Aspen Times Weekly: Maximalist Running Shoes |

Aspen Times Weekly: Maximalist Running Shoes

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A few years ago, minimalist shoes and the toe-equipped FiveFingers were all the rage. Now, the trend has gone “maximalist” in the running world.

Uber-cushioned shoes this year are available from big brands like Brooks, Asics, and New Balance. They offer protection and comfort with bolstered midsole foam to dampen each stride.

This month, I tested plus-size shoes from a company called Hoka One One ( The niche brand has been in the maximal game since 2010.

Hoka’s Challenger ATR shoe immediately adds more than an inch to your height. With a 29mm heel, the shoe can look big and clumsy at first glance.

It is neither of those things — despite its size, the Challenger is comparatively lightweight, and on the run I never felt like it was too much shoe.

Made for trail running, the generous midsole is twice as thick as that on a traditional running shoe. This cushion dampens terrain and, Hoka touts, lets you run longer with less fatigue.

I ran on dirt and then purposely over jagged railroad-bed rocks. The feeling underfoot hardly changed as the terrain got rough.

Hoka markets “performance-specific cushioning.” This means the material isn’t simply a crash pad for the foot. Instead, the shoe absorbs shock but rolls the energy forward via a midsole fulcrum design made to perpetuate your stride.

After years of running in minimal shoes the “rolling” motion to me felt foreign. But the Challenger ATR is not overbearing, and as a mid-foot striker my gait also worked well with the shoe.

The Challenger ATR have an offset, or “drop,” of 5mm. They weigh about 8.5 ounces per shoe (in men’s size 9), which is lighter than traditional builds thanks to an airy foam and an outsole with less rubber.

Overall, I found most of Hoka’s promises to be true during my month of training in the Challenger ATRs. But it was what I didn’t feel that was perhaps more convincing — much like putting larger tires on a mountain bike, you can run with less concern in the Hoka shoes.

After miles on a run, the dampening effect can pay off because you save some energy with a slightly sloppier style allowed.

Hoka touts a more stable ride with its big-sole shoes. Hands down, they do perform better on rough terrain than their thinner cousins.

Try the “maximalist” experience out if you want a shoe that acts more like a 4×4 than a race car. Hoka shoes and its big-brand competitors are building a case for more cushion on the road and the trail.

Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at

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