Sunday, December 22, 2013

Hoka One One - Rapa Nui Trail Shoes Review

I've subjected my poor new Rapas to 2 gruelling technical runs to date.. might have been a bit too technical for what the Rapas are optimised for as it has already suffered some terrible battle scars.

Last weekend's Wild Wombat Fat Ass 30 at Lerderderg State National Park was highly technical at certain sections, and while it's painful to see your new shoes being scratched, ripped, shredded, crushed, drowned & pounded by unforgiving rocks, it did push the Rapas to its limits & gave me a very good insight into the world of Hokas.. on that note there are plenty of good reviews out there by more experienced runners and I hope to add my 2 cents here..

Rapas vs Lerderderg.. bring it on

What I'm crazy about:

1) Well.. what else.. the massive cushioning.. :)

Can't say how this compares to the other Hokas in terms of cushioning, but the cushioning has helped tremendously when I wanted to go faster during technical descents, as soon as you realise how much comfort & buffer it provides - your confidence will go up & your legs will be going faster! So whatever Hoka has described on their website in terms of cushioning they have delivered for sure. I can imagine how the bigger boys (ie. Mafate, Stinson) with even thicker cushioning will allow you to crush on whatever the trail throws at you.

Big bad cushioning.. nice & wide

2) Weight = 275g (UK 8)

Not going to put these shoes on the weighing scale to verify its weight but the Rapa's light weight is obvious as soon as you pick it up. Having worn the hefty Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra 2 for almost a year now, the Rapas were a very nice change. However Rapa's upper construction is simple & uses light materials and as a result does come at a compromise to things like toe area protection & general layers of material across the shoe (see pic below, compared to the Salomon XT Wings). Having said that it has maintained good breathability which is important.

Play nice guys.. 

What I'm not crazy about:

1) Design - Upper

Cleaner days.. 
I gotta come clean.. I'm not a big fan of the general upper design of the Hokas (not just the Rapas). The two elastic strap that allows you to tuck in the lacing just doesn't work for me from an aesthetic point of view! If they were meant to contribute to how the shoe fits perhaps they needn't be shown at all (eg. built under the tongue).

And yea if they were meant to just hold the lacing well - there must be a better lacing design out there (ahem.. *cough.Salomon.cough cough*)

Having said that the side & back profile looks OK. Naturally this is just a personal take, I ain't no Jimmy Choo & designs are completely subjective to personal taste :)

And while I'm on it the color selection for Rapas in Australia sucks are so limited! They have much nicer color selections for the EU models.. why don't we have these Anthracite/Red/White ones?? I tried searching several EU websites but had no luck with sizing and out of retail therapy desperation settled for the ones I have now.. (OK maybe there's a bit of Jimmy Choo in me)

Photo from Hoka One one EU

2) Heel grip & overall fit

Hoka talks about 'bucket seat design' that helps with control & fit. While the midsole felt firm, my heel was sliding a bit from side to side as I went on the technical descents.. thicker socks could've helped I'm sure but the heel grip was certainly not as reassuring as my XA Pro Ultra 3D 2.

And if you study closely Salomon shoes vs the Hokas, you can see how Salomon wraps around the foot & tucks into & under the sole especially in the midsole & heel area - which will no doubt minimize foot movement within the shoe & maximise control on the trails. Perhaps its very specific to one's foot how the overall fit is - but I think tightening the heel area is definitely one area Hoka should think about..

Rapas struggled a bit with the really tech descents..
my heels kept sliding left & right.. 

In summary:

The Rapas will be great shoes for the door-to-trail & moderate technical trails especially if you're going for speed. I have subjected my Rapas to very technical trails to date and while they were fantastic with cushioning, I felt the lugs & outsole on the Rapas were OK but not aggressive enough (which I think for the Rapas is to be expected), but more importantly was the overall fit not being 'wrappy-happy' enough to minimize movement within the shoe & providing total 100% confidence going on the steep technical descents..

Good stuff:
- Light & fast
- Cushioning = very comfy
- Breathable

Wish list:
- Greater feeling of fit & control
- Nicer upper design & material choice
- Slightly more toe box protection

As I type this out & do more reading on the Rapas - I discover that they are now retailing Rapa Nui 2 in the US... mmmmm.. with what seemingly is a sturdier toe box protection! (I could be wrong - not much info found). So if you're thinking of buying, might want to wait a bit longer for the Rapa Nui 2 to be out.. check them out:

 Photo from Boulder Running Company

As always thanks for reading folks - hope you enjoy your Hokas..!

Meanwhile here are more pictures of what my Rapas were subjected to..

Rapas were doing plenty fine on these fire trails.. 
Big cushioning meant I could move fast on the technical descents.. 

Rapas went for some swims.. 

5x river crossings to be exact.. 
Hanging in there.. Rapas looking exhausted after day 1 in action!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Razorback Run 2013 - At Long Last...

I have been excited over this run since a year ago (I ended up doing the Mirabella Mt Buller Run instead last year)... how time has flown! A year ago when I did Mt Buller I was still settling into Melbourne, & stressed about things like what the future held for me & my wife etc.. Planning a trip to the mountains meant incurring some cost which at that point wasn't financially sound given I was still jobless, but I knew it was necessary in order to replenish my soul to keep the fight going (& to remind myself what I'm fighting for!). Now as I look back a year on, I'm STILL stressed (haha) but mainly over stupider things like work, but certainly more settled (& fatter - thanks to the wife).

And so visiting the Alpines again for the Razorback Run was a long awaited personal treat for myself. A meaningful milestone. I couldn't wait to see for myself the scenic vista that I first had a glance of in the Razorback Run's online flyer from last year. I chose to do the Mt Buller run instead because I chickened out a bit after reading it was a self-supported run & there were very little pictures/info online on what to expect (website has improved a lot since). I was also not very well equipped gear-wise back then.

