Natural running has been a hot topic the last few years. With the release of Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run, the idea of natural running was unleashed on the masses and hit the ground running. Most companies scrambled to make a shoe that was thinner and lighter – one that would make the running experience feel more natural. Unfortunately, the romanticized idea of running dusty trails like the Tarahumara Indians isn’t the reality for most of us, and running on cement in incredibly thin shoes ended for many in discomfort and injury. Some of that had to do with jumping into shoes with a low heel-to-toe drop and no cushioning, and not allowing time for adaptation. While we’re here, I think now is an appropriate time to have a quick discussion about natural running and low drop shoes.
(Low) Drop It Like It’s Hot.
First and foremost, if you are going to switch to the Bondi Speed, or any low drop shoe for that matter, from a “regular” running shoe, you’re going to have to scale back your mileage so your body can adapt. This is no joke; if you change to low drop shoes and run your regular mileage, you’re just asking for an injury. With a lower heel height, a low drop shoe puts more stress on your Achilles tendons and calf muscles. Start with 20-30 minute runs and build up from there. If you feel especially sore the next day, don’t be afraid to switch back to your regular shoes for a couple runs, and make sure you’re stretching your calf muscles and keeping them loose.
Only Wizards With Guns Have Magic Bullets.
Second, will low drop shoes prevent injuries and make you faster? Just wearing low drop shoes won’t, but there’s a chance that running naturally (a more mid to forefoot strike under your body instead of heel striking out in front of your body) could do both of those things. So how do you know if you should switch to low drop shoes and try natural running? If you’re successfully running in “regular” running shoes with no recurring injuries, I’d say stick with what is working. If you seem to be plagued with injuries, you’re a good candidate to give low drop shoes and natural running a try. Although changing from your natural running form makes you less efficient, it has the potential to reduce your chance for injuries, thus allowing you to train more consistently and in turn become faster.
Are They Made In Texas? Everything’s Bigger!
OK, now that you know whether or not you should switch and how to adapt once you do, let’s talk about the Hoka One One Bondi Speed. The first thing you’ll notice about Hoka One One shoes is how big they are; I affectionately call them my moon boots. Their midsoles range from 1.8-2.5 times the volume of a “regular” shoe, apparently dissipating up to 80% of the shock. The midsole is also 25% wider in order to counterbalance the added height, but this added surface area means you’ll also have the benefit of an incredibly stable platform. Although they look big, they’re incredibly light. The Bondi Speed weighs in at just 9.5 ounces, making it lighter than many of the most popular “regular” training shoes.
Like A Glove.
When I first slipped on the Bondi Speed I found them immediately to be very comfortable, with a great fit. The fit is a bit snug in the heel, with a more average fit through the arch and forefoot. Even with the quick lacing system I was able to snug them up to my liking, although I prefer the fit with the regular laces (the Bondi Speed comes with both). One thing I should mention about the quick lace system is that these are not the elastic laces that most aftermarket quick laces use, allowing you to set your fit and just slip your foot in and out of the shoe by pulling the tongue open. The Bondi Speed quick lace system can still be adjusted quickly and easily, but the laces have no stretch in them at all. Another thing of note is that you’ll have to cut the quick laces to get them off, so you can’t switch back to them after putting the regular laces in.
Like A Puppy Wrapped In Marshmallows – Now That’s Soft!
The Bondi Speed is extremely cushioned, and that became immediately apparent even when I just stood up in them. I’ve never experienced a shoe this soft and light. Honestly, it took me a little while to wrap my head around how cushioned they are, but I wasn’t imagining things – according to Hoka One One, their midsole foam is 30% softer than the material used in traditional running shoes. The real test, however, would be running in them.
As I’m primarily a road runner, the first test for the Bondi Speed was on one of my favorite paved loops. If you think you can notice the cushion when you first put them on, just wait until you start running, as that is where the cushion is really noticeable. Unfortunately, for me, it was too much; the feeling was just something I couldn’t get used to. My time for my loop wasn’t any different than it normally is, but I just felt like I was fighting the shoes – as if I was running in sand. When I put that personal feeling aside, I realized that I really like how stable the ride is. Also, you can really bomb the hills with them. Want to go full speed downhill without feeling the ill effects of that brutal eccentric loading? The Bondi Speed is your shoe. Although the Bondi Speed wouldn’t become my everyday running shoe, I could definitely see how great it would be for long runs…like, really long runs. I bet you’d feel wonderful after running a marathon or longer in them.
Since Hoka One One calls themselves, “The Ultra Running Company,” and most ultra marathons don’t take place on the road, I felt it was only fair to test them on the trail. Now, I know they have other styles that are made more specifically for trail running, but my gut feeling is that this is where the Hokas would really shine, and I was right. Coming from the Midwest, I feel like I should explain to everyone who doesn’t live in Arizona what the “trails” are like here. They’re not the dirt singletrack snaking through the beautiful grass and trees of some sunlit mountain that most people envision when they picture a trail. Arizona trails are lined with a variety of spikey plants and are littered with rocks – some small and sharp, some large enough that they’re affectionately called “baby heads,” but rarely is there just a flat, smooth section.
Running the trails in the Bondi Speed was like switching from a regular mountain bike to a 29er, or driving through the local Target parking lot in a monster truck – it didn’t matter what was in front of me, once it was underfoot it didn’t exist. Although the Hokas are taller, the wider outsole left me feeling as stable as I would in a shorter shoe. Again, the downhills were a breeze with all of that cushioning, and the only thing that slowed me down was the potential of losing control and ending up hugging a cactus. This time I didn’t have the feeling that the shoes were too soft; there was hardly any feeling of fighting the shoes or running through sand. I guess the varying (softer?) terrain and the fact that you’re not exactly running in a straight line makes all the difference?
To be perfectly honest with you, I’ve been running for roughly 18 years and I’m relatively fast, so I tend to lean towards shoes that are a little more performance oriented. I have a hard time trying to imagine using the Bondi Speed for my everyday training shoe, as I constantly feel like I want something harder, so I can feel the impact more. It may seem crazy to some of you, but personally, I need that feedback. Anyway, since this is my review, you’re going to get my opinion, but I’m sure there are others out there. So, here’s what I think. I think the Bondi Speed would be a great shoe for anything marathon distance or longer if you’re a faster runner, or maybe half marathon and up if you’re an average runner or are just looking for something that is extremely cushioned, stable, and will not leave you feeling beat up. I also think it would be good for Ironman races, since you’re already tired and beat up at that point. In addition, Hokas are a killer trail shoe, although you’d probably want to use one of their trail specific shoes instead of the Bondi Speed. Either way, I can guarantee you that you’ll never put a softer, more cushioned shoe on your feet than a Hoka One One.
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