Shoe Review: Hoka One One Speed Instinct

This is the Hoka One One Speed Instinct that I tried out and liked - to my surprise, since I've been a pretty dedicated Adrenaline runner for 8+ years.

This is the Hoka One One Speed Instinct that I tried out and liked – to my surprise, since I’ve been a pretty dedicated Adrenaline runner for 8+ years.

I’ve never worn Hoka One One running shoes. I have friends who do, and they tend to be high-mileage runners who care more about the experience than their finish time. I mentioned this to my husband and he quickly corrected my thinking since a number of his sub-3 marathon training partners swear by Hoka. So I was not completely surprised when I first opened the box of my size 8.5 (medium) Hoka One One Speed Instincts.

Initial impressions:

PURPLE. The laces and the sole are a concord grape color, and the liner is a deep plum. I love purple, so that was a plus. Also, Hoka One One running shoes come in a variety of styles – I’ve always thought they had a “look” – not necessarily a bad look, just somewhat orthopedic. The Speed Instinct, though, is streamlined and the main feature is a silver web that starts with the laces and flows all the way to the toe. (They come in three different color combos, and there’s a men’s model as well.)

The sole is still very stable, but not chunky. And they are light. Much lighter than I expected. A trail shoe, they can do double duty if you’re running on multiple surfaces, and just look fast.

I always wear an 8.5, no matter the brand, and end up with at least a thumb’s width at the end. I like my running shoes big because I tend to get sausage toes on runs over 8 miles, no matter how well I plan my electrolyte and sodium intake. These run slightly larger than my usual brand (Brooks) but not so much that I’d go down to an 8. They come in wide sizes as well.

The first run:

My first run in the Speed Instinct was a shorty: 2 miles. Running in Hoka One One shoes, when you’re used to a stability running shoe, is very different. It wasn’t harder, or uncomfortable; I didn’t have to dramatically change my gait or stride, but I felt those 2 miles. Mainly in my calves. I wasn’t quite sure these shoes would work for me and I started thinking about which of my upcoming training days would be the easiest runs to give them another try.

After this first run, I talked to some friends who wear Hokas on a regular basis. Most of them wear Hokas ALL THE TIME, but one wore them just for certain training runs; he felt they made him engage his core more while running. “I am too lazy to do core,” he told me, “so I didn’t love them.” This got me thinking: maybe these shoes would actually help me have a stronger core and therefore run better. Sort of like a reciprocating perk: better form leads to a stronger core, which in turn leads to better form! From then on, I logged miles in my Speed Instinct with renewed enthusiasm.

So, the main thing about Hoka One One is that they have something called the “meta-rocker” sole. It has a more natural footbed, with less drop from the heel to the toe, which is closer to the way your foot interacts with the ground than most shoes. It’s not exactly “minimal” running – there was plenty of support and cushion for me, especially once I got used to the lower profile; but it has some of the same ideas. Their website explains their primary shoe structure more on this page. 

I couldn’t find anything online about Hoka One One and core strength; but the idea did make sense to me. Enough so that when I wore my Speed Instinct for this running test I purposefully thought about keeping my core engaged so that running in such a different shoe would be less likely to lead to injury. Now, I’m not going to say that these shoes made my core stronger and made me run faster, but just thinking about using my core muscles while running probably did cause me to draw strength and better balance from my core. Around the time I started this test, I also started rowing more frequently (I rowed in college and am lucky to have a rowing machine at my house); which is good for core strength as well.

After 50 miles:

So, after about two months, my final verdict is: yes, I would buy these shoes again. I started slow; just logging about 5-10 miles per week in them for the first month and slowly building that up in month two, so that now I am running around 15 miles each week in them. I also just ran a race in them and got my best 10k time in probably six years (keep in mind I have a four-and-a-half year old and a one-and-a-half year old).

I have decided they are good shoes for tempo runs, speed workouts (fartleks, not track for this runner), and races. I haven’t yet tried them out for my long run, but I’m going to this weekend after I put a full 20 miles on them this week and my legs still feel great. They are categorized under “trail” on the race website; they’re good for dry, hardpack trail but don’t wear them to the Hagg Mud runs. I also liked them for road/sidewalk.

If you’re interested, I highly recommend visiting one of the great local running stores in our area. They’ll fit you in a pair of Hoka One Ones that is best for your running style, and you will be able to try them out for a few weeks. If they really don’t work for you, local running stores will let you trade them in (check with the store where you buy them for their exact exchange policy). I advise you to start slow, with shorter runs and low weekly mileage; even wear them walking to get used to the minimal drop. And if they’re not working for you, go back to what has worked in the past. But the Speed Instinct, and Hoka One One in general, is definitely worth a try.

Hoka One One Speed Instinct specs:

Women’s Size 7 Weight: 7.5 oz
Men’s Size 9 Weight: 8.4 oz
Heel-toe drop: 3 mm
Price: $130


Thank you to Hoka One One for sending us some sample items for testing. Our opinions are always independent and unbiased reviews of the products we receive.
About Author

We started the Run Oregon blog in February 2007, because felt like running in Oregon and SW Washington deserved more positive coverage. We also wanted to level the playing field so that small, non-profit races could compete with big events; and to support local race organizers.

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