Wednesday, August 01, 2012

First Review: Hoka One One Stinson Evo TARMAC

I have long been intrigued by Hoka One One's contrarian response to the "minimal" running shoe trend. While all Hokas have a low 4-6" drop and are relatively low weight at 10-11 oz, they all feature massive fairly stiff midsoles relying on a rocker geometry to propel the stride. They have been called clown shoes. Some may laugh but the smooth shock and rock pain free trail and road feel of Hokas is something else. Their motto "Time to Fly" is not an exaggeration.

I have purchased and run in the Hoka Mafates, Bondi B, and Stinson B and all have one thing in common- downhill obstacles are run over without really realizing they are there and there is much less leg soreness after any run than with any other shoe I have ever used. Anecdotes on the web tell of many former runners with chronic pain being able to resume running in Hokas.

The question for me has been can you and does that softness and rocker geometry cause problems when tired and off your mid foot . My experience at the 2011 Boston Marathon with the Hoka Bondi B road shoe taught me a lesson: when you get back on your heels when tired the softness is a problem as the foam can compress 20mm sending you back on your heels never to return if the legs can't lift anymore!   I was told  later that year by Hoka that the geometry of the rocker sole favored a consistent mid foot strike and that the geometry would be changed.

Enter the Hoka One One Evo Tarmac.

Hoka lent me a pair of this new shoe last weekend at the SpeedGoat 50K. I have run three times in them: twice on the road and once on relatively smooth single track.

How is the Tarmac different from the other road model in the line the Bondi B or the Stinson EVO the hybrid road trail sibling to the Tarmac?

  • While the upper is exactly the same as the Stinson EVO the outer sole of stiffer harder rubber covers almost the entire outsole, all the blue areas and all the larger white areas except  the triangle under medial side (bottom of sole above on the railing). There are no lugs as on the Stinson EVO and far less softer exposed midsole acting as outer sole than on the Bondi. The result a far snappier ride, a firm foot lay down without shock and then a smooth push off. 
  • Road runs in the Tamrac feel like running on grass.  Quite natural and pleasant, unusually comfortable and shock free. I usually run roads in somewhat minimal shoes such as Kinvara 3, Brooks PureFlow and Connect, and Asics HyperSpeed. As with other Hokas I have run in, their use as a recovery and big miles shoe is certainly to be considered as there is very little leg soreness after any run in Hokas 
  • The EVO Tamrac has more forefoot flex than other Hokas I have tried, flexing just behind the blue colored outsole above. I think the flex is assisted by a slightly thinner foam stack overall.  The heel toe drop is slightly increased to 5.5 mm, a good thing given the foam softness and thickness in the heel, my Bondi issue at Boston. The Hoka rep said a heel lift can be used to increase the ramp angle.
  • The upper is outstanding, especially in the forefoot. Previous Hoka designs seemed to struggle with vertical overlays in the forefoot given the stiffness of the midsole causing hot spots for me. The Tarmac has only horizontal overlays and the forefoot area is soft mesh.
  • This is a road specific shoe but... I found it outstanding in my single trail run on smooth single track. Given the massive surface touching the ground, up to 80% more than most shoes, and the fact the foot is seated down into the midsole foam using a patented bucket seat I see no surface expect snow,  slick mud or small gravel where the Tarmac wouldn't perform well. 
  • The lacing system is a quick pull Kevlar cord very similar to the Tecnica Inferno X Lite recently reviewed, effective and simple. 
  • The Tamrac is supplied with 2 insoles of different thicknesses. They can be stacked for small volume feet or used individually to customize the volume. Drill guide holes on the midsole at the forefoot and heel can be punched through to give more flex.
  • True to size unlike my previous Hokas which were at least a size off. My usual 8.5 was a 9 or even 9.5 in previous generation Hoka models.
  • Weight 10.4 oz. Outstanding for so much shoe.
  • Price $170
Time and miles will tell if Hoka has solved the code, balanced their trademark smooth ride with snappier less "risky" road performance.  Not easy to go a different way and blaze a new trail against the minimal tide.  I wish them luck and tip my hat to Hoka  for being different and maybe more effective for many workouts and terrains  than the usual or trendy. I will update this review as I run more miles in the Tamrac.

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