Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Hoka One One Challenger ATR review ....and fixes

I will begin this review of the Hoka One One Challenger ATR with the clear acknowledgment that without these shoes I would probably not be able to run right now.  Thats a big deal for me since I just completed a training push of 3 sequential 100 mile weeks in preparation for the AC100 this coming Aug. 1.

As I have posted in recent weeks,  I have a foot injury on my right foot, that makes it excruciating to weight the foot with my second and third toes in a dorsi-flexed position (i.e. toes pulled up).  I don't have a diagnosis of this injury but it may be Morton's neuroma; there is numbness on the top of the second and third toes, but the key point is that it hurts like hell unless either I am walking barefoot or running in Hokas.   I do know that the injury came on while trying out a pair of Brooks to deal with a bruise on my LEFT foot;  I provisionally attribute the onset of the right foot injury to excessive toe spring in the Brook's design.

The Challenger, like all Hokas, has an extremely thick midsole which enables the outsole to be sloped up at the front and rear while preserving a relatively flat surface for the foot inside the shoe.  The side view photo of my size 11's shows this:  The shoes have 250 miles of them at this point.
This sloping allows the foot to roll through a foot strike without loosing energy-  Hoka calls this their "meta-rocker" technology, and I think this only makes sense for heel strikers.  But I am forefoot striker.

 The reason it matters to me is that the upslope in the forefoot allows me to run up hills (and down) without flexing my toes,.  Again, at the moment, flexing my toes is excruciating.  I love this feature of the Hokas and am grateful that Hoka made these shoes, with their 5mm drop, which has saved my racing season.


There are a few things about the shoe that I really do not like and have had to modify in order to wear the shoes.

For starters, the shoe is too narrow for me, but making matters MUCH worse  is the fact that the insole surface is surrounded by a rim of firm midsole rubber, which prevent the foot from "finding extra space" by stretching out the upper shoe fabric.   The top and bottom of the rim are highlighted with red arrows in the image below:
This became extremely painful due to bruising on the lateral side of my feet  within about 150 miles of running in the Challengers.  Exacerbating this is the fact that the outsoles on the Hokas slope down laterally on both the left and right shoes, and extend appreciably beyond the outline of one's feet:  The photo below of the right shoe shoes this clearly.
Since the outsole extends several millimeters beyond the outline of one's foot, and since the shoe is designed with the slant seen in the photo above that forces the lateral side of the feet to strike the ground first, the next result is that wearing the Hoka's unmodified is a bit like trying to run down the center of a drainage ditch!  It HURTS the side of your feet after a while! And its not great for the knees either!

The problem was worse on my left foot...which makes sense in hindsight:  My left foot has a high arch and tends to have a slight roll to the lateral/outside (varus angle).  Initially when I tried on the Hokas, my left foot felt like it was being forced to rotate inwards (like it was making me  a bit knock-kneed).

No matter, there is a fix:  The photo below shows that I trimmed the midsole rim on the lateral side of my Hokas to allow my feet to splay a bit.

I also trimmed nearly a centimeter off the lateral side of my left shoe, which had the worst lateral foot pain due to the Hoka-induced "varus deformity":
If the images of the modified shoe look like the cuts were made by a madman with a hunting knife, that is because they were made by me, with a hunting knife.  I might add that it  is a rather harrowing experience to take a hunting knife to a $130 pair of fairly new running shoes and I was a bit pissed off that I had to do it... But I have done it already on a second set of Hoka Challengers (size 11.5 this time).  I took the modified shoes out for a 30 miler last weekend, and then a 20 miler the next day and they were great.

I love these Hokas because they are keeping me running but the fact is that I cannot wear them without significant modifications -  and the modifications are dangerous and time-consuming to make.

Finally, after 250 miles my right toes have begun to hurt in the Hokas.  This is due to midsole compression at the ball of the foot.  The shoes are fine if I place a pad in the depression;  nevertheless I have bought a fresh pair of Hokas, a half size larger to ameliorate the narrowness of the shoes.  The toe pain is gone again in the new shoes.   250 miles in a $130 pair of shoes amounts to a higher cost per mile than driving my car, and that is NOT a great selling point.

My wish is that Hoka would:

  • Make a wider shoe to fit people that do not wear stylish pumps all day (my feet do NOT taper to the front nor do the feet of  anyone I know) 
  • Keep the base of the shoe no wider than the foot and for Pete's sake, eliminate the midsole rim that bruises the lateral sides of my feet.
  • Use a firmer midsole material:   at 250 miles is too little for  $130 pair of shoes to last, this is NOT a great selling point.

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