Form Before Footwear and the Hoka One One

I am going to start this post with the obvious: running has absolutely nothing to do with footwear. Well, *maybe* it has a little to do with footwear.  But for me and my journey, running has been about learning and re-learning how to move.

I started to focus on my running form in June 2011.  After over a year of working with my tri-coach to get comfortable with the basics, I knew that to improve, to stay injury free, and to qualify for USA Paratriathlon National Championships, I needed to focus on running.  I needed to go back to the basics in order to get faster and stronger.  Thanks to a recommendation from pro-triathlete Tamsin Lewis I started working with James Dunne of Kinetic Revolution.  For almost two years I’ve been focused on form, form and more form. I’ve been relearning how to move, how to use my body efficiently in the way that a body should move.  It has been a long process – two distinct disorders have caused me to develop tons of compensations, so I have had to relearn and repattern even the most basic of movements.

Since 2009, when I decided to turn my summer triathlon challenge into a year-round lifestyle, when I decided to embrace being active in order to be healthy, I have had to manage a plethora of related physical issues.  There is my current knee issue which stems from hypermobility and multiple dislocations when I was younger. There is the persistent peroneal tendonitis in my right foot, a consequence of my nerve disease.  I have lived with constant and varying degrees of pain for three year.  I manage it, and to me it is 100% worth it so that I can lead the active and healthy lifestyle that I now enjoy.

I bet I am a physiotherapists dream, constantly filling a calendar as I fine tune and work on my body to be able to continue to be active for as long as I can.

If a dream client is one that is a regular fixture in the appointment calendar, I am definitely an orthotists dream too.  Since 2004 and my diagnosis of CMT I have been to countless orthotics appointments, seeking a way to manage my foot pain.

Not even a quarter of the things I have tried to manage my foot issues and find comfort

And I suspect I am also a running store’s dream.  Since my very first visit to the running store which led to my CMT diagnosis, I have gone through New Balance 980s (not bad but discontinued); Mizuno Wave Riders (pretty good but hit my peroneal tendonn and irritated it A LOT); Brooks Ghost (comfy and light, but too flexible so allowing too much foot twist and irritating my peroneal tendon); Saucony Echelons (the original, a good ride but felt a bit clunky); Asics Nimbus (too flexible like the Brooks, leading my peroneal to complain again). 

I *know* that running is not about the shoes.  It is about form.  I am a complete convert to my coach James’ philosophy – form before footwear.  (For a great running resource feel free to check the aggregating website Form Before Footwear which brings together the best web content there is about running form and running research.)

But shoes ARE important.  And I think I may be in the midst of having a shoe epiphany moment.

At the start of May I ordered Hoka One One Bondi B running shoes from my favourite running store Run and Become.

I first heard about Hokas from my friend James, a triathlete with CMT (the same nerve disease as me).  James told me that the Hokas were super comfortable and deep, fitting his ankle braces comfortably and leading to no hot spots.

Then I read Ann’s interview with Jody about the Hoka One Ones.  And Jody’s link to another story about running with Hokas. 

Then I posted on Twitter to find out if any of my friends there ran in Hokas.

Turns out that Mary Eggers does.  And so does John Jenkins.  And so does Pete Larson’s wife.

Lots of people wear these “clown shoes”.

Now, I know *the* answer is never found in a shoe.  But I do think a good shoe matters, especially for a person like me with a lot of foot troubles.  So I took the plunge, and bought yet another running shoe.

When the Hoka Bondi Bs arrived I thought they looked like platform trainers.  They are cushioned and high.  But they are also deep.  Although stacked, the drop (the height difference between toe and heel) is quite low, at 4.5mm.  This is comparable to other “minimalist shoes” but with a lot more stacking and cushioning.  For comparison, my Saucony drop measures 12mm.  The 7.5mm difference is huge, even though you would never guess it from appearances!

I was skeptical.  But I put the Hokas on.  And I felt like I was walking on marshmallows. 

I showed them to my physio.  He was a bit skeptical too – maybe the ankle did not have enough support. But seeing as I wear ankle braces when running, we decided that shouldn’t be a big problem for me.

How would they feel running?  Would I be able to feel my feet through the cushioning?

They felt super comfortable when running.  Sure – there was an adjustment period.  My ankles felt tired initially – this is apparently normal when you move to a flatter shoe.  My shins were tighter.  Again, expected – the lower the drop, the more mobility you need to have in the ankles, and my range of motion in my ankles is a bit limited from the atrophy from my nerve disease.  So… I paid close attention to my achilles and calves, making sure to stretch well, managing tightness before any chance of an injury developing.  I’ve taken my time to transition into the shoes – I have read about too many nightmares when people either change shoes or change running form too quickly.  Patience pays off.  And so does paying attention to what’s going on with your body.

But what about the upsides? For me, the upsides have been huge.

The pinching in my left knee no longer rears its ugly head mid stride (this is caused by fat pad impingement – it is one of about seven different things happening in my left knee).  Maybe it is because I am landing softer?  Who knows.  I feel and use my glute muscles more.  Maybe I am using my glutes more because of the lower drop.  Or maybe I am using them more because of the cushioning.  Regardless, this is one of the aims of my physio, so anything that helps to contribute to helping me to be aware of and use my “big muscles” more has got to be good!  And if Monday’s 10k is anything to go by, with the Hokas on my feet I ran pain free, with a smile on my face, and to a new personal record.

It is never *only* about the shoe.  But let me tell you – shoe choice is important.  I get that it is a different solution for every person – horses for courses so to speak.  For me, the Hoka One One Bondi Bs are proving to be a comfortable ride.  I am still deciding if they are *THE SHOES* for me.  But so far, I am happy.  And my feet are happy. As someone who has a lot of foot troubles, troubles that are with me when I wake up and still there when I go to sleep, to be without persistent dull aching pain in my feet IS HUGE. 

Here’s hoping that the Hokas – and my happy feet – are here to stay. *That* is this runner’s dream!

2 responses to “Form Before Footwear and the Hoka One One”

  1. A GREAT post about so much abut running & your personal story! I loved it!!! Thx for sharing mine too., I so hope these are a good fir for you. I have never gone back since I started wearing them for running & cardio!

  2. Glad you found something that works for you. I haven’t yet tried them because I’m afraid I’ll never want to run in anything else again, and I’ll be forced to pony up $160 every 3 months!

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