Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Shoe Review: Hoka Stinson Evo Tarmac

I picked up a pair of the New Hoka Tarmacs for a good price from RunningWarehouse.com by using their annual before Christmas gift card sale and a coupon code. It took some patience as I had to wait a few months for their arrival, but it was certainly worth the savings. When I opened the box, I was shocked with the blast of color. The images I had seen showed a more subdued blue with yellow accents. Cameras don't capture the color of this shoe well. The blue is much richer (think Zensah leg sleeve blue) than in the picture to the left, and the yellow is more of a tennis ball green (or yellow, whatever) than the banana yellow it appears to be. Mostly, I am happy that Hoka has recognized that women's shoes don't need to be boring white or gray like a lot of their past models. Thanks Hoka!
Stinson Evo Tarmac = Stinson Evo (left) + Bondi B (right) ... sort of.

The sole of the shoe has a different tread than either the Bondi B (read my review) or the Stinson Evo (read my review). This shoe is meant to be a road shoe. Just like the Stinson Evo, it comes with a pair of extra insoles that are thinner than the regular Hoka insoles and a pair of laces to replace the no tie version that comes on the shoe. The toe cap is also re-enforced like the Stinsons (unlike the softer Bondi B toe cap).

The weight of the Tarmac is closer to the trail Evo than the Bondi B, and the upper has some stiffness due to the rubber support structure just like trail Evos. The mesh material is thicker than the Bondis, and I think it will probably stay cleaner and last longer. (I currently have 804 miles one on pair of my Bondi Bs.) The toe box seems a bit narrower than the Bondis as well.

Women's Size 7.5 (no insoles) = 8.8  ounces
Bondi Bs = 7.4 ounces 
trail Stinson Evos = 9 ounces
Mafate 2 = 10 ounces
First Impressions:  Woohoo!  Unlike my last Hoka purchase (Mafate 2s, read my review), these things feel good right out of the box. Also, 7.5 in Tarmacs = 7.5 in trail Evos = 7.5 in Mafate 2s. I jumped on the treadmill for a mile just to see how running would feel. The shoes felt good, and my heels did not slip.

Second Impression: Ran 5 miles in the Tarmacs and had no issues. I did notice the white piece running down the middle of the shoe for the first mile, and then I didn't notice it again. I think it was a little stiff initially, but that went away quickly. I think the Tarmacs and I will get along just fine. It is going to be tough choosing between the Bondi Bs or the Tarmacs. Tough choice, I know. What can I say? Life is good. Time to fly!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Joy of Running

Officer Basic Course Flashback:
Me: Hey, Holly, some of are going to go get dinner. Wanna go?
Holly: Thanks, but I'm getting ready to go for a run.
Me: Why?
Holly: Because I like running.

Say what?! In 1997, the idea of running for fun was completely foreign to me. For the life of me, I could not understand why anyone would take her own free time and go for a run. Running and I had a very bumpy start.

Now in the very beginning it wasn't so bad. I would run the 50 meter dash at track meets in grade school, and usually I would get some kind of ribbon. At that point, I fancied myself as an okay runner from what I can recall. It was all uphill from there.

High School Flashback:
As a freshman, my coach asked me to run on the mile relay team for track. 3 of my friends were on the team, and a 4th wanted to be on the team. Coach wanted me on the team for what reason I know not. It turned into a battle, and I didn't want to take my friend's spot. I remember my coach doing his darnedest to talk me into it. I remember feeling really awful about the whole situation, but somehow I wound up on the team instead of Angela. I didn't really want to run that far nor did I want to take Angela's spot, but there I was. It gets worse...

