Review: The Hoka One One Kailua Tarmac Running Shoe
After running a few ultra-marathons over the past two years, I kept noticing guys and gals bouncing along and floating by me on these cloud-like squishy shoes that looked like a cross between astronaut boots and Skechers Shape-ups. These new-fangled foot contraptions were getting these ultra-runners through 30, 50, even 100 miles in one day.
I admired them for having the intestinal fortitude to wear these shoes. They reminded me of people who have the guts to put pink flamingos in their yards.
Plus, I wondered if the extra cushioning in these moon boots might ease some plantar fasciitis pain I had developed. With PF, my heel hurts like hell—but I try not to complain, because it's not like I have diabetes, lupus, lyme, MS, Ram, or Gigantic Ball Syndrome (which will someday cause me to carry around my 132-pound testicles in a sweatshirt tied to my waist. Thanks for putting that image in my brain, TLC.)
So In attempts to help the minor PF issue, I gave these Hoka One One moon boots a go, running in the Bondi, Bondi 2, and recently, the Kailua Tarmac while minimizing my mileage with the minimalist Vibram FiveFingers Speed models.
For me, going from minimalist shoes to the moon boots was like lying on a yoga mat one night and sleeping like the dead on a Tempur-Pedic bed the next. I could talk to you all day long about what a pleasant surprise the Hokas were. I could go on and on about the insole cushioning, about what luxury shoes they really are, and about how they take off from zero like a bat out of whatever running shoe Hell is called. I’m a total fan after running in the Hoka One One Kailua Tarmacs last Saturday on the muddy, swampy trail of the Bear Bait Ultra Marathon 50k. But even while running marathons in the chunkier Hoka Bondi 2s, I knew the Hoka One Ones were running shoes that deliver in every way more than any other shoes I’ve even been in,and that’s a natural fact.
The reason the fit and ride is so comfortable is because Hoka One One is well known for launching maximalist, super-cushioned running shoes, while most other shoe companies are streamlining toward minimalist, barefoot-type or lightweight racing shoes.
As I mentioned, I broke in a few of Hoka's original Bondis and Bondi 2s running marathons before venturing over to the Kailua Tarmac running shoes from Hoka One One. The Bondi 2 is a beefy-looking, although fairly lightweight (about 8.8 oz.), cushioned Cadillac of a shoe that still proudly exhibits its foamy superstructure after 500 miles. But for more competitive ultra-speed, I began to heart the more "minimal" Hoka, the Kailua Tarmacs, which are delightful.
And I don’t use the word "delightful" often. (Unless I’ve had a Big Gulp jumbo plastic cup of ginger ale and Tito's Handmade Vodka, in which case I have been known to call Chris Brown "delightful” when by all accounts, he is not.) These Kailua Tarmacs were also only $104-something with shipping from runningwarehouse.com with a coupon from Active.com, which makes me really happy on the inside. I'm also happy about the minimum of 24.5-29mm of cushioning and an approximate 4.5mm heel to toe drop. These are stiff enough for a running shoe without being hard, yet deceivingly light. I found them to be a great shoe for recovery, long runs, and any kind of downhill running because the cushion in these shoes is stupid good. That’s better than regular good.
Height: 21mm forefoot height/26mm heel height/5mm drop. Similar to other Hokas.
Weight: The Kailua Tarmac is exactly 9oz in my size (US women's 9.5), with a comparatively svelte structure compared to other Hoka models.
Upper: An extremely breathable construction provides a secure fit. The tongue is a thin, suede-like material with a bit of mesh cushion on the inside. And it's a gusseted tongue, meaning that it's attached at the sides to the rest of the shoe.
Laces: The one-pull speed laces are extremely effective, as they kind of remind me of drawstrings, and I think drawstrings are hot. Since I can’t pull it off in a top (the curse of the big boobs), and I’m not too sure about draw string pants for women my age, the shoes have it.
When you look at the shoe from the front, without the cool Hoka Race-Lace System (RLS) in it, you can see the tongue area very prominently. If you open up the tongue and look at the side, it's a continuous piece that extends to the rest of the uppers. Because the tongue extends almost all the way to the toe, I thought this was unusual construction as part of the toe box, but enjoyed the almost waterproof protection while running through muddy-water terrain of Bear Lake for the Bear Bait Ultra marathon 50K last weekend.
The sides wrap around the foot and over the tongue up to the stitches by the toe like a burrito. The tongue closure makes for a comfortable and roomy fit with decent forefoot volume. Although the Tarmac is a bit narrower than the Bondi, it ran true to size while I was wearing thin Injini socks, with plenty of room for my 6th toe (a.k.a. water blister).
Midsole: This has up to 2.5 times the volume of cushioning, compared to competitor running shoes. Hoka claims to have a more responsive ride and a lot of rebound. I like to think of rebound in terms of a woman who's just had her heart unexpectedly torn from her chest cavities. I think this is true when comparing the Tarmac to older Bondi models. But I wouldn't know anything about chugging down boxed wine like water and listening to Michael Buble records on repeat.
The Tarmac also has more forefoot flex than the Bondi. As a signature design of all Hokas, the midsole extends up and around the upper to create a "bucket seat" for the foot. This creates the illusion they are jacked-up-to-Jesus, like my hair in junior high. However, Kailua Tarmacs really are stable running shoes and although I do think the cushion is real, as it breaks down over time, a placebo might be at work.
