I’ve been getting a lot of questions from Sydney runners about the Hoka Bondi B’s. So, instead of feeling like a dirty stalker and asking for everybody’s emails (I have a pair in the van, come and have a look, heh heh heeeeeeeh….) here’s the review.
Short version: they take a little time to get used to, but they’re utterly worth any effort needed on your part. Here’s the Aussie website. Pictures used in review are on Euro website, so come back to this link here if you’re a curious Aussie wondering where to try a pair.
The long version?
From Bondi to the Blue Mountains
This review goes for a bit because if you’re like me, you’re probably tired of gear reviews that talk about kit being awesome and cool and having extra lace loops but never getting into why the reviewer decided they really like it or – oh, no – what they didn’t like about it. The best way to organise this review of the Hoka Bondi B’s is to outline what little difficulty I have had with them and then give some clear reasons why my impression of them is almost entirely positive after running 70km in them on Saturday.
The pair of Hoka Bondi B’s which I was given to put through their paces were exactly what I’d asked for – US13. They size quite snug through the upper and an extra half size is needed. Getting old school with some balled up newspaper for a couple of nights and doing a few smaller runs of 5-15km during the week before long running on Saturday helped break them in. Essentially, they were a bit softened up and pushed out a little but still marginally tighter than my next pair will be.
The Bondi B’s are a road shoe but we took them on fire trail – essentially wide open well-groomed four-wheel-drive track still slick from rain. An advantage of the Bondi B’s over the Mafate (their trail counterpart) is that the B’s have about 10% less padding. My normal running shoes are Montrail Rogue Racers, Inov8 Roclite 295s, Brooks Racer ST5s, and for walking around slipper-like comfort New Balance MT101s. Weight is not an issue with Hokas. It’s a shame that some Sydney running stores are keeping them off the shelves because to pick up a pair is to immediately think differently of them. That sounds a bit over-enthusiastic, but everyone that I’ve handed a Hoka has been surprised how light they are and how good they feel on.
There were 3 brief patches not so suited to the shoes on the weekend. 2 of those were steep soft wet clay on hairpin bends running downhill, and my running mate @NegSplit reckons the only shoe that might have handled those conditions would have been a Baregrip 200. Soccer boots might have also coped. The 3rd patch was a piece of slippery leaf-littered single trail with shiny wet branches and trees fallen across it. No slippage here, but a feeling that stickier rubber on the outsole would have been reassuring. But, again, we’re talking about throwing on a new road shoe and going for an 8-hour trail run.
So, Hokas – are they worth the hype? Yes. I was only expecting to wear them for the first 20km but they my legs felt so good after 30km that I rocked them the whole day.
Total impact is definitely reduced and it moves to muscle groups better able to deal with it. 25km in after running uphill for 8km on a 9% gradient, I noticed a few things. I was aware of how freely and cleanly my hips were moving because there wasn’t yet any real fatigue or tension around them, that one of my hamstrings was starting to whinge about loading that it wasn’t/isn’t yet used to, and that both calves felt a little harder-worked than normal. But I also noticed that my quads felt fresh and ready to go and when I hit the flat it turned out that they were. I had expected to feel slower going uphill than normal, just because of the clowny shoe size and being used to something leaner, but I think the shape of the shoe’s outsole even helped with forward motion going uphill.
I hit a dark patch around the 40km mark – not the kind of dark patch commonly misdiagnosed as ‘the wall’ but one of those endurance zones where every thought weighs more than the last and speed starts to drop even on a descending gradient. Hitting the turnaround with 21km to run back to the car and knowing that it was all uphill was always going to be a make or break moment. Let’s be clear – this is with 50km of constant running and over 1100 metres of ascent already in the legs.
Nutrition, training goals and split times all demanded some attention, but I didn’t have to think about sore quads or tight hips, and that was a huge bonus. For the next hour and a half, between 51km and 65km I averaged a steady return pace of just over 6:30/km on an uphill trail in a road shoe. Fatigue in the legs wasn’t a limiting factor at all and that just sings with promise for future training approaches and ultra-racing.
If we’d started earlier in the day or taken torches we’d have maintained or increased pace over the last few kays. Instead we slowed as we ran the potholed and stone-littered road in near-total Blue Mountains darkness. Even here, Hokas rocked. In any of my other shoes, I would have been tripping and stumbling and stubbing my feet, but the Hokas just rolled right through, morphing across rocky surfaces and cushioning the impact of ruts and ditches – an unexpected bonus.
As all runners know, the next day is when the real pain comes out to play. My quads today don’t feel sore or tight and are only a little tired. My glutes are a little tighter than anything else, and also my hamstrings are just a little whiney. But in total there is far less total fatigue in my legs than there normally would be 24 hours after a day like that and nowhere does it feel like the kind of fatigue that might stop me going for a run right now.
It seems that Hoka genuinely do what they claim to. Inside the shoe there is only a 4mm heel-toe drop – shallower and more natural than even a lot of lightweight trainers. This is probably going to be the hardest thing for a lot of people to adjust to if, for example, they’re coming from something like an 8 or 10mm drop. But outside the foot in the sole of the shoe, you have super-spongey shock-absorbent foam and a rocker which rolls your foot from either heel or midfoot to forefoot with each step and toe-off. You can sit back and let your foot just do its thing, and when you do sit back you move loading and strain away from your easily fatigued quads to your much tougher butt muscles. This means that you still have your quads when you need them late in the race as time threatens to run away.
Only hassles, as I said, were sizing issues which I’ll sort out fully the second Hoka makes a 13 ½. There was a little rubbing on the back of one heel, easily fixed with Glyde (like I said – new shoe stuff, not product-specific problems) and one foot took a bit longer to get used to being cushioned than the other. 70km on trail in new road shoes, a half-size too small and the total damage was one little blister at the end of the longest toe on my longer foot. I’ve also been carrying an Achilles niggle for the past month and surprisingly it feels better today than before I went running.
I’m now definitely keen to properly speed test these on road and race half and full marathons in them. I also plan to wear them when I pace Coast 2 Kosciusko in December. Before that, although initially resistant to the idea of big squishy shoes for technical trailrunning, I’m definitely keen to try the Mafate – as soon as they’re available in a 13 ½ and preferably in red, even though that means getting the waterproof ones.
Roger is an ultra-running shiatsu practitioner and writer. 11:25 for the Centennial Park 100, 15:16 for North Face 100 – hit 97km at 13:40 so have fun with the maths on that one. Training toward first 100-miler on the Great North Walk in November this year. Just did 1:52 at Woodford to Glenbrook 25km and p.b.ed 95min for 21.1km. Aiming for a bigger better half-marathon p.b. in Hoka Bondi B’s on the M7 in late July as part of Negative Split half-marathon pairs team ,and running the Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota in Hokas in October, thanks to Medtronic, type 1 diabetes, and his insulin pump.