I don't know if I've ever anticipated getting a shoe longer than the Hoka Rapa Nui. I first saw them on Karl Meltzers feet, then saw a post about them on Ian Corless' blog in August of 2012. I was extremely intrigued. I have had every single model that Hoka makes, eventually deciding that my favorite was the Bondi Speed. I have run thousands of miles in Hokas, even naming the Bondi Speed my top trail shoe of 2012. It was like a late Christmas present when I finally received a pair three weeks ago. (Note: these shoes were provided at no charge by Hoka as a media sample).
Obviously the brand has grown huge amounts in the last 3 years. Once an oddity, it seems that now they are the dominate player in the (super) long distance shoe market. In reality, they created an entire new market and the response from runners falling in love with the pillowy soft cushioning has spured the industry to create a new segment. It seems that the biggest trend for 2014 is the "Maximal" Cushioned shoe.
While all that was/is going on, Hoka has actually produced a shoe with LESS cushioning! The Rapa Nui was designed as a faster, more minimal shoe for the racier crowd. "Relevant" is the word that comes to mind, as the words "minimal" and "Hoka" really don't belong anywhere near each other. Only in Hoka land can a 11.7oz (my actual weight of a size 10.5) shoe with 21/25mm of cushioning be considered minimal. But, in relevance to their other offerings it is.
The Rapa Nui addresses my biggest concern with the other Hoka models, which is to much "squish". While the others feel awesome at first, I actually find that they cause a certain type of fatigue that no other shoe does. Specifically, my hamstrings and periformus seem to get overwhelmed after very long runs in those shoes. Unfortunately, this problem has led to several DNF's in races where I have worn Hokas from the start. I have actually had races where I changed out of Hokas after 60-70 miles into a more traditional shoe and felt way better. Knowing this, I changed my shoe strategy for 100 milers this year. At the VT100, where I got 9th place with a PR of 18:53, I wore traditional shoes until mile 81. Then I switched to my beloved Bondi Speeds and felt invigorated enough to run the fastest last 19 mile split in the 4 times I've run that race.
So when I heard that the Rapa Nui had 1.5x the level of cushioning of a normal shoe rather than the usual 2.2x I was excited. Could this be the shoe that strikes the perfect balance of maximal cushioning without being overkill?
I have read other reports that this shoe is more flexible than other Hokas. Well, yes and no. It is way more flexible than their thickest offerings, the Stinson Evo and Mafate. Both of those rely on a rockered sole for a smooth ride. The sole on both of those are quite stiff. The flex on the Rapa Nui is similar to the Bondi. Still very stiff in the traditional world.
The EVA foam sole feels more like the Stinson Evo, but because of the lower volume it flexes more. It also has a much less pronounced rocker effect. Frankly I don't feel the rocker effect at all on this shoe.
One thing that really worried me before I received them was that the toe box looks extremely narrow in pictures. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they don't feel narrow. They actually have more room than my Stinson Evos. It's not only the internal width, but the height of the toe box as well. This combined with a nice snug fitting mid foot creates a very comfortable shoe. They fit true to size with a fair amount of room in front of your toes.
So, was the wait worth it? Yes, it was. I absolutely love these shoes. They have a feel that seems to provide a nearly perfect level of cushioning, without feeling like they are robbing energy. The climb better than my other Hokas, they have the best level of traction due to the chevron shaped lugs, and they have the best fit of any Hokas I've used.
I find myself running longer than I planed to when I wear them. I just want to keep running because my feet are so happy! I do need to report that the longest I have worn them for at this point is only 15 miles, so I still haven't tested them on any really long runs. But based on how they have performed so far I doubt that I will have any trouble wearing them longer.
|Road Version, the Rapa Nui 2 Tarmac|
|The only difference is the tread pattern.|