Outsole: Kailua Tarmacs were sturdy lugs for most of the Bear Lake terrain. However, I am seeing some accelerated wear on the outsole prior to the trail ultra as I collected over 200 miles on the road before the ultra. Par for the course for Hokas and like the Bondi, the shoe goo gunk may come out after 500 miles or so. The goo extends from carved out areas in the midsole for increased flexibility and these Kailua Tarmacs flex in the forefoot as well as any trail shoe. I still run in my last pair of Bondi 2s, and I have noticed the shoe goo deteriorating around the toe box. They are such good running shoes that I may find a few free hours to superglue and/or craft decoupage them back together. And I won't even have to be drunk or held captive by happy Pinterest pinners.
Overall geometry: Kailua Tarmac's overall outsole width is narrower at the heel and forefoot than the Bondi or Bondi 2. I'm sure this is because the Tarmac is positioned as a racing Hoka. Because it is far more flexible than other Hokas, the rocker effect is also less pronounced.The Ride: I have run over 250 miles so far in northwest Florida, about 200+ road miles in the Tarmacs over the last month. I'm still feeling the cushioned-like running-on-grass while on-the-road Hoka feel. Because I still feel as if I've eaten a muscle-relaxer omelet for a pre-run breakfast every day, I'm a bit surprised that they still have that feel-no-pain cushion in the heel.
At the forefoot, they generally feel as flexible as a "normal" running shoe. I have not had the occasional metatarsal pain at my big toe that I have on occasion experienced with the 2012 Hoka Bondi. Still, the soft forefoot cushioning and flexibility seemed to lack a bit of stability on parts of the very technical swampy, muddy, roots and snake-infested Northwest Florida terrain of my first trail ultra. There I was in the wilderness of the marshy swampland, battling some philosophical question like the fate of mankind and how I can single-handedly change it, or whether I could pee standing up behind that tree without the race photographer noticing and splat! I lost footing over a slimy board crossing and fell butt first into a mud pond.
So in no way are the Tarmacs magic superhero shoes, and they did not provide the bomb-proof downhill performance of the "traditional" Hoka Bondi. However, these Kailua Tarmacs were very smooth over most obstacles, including a snake, tree roots, and a chameleon-like tree-rooted snake.
Before and after the trail run, my feet felt great running at a comfortable pace while back on the road, pushing the boys in the twin jog stroller and hauling the lab on her leash. Prior to the Bear Bait Ultra, I did several test runs on a 10-mile course, running at a moderate easy pace, with less perceived road shock and effort. I believe this has to do with the Tarmac's lighter weight, lower profile and flexibility.
These qualities make it a faster shoe than prior Hoka models and a good candidate for the hills of the fall Pensacola Marathon, or better yet, the downtown Atlanta marathon. With hills in mind, this is a great Hoka model for folks struggling with injuries such as worn-out joints or plantar fasciitis, like me. With my plantar fasciitis orthotics inserted, the Tarmacs still felt plenty flexible, despite the many occasions where it was necessary to traverse trampled chicken wire blanketing muddy sod on the trail. Because of this, I believe the Kailua Tarmac is a more responsive uphill trail running shoe than the bigger Hokas, and I think it is damn near ten kinds of awesomesauce.
I did grow a bit nervous running in the Tarmacs on the off-camber sections of the trail, but they are actually the grippiest shoes on wet, gritty/muddy conditions. This really surprised me. However, as slope increases and the rocker angle of traditional Hokas is exceeded (about 10 degrees), I found the need to have plenty of knee lift to drive up and forward.
Last year, I ran mostly in Vibram Speed FiveFingers. Compared to the top-of-foot pain of nearly barefoot running on concrete sidewalk trails, the great, confidence-building Hoka cushion is on a somewhat narrower, less stable platform, but also has greater responsiveness and terrain feel. Wearing these, I forgot momentarily that I was even running on a trail. I focused in on the lake, and fantasized about putting a lounge chair out there to hide away and write the Great American Novel while tossing out as much chicken feed as these chickens could eat, wherever they were hiding.
Overall: So there's a little less of the Hoka "cloud" cushioning/secret foam wound from unicorn horn fibers in these Hokas than in other Hokas. I also think some of the deceptive high heel/closer to heaven structure stacked with cushion may be a trick on the eyes because of the tall foam on the outside structure. In any case, this Hoka moon boot is a big party on the outside, promising luxurious cushioning and a smooth ride.
Hoka One One calls its Kailua Tarmac a "performance cushion running shoe with a faster ride." I call it… therapy. A Kailua Tarmac on each foot is like dancing with Prince Xanax—totally relaxing. Over the course of the last month of ultra-training, I ran in these Kailua Tarmacs with less soreness and legs that felt fresher the next day. With more flexibility and less weight, these Hokas are good to go for a longer run on the road and after running the Bear Bait Ultra last weekend, I know they can tackle the trail in any condition. The Kailua Tarmac is a true hybrid running shoe, good for anything you can throw at it. So I'm stocking up. Since the 50K last Saturday, I’ve torn this internet up looking for the best sale on this exact model that I can find. I plan to buy up every single pair, God willing and the creek don’t rise. (That was a positive affirmation so that magic money winds up in my shoe bank account.)
As for these Kailua Tarmacs, which cleaned up nicely after their 32.46-mile mud bath, they'll most likely sell someday on eBay for a giggety-thousand dollars once I become famous for my product review blogs. Think Michael Jackson's dentist auctioning off his dental device to a Beverly Hills surgeon who wanted a DNA sample. Same-same.
Thanks for reading/getting me, running reader! I want to buy you a unicorn. If I had a lot of money, I'd buy you some Hokas.
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