Trails of Glory

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Hoka Rapa Nui 2 Trail Shoe Review

I've known about Hoka shoes for some time now and like many runners was skeptical of their pillow-like, puffed-up appearance. I canvassed a large group of trail runners regarding their experience with the Hoka One One shoes before committing to paying $170. Almost everything I heard was positive so I researched the options available. I found a slimmer more economical model of Hokas in the Rapa Nui 2. Since I had never worn Hokas before I liked the idea of trying this leaner model first. This review is based on my purchase of the Rapa Nui 2 for $129.
During four weeks of training I logged 100 miles wearing the Rapa Nui. I mostly alternated days with other road and trail shoes I had been using and on a couple occasions ran back to back training sessions in the Hokas. Here is a list of the training runs I performed:

- One hour break-in run of run 5 minutes / walk 2 minutes

- 17 one-mile paved loops of 3/1 jog/walk (training for Across The Years)

- Arizona Trail 10-miler with hills of 3-5% grade

- 24 total miles at Across The Years broken down by 17 miles then another 7 miles to finish; one-mile loop on a flat cinder track

- 14.5 mile hilly rocky trail at Wasson Peak with long stretches of downhill

- 8x200 interval session on tarmac
- 26K Trail Race at Aravaipa's San Tan Scramble 

- 7 training runs of 4-8 miles on recovery days
As you can see I put this shoe through a wide variety of workouts and surfaces. The only thing missing is an actual road race. I purchased the trail version of the Rapa Nui; they also have a tarmac version with a smoother outsole. The trail shoe has small lugs but nothing compared to some of the more aggressive trail shoes on the market.
Saucony Peregrine on the left
Also, the women’s style of this shoe is called the Kailua; my wife Trish just bought a pair and is pretty happy with them. I need also note here that what made me look at the Hoka brand shoe to begin with is that I have been recovering from ankle ligament problems, otherwise known as Incurable Shitty Ankle, in both feet for several months. I found no relief in Asics, Brooks, Saucony, or any other brand of shoe. I was limitied to running every other day. Having pancake flat feet I use orthotics and put them in the Hoka shoes. The orthotics fit well and did not require a half-size up like other reviews have recommended.

I read a lot about the Rapa Nui not being quite as thick in the midsole as other models like the Hoka Stinson or Mafate. I’ve never tried those shoes so I can’t compare the feel but my first impression when lacing this shoe up was they didn’t feel bulky although I gained an inch of height. The shoe has a solid stable base with a firm but cushioned feel. I didn’t get the marshmallow feeling reported from other Hoka users. The lacing system is a non-elastic drawstring with a locking mechanism. Normal laces are provided if you choose to switch them out. I’ve heard some runners say they had problems with the lock coming loose on the run. I experienced no issues and managed to find a comfortable level of snugness throughout all of my runs.

During the first strides I took I noticed a spring in my step and much lessened joint jarring in the knees, hips, and ankles. On the 17-mile jog/walk run I incurred some raw spots on the top of a couple of toes but this did not continue once the skin healed the first time. On the trail during gradual climbs I noticed an increased ability to drive up the hill with minimal effort, almost like I had more energy to use on the push-off stage of my stride. After I broke the shoes in on the trail I tested them on a 6-mile road run. After an initial warm-up of two miles I got into a solid rhythm at around 7-minute mile pace from miles 3-6 with noticeably less effort than what I was experiencing in my Brooks road shoes averaging 7:15-30 pace.

An observation I made after Across The Years was the absence of muscle soreness and joint pain during the days of recovery following the race. The plan was to start in the Brooks until my feet began to ache and then switch to the Hokas. After 18 miles my feet and knees were pleading for a change so I stopped and laced up the Hokas. My feet felt new again and my knees were relieved. I put 17 miles on the Hokas until it seemed the cushioning had gone a bit flat. I changed into a Saucony trail shoe and found little relief and changed back to the Hokas 9 miles later. Once I refit into the Hokas they felt brand new again and I completed 7 more miles before stopping at 51 miles and calling it a night. I did not run the next day but did not experience the usual aches and pains I normally have after a 50-miler. Two days later I ran an easy five miles and felt surprisingly fresh.

A comment I frequently hear from Hoka users is the ability to run down hills much faster and with less impact than in other shoes. I positively verified this experience on the Wasson Peak trails of West Tucson. The first downhill portion of the run is two miles of loose baby-head type rocks. I leaned forward and ran downhill with solid foot placement and impact shock absorption, also, no rolled ankles. Later, I ran down a longer hill on a steeper decline of pea gravel and packed dirt. I maintained positive energy and sustained leg strength during a quickened pace over 5 miles.
Steep trail descent from Wasson Peak
Although advertised as a trail shoe the Rapa Nui runs very well on the road. The lugs are more prominent than the tarmac version and have worn down a bit in the heel and toe but in my opinion provide better traction on wet surfaces. I wasn’t sure how effective this shoe could be during a speed workout so I tried them on repeat 200s. After primarily running trails the past couple of years my leg turnover is diminished so I employ striders at the end of runs and occasional sets of 200 and 400 meter interval repeats. In comparison to training flats I was able to run each repetition two seconds quicker in the Hokas. I sense an increased amount of energy from each toe push-off leading to a longer more powerful stride.
Last weekend I raced a trail 26K in the San Tan Mountains. I was able to maintain a good tempo-like pace averaging 7:45-8:00 mile pace on sandy trails and moderate hills. The Rapa Nui Trail shoe held up very well providing my feet a comfortable ride for 2 hours and 14 minutes.
I’m impressed with this shoe and overall very satisfied that I tried something different that has worked for me so far. I thought about trying the Rapa Nui in a road half-marathon race next weekend in Houston but instead I found that Hoka makes a lighter shoe called the Bondi Speed. This shoe is touted for speed training and race distances of half-marathon and above. I am getting a pair next week and will let you know what I discover. I think the Rapa Nui is a great shoe for daily training, trail racing, and recovery runs. In a nutshell, my training pace is quicker by 15-30 seconds per mile and I don’t experience the typical post-run aches in pains in my joints.

Happy running!