In my ten years of ultra running I have worn a number of different shoes. I ran my first ultra in a pair of Salomon shoes and a lot of my races have been run in Montrails. But durning the last year and half I have fallen in love with two pairs of shoes that I run in…the New Balance 101 and Hoka Mafate. Both are trail shoes and both could not be more different from each other.
The New Balance 101 is a minimalist type of trail shoe. It is light and the soul of the shoe offers minimal protection from rocks on the trail. What I like about this shoe though is on runs with a lot of uphill I feel light when wearing these shoes and I can move out faster. My feet also feel good on flat trail terrain. On the downhill though I tend to run with more caution trying to protect my feet from rocks or other trail stuff that I can feel through the soul as I run.
The Hoka Mafate ,with its very thick soul, is just the opposite of what a minimalist shoes is. At first glance Hokas look heavy, but surprisingly when you heft them in your hand the feel light. I love these shoes because I can cruise downhill sections of a trail and hardly feel the rock underneath my feet. Because of this it is easier to run faster on downhill sections and it feels natural to do so. Also, your legs do not get as pounded as much when running hard on
the downhill. I would describe running uphill with Hokas as not feeling completely natural like you would in a minimalist type of shoe. But with that said Hokas still get the job down on the uphill.
With all that said I would say that If I had to chose between running a 50 mile race with a minimalist shoe like the New Balance 101s or Hokas…I would choose Hokas with no hesitation. The New Balance 101s are great for short 5 mile runs on trails, but any further than that I would want my Hokas. For really long runs my legs feel less worn out when running in Hokas because they absorb the impact with their thick souls. The minimalist shoes that are out there are great for short runs.
In conclusion both typs of shoes are good for certain things and I run in both as I train for ultras. But come race day I wear my Hokas because of the extra thick soul and the protection they offer.