoge's attempt at going sub-2 hours for a marathon (unreal!) and the debate about banning their shoes from the Olympics.

However, I'd never considered buying their shoes on ethical grounds alone never mind the crazy cost of these shoes. I was also sceptical whether these kind of shoes would actually make much difference for a slower runner like me. I've always preferred a super flexible shoe and finding something that works with my orthotic insoles can be tricky too.

With more options now on the market from Brooks, Sketchers and New Balance to name a few, I thought it time to at least see what all the hype was about.

Hoka Carbon X

The nice people at Sportlink kindly sent me out some Hoka One One Carbon X shoes to try. They've been doing a sterling job of keeping the local running community supplied, offering a delivery and postal service whilst the store is shut due to Covid-19.

Out of the box my first thought was that they were very light (246g's I believe) given the amount of cushioning and that the rocker-style shape would suit me too. My main concern was the high stiffness with almost no give at all.

Still feeling sceptical, it was time to give them a go on the treadmill. I only ran for a few minutes but I was pleasantly surprised at how they felt - bouncy, but not squishy like some of the Hoka's I've tried in the past (early versions of the Clifton).

Of course the real test is out on the road. I started with a 8.5km run. It felt pretty good straight-off. I was perhaps a touch noisier under foot than in some of my other shoes, but this didn't seem to be as a result of increased impact forces so no worries there. In fact landings felt cushioned. I noticed I was moving fairly quickly (for me!) and a glance at my watch confirmed I was 20 or so seconds/kilometre faster than usual for the same effort.

OK so they seemed a quick shoe but just how quick I wondered? I did a short effort and got my answer as I was hitting 3:10/km pace without really trying. Just in case I was imagining it I did several more short efforts and the results were the same or better.

So definitely a fast pair of shoes then, and, I'd go as far as to say the more you put in the more you get back.

The other interesting (and slightly disconcerting) thing was that I didn't feel like I'd run at all, even with what would normally be some leg-pounding efforts.

Xtenex laces - problem solved!
Xtenex laces - problem solved!

My only slight negatives about these shoes are firstly that they come up a touch small so I'd recommend going up half a size and secondly that the laces seem to magically come loose quite frequently. The latter is irritating, but no longer an issue now i've fitted some of my favourite Xtenex laces!

It will be interesting to see how it goes on longer runs, but so far I'd say the hype is indeed justified.

Iain

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