Trends often bounce from one extreme to another. The South Beach Diet (an all-protein plan) was once the rage in weight loss while today you hear a lot of people touting veganism. Rimless prescription glasses were must-have accessories in the executive board room for men, and then the AMC television series “Mad Men” brought thick, Clark Kent–style frames back into vogue.
But in the elite (and highly competitive) running shoe market, fashion is secondary to performance. Still, the industry is experiencing a debate over shoes that are on the opposite ends of the spectrum.
I’ve written about the minimalist shoe – a type of footwear designed to mimic barefoot running, or natural running. Some of these shoes are little more than socks with sleeves for your toes. At the start of this decade, sales of these types of shoes were growing exponentially.
But in the past couple of years a new shoe has been gaining in popularity that is on the other end of the spectrum. These “maximalist” shoes are made by the company Hoka, and they have been compared to “clown shoes” because they are much larger and more cushioned than ordinary running shoes.
The wide, stable platform and apparently marshmallow comfort of the sole has made raving fans of many top runners, including ultraracer Karl Metzler, who dropped his shoe sponsor in 2011 after running in his first pair of Hokas. He won a marathon trail run in Utah and two 100-milers within a year of switching.
In the August 2014 issue of Competitor Magazine, the magazine gave the Hoka One One (pronounced “O-nay O-nay” it’s “Best Ride Award” saying the Clifton style of the shoe is “amazingly light and surprisingly nimble.”
There’s no real research yet on the Hoka. What we’re hearing about comes from runners who report shorter recovery time, less impact from stress and even the ability to run comfortably for the first time in years from those who have had chronic foot pain. The experience has been described as “floating.”
Logically, it makes sense. Having more cushion for the sole of your feet would be like having a larger sweet spot on a tennis racket. Technology has made it possible to create shoes this large without the weight that tire the feet of even the most elite runners preparing for marathons or 100-mile runs. Other shoe companies have rushed into development of their own maximalist shoes to get in on the action.
Minimalist enthusiasts remain adamant that their way is better, and no doubt as we gear up for the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio Marathon in December, we will see a fair share of natural runners on the course.
But, as I cautioned a few years ago, switching to a minimalist shoe should be done cautiously and in steps. You can’t expect to just put on a pair of socks or go barefoot and run the same distance as you have with cushioned soles. Reports of injuries are common for those who don’t strengthen their feet and toes, or make wise decisions about training routes.
Switching to maximalist shoes also may require some adjustment, in part to accommodate for the larger width, and a willingness to invest in shoes normally priced at about $160, a little more than the average running shoe.
Still I’m very curious about your experience. If you are trying out a maximalist shoe, drop me a line and let me know what you think.
Dr. Annette “Dr. Z” Zaharoff heads the Non-Surgical Center of Texas, focusing on non-surgical alternatives to relieve pain and repair injuries. A former professional tennis player who competed in the WTC circuit, Dr. Zaharoff remains actively involved with the US Tennis Association. Learn more about her at www.drzmd.com.