Shoe Review: Hoka One One Speed Instinct

Instinct

I feel the need…

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 >>> 😀

A great shoe complements and eccentuates your natural body mechanics. Run beautifully for longer.

Parting shot. A great shoe complements and even accentuates your natural body mechanics. Run beautifully for longer. Fly over the earth >>>

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!

TRT 100 Training – Week I

“Running to him was real; the way he did it the realest thing he knew. It was all joy and woe, hard as a diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free.” ― John L. Parker Jr.

In John L. Parker’s book, Once a Runner, the protagonist, Quentin Cassidy, first breaks the 4-min mile at the track, by himself, after sunset. No fanfare, just moving passed an imaginary line in the sand without thinking too much about it. I’ve always remembered that in order for the magic to be there on race-day, you’ve got to put in the work. And if you aspire to go beyond what you’ve done in the past, eventually, you’re going to have to start doing things that my be considered, say, a little unorthodox. One thing’s for sure though, we get out of this running thing just what we’ve put in. No shortcuts. How hard you throw yourself into your training must largely determine how high you peak come race-day.

2014 marks my fourth start at what has become my hands-down favorite race of all time—the Tahoe Rim Trail 100mi Endurance Run. Never have I been more challenged and in awe of an event. And no other distance to date, captures my imagination like the running 100mi, inside such a stunning venue as Lake Tahoe.

trtresults

Albert Einstein famously stated, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing the same way and expecting different results.” Every time I’ve done TRT I’ve gotten a little better at it. God knows I have an intimate appreciation of the race’s motto: A Glimpse of Heaven and a Taste of Hell.  I know, as I stand before it once more, that I must, indeed, be getting to a point of diminishing returns. But, there’s a fire inside that burns to improve over what I was able to do, just last year, on the hottest day the race has ever seen. So, with evolved training and race process, I’m looking to do in training, what’s necessary to shave another 30-60min off my best. No Challenge. No Change.

Anticipation being the heart of wisdom, I’m essentially duplicating what worked so well from 2013, just beefing it up a bit so that I can expect different—and hopefully improved—results. The body, being like a sponge, should be relatively “dry” coming into a big block of 100mi run training, so that it has a chance to really soak up the volume. Here’s what I did for the last two weeks of May, immediately following Silver State 50miler in Reno (a highly specific event for TRT 100 in July):

twoweeksout

With no real structured training since Jan/Feb, I rolled into the spring with two 7-hour, top-finishes at both Marin Ultra Challenge and Lake Sonoma, just the 3-4% gains I was targeting over last year’s 50-mile race times. Then, life intervened, and sadly, I had to make an unexpected trip back East for my father’s funeral. This, indeed, took the wind out of my sails. With poor motivation, I contemplated not doing Silver State, but rallied and did a hilly, hard 50k at Armstrong Redwoods, two weeks out from Silver State and did not feel great. The one event wasn’t enough to replace two weeks of quality training. Insufficient prep, coupled with experimenting with different fuels and gear, resulted in going from running myself into 1st at mile 27 to getting run down by two better runners that day, for a disappointing 3rd place finish, a full hour slower than my 2013 time. Whatever, I still had a great experience (mostly after the race that is!).

Silver State was, actually, just the reality check I needed coming into my June build-up to Tahoe Rim. To be certain, running a 100 miles is not child’s play by any stretch of the imagination. My respect for the distance was reaffirmed. I used the final two weeks of May to not only recover, but finish my school year, enjoy my students and the relationships cultivated over an entire school year, and generally “dry out my sponge” out for the incipient June training.

Here’s the plan for Week I (I was tweaking it since January!):

theplan

My strategy last year was come into June fresh and do my biggest week first. Last year, I’d just starting using Hoka One One’s Stinson EVO trail shoe and was delighted to discover I possessed (it seemed) some kind of super power in these shoes, namely the ability to recover quickly and put up 150mi with over 30,000′ of gain, and back it up with two more weeks of balanced run training, both over 100mi. So, in Einsteinian fashion, I had to make the plan a bit more robust this year, shooting for a 180mi week with about 35,000′ of elevation gain. With a “go-til-you-blow” mind-set, I just threw myself into it. Here’s what I was able to (somehow) do last week:

bigweek2bigweek3

 Here’s my training log from 02June

As you can see I clearly employ the “Hard-Day/Easy-Day” approach. Hard days defined as developing the muscular endurance needed to not simply run 100mi, but also attending to the desire to be generating a reasonable amount of power over the second half of the event. Recall that the ultra-running contest doesn’t go to the fastest, it goes to the one that slows down the least.

strava_mts1st

Strava adds another layer of motivation to the week, that if existed a decade ago, would have ensured I was constantly injured. Last year, new to Strava, I participated in their “Junedoggle,” a monthly training series that informally pits ultra-runners from around the world against each other by seeing who can rack up the most run volume in a month. Game on!!  I think some folks on there don’t actually race anymore! Sometimes looks to me they just put up big miles to try and stay on top of the MTS (Monthly Training Series). It’s damn addictive, I’ll admit. But, I’m planning to stick with it for two more weeks then drop so I can do a proper recovery week, just as I did last year. My advice for folks using Strava as a motivational tool, is that to remember that’s just what it is—a tool. Make Strava work for you, not the other way around. I thoroughly enjoy it and am aware of the potential pitfalls, related exclusively to my ego.

