For turkey trots and beyond, the worst-kept secret shoes

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Vanessa Hua’s Hoka shoes. Photo: Vanessa Hua

Around this time last year, I asked a triathlete friend for suggestions on a good running shoe. The mark I had worn for decades had become clunky and less durable. She recommended Hokas, even though she warned me that their chunky soles looked a bit ridiculous.

At 5ft 1½, I didn’t mind a lift. I also tend to run heavy and my steps are like a galloping Clydesdale. When I put on the navy, teal, and pink shoes, I felt like Mercury in his winged sandals, light as a feather but cushioning with every step. They are maximalist in shape, compared to almost barefoot running styles.

I also took in the glow of a recommendation from an Ironwoman, who sounded like insider knowledge, although I wouldn’t use my pair to run in a competition that includes a marathon, 2.4 miles of swimming and 112 miles of biking. I also felt cool to wear clothes from France. Now based in Goleta (Santa Barbara County), his name is fun to say and means to hover or fly in Maori.

On Thanksgiving Day, I plan to lace them up for a turkey trot, joining hundreds of thousands of runners across the country. To my surprise, I learned that it has become the most popular day of the year to host a race, perhaps because of the fun, low-stakes family atmosphere and the running fees that go to charity.

Events like this help get your blood pumping before the gluttony season begins. (This week, I’m swapping slices of pie with two different groups of friends, so we each have a delicious version of Frankenstein.)

The Oakland Turkey Trot will include a 5K, a Run for Wildlife kids race with the Oakland Zoo, and a finish line festival with live music and an entertainment zone. And probably many pairs of Hokas. Photo: Oakland Turkey Trot

On the run, I’ll probably see dozens of Hokas too. Do you have a pair? A few months ago I had my first idea that what looked like a secret was actually well known and widespread. Podcast host John Hodgman mentioned the ultimate problem: A young clerk recommended Hokas, because his dad and his friends that age wore them!

I checked: Hodgman is 51 years old. I am 47 years old. For the clerk, I suspect that I also belong to this generation.

Apparently, Britney Spears wears Hokas, as do actresses Reese Witherspoon and Gwyneth Paltrow. Their seal of approval might have attracted fans who can afford the running shoe, but not the prom dresses or jewelry of their favorite celebrities.

I’ve never been one to stop listening to a band or reject a restaurant because it got too popular, although I can be satisfied knowing that before it got popular. But Hoka shoes have also found a following among a more affluent crowd.

Blue Hoka trainers spotted during London Fashion Week in January 2020. Photo: Edward Berthelot/Getty Images 2020

Online reviewers repeatedly cite appreciation for the sneaker, after ankle, knee or back surgery. Examples include “I’m 50 pounds overweight so I need some extra stability and padding” and “every person at the physiotherapy office I was going to recommend them and actually wears them (so) j decided to try them.”

Much to my chagrin, I realized that the Hokas are the latest iteration of those puffy, comfy “mall walker” shoes. My triathlete friend told me she had the same realization recently, at the dentist’s office. She wore a black pair. There was a stooped man in identical shoes, walking very slowly, with difficulty.

A triathlete friend? Or maybe someone who needs comfortable sneakers?

Congratulations to everyone who has committed to their own kind of triathlon, pounding the pavement in rain or shine, metaphorically and literally, to reach the finish line.




  • Vanessa Hua

    Vanessa Hua is the author, most recently, of “Forbidden City”. His column appears on Fridays in Calendar.

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