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I am a Bicolano by birth and choice. By any standards, I am a slow runner but I like it that way. I look at running as a healthy and exciting way to make a difference. Together with my fellow runners from our family, school, office and the community, we use running to give back..

May 21, 2013

HOKA STINSON EVO TARMAC: Opposium maximalis


"Going against the grain."

This phrase defines the contrarian, a person who takes up a position opposed to that of the majority, regardless of how unpopular it may be at the start. 

In her article "Field Guide to the Contrarian" (www.pyschologytoday.com), Elizabeth Svoboda pointed out that because of their unconventional outlook, some contrarians make important contributions to society. Take the example of maverick Steve Jobs who revolutionized the computer world, and ultimately our lifestyle, by rejecting the status quo. Likewise, with  political figures like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.  who both risked their lives (and ultimately, did) to defend causes they believed in. Contrarians give their lives meaning by attempting to change the way things are to the way they think they should be. 
   
In a sports known for its fierce individualism, we are bound to find contrarians in the running world. Two such Opposium totallis are intrepid French trail runners,  Jean-Luc Diard and Nicolas Mermoud, who founded Hoka One One (pronounced Hocha [as in Mocha] Oh-nay Oh-nay, which means "Time to Fly" in Maori), an upstart running brand. 


Since the publishing and release of the running bestseller "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall, the minimalist approach to running shoe design has taken off and practically been all the rage. Well-established brands like Nike, Brooks, Saucony, Mizuno and even Asics joined the barefoot-like  running innovation championed by the Vibram Five-fingers. Now comes Hoka which decided to go the  opposite approach to midsoles. Starting as a trail brand, Hoka’s models put twice as much material between a runner’s foot and the ground as many running shoes. 

More is really more. And this seems to make practical sense. Visualize the approach as like putting big tires on trucks or bikes (ala Monster trucks) to allow rolling right over obstacles. It makes for easier running over trail obstacles like stones, rocks or roots. Apparently, the Hoka running shoes are also designed to alleviate  over day-to-day obstacles to running like fatigue, impact and muscle strain, as its website (http://hokaoneone-na.com/) claims, so that runners can be guaranteed with freedom and enjoyment every time they run. 

Would this maximalist approach really work ?

Karl Meltzer, wearing a Hoka,  ran the 2,064-Mile Pony Express Trail in 40 days.
Karl Meltzer, he of the 35 victories in 100-milers, is a product endorser of this brand.   Obviously, he has high praises for the Hoka and even his website (http://karlmeltzer.com/gear-reviews/) has a link for procuring a pair. 

In the  running scene here in the Philippines, the first runners that I saw using the Hoka in marathon and ultra marathon action were the Bald Runner at the 2012 Condura Skway Marathon and the Frontrunner at the 2012 Bataan Death March 102K Ultra. Both fared much better than me in those races. Perhaps, the shoes had something to do with it.

Only one sure way to find out if the Hoka really delivers on its promise of "With each and every step your foot takes flight".

I better order me a pair of Hokas.

Question is which one. Hoka offers both trail running shoes and road running shoes. For the trail, they have the Mafate and  Stinson Evo. For the road, they have Bondi and Stinson Evo Tarmac. The difference of these models is primarily on the hugeness of EVA volume in the midsole.

Mafate                           - 2.5x EVA volume 
         
Stinson Evo & Tarmac      -2.2x EVA volume

Bondi    B                        - 1.8x EVA volume

To be on the safe side, I opted to take the centrist position and go for the Hoka Stinson Evo Tarmac, a road running shoe. The specific details of this Hoka are as follow:

Hoka Stinson Evo Tarmac

SPECIFICATIONS

SIZE RANGE:
6.5-14 (M), 6-11.5 (W)

WEIGHT: 
10.4oz

DROP: 
6 mm

UPPER:

•Highly breathable, debris proof, closed mesh

•Extending lacing for adaptable fit

•2 elastic lace holders for customized lacing

•Light weight tongue: foot conforming, slim, microfiber

•Reinforced toe cap

•Flexible molded T.P.U. support strapping/thermo-polyurethane reinforcements

•Quick lacing system

MIDSOLE:

•2.2x Midsole EVA Volume

•30% softer EVA

•Profile: Late Meta-Rocker

OUTSOLE:

•High version, sticky rubber compound

•30% wider


Next question is how do I acquire one. There are no Hoka authorized dealers in the Philippines, even in the whole of Southeast Asia. No problem. There is always the A Runners Circle running store in Manila and it has access to the shoe inventory of its mother store in Los Angeles, California. It took a phone call to Perkins in ARC Manila and pretty soon, after a month of waiting,  I got a text from Raul Acuna, the top guy in ARC Manila,  informing me that I could now get my new pair of Hoka Stinson Evo Tarmac from their store. I wasted no time on that March weekend in getting that dear package.