Anyway, let's dive right in..

Pre-planning/Pre-run briefing

The pre-run briefing & bib-collection was held the night before - I took the day off work in order to have a less stressful drive. We booked 2 nights accommodation at Snowline Motel because we referred to the website & the RD's event notes as to where the briefing was going to be held, but it was then changed to Hariettville Hotel eventually - so do pay attention to RD's email updates leading up to the event.

I believe there was also mention about gear-check during briefing (& so we & many others brought our gear) - but there was no gear-check after all (yes this is trivial I know but just to give you an idea that for this event info provided can change/inconsistent across website/email updates etc. - so once again just pay attention).

Run-briefing was casual & held in the hotel restaurant area with several runners having their dinner. Personally thought a projector should've been set up to talk through the route map visually (especially for people who has never been up the Alpines before). There was a lady who held up the map & asked several questions on the course & was clearly not feeling 100% confident on several points the RD mentioned about. And on hind-sight, the run did see several runners taking wrong turns etc..

pic courtesy of La Sportiva Mountain Series 13

Gear & Clothings

As repeatedly advised by the event info, the weather is prone to change from day-to-day for the Alpines, so best prepare for any type of weather. We packed clothings for both cold, windy & wet as well as hot & sunny. (We got sunny & wonderful weather on run-day but few days on, it was apparently pouring wet & cold & snowing up at Hotham!)

Gear wise, we prepared everything that was required of us in the mandatory kit list, and my UD vest was stuffed to the brim:

Easily few kilos in weight, it is good idea to train with your fully-loaded pack because it definitely made the run that much harder because we were not used to it. As for food - with just one aid-station (for our 42k), you will need plan & pack own food (& emergency food) accordingly.

Here was my spread.. hehe

Bungalow Spur (0-10k)

Runners were still trickling in 5 mins before 6am.. :)

The run began on time at 6am, the run/hike up Bungalow Spur was hard-going because we were of course in a run-event & were pushing to move as fast as we could. Not surprisingly this is the hardest part of the run. Your heart will be pumping & whatever nerves you have before the run will be gone within the first 10mins :)

Bungalow Spur - The Cross (10-11k)

Eventually of course - your hard work will pay off & you will see the beautiful sight of Federation Hut marking the end of the Bungalow Spur slog & the heavenly views would open up before your eyes!

Federation Hut.. 
Leaving Fed Hut & up towards Feathertop
The hills are friggin alive!!

This section will be gentle slopes, pretty runnable (if your legs will still take you) all the way to The Cross, where you will presented with a left turn (towards Mt Feathertop), and a right turn (or straight - towards the Razorback).

The Cross - Mt Feathertop (11-12k)

As you climb up towards Mt Feathertop, it gets increasingly treacherous for 2 reasons - the views get better, and the trails gets more technical.. as you admire the view & lose focus/concentration, you may trip/misplace footing - all of which is still OK if you don't plummet down the ravine that would be inches away from you on either side of the trail.. !!

One runner busted his knee very badly here.. don't take this section lightly!
What did I tell you about the 'killer' views.. 
Mt Feathertop awaits.. 

pic courtesy of Neo Samurai 

This section you will benefit if you have poles with you - helps with balance, footing, not so much uphill but definitely during the downhill section.

Razorback (13-23k) & Back (23-32k)

I'll just let the pictures do the talking.. :)

Looking back towards Feathertop from Diamantina Spur junction.. 
Heading fwd along the Razorback (this guy was going opp way)
Views continue to inspire.. 
Certain sections we were running right at the edge of the slope..
several runners tripped (I did multiple times) so stay focused!
Yakking to friendly walkers 
At the U-turn checkpoint Diamantina Hut (looking back at Razorback)
pic courtesy of La Sportiva Mountain Series 13
I paused at this section & watched top runners zip by.. 

The Razorback section had multiple undulating sections, but nothing too crazy. Certain sections you will run right at the edge of treacherous drops so caution required. Every time I tripped it was because I looked up to check out the views... once again poles would help with going faster on these technical trails - especially the descend. 

Bungalow Spur - Finishing (32-42k)

Pretty straightforward, this section is just 10k of pure pounding of the quads... & felt like it was going on forever. If you didn't train your downhills, you would be cursing a bit over this section. I was just ecstatic that my ITB injuries didn't flare up the entire descend!

We finally crossed the finishing line after 8:40 hours, our goal was under 9 hours and it was great we achieved it and had plenty of fun along the way. Didn't mind at all staying out there a bit longer given it was such a glorious day. You had to envy the walkers as it was definitely a day to slow down & soak in the views up in the Alpines.

Needless to say we'll be back to this region to run/hike/ski perhaps?... but as far as the run goes, what a day & weekend it has been, breath-taking views, gorgeous trails, beautiful weather, no ITB injuries, nutrition & hydration planning went well, loads of pictures taken.. couldn't have asked for more.

Final Thoughts:

1) Poles - very useful for this kinda run..
2) Nutrition - the trail mix prepared by vonsy works very well, kept my energy levels up!
3) UD vest - held up very well in full load, continues to impress!
4) We missed seeing familiar faces!
5) Run organisation was good on run-day, cut-off times were mentioned but weren't strictly enforced, slower-runners have to head towards the pub (where the dinner/presentation would be going on) instead of finishing point & record own time.. might want to take note of that
6) And yes by all means do sign up for this event!

Once again, thanks for reading folks! I leave you with this beautiful sunset at the top of Mount Hotham from the same evening :)

damn I love this place!