What shoe should I run in? That’s a question I am often asked while treating runners who pass through my clinic. The minimalist shoe theory and boom is now being questioned as many runners who attempted the conversion ended up with injuries that have spurred yet another trend in the running shoe world. The minimalist shoe movement brought about a different show on the opposite end of the spectrum: super cushioned shoes with platform heights nearly tripling the typical running shoe has brought new meaning to Stings 80’s hit “Walking on the Moon.” With a whopping 32 mm of height dropping to 26mm in the forefoot the “Hoka One One” debuted in the spring of 2010 but was largely ignored as this was during the peak of the minimalist shoe rage. Many injuries later new research is questioning the merits of barefoot running. As a result, these super cushioned running shoes are becoming the next rage with runners, joggers, young and old, moms and dads, heck even dogs and cats are asking about these unconventional running shoes. So being a marginal (15 miles/week) runner myself, I’d rather bike, it’s more efficient, and being a skosh past 30 or maybe 40 I can’t remember, I ordered up a pair of Hoka’s to see if they inspired me.
A recent study concluded that running barefoot does not reduce impact loads and that running economy is better with a shoe. Another aspect of “better” running, shod or barefoot, is based on the fact that runners can tap into an approximate 30% “free energy” return from the elastic properties of your lower leg and foots’ tendon elasticity. Similar to a rubber band that, when stretched your foot will rebound once your foot hits the ground it should give you a bounce, but think about it, do flat feet have any rebound? This certainly complicates the issue, however, if your foot can give you 30% energy return can an extra cushioned running shoe give you more return and thereby decrease the metabolic costs of running? In another study Professor Kram of UC Boulder and his associates took 10 experienced runners and had them run barefoot on a treadmill with 0, 10 and then 20 mm of cushioning. The most metabolically economical was the 10 mm cushion, which is generally found in most running shoes. They concluded, “cushioning reduces the metabolic cost of running. Further research is needed to identify the metabolically optimal amount of cushioning.”
So with all that said I’ve been on several runs in my Hoka’s and although you feel the extra cushion, they don’t run for you. You still need to put one foot in front of the other. If you’re a heel striker, which most of us are, they might feel better for you but fore and mid foot runners may not like the heel to toe drop of the shoes that seems to change the foot strike pattern. I know several ultra runners who swear by them but, are their joints just appreciating the reprieve from the hours of landing forces? So, I am not convinced of the merits of the Hoka’s huge cushion but what I can say is that the Hoka’s are another shoe in the closet. I think they make a great recovery day running shoe and may be of benefit from those who have true joint compressive pain issues but I don’t think they will be aiding me to win any races anytime soon.