When I was younger, my mom would affectionately refer to me as space cadet. I liked Star Trek, so I was good with that. There was a little more to it, however. You know when you are talking to someone and you "space out" or lose track of your point? Well, I did that, but it was a bit more. I would be talking, and every once in a while, I would just stop. A few seconds later, I had no idea what I was just saying. In fact, it felt as if someone had pulled the curtain, and I really wasn't even seeing what was right in front me. Seconds later, I was back and confused.(I am happy to report that I graduated space cadet academy and no longer have this issue.) Now imagine being a teenager, standing on a track waiting for the relay baton, and doing that as your friend Ginger runs past you. You don't move an inch as coaches, classmates, and kids from other schools are watching.  Yep, I was beyond embarrassed. One minute Ginger was running up behind me. The next she was jumping up and down at the hand-off line. That was the only year I ran track in high school.

Coach had a rule. If you played on the varsity basketball team, you had to run at cross-country practice to get in shape for basketball. I loved basketball, and I made varsity my sophomore year. I felt like the slowest person at cross-country practice. I imagine that I really wasn't, but that didn't matter much. Before district competition my sophomore year, one of the runners  on the team caught a cold. Coach told me I had to run. Because of that district meet, I missed a debate competition. Thanks again, running! Running was a torture I was willing to endure to play basketball.

West Point Flashback:
"Gold Group" was slowest of all running groups during basic training at West Point, and there I was. Usually, most of the women wound up in Gold Group.  "Look, that must be gold group," remarked an upperclassman as he passed by during one of my first mornings at physical training (PT). Now whether he said something about us being girls or I just took it that way I cannot remember. There are more stories, but I will move on... By my firstie (senior) year, I was being counseled by my TAC (tactical officer) for scoring so poorly on the run on my PT test. I even lost my extra 3 day passes because I didn't score well enough. Seeing a trend here?

Army Flashback:
After that, it was on to Fort Campbell where I was expected to be able to run 4 miles in 36 minutes even though it was above and beyond the women's Army PT standards. Even if I had tried to keep up, I despised running so much by this point that it was never going to happen.

"Ralls, get up here or you have no heart!" Yelled the XO Major in front of God and country during a battalion run. I had stuck it out until the last mile, but he decided we had fallen behind pace.  That meant it was time to run an 8 minute mile up a big hill. I was barely holding on before the hill. His style of "motivation" completely took the wind out of my sails. I looked him dead in the eye and slowed down. I was at the front of the battalion with the rest of the staff which meant I had fallen out in front of the entire battalion. Nice, eh? After the run, I received a counseling statement from my boss about how I needed to improve my running. Of course, it didn't say anything about how to do that. That was how running was for me in the Army.

For 15 years, running had been the bane of my existence, and I felt like a failure.

Wait one minute! I thought this post was about the joy of running?!
Uhm, yeah, it is.
Sounds more like torture to me!
Uhm, yeah, it was. Let's continue, shall we?

After the Army, I kept running. I would like to say that it was because I enjoyed it, but it wasn't. With age came a slower metabolism and weight gain. With running, I was able to eat more activity points with Weight Watchers. Finally, I was getting something out of running.  More food! I also picked up a book about women's running so I could understand how to do a little better since I was running anyway. Shortly after that (in 2005), I signed up for my first 5K. No one MADE me run it. No one told me I had no heart. In fact, people were smiling and cheering. It was, dare I say, kind of fun. After that, I signed up for a few more. I also started reading about running... a lot. I began to understand the importance of weekly mileage, hills, and speed workouts. I was also enjoying the nice pair of legs that were forming and the weight that was leaving. Suddenly, I cared about getting better at running. I also found friends who would run with me. After races I would sometimes receive age group awards rather than counseling statements. With the weight now gone, I kept on running.

5Ks turned into 10Ks. 10Ks into half marathons. Then a trail marathon. Then 50K. Then 50 miles. Crazy, right?

At the beginning of my
first 50 miler in 2010
Now running is not only about improving and learning. When I run with friends, it is about forming relationships. When I run alone, it is one of the times I am closest to God. During a span of 23 years, running has transformed from torture to pure joy. Does that mean every run is all sunshine and rainbows? Heck no! Just like life, there are ups and downs. In the end, it is worth every step and each step is important. Without the rather depressing first years of my running life, I might have never reached an understanding of how difficult things can turn into blessings. How could something that felt so terrible transform into something that brings me happiness, peace, and strength? No clue, but I know it has God's fingerprints all over it.

