Maximalist Footwear

Maximalist Footwear

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Mike England

Running from one extreme to another.

Like many runners, I got swept up in the minimalist-footwear craze, mainly because it appealed to a deep-seated desire to be more natural. But I've got a bad back, and after a couple years in low-cushion footwear, my body revolted. Tremors of pain coursed through my lumbar spine at each footfall. A half-mile in, all the accumulated impacts coalesced into a seething hotspot above my tailbone. If I ran more than a mile, my entire lower back seized up. Au naturel became quelle horreur

So I quit running. Weight-lifting, hiking, and biking kept my body active and the lungs engaged. But it wasn't the same. There's just something about running; it's got that... je ne sais qois. And though my back felt good, my waistline most certainly did not—I could pinch and inch and then some. It was time to start running again.

Luckily, heavily-cushioned shoes had become well-represented in the marketplace. The pendulum had swung, and I wasn't the only one who needed a little padding between the rock-hard ground and my beat-up body. After some comparison shopping, I settled on two shoes from Hoka One One: the Bondi 5 for road runs, and the Challenger ATR 3 for the trail.

Yep, the Bondi 5 ($150) looks goofy, like those platform aerobics sneakers from the ’80s. But boy do they feel great underfoot. A full-length closed-cell foam (EVA) midsole provides generous cushioning throughout, and the rockered design means fewer hard, flat-footed impacts on the pavement. The fit is snug and comfortable, and the fabric breathes well. I've put a lot of miles on these babies and—knock on wood—no back pain yet (though I have heard some sniggering, and at least one reference to Richard Simmons). Word of warning: while the Bondi can handle light trails, avoid epic missions into more rugged country, or you'll be forking over another one-fifty in no time. Best to stick to easy terrain, where the Bondi shines.

Hoka Bondi

For the trail, I needed less padding, given the softer surface and more variable body positioning. Striking a solid compromise between cushion and dexterity, the Challenger ATR 3 ($130) saves my back on jarring stumbles and hard downhill plants without introducing instability. Despite the increased height, I stay centered over the shoe, bounding across bumpy trails without tipping side to side or rolling an ankle. The Challenger is also extremely lightweight, allowing speedy, ninja-like footwork over inconsistent terrain. Take this shoe wherever you want and go as far as you want; it'll hold up just fine. And if you need to save some cash and don't mind the extra wear on the tread, use it on road runs, too.

Hoka Challenger

So there you have it: two shoes that got an injured runner back in the game. Thanks to Hoka's maximalist designs, I've found salvation—not to mention a renewed joi de vivre. The thick cushion absorbs the impact of each footfall, sparing my back from searing pain, without compromising comfort, speed, or stability. The only downside is that I'm out of excuses for being fat.

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