Updated: Mar 30, 2021
Guest Author: Jocelyn Todd, @jocelyn.todd
Like many runners, I have been following the Nike/Salazar/Dr. Brown press closely. I think most of us agree (in some capacity) that what these players did was wrong, but how we project this judgement onto the company and its products varies widely and the conversation can be extremely interesting.
For me, Kara and Adam Goucher's interview with the Clean Sport Collective (skip to 1:03:47 for the specific segment) hit home, especially Kara's call for fans and athletes to stop promoting Nike's behavior/attitude toward the situation and stop wearing and purchasing their goods. It struck deep since, like so many other marathoners, I currently race in the Nike Vaporfly (or the “4%”).
Although there are some great people at Nike and the company has a long history of supporting the world’s best athletes and various philanthropic initiatives, the current situation and the defense that followed is not representative of a brand I want to support, nor advertise at the Olympic Trials. Thus, I set out to find an alternative racing shoe.
For racing shoes in a marathon, I look for a few key attributes:
Appropriate cushion to ward off fatigue (characteristic of a half-marathon-and-up racing shoe)
Superb fit (watch out for blisters, numbness, ankle rub, etc.)
To a lesser extent, I consider breathability, traction (the roads can be a bit slick from oil/dust/precipitation/etc), and price point. Technical sidebar: In case you’re wondering why carbon fiber plate was NOT in my criteria…. If you look at the Vaporfly study, the authors determined that the energy-storing foam actually confers the biggest mechanical advantage of the shoe. The carbon fiber plate creates a lever effect to store energy (so it returns energy like a spring) and takes some of the work off part of your ankle, but these effects were secondary.
The plate also requires a high drop and specific running mechanics (usually from going fairly fast) to get the most advantage. It’s also important to note that this study was performed by comparing the metabolic efficiency (not speed) of 3 males wearing 3 different shoes for 5 minutes (not fatigued) at just over 6-minute pace (not near race pace for these athletes).
There are other studies and Strava data out there that expand on these results, but the carbon plate may not be the biggest factor in the equation. I won’t go through all the options I considered (even though there weren’t many), but I landed on the Hoka EVO Carbon Rocket as a great distance racing and workout shoe and I like it!
When I first put on the Carbon Rockets, I liked them. They are light and slightly cushioned. The foam feels stiffer than your typical Hoka “cloud” feel and it’s not immediately super “bouncy” like a Vaporfly. My first run was an up-canyon fartlek. On this run, I decided the Carbon Rocket was a fast shoe, and a good shoe. However, the hills definitely tested the fit, which is honestly just ok. It seemed a bit long and I might need to go a half-size down so I’m not cinching it up so that it does not slip.
For the first few runs I had some issues with numbness and minor rubbing on the top of my second toe. Over time, the shoes have broken in and the fit is better, though I still want to try sizing down by a half. My training has transitioned to mostly flatter, faster, and longer workouts to prep for the Olympic Trials marathon and Carbon Rockets are becoming my new trusted workout buddy.
For me the key to a good long-distance racer is that I don’t notice it when I’m running. The things I would notice are: high stiffness of the shoe leading to fatigue (arch, ankle, toes feel tired during or after); too little or too much support (similar to the feelings above, but noticed early in the workout); heaviness or excessive cushion of the shoe preventing me from running fast (especially noticed in my form on strides – does it feel smooth and fast?).
I now have over 70 workout miles on them and can say with certainty that they haven’t caused undue fatigue, have good heel and arch support, and still haven’t lost their bounce. The tread wears down somewhat quickly compared to a daily trainer (in the picture, the worn pair has just over 80 miles on them), but I expect faster wear from a racing flat.
The Carbon Rockets have a carbon fiber plate – the technology everyone seems to be looking for – but I cannot say that it is the decisive factor that makes these shoes work for me. It might provide some of the stiffness and response of the shoe, but I still can’t say for sure. In short, the Carbon Rockets is balanced. They are stiff, but not overly so. Cushioned, but not mushy or super springy. Light, though not the lightest thing you can buy.
I cannot say that they are for everyone or that they are a 1:1 replacement of your Vaporflys. However, I do not believe I am leaving performance on the table by racing in them and I feel much better about supporting and representing Hoka.
Weight: 7.3 oz
Heel-toe-drop: 1 mm
Features: Carbon fiber plate
I have a medium-width foot with a moderately high arch and run in neutral-fitting
shoes. Here is a list of size comparisons with other shoes:
Hoka EVO Carbon Rocket: M6.5/W7.5 (might need M6/W7)
Hoka Rincon W7
Hoka Bondi W7.5
Hoka Clifton W 7.5
Nike Vaporfly: M 6.5 / W 8
Nike Zoom Streak: M 6 / W 7.5
Brooks Hyperion/Ghost/Revel: W 7.5
PROS & CONS
Cushiony enough to protect from some marathon fatigue, without being heavy or bulky
Carbon fiber plate (may be neutral)
Minor concerns about fit (might just run half-size large)
No drastic bounce/spring factor some might look for
Mostly online-only (but free shipping/returns)
WHAT OTHERS HAVE TO SAY
Believe in the Run
Carbon Fiber Running Shoe Comparison, Jamison Michael
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jocelyn Todd is an elite marathoner from St. Louis, MO currently based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She is currently working towards her PhD in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Utah. For her dissertation research, she analyzes the mechanics of cartilage in the hip with computational modeling.
She is a graduate of the University of Iowa and ran Cross Country and Track & Field for Iowa and the University of Utah. Jocelyn’s transition to marathon has been natural, since her favorite workout has always been the long run.
She qualified for the Olympic Trials in 2018 at Grandma’s Marathon and has a marathon PR of 2:36:30, set at California International Marathon in 2018. In her free time, she likes being outdoors with friends and baking. Follow Jocelyn on Instagram at @jocelyn.todd.