The maxim "don't use anything new on race day" is one you've probably heard mentioned quite a few times, and in general I agree with it. Always test running gear, nutrition, shoes and so on before your race. The last thing you want is find out about some irritating stitching from clothing, rubbing from shoes or stomach problems from the wrong nutrition in the middle of a race you may have been training months for. In the recent WTF 100 mile race I competed in, I broke this rule, and luckily it worked out for me this time!
I had bought some new shoes a couple of weeks before the race - Hoka One One Speed Instincts. Although this was a new model for me, I've run in a lot of different Hoka models so I am familiar with the pros and cons that occur across the Hoka range. I was particularly interested in the Speed Instincts after reading a review that compared the upper and comfort to Nike's Wildhorse trail shoes, of which I have a pair and find them to be extremely comfortable - although for me they are best suited to short trail runs.
Unfortunately when I bought the shoes I was not well enough to test them out and running was very low on my to-do list for a while. The following week I was starting to feel better and found some time for a short run of about 2kms before a scheduled massage. I had been wearing them walking around for a few days and they felt great, easily the most comfortable upper of all the Hoka models I've tried. After the run I started to think about whether they may be suitable for the first part of the WTF race I was running that weekend. The WTF 100 miler race is run from from Dwellingup to Jarrahdale and return, mostly on the Munda Biddi trail. I figured that if I had some other shoes available at the first (16km) or second (38km) aid station I could easily swap them over.
Race day came, and the Speed Instincts combined with my favourite Injinji socks meant my feet felt great at the start. There are some very nice easy singletrack and smooth trails for the first part of the race and running along at an easy 6:00min/km (ish) pace felt very comfortable.
The shoes have a seamless mesh upper with a welded overlay over the front 2/3rds of the shoe, which works very well to hold the foot securely without feeling overly tight in any areas. They also keep the foot connected very well to the midsole, preventing movement when the foot moves sideways slightly such as on technical trails, pea gravel or faster cornering. This was one of the only problems I encountered with the Hoka Challenger ATR and I'm glad to say they have improved it with this shoe.
The toe bumper wraps around the front of the shoe and provides protection from small rocks and sticks, or when just clipping larger objects. It will not offer much protection for more direct hits though. However, a sturdier toe bumper would have made heavier shoe and you have to weigh up what's more important. I think the protection is about right.
The heel counter is very well padded and very comfortable, it holds the foot securely in place and causes no irritation. The tongue is non-gusseted, with good padding without being overly thick, and when combined with the lacing system it adds to a very comfortable and securely fitting shoe.
Hoka uses a new Pro2Lite midsole in these shoes, which has a dual density - softer in the heel for protection and extra cushioning at slower speeds, and firmer in the forefoot for a more responsive ride. When combined with the meta rocker you can really notice the difference when you pick up the pace. During some of the excellent flowing singletrack in some parts of the course, I had to be conscious of making sure I wasn't running too fast, as it was very tempting to fly down the trails at a pace that is not the best if your aim is to complete 100 miles! At slower speeds the cushioning is still very Hoka plush, while not having as much stack height as most Hokas. I feel this may be a great introduction to Hoka trail shoes for those that have been put off by some of the bulkier previous models.
The outsoles are a high abrasion rubber material with 3mm lugs, that while lower in profile and not as aggressive as the Hoka Speedgoats, I found them to be more than adequate in all the conditions I encountered. They work very well on smooth trails, pea gravel, larger rocks and road. We had quite a bit of rain during the race which left a few areas of trail muddy and I had no trouble with the shoe sliding. Uphill and downhill the grip felt great and combined with the fit and cushioning all conditions were a pleasure to run in. My only concern with these shoes is regarding the cut out areas of the outsole. While these offer some more flexibility and no doubt reduce the weight a bit, I did find that at times if you were unlucky enough to have one of these sections land on a sharper rock you would definitely notice it - not something I'm used to with Hokas. It wasn't a huge problem, but something to be aware of if you run on trails with sharper rocks. The area of the outsole is also considerably smaller than most Hokas, making them look more like traditional running shoes. This didn't appear to affect the stability of the shoe at all and would also contribute to the lighter weight.
While I originally considered this shoe to be a perfect candidate for shorter technical trails I was surprised to find that they are suitable for much more. I ended up not changing shoes at all during the race and they felt great for the full 100 miles.
I absolutely loved how they felt on the technical downhills and they also climbed quite well (however I wasn't exactly smashing the uphills in this race).
I did get a couple of small blisters and one bruised toenail, however I consider that due to the nature of running 100 miles on trails, up and down hills and occasionally in the rain this would have happened no matter what shoes I wore (and most would be much worse).
And I stuck to the "don't use anything new on race day" rule (sort of), I did run 2kms in them before running 161kms!
I would recommend the Hoka One One Speed Instincts for those runners new to Hokas who want to try a trail shoe, or experienced Hoka users for a lighter and faster trail shoe.
Hoka One One Speed Instinct specifications from Hoka website:
Have you ever broken the "don't use anything new on race day" rule? Let us know if it worked for you in the comments.