Monday, 5 August 2013

One One Refurb

Hoka One Ones - the trendiest clown boots in town
I’ve been making my own running shoes since 2003 and I’ve been virtually mass market-free since 2004. But now I’m about to post about a commercially available trainer.  Not only that - but the ‘clown shoe’ of shop-bought trainers at that. So what’s going on? Well, the shoe in question is a Hoka.  These have been a huge success in recent years, particularly amongst ultra runners and a significant number of races are being won in them.  Hoka’s philosophy appears to be to slap as much EVA as possible between the runner’s foot and terrra firma, thus providing a pillow-like ride over all the rough stuff and getting the wearer to the finish line, perhaps a day later, in better condition than with conventional shoes.  Porty’s Ben Kemp wore a pair in his successful attempt at this year’s West Highland Way Race.  I made an innocent comment on Yak Hunter’s blog (it wasn’t a hint, honest!) about wanting to have a close-up look at a pair to see what all the fuss was about and within 24 hours, Peter Buchanan had offered me a pair of Stinson Evo Lows which he was about to chuck out because of a rip in the upper. So how could I refuse?

Upper tear - a mere flesh wound in the life of this pair
That was a few weeks ago but it was only yesterday that I finally managed to set aside some time and get to grips with the repair.  The right upper had a large rip in the outside forefoot area, a part of the shoe subject to a fair bit of lateral stress I suppose, but apart from that, the shoes were in pretty good nick and I agreed with Peter’s assessment that if they could be repaired, they’d be good for another 1000 miles.  For the repair solution, I reckoned that a patch from inside would work as well as anything.  Normally, my uppers are made from woven polypropylene (typically Ikea bags or builders ‘1 tonne’ bags) but this stuff doesn’t stick very well, so that was out for this application.  I needed something exceptionally tough, which would stick well with contact adhesive and which would sew easily.  
Old denims - shoe repair bounty
Denim seemed to tick all of those boxes and so an old pair of jeans was brought into service to provide the patches.  I noticed that the left shoe was showing signs of wear at the same location so I decided to do a pre-emptive repair on this one too, before it ripped.

View from inside
The photos show the repair sequence.  The denim patch was glued then folded over on itself to form a double layer.  This was glued to the midsole inside the shoe, then round the corner on to the ripped upper.  The midsole area is under heavy compression, so I have no worries that this part of the repair will stay-put.  Where the patch is glued to the upper however, there will be all sorts of differential movement and peeling forces going on, so I reinforced this area by sewing the patch and upper together using ultra-strong thread (in this case braided kite string).
Double-layer denim patch

Patch glued in place
Completed repair with insole back in place
Glad I didn't try plastic surgery as a career choice

Belt and braces - a dab a of superglue secures the knots 
Black marker over the thread and a new pair of 
matching Poundland laces for the finishing touch - job done.
As I worked on the shoes, I noticed a couple of messages on the midsole proclaiming their tech-worthiness; “Zero-gravity technology” (Newton would have been interested in that one) and “adaptive tuning”. Yes, shoe marketing bullshit puts even estate agents to shame!

Hoka one One vs HillBilly Trotter Trail
In my first ultra, the 2008 Round Rotherham 50, I used an overly minimalist shoe with about ½ inch thick EVA midsole.  I got away with it but my feet were a bit bruised and tender afterwards.  Subsequently, and for rougher trails, I’ve bumped this up to 23mm and found this thickness to be great for everything up to and including the West Highland Way Race. The Hokas really do have a humungus amount of EVA, although as this wraps around the upper a little, the midsole thickness appears to be a bit more than it actually is.  My own shoes have a totally flat midsole and my view is that it’s what is under your forefoot that’s important (where I land and take off, and where the greatest impact forces are experienced), so I was keen to do a rough comparison in this area between the Hokas and my HillBilly Trotter Trail shoes. I’ve had this particular pair for 7 years.  As  you can see, they look ridiculous but are so now so comfy that I just keep patching them up as and when required.  They’ve had the equivalent of 2 uppers and 3 midsoles but they’re still the same old pair!  

The arrow shows the top level of the EVA midsole in the HBTTs (the wide whitish band is an external polyester strip, deeper than the midsole itself). From the second pic, the Hoka midsole looks significantly thicker but the top yellow band is a wrap-around onto the upper, so the actual midsole surface inside the shoe is at the top of the grey band.  That gives about 25mm for the Hokas vs 23mm for the HBTTs - a bit thicker but not significantly so.  Conventional trainers and trail shoes typically have about half this thickness under the forefoot.

If they were about ¾ the size, the Stinsons would be a very attractive looking trainer.  But when first on your feet, they look huge! - not helped by these being ½ size larger than my normal.  Still, I managed to adjust the lacing to get the fit snug enough and round the house, they felt very plush - more so than a pair of Crocs even. I was due to run to work on Monday morning, so that was the time for the Hoka road test. This would be a circa 15 mile run/walk effort (25 mins running/5 mins walking “reps” - owing to my general lack of running fitness, the need for me to be able to cycle home this evening and also train again tomorrow! Plenty of opportunity though, to put the shoes through their paces.

I have to say that when I set off, although they gave a comfy enough ride, the Hokas felt a bit awkward and clunky.  One of my self-checks that I do regarding form is to listen to my feet - if they’re silent then I’m running correctly.  I just couldn’t run quietly in these at first.  I’m not used to having a big heel wedge and I suspect that its presence was resulting in heel contact sooner than normal, hence the noisy progress.  After about 4 miles however, my brain seemed to understand the shoe a bit better. Things thankfully quietened down a bit and the shoes felt fine from then on. 

Serenity along the 'Nolly.
Oh FFS, I've started Buchananing on my runs!
My route took me up and over Winchburgh shale bing and if you’ve tried one of these, you’ll realise that going straight up is NOT an option! - it required a furious on all-fours zig-zag scramble to make it up. All of which gave the shoe repair a good sideways workout and I was relieved to find that all held good.

The rest of the run went fine and the only ill effect from the shoes was a blister on my right arch; probably not surprising, as my own shoes don’t have arch supports, so as to allow my arches to flatten out as the foot pronates inward as nature intended.
A view I never tire of. Proper engineering, Victorian style.
Shame my pic doesn't do it justice

My overall verdict:  I found the Stinsons to be a nice comfy shoe but I’m not a great fan of heel wedges, so I won’t be throwing away my HillBilly Trotters any time soon. They're a pretty good shoe though and I'll continue to use them on suitable terrain but again due to the heel wedge, I’d be a bit wary of their use over the really rough stuff.  Not that they’re actually any wedgier than typical trainers. They are fairly wide at the heel which is enough to give good stability under normal conditions, but your heel is higher off the ground than in most shoes, so if you did turn an ankle, it would likely be a bad ‘un. But hey, if Hokas allow a lot of folk to complete ultras with reduced ill effects, or allow people to toe the start line who would otherwise be crocked (and they evidently do) then that’s great. I suspect though that with long-term use, the pillow-like cosseting they give your feet could be such that users would find it difficult to revert back to anything else.  Peter posted a photo-montage of his dream trail shoe in his last blog post - a grippy Innov8 with thick but flat-ish midsole.  Maybe that could be the next mod for this particular pair?

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