Vibrams, Hoka One One’s and the Path to Running Shoe Bliss

Author Christopher MeansI have fallen in love (a few times along the way). Meet my new love.

I fell in like with running many years ago now. That like turned to love, something I was forced to admit, like it does for so many, somewhere after my third marathon, which was 20+ years ago and almost as many marathons since.

But I’m older now. I can’t say wiser, but certainly older. I’ve seen the ups and downs of running. I’ve felt the pain – stinging, shooting pain, dull, sore pain, the pains that come emotionally as well as physically… But I digress – just wanted to give a little background I guess, before I share and introduce my new love! You see, now in my mid-forties, I have accepted the fact that I want to be a runner all my life. I’ve grown to just love the simplicity, the challenge, the peace and simplicity of running. But it is getting harder, as the knees, calfs, quads, and back all start to remind me more regularly that indeed, I am no longer a newbie to the sport.

Hoka One One

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With the goal of designing shoes for optimal performance, comfort, efficiency and fun, Hoka One One has pioneered a new philosophy in running by merging aspects of minimalism and maximalism.

Knowing this, I have been on a journey to learn as much as possible about how I might be able to keep running all my life. In all the conversations and reading, it really comes down to a few basics – equipment, form, and smart training.

This isn’t about smart training. That’s too big a subject, and really that isn’t my goal – for training seems to pre-suppose a goal, and really my goal is just to run bit, always.

This is more about equipment, the shoes that I LOVE! Which ties a bit to form too… You see, in all I’ve read and heard, if you want to run forever, and without continuous injuries, form is the key. That damned mid-foot strike. I had never realized I was running “wrong” for over 20 years, but come to find out, it takes its toll over time.

So a little less than two years ago I began to learn how to run again – the “natural” way. I read Chi Running (and Chi Walking, too) by Chi Riveria, I practiced for quite some time. I bought my first pair of Vibrams in November, and early Christmas present from my wife; the promise being, if you can feel your foot strike, and get back to the more basic feet on the ground feel, you’ll be better able to adjust your running form to the natural, less jarring foot strike of the mid-foot strike. Your body will just naturally want to do it, or so they say.

It was a bit of a painful start, with my calfs telling me in the beginning this was a VERY new way to be. But I was in love – I loved having my toes separated, I loved the feel of the ground, even when hiking on the trails. It just felt wonderful to be touching the ground again – it had been so long! And yes, I could absolutely feel my foot strike on the heal, or, conversely, on the mid-foot when I was doing it right. Instant feedback, even if it was very strange to change my stride and strike.

I loved my Vibram Five Fingers; even bought my wife a pair for Christmas too. I told friends, I told running partners, I told random people on the trails. Be free I told them! Be free, feel the love!

Then one day, as I was working for Digifit, the health and wellness company, a co-worker offered up an opportunity to try a new type of running shoe – the Hoka One One. I looked online, and everyone in the office agreed, these were some of the ugliest sneakers we’d ever seen… they looked downright orthopedic. (note: they have now updated their designs thank god, but they still are pretty, shall we say, “hefty looking”).

They were the exact opposite of the Vibrams I loved… But they said they were designed with the mid-foot strike at the top of mind, but with extra cushioning especially for older runners who loved to run distances. And they were American made in Hawaii. I’m an experimental guy, and the chance to get to try something new was worth the initial buy-in (full disclosure, they were subsidized so they only cost $60 to try this first pair through my work).

Wow. I couldn’t believe it. They were amazing! The cushioning – superb! Even when I wasn’t doing the best form, which happens often when I run with my two dogs, I could feel the extra support and cushioning they provided on the heavier heal strike. When I could practice better form, they were downright blissful. My back thanked me. My calfs thanked me (no adjustment necessary). My feet thanked me. My occasionally stubbed toes (running with dogs in Vibrams can be dicey at times) thanked me. I got a pair for the wife – she even thanked me. Hasn’t touched her Vibrams since.

Are there any negatives? Sure… they wear out a little quicker than a normal running shoe I’ve found – my heal on the inner side of my right shoe is the first to run out of the rubber sole, and begin wearing on the cushioning. It’s apparent I haven’t got my “style” quite right yet, they seem to tell me. They are also a bit more expensive, going for somewhere in the $170 range. The first ones I got were “sponsored”, but I’m on my third pair now, paying full price plus shipping, and my pockets that much lighter. But I just finished my first marathon in a couple years injury free, and with the best time in over a decade, and did it with comfort and style. A good chunk of credit for that goes to the Hoka One Ones. My retirement savings may not being growing as fast now, but the chance of having a happy, active retirement does.

They are a dream, and once again, I’m in love.

My dream, my goal, of running all my life, may just be helped by this wonderful shoe.

Aloha and Mahalo Hoka, Aloha and Mahalo.

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