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Tested: Oversized shoes with APC Podiatrist Colin Papworth

 

Colin Papworth

Colin Papworth

 Colin Papworth is Accelerate Performance Centre‘s resident Podiatrist.  His expertise covers a wide range of foot related diagnosis, running form assessment and occasionally – product evaluation.  He’s a real string to Accelerate’s bow, allowing us to scrutinise footwear in a way that separates the truly effective from the marketing guff.  If Colin says it’ll work – it’ll work.  On the right feet of course.  In any case, here he shares his thoughts after having tested and used both the Hoka One One and Altra ZeroDrop ultra distance shoes.


 

I am in a very lucky position to often be in the shop when shoe companies come in with their new shoes and get a chance to have a run in them on the treadmill. I have always liked the feel of the oversized shoes on the treadmill and earlier this year was given the chance to test the Altra Zero Olympus and Hoka One One Mafatee Speed.

Hoka (top) with Altra (beneath).

Hoka (top) with Altra (beneath).

The Olympus I really liked on the treadmill. The fit to my foot was great, it felt really stable without being blocky and I loved the forefoot rocker. I’ve gradually worked on my running technique over the last few years and now feel happy with lower heel to forefoot drops, although I was a bit concerned with going all the way to a zero (flat). Although running on the treadmill didn’t give me any cause for concern, I know treadmills and out on the trails it’s quite different.

I’ve really been looking forward to trying Hokas. I’ve heard so much good about them and have seen some cracking results from patients who have used them. The Mafatee Speed would not have been my first choice, due to the support in the arch. Although this is only a ‘bulge’ of extra midsole and some geometry of the midsole it doesn’t take much to push my right foot lateral and away from the big toe during propulsion. The fit of this shoe is also slightly tight on the outside of my foot but they felt okay enough to give them a go. My preferred choice would have been the Stinson Trail, as when I’ve tried this in the shop it felt like a good fit to my foot and does not have the medial support.

So the initial differences I found between the two are fit / comfort and grip. The Mafatee Speed has excellent grip and the whole shoe feels really stable and great to run in, whilst the Olympus is pretty grim with regard to grip on anything except good trails. It is also not great on rocky ground or traversing as your foot rolls in the shoe. On the trails though the comfort is excellent and its shape is fantastic for my foot.

Those tread patterns in detail.  Hoka (green) more aggressive than the Altra (orange).

Those tread patterns in detail. Hoka (green) more aggressive than the Altra (orange).

The Hokas took a few runs to get used to them, this I think was down to the extra support and me not feeling as if I was running as freely as I would in my usual shoes. The feel on the climbs was great. The descending feeling was also good. Some people have said that the oversized midsole felt unstable but I did not find this. Due to the wrap of the midsole around your foot I find that I felt that I was sitting deep in the shoe and combined with the grip felt really stable. I think you have to let the shoe do its thing and not try and fight it or hold it back. It is a bit like mountain biking – you have to have confidence in your equipment to do what you need it to – and in this case the Hoka does this. It is letting it do it that you need to overcome.

The Olympus had a very different feel to it. Very comfortable and great to run in from the start. Went out and ran without any regard to getting used to the shoe. That is to say I did not feel any differences. Compared to the Hoka the grip and stability were not great on steep or uneven ground. They are designed as a trail shoe and if you stick to the good surfaces then they feel brilliant. Living and running in the Peak District means that you cannot run on comfy trails all day, often encountering broken trail and steep descents – you just have to hold back on these, unlike the Hoka when you can let them go.

The big plus for the Olympus was the extra power when climbing. I think due to the zero drop you really do get the most out of your calves when climbing. I advocate and try to achieve a good stretch of my calves and hamstrings when climbing – so let your foot and leg extend out behind you as much as possible to get the maximum benefit from the stretch / contraction action of the big muscles in the back of your legs – and the Olympus really allowed this happen. I think the flat midsole and the forefoot rocker really allow you to move quickly onto the forefoot after contact. This keeps your momentum moving forward as you limit the breaking force. You have to use these features of the shoe though, there is no point in landing heavily on your heel – you will not get the maximum benefit from the shoe.

My concern with the Hoka was that I would start to push off my foot on the outside and start to twist my foot which happens with certain shoes. This did start to happen and I feel it is a combination of the medial support and fit against my foot. This was not a problem with the Olympus due to the flat midsole and width of the forefoot. I tried a homemade modification to the Hoka and ground out the midsole bulge which did help a bit but I think the shoe has already twisted and so continued to hold my foot laterally.

See the midsole on the Hoka (bottom) where it's been 'customised'.

See the midsole on the Hoka (bottom) where it’s been ‘customised’.

I think you could have both pairs and wear them depending on the terrain. The Olympus gives a really good ride with the rocker rolling you forward. I found it great on the climbs as it feels as if I was getting most from the zero drop with regard to calf and hamstring stretch. They do make your calves work in a different way on the climb but did not notice any big issues with calf stretching on flatter ground.

A bit of technical stuff: Olympus has a stack height of 32mm with a large rocker starting at the metatarsal heads and finishing at the toes, Mafatee Speed has a 4mm drop from 36mm to 32mm under the metatarsal heads and then ‘rocking’ off to the toes. There is extra support on the Hoka as mentioned above with the midsole bulge and shaping.

Two other shoes that are worth considering are the Salomon Pulse 30-24mm and Altra Paradigm – a flat 25mm. These shoes are only just in the oversized shoe category as oversized shoes start at 30mm stack height. Both offer more midsole than normal shoes but do not quite reach the heights of the truly oversized. The Altra Paradigm weighing in the lightest at 9oz (with the all the others around 12oz) shows there is a weight consideration when buying maximal shoes. Does this extra weight out-weigh the extra cushioning and protection? Only you will be able to tell….

So are you tempted with Oversize shoes? If so, consider why you are wanting to try them.  What do you want to get from them?  Come down and give them a try.  We are always happy to talk you through them and for you to give the different types a try.  Be interesting to hear your comments.

 

Colin Papworth.

Colin tweets as @colpod if you’d care to follow him.

 

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