If you are new to running or are struggling with it, throw any shame to the wind and don't give up on yourself. There is no telling what is down the road for you. Life is full of surprises!

Godspeed :-)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Shoe Review: Hoka One One Mafate 2

I am happy with my Stinson Evos (review) for the trail, but when I saw the Mafate 2 on sale for $59.99 at LeftLane Sports, I had to go for it. I am planning on another 50 miler this year so I figured another pair of trail shoes would be a good idea. It also helped that I was saving $90 off of retail price. That's not an easy thing to do on Hokas. I also really liked the look and color of the new Mafate 2s. Yeah, I said it. People often give the Hoka a bad rap because of the look, but it is hard to argue with performance. That said, these Hokas look pretty good if you ask me... as mom laughs and says "Your little bitty legs and those big shoes!" You bet she wouldn't give up her Bondi Bs though.

These look a lot better than the yellow, black and red color scheme
of the original Mafates I had purchased. My new wood floor
also looks pretty awesome. :-)

My first dance with the original Mafates wasn't a happy one. The tongue of the shoe was very stiff, and it dug into the top of my foot.  The other issue was that I had ordered a size 8, and they were just too large.  My Bondi B (review) were an 8, and they fit perfectly. I had read that Hoka had corrected sizing in the newer shoes and the tongue issue in the Mafates so I was ready to give the remake a shot.

So the first thing I did was pull out the insole and break out the old school scale to get the weight of the shoe. I ordered the Mafate 2 in women's size 7.5. Good choice! My Stinson Evos were 7.5. My old Bondi Bs were 8. Seems from here on out I will be ordering size 7.5 in the Hokas. (For reference, I wear a 8 in Saucony Kinvaras and 7.5 in most Asics. 8.5 in Brooks Pure Flow.)

Size 7.5 (no insoles) = 10 ounces
Stinson Evos = 9 ounces
Bondi Bs = 7.4 ounces
Stinson Evo + Mafate 2
Bondi B + Mafate 2

The other thing I noticed right away was that the tongue of the shoe was, in fact, different than the original. Good news! Soft! The toe cap is nice and stiff for those times you accidentally punt an iceberg rock running down the trail. 

So the first thing I noticed when putting these on is that they have a very stiff upper. After taking a step, I noticed that heel portion on my left foot slipping. Ugh. I tightened the laces and used the very first eyelet that I seldomly use in shoes (except for the Brooks Pure Flow). Unfortunately this made the area around the shoe near the front of my ankle dig right on into my ankle. Ouch. After playing around with the laces, I now have what I think may be a configuration that will keep my heel from slipping and keep the shoe from hurting my ankle. I did not have to do this with either the Bondi B or the Evos. I ran a mile on the treadmill in the Mafates. I then put on Evos for a mile. My Evos definitely seem to be lower to the ground. The uppers also have a lot more give.  Then again, they do have over 200 miles on them. I am not a big believer that a person should have to break in shoes. Shoes should feel good out of the box. You shouldn't have to hurt your feet until a shoe feels okay, but that's just my opinion. That said, I think these shoe uppers may soften in time.

Now on to the trail...

I took the shoes out to the super highway of trail running after an evening of rain. There was plenty of fun mud so it was a good a test environment. :-) The tread was great, and I did very little slipping unlike my trail running buddy who was wearing another name brand. I am also happy to report that the tread did not pick up globs of mud so I didn't have to carry around extra weight on my run. Since I haven't put in a lot of extra miles on these shoes, I still wasn't happy with the overall stiffness. Only time will tell.

I like the Mafate 2 much better than the original Mafates, but if given a choice, I would go with the Stinson Evos for the trail. YMMV. Time to fly :-)