HOKA ONE ONE started back in 2009 when Frenchmen Jean-Luc Diard, then best known as the global president of sporting goods company Salomon, and Nicolas Mermoud decided to quit their jobs and devote all of their time to developing a concept that they believed had a massive amount of potential - running shoes with maximum cushioning, using up to 2.5 times the cushioning volume of conventional footwear.
The initial prototypes were pretty crude, and after each run Jean-Luc and Nicolas would return to the ‘lab’ (in reality little more than a small room next to their office), and shave away at the EVA midsoles of their prototype shoes until they were satisfied with the level of cushioning. By the spring of 2010 they were ready to share their ideas with the world, and the first ever HOKA ONE ONE running shoe was born.
Our very own Lisa Bergerud was an early adopter of, and evangelist for, the strange-looking shoes. As she admits, the first HOKA shoes looked so odd that she preferred to go out after dark, but the sheer comfort was a revelation. And now, while the latest range of HOKA shoes retain a distinctive look, they also appear a lot more conventional - while still delivering their unique performance.
Pippa Maddams is a fell running champion, returning from injury and now using Hoka shoes. She writes:
This year’s 5km race at the Keswick Mountain Festival in May was my first race back after six months of not running, after a serious foot injury.
As a fell runner by trade, I usually like a low profile, highly responsive, close fitting fell shoe but this time due to my injury it was different. The Hoka Mafate Speed trail shoe provided the alternative experience. To look at, the shoes seem bulky and far from responsive given the ‘platform’ appearance. But they really have to be tried and tested.
The race offered a variety of terrains. We set off at pace over a field on to a road, navigating the first tight corner was good, the shoes offered stability and I felt secure in them despite the early surge to get on to the narrow gravel path that followed. Again the shoes were responsive and gripped well on the unstable underfoot conditions but still allowed a fast foot turnover.
We soon passed into a woodland section, which was wet and rocky with tree roots to pick through. I was surprised how easy it felt to step over and between the obstacles and soon was powering up the steeper hills and descending back between the trees feeling more at ease. I was impressed to feel how comfortable the descents were, the cushioning was a relief and yet the shoe was neatly still doing what my foot was asking it to do!
The final lakeshore section was flat and I was feeling the pace. Luckily the shoes feel light and allow tired legs to regain speed and form quickly.
The only challenging part was the endless run around the perimeter of the field. I felt I was less able to push over the ground as I might do in fell shoes. However everybody else I spoke to felt like this afterwards, despite their footwear, so we can blame the field and wet weather!
All in all, a very robust shoe with a long life span and excellent comfort and response over all terrain. I’m looking forward to hitting the fells in them over the rest of the year!