If you run a lot just for fitness, then you might know what a HOKA is. A HOKA is not a foreign word, but if you are not a runner you might think it is.
A HOKA is a brand of running shoe made by the HOKA ONE ONE company, but it’s not just any running shoe. This shoe has become a huge favorite among the STYR Labs Badwater 135 runners, which in itself is an elite club to be in. The shoe can now boast that it has not only survived the heat of Death Valley, but it is used by the champion runners of the Badwater race and many other ultramarathoners.
Shoes are important to runners
Like a bat is important to a baseball player, so a shoe is just as important to a runner.
It seems to be the shoe that can withstand the 135-mile course and it doesn’t fall apart in the heat.
Death Valley has the reputation for being so hot that there is a myth going around that shoes have melted.
Badwater runner Marshall Ulrich, a four-time champion of the race, says that’s nonsense. He believes those claims to be false.
“The glue that is used to hold the outer sole on the shoes would rarely give out, say even 10 or 20 years ago and nowadays I think they bond the outer sole to the midsole at a much higher heat than the pavement can produce at Badwater, which is at ground level pushing 200 degrees when it is close to 130 degrees air temp,” Ulrich said. “Only twice has it been 128 degrees during the race and I know because I checked the official race day temperatures.”
Chris Kostman, chief adventure officer and race director for the race, agreed with Ulrich.
“People say that, and I think it only applied maybe to the crappy Hi-Tec Badwater 146 shoes in the early 90s,” he said. “I have never seen it happen. The pavement is hot, though, and runners have gotten rashes and blisters on their lower legs from the pavement heat radiation. As for official temperatures, we track them, too, but it could be hotter than those temps, since those are only recorded in Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells.”
Why the HOKA is used
Now the shoes may not melt out there, but Ulrich likes the HOKA because it does provide better protection from the heat.
Ulrich said the reason runners like HOKA is the thickness of the sole.
“HOKAs have helped me as the cushioning is superior, and I believe the bulk or thickness of the midsole helps to insulate the foot, which means less blisters in the race for sure and foot problems,” he said. “I’ll bite my tongue regarding my thoughts about Minalistic shoes.”
It is also the choice of two-time women’s champion Lisa Smith-Batchen and two-time Badwater champion Pete Kostelnick. Kostelnick also wears HOKAs because of the cushion. He wears the Clifton 3’s (soon Clifton 4’s).
“I love them primarily because they’re very soft on my feet with a lot of cushion, but still very light and easy to stay balanced and in control,” Kostelnick said. “I’ve worn them for a few years now and think they’ve been a big help in my legs staying fresher longer in races as a result and cutting down my time. They also come in awesome colors.”
According to Jared Smith, product coordinator and education specialist at HOKA One One, HOKA shoes were not designed for heat.
“The soles and midsole of the Stinson ATR 4’s are not specifically designed for heat dissipation, but are designed with a cushioned durability focus,” he said.
He said the reason the shoes are so thick was when the company was originally founded, they had set out to solve a problem of comfortable running on hilly terrain.
“They wanted to find a way to run down mountains faster and smoother with less impact to the feet, legs, etc.,” Smith said. “The solution was found by adding a large piece of foam underneath the shoe, shaping and carving (what is now known as our ‘Meta-Rocker’). After rounds of prototyping and testing shapes, foams and designs, they landed on a design that solved the initial problem, allowing them to run down a mountain with more enjoyment and less impact.”
Contact sports editor Vern Hee at firstname.lastname@example.org