Thursday, November 21, 2013

Why I cut up my $170 running shoes

Drastic times call for drastic action. I badly bruised my knee in a fall during my cool-down run at a 5K two weeks ago.

It was bad enough that I went to the doctor for X-rays. She confirmed that I hadn't broken any bones or torn a ligament, but she advised me not to run for the next week. I tried running six days ago and found it unbearable. I dropped out of the Thunder Road Half marathon, where I had been hoping to PR.

The doctor cleared me to do any exercise that doesn't hurt, so I've been doing uphill treadmill walks nearly every day. They don't hurt, but I still don't feel like they give me the kind of workout running does. With another half-marathon scheduled in three weeks, I felt like I was losing fitness every day, even as my knee improved. I set a date for Friday -- tomorrow -- to try to run again.

That brings me to the shoes. Just over a year ago I bought a pair of $170 Hoka One One Bondi Bs in an effort to cushion my legs for the super-hilly, mostly-downhill Crater Lake Marathon. They worked okay, but the fit wasn't ideal -- they pinched my pinky toes, causing sore feet and blisters on long runs.

Meanwhile some runners I really respect have started to rave about Hokas, saying they have helped them recover from injuries and reduce the pounding of runs ranging from 20 miles to over 300 miles. My friend Todd, who had a knee injury so bad I never thought I'd see him running again, ran over 30 miles last week.

Jeff McGonnell, who completed the 314-mile Last Annual Ball State Run wearing Hokas, swears by them both for running on pavement and technical trails.

I thought maybe I should try them again...but I still was concerned about the narrow toe-box. Jeff says the latest models have a much roomier toe box -- but I don't want to drop another $170 on shoes before figuring out whether they would really work, so I decided to try a little experiment. Inspired by Jonathan Savage, I'd cut holes in my existing Hokas to give them more room for my toes. If I liked that, then I could try buying a new model.

Here are the shoes:

The look definitely takes some getting used to

As you can see, they are extra-thick, and the padding definitely helps. I tried running on the treadmill for a minute wearing them and I could really feel them doing their job. The knee felt fine! But I could also feel the pressure starting to build on my toes -- you can see the bulge in the shoe just to the left of the "Hoka" logo.

I took a sharpie and marked the area I was going to cut away:

Yikes! That's gonna smart!

Next I grabbed a sharp utility knife and started cutting:

Make sure to remove foot before cutting!

Here is one of the shoes on my foot, with cut-out in place:

Notice my pinky-toe spilling out of the hole!
I took these for a walk on the treadmill and found that I could feel the edge of the hole with my foot. Maybe I'd need to cut away some of the leather toe support as well. But when I cranked up to running speed, that sensation went away, and I just felt like I was running in nice, soft, roomy shoes. This just might work!

The true test will come tomorrow when (hopefully) I complete my first 4-mile run since the injury. I'll keep you posted. If I can run comfortably with this set-up for a few days I'll go ahead and order the roomier new model, which hopefully won't require modification in order to give me a comfortable ride.

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