If you’re going to sign up for a 100mi run, you’re best served by choosing your battle carefully. You want to pick one that inspires you; that alone will fuel your fire in training. In my case, I keep going back to TRT100 not just because it’s such a great event, but also because it’s just a good fit for me as a teacher. I can take full advantage of the month of June, being now out of the classroom, to do the required work that will allow me to see my potential on race-day. For Western States, in the event I ever got in, would present significant challenges, balancing my primary life roles as husband, teacher, coach, and athlete.

I’m fortunate to have both Lake Sonoma 50 and North Face Endurance Challenge in my “backyard,” both events having that star-studded field that really lets me see where I stack up against the best in the sport. With a top-10 finish at Lake Sonoma this April, and the fact that the longer the race, the better I do, I know that given different life circumstances, I could likely top-10 at Western States. But personally, I have all that I need—a beauty of a course in Tahoe, in July, that affords me the ability to test my mettle, against others, but more to the point—against my former self. And, the fact I’m living another athletic life as an ultra-runner is not lost on me. Before ultra-running there was Ironman Triathlon, and the Western States of triathlon is the Ironman World Triathlon Championships in Kona, Hawaii. And having been lucky enough to qualify, go, and finish strong on four occasions, I don’t want the fact I haven’t done Western States feel like some failure. If it happens it happens. I’m just happy to be still improving—at some athletic pursuit—at the ripe young age of 40.

So, in conclusion, here’s a few things I learned last week, running 190mi w/ 40,000′ of elevation gain, a few runs being in some pretty high temps:

1.  Hydration is no joke. Taking in adequate water before, during, and after sessions is HUGE and not to be discounted. You’ll recover for the next session way faster if you stay up on your H2O.

1A. In excessive heat, you gotta keep yourself wet. Evaporative cooling is your best friend when you’re dealing with infernal race conditions.

2.  HOKAS are the bomb. I rotated three newer pair of Stinson EVO trail shoes all week. They take the abuse so my body takes less. Again, it’s ALL about the recovery!

3. Allow your training/racing process to evolve. This week taught me that experimenting with different gear combinations is essential so that things can be both simple and sustainable on event day.

4. Sleep fixes all. Now that I’m out of school, I can wake without an alarm clock. If you want to boldly go where you haven’t gone in the past with your training, I highly recommend you create a context in which you have the time to get the sleep your body needs, understanding that your body will innately sleep more when the training volume is high. That of course is a directly proportional relationship.

5. Being psyched to do the week is key. I purposefully set up my year so that I’d be far removed from any structured training, come June, so that I wouldn’t find myself struggling to get out the door come Saturday, already with 100mi in my legs for the week. By the time this week started, for example, I hadn’t been up to Lake Sonoma—one of my bread-n-butter training runs—since the race there on April 12th.

6. Having a variety of training venues keeps the fire burning. For Tahoe Rim Trail 100, I’m looking for runs that set me up for success, namely runs that have a lot of elevation gain. I also like loop training run courses. At Lake Sonoma and Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, for example, I can do 20-26mi courses and bank 5-7k feet in vertical. Plus, they’re both beautiful courses, that I don’t seem to get tired of doing. I believe it’s their challenging, majestic (by Sonoma County standards) nature that keeps me coming back.

7. Finally, I learned that the passion for improvement is still there. And at 40 years of age, my capacity to enjoy and absorb the work, I feel is necessary to improve, is still there. I’m especially grateful to have this opportunity and all-too-aware that, inevitably I’ll start down the other side of the mountain, but having the knowledge that I made full use of my time and did, with my modest gifts, all that I could, without fear, and full of passion.

Let’s see what Week II has in store for me. Looking forward to this weekend’s training runs on the course. Looking forward not to just running on the course, but seeing lots of friends out there too. Always a good time.  😀

Tahoe Rim Trail 2011 074

Thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job as “First Responder.” Look at my toe!

Thank you to Hoka One One for the their awesome support and producing the best shoe in ultrarunning—DEMAND MORE!    |    Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for your offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |   Thanks to Clif Bar for fueling my training and racing.  |   Nuya is perfectly natural hydration that combines electrolytes and carbohydrates to properly hydrate and fuel your body. I love it as a recovery drink!

Thank you Heart-n-Sole Sports for your continued support. Thanks to Brian and the awesome instructors at Paradise Yoga, a brand new yoga studio, right here in my hometown of Windsor. Yoga’s definitely helping my running. Namasté!   |  Thanks to the folks at Akoia Day Spa for the painful sports massages I get a few days post-event. Bringing me back to life!