The Hoka Stinson Evo Tarmac, just like other Hokas, is one big bad mother of a running shoes. Even its box is bigger than those of "normal" running shoes. Placed beside my Asics, Adidas  and Saucony, the Hoka pair  looks like battleship amongst a squadron of lightly-armoured destroyers.  

Big is Bad.
Trying it on for the first time, the cushioning feel is akin to that of a Babe Ruth kind of a homer than one done by a Derek Jeter or a Mike Piazza. It is one big blast (http://www.500hrc.com/500-hrc-articles/ruths-called-shot-among-greatest-world-series-homers.html).

Forgive me for all these hyperboles, but the Hoka Stinson pair  has that effect on me, even when just standing still.

How about in action?

A week after acquiring it, I used my Hoka Stinson EVo Tarmac for the first time in a race at the 2013 Mayon 360 80-km ultra marathon last April 6 (http://www.bicolanopenguin.blogspot.com/2013/04/2013-mayon-360-ultra-running-on-empty.html). From the gunstart, I felt like flying with the Hoka. Masiramon sa bitis. But I had to curtail my exuberance as there were 79 kms more to go. Although the heat took its toll on my cardio-vascular endurance in the Mayon 360, the muscle fatigue was bearable and I swore I could have used the Hoka the entire 80-kms of the road race except that at the 60-km mark, I had to change to my Asics Cumulus as the Hoka got  wet with the strong downpour of a rain. Proof of the comfy efficacy of the Hoka was the fact that I was not limping at the night, or even the days, after the Mayon ultra.

The second time I got to deploy my Hoka Stinson Evo Tarmac for a long distance run was at the Bagolatao Adventure Run last May 4 (http://www.bicolanopenguin.blogspot.com/2013/05/bagolatao-adventure-run-broke-back.html). This time, I got to utilize it for a bit of trail running as well as a portion of the road to the seaside resort was not yet paved and was actually replete with gravel and stones. I deliberately chose to run on the rocky portions and I did not feel the sharp edges of the stones. In fact, I felt running faster on those portions. And my running companions were noticing it and begun singing praises about the Hoka.

BP, on a Hoka, on the uphill road to Bagolatao

The Hoka’s contrarian  formula of cushioning to the max (Opposium maximalis) is working. The midsole foam is 30% softer than the material used in traditional running shoes, and there is 2.5 times more volume than in most running shoes. The extra cushioning dissipates up to 80% of the shock associated with heel striking when running and allows for as much as 20mm of compression in the heel, plus extra protection allowing the runner to soar over any surface. 

In addition, the Hoka has  Rockered  Midsole Geometry and , surprisingly for a big shoe,  Low Heel-Toe Differential:  A 4mm heel to toe drop and rockered profile creates a unique rolling motion that encourages proper form by allowing a runner to easily strike the ground near the midfoot.

And the icing is how control  and stability are  achieved with this battleship of a running shoe. The unique, patented bucket seat is recessed up to 20mm within the midsole unit so as to best position your foot for optimum control. This high degree of control also ensures you to maintain responsive contact with the ground at all times. The outsole platform is 30% wider, providing a stable base and counterbalancing the excess height a voluminous midsole. Coupled with thermo-polyurethane reinforcements, provides enhanced structure and support.


Overall verdict for the Hoka is, to my mind, an excellent buy at Php 6,500 per pair.  The Hoka Stinson Evo Tarmac delivered on its brand promise of freedom from muscle fatigue and pure enjoyment of the long run.  Hoka users  fly over the ground instead of pounding it. Owning and wearing it signals the mothballing of Asics and New Balance for my long distance running experience.I am afraid that I will be using almost exclusively the Hoka for my marathons and ultras.  

Having tasted  the "time to fly", there is no turning back for the Bicolano Penguin.  

Icarus be damned.

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