I started running in shoes from Hoka One One (pronounced “O-Nay O-Nay,” meaning “to fly over the earth” in Maori) three years ago for the protection and comfort, especially while training for and running 100 milers. In training, benefits from running in Hokas includes decreased recovery time. That’s a big positive. And in racing, the most significant benefit is not having to think about my feet (at all) for 100 miles of mountain racing. I find this to be a highly desirable feature. Always looking for that edge over the competition, I eventually evolved away from my trusty Stinson as my “go-to” training/racing shoe to the Challenger ATR, and then on to the Challenger ATR 2 last season. This year I’ve been struggling to find a model that I have the same level of synergy with and that fits my foot no less than perfectly. That shoe could be Hoka One One’s new Speed Instinct.
Nine days out from Western States 100, the Speed Instinct shows up on my doorstep and within minutes I have them on, jogging around the house. This morning I put them through their paces trying to ascertain whether they’d not just be a good shoe for Western States, but—could it be?—the ideal shoe for this fast, furious, and infernal 100 miler? Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
Weight. The Speed Instinct weighs in [on my scale] at 8.9oz, (M8.5), exactly the same as the Challenger ATR 2. For comparison, the Speedgoat weighs in at 9.4oz while the Clayton tips the scales at 7.6oz. Note: while light, the Clayton, a road-shoe by design, makes for a very lithe trail shoe, given dry conditions. I want to see a pair of the Ironman Hawaii edition Claytons coming out this year closer to the race in October. Fierce!
Insole. Hey, look at that! Hoka inserted a thicker insole into the Speed Instinct than their standard insole. Niiiiice. And the quarter ounce of increased weight is super worth it, adding to the overall comfort of the shoe. Note: to ensure I never have to deal with an insole slipping in either training or—heaven forbid—in a race, I like to Gorilla Glue my insoles. Never again have to worry about them ever bunching up in the toe-box during a wet race or a hot race where you have to keep yourself wet then entire day for cooling purposes. Not that these thicker bad boys would ever slip in the first place, but… why risk it? I like knowing gorillas are holding my insoles in place. After all, a shoe takes a nasty beating over 100 miles.
Tongue and laces. The Speed Instincts have the same soft, thick tongue that we see in the Challenger ATR 2. This has taken a while to grow on me since I was partial to the thin tongue in the previous generation Challenger. “Hey, change is constant Shebest, buck up!” I do think the thicker tongue contributes to the new Challenger being a little too snug, on my foot at least. This does not, however, feel like the case with the Speed Instinct. The stock laces we’ve seen on the Claytons are used in the Speed Instincts. I like these laces a lot. It’s a wider lace than comes on the Challenger and they stay tied. Yaah. Goood.
Toe box. This is a big one for me because I need to run in a Men’s 8.5 and my left foot’s a little wider than my right so it’s tough to keep that left foot happy. For States, toe box is a BIG deal since there’s 23,000′ of downhill running. And I really like running downhill, and in order to be downhill running well, later in the race, I need to keep my toes happy. In recent weeks’ long, hot training runs, the Clayton, with its spacious toe-box fits the bill, but, it’s a road shoe, with road tread, and the first 50k of Western States is likely to have some snow, mud, and tricky sections to negotiate, and the Clayton’s sole isn’t gonna cut it. Thus, my plan was to run in the Challengers through 50k or so, and then transition into the Claytons, which are super comfortable and run well soak-n-wet. I still might. Jury’s still out.
Tread. First impressions with the Speed Instinct is I might have a shoe that gives me a wider toe-box and the traction I need early on in the race. In the seven 100s I’ve done, I’ve always had spare shoes ready-n-waiting but have yet to actually change shoes in a race. I’d like to keep that trend going.
In the moment. When I first started climbing in the Speed Instincts this morning, I noticed I was getting a little heel slip. This was quickly remedied by simply tightening the laces closer to the top of the shoe. I recommended using that last lace eyelet at the top to help secure the shoe to your foot and prevent slippage, which is different from shrinkage.
The shoe climbs well, both running uphill, fast-hiking, and power-hiking. I was sure to not tighten the laces too much in the toe-box ’cause it’s really important for my foot comfort to have some room up there for the foot to naturally splay out, as I’m a total and complete mid-forefoot runner.
With only 8 days to go to Western States 100, I’m a little bummed I didn’t ask for this shoe sooner. I read some online reviews earlier this year but I’m terrible sometimes about trying something new and felt like the Challenger ATR would again be my shoe-of-choice for 2016, even if it was a little tight in the toe-box and seemed a little soft (like me). I made a big effort to get the Speedgoat to work for me but my left foot kept busting out of them. Totally sucked ’cause I love how the sole of the Speedgoat feels, especially on rocky, technical terrain. With the Speed Instinct, you have a sole that’s tougher, like the Speedgoat sole; you don’t feel those sharp rocks as much as you do in the Challengers or Claytons.
I popped out on the road and ramped it up to 6min pace for a few 100yds to get a sense of how the shoe responds running fast on the road. It doesn’t feel as amazing on road surface as does the Clayton, but to be fair, the Clayton is a road shoe after all. Furthermore, the Speed Instinct first strikes me as a shoe that may need a bit of a break-in period, but I’m also guessing it’s a durable shoe that will hold up well for 400 miles, or more.
Shocking! Western States is expected to be hot this year. Back at my car I brought a 24oz water-bottle with me, but… not for hydration but rather for the express purpose of pouring directly into my brand new shoes. Yes, I dumped about 12oz of water right into my shoes and headed back out on the trails to see how the shoe responds when saturated with water, as it’ll be on race-day due to regular water crossings and from the effects of cooling during the hottest part of the day. I can’t stand too much “squooshing” from a shoe when it’s wet. The Challenger ATR 2 is a little more squishier than its predecessor so I was quite pleased this morning to find the Speed Instincts are pretty quiet when wet, feel fine, and drain well.
Nearing the end of my run, I chose a steep, technical descent to bomb down to really get a sense of how the shoe responds and how my foot feels inside the toe-box. No problems. The shoe fits my foot snug but not as snug as my Challengers. The toe-box is not as wide as the Claytons but it appears to be wide enough. Overall, my hunch is this is going to make for a highly effective trail-racing shoe.
Decisions. At a minimum, I’ll start Western States in the Speed Instincts, since I need the traction and my toes will be happier after 30-50mi than they would be if I started off in the Challengers. I’ll have regular opportunities to go to my Claytons if the need arises. After all, I’ve not done a proper long run in the Speed Instincts so perhaps after 4-5hrs my feet will be begging for the Claytons, but I suspect that won’t be the case. I only have a handful of runs remaining before the big dance on the 25th. I’ll do these runs in the Speed Instincts to further break them in. Overall, a super comfortable shoe that feels fast while maintaining that high level of comfort and protection I demand from a running shoe. #seeyouinsquaw >>> 😀
Faster than Twitter, thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job [even from afar] as “First Responder.” | Thank you to Julbo Eyewear for the beautiful, functional, and comfortable sunglasses. It’s GREAT to be working with you! | Thank you to Hoka One One for your continued support and producing the best shoes out there—#timetofly! | Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for offering so many fantastic races in great places. | Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my nutrition. | Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for all the wonderful support. HRC rocks! | Victory Sportdesign produces the best drop-bags in the biz! | Thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for helping me keep the dream alive!