My alarm went off at 4:15 am. While I normally loathe getting up that early, this morning was a bit different, as not only was I hopefully about to watch history being made that day, but I also wasn’t the one who had to run for a minimum of 6 hours to do so.
I was in Sacramento to watch eight Hoka One One athletes try and break the 100K World Record. This road running challenge was dreamt up by the team at Hoka as a great way to launch their new Carbon X running shoe. The road shoe was built for people who want to move fast, but not lose the typical Hoka feel — in other words, the perfect shoe for racing long distances.
Taking part in the Hoka One One 100K Challenge were Jim Walmsley, Tyler Andrews, Patrick Reagan, Mike Wardian, Hideaki Yamauchi, and Yoshiki Takada, for the men, all attempting to better Nao Kazami’s World Record of 6:09:14. For the women, Sabrina Little, along with Aiko Kanematsu, would chase the women’s World Record of 6:33:11, set in 2000 by Tomoe Abe.
While the race was billed as a world record attempt at 100K, there was also the possibility that any of them would try to break the 50-mile world record (Bruce Fordyce‘s 4:50:21 from 1983 and 5:38:41 for the women set in 2015 by Camille Herron) and the 6-hour 100k barrier, all in the same race. During the pre-race press conference, Walmsley said his goal was a 5:47 average pace that would get him in under 6 hours. Think about that — running a 5:47 pace for 6 hours. Color me humbled.
Carbon X has been in development for years now. “When we started to think about the Carbon X, we wanted to create a product that everyone can move fast in,” said Matt Head, Director of Design at Hoka. “As a brand, we pride ourselves in enabling everyone to run in our product.”
For anyone familiar with the brand, Carbon X is a classic Hoka product. Inherently stable, you can land on the rear, the mid, or even the forefoot and find a stable platform. There is loads of cushioning — 32 mm stack in the rear to a 27 mm stack in the forefoot.
When approaching the problem of how to help people move faster without losing the cushioning and natural foot movement of a typical Hoka, the team focused on improving the efficiency of the rocker. As a result, the Carbon X is probably the best example of the Hoka Meta-Rocker. The shoe features an aggressive Meta-Rocker with a curved carbon fiber plate to help hold its shape throughout the life of the shoe and even throughout the length of a long run like the 100K.
In a traditional Hoka shoe with foam midsole and Meta-Rocker, eventually the rocker starts to sag a little bit over time. By adding a 1.5 mm thick carbon fiber plate running the length of the midsole, the integrity of the rocker is kept, and enables a really smooth roll through the gait cycle — you basically roll through your gait like a wheel. The carbon fiber plate does not control your foot in any way, your foot still moves naturally like any other Hoka shoe, it just encourages you to turn over a little faster.
As the Carbon X is built to be a fast shoe, the aesthetics help to make you feel and look fast. While the upper is stripped back to basics, there was no compromise on the base platform, bringing the shoe in at 8.5 ounces.
The record-eligible 100K course started in the old gold mining town of Folsom, CA and ended near Sacramento. The race kicked off promptly at 6:00 am during a nice cool morning — a big change from the 90-degree day before. We chased the athletes to 5 miles, then 15 miles, then finally to the finish line where they would need to complete 9 laps of a roughly 4.7 mile course.
We were all on edge watching the live feed updates throughout the morning. “[Walmsley] really wants to go after the 50-mile,” noted Mike McManus, Senior Sports Marketing Manager for Hoka. “I think Jim would also tell you he has no idea what will happen after 50 miles.”
I sat next to Jim’s parents for awhile — an extremely sweet couple. Jim’s mom said she hates coming to watch him as she gets so nervous she can’t stand it. “He is a bit of a wild card, he either does amazingly well or blows up, and I just cry and cry when that happens as I feel so bad for him.”
For much of the morning, Jim was doing great, well under his goal pace of 5:47 before slowing up a bit after the 50K mark. Just a ½ mile out of the 50-mile line, he was so close but a tad too slow to beat the record. Suddenly, he kicked it into high gear, cranking for those last few hundred yards to cross the 50-mile line at 4:50:08 — a new World Record, 13 seconds better than Fordyce’s time.
After crossing the 50-mile mark he instantly slowed to a crawl. We all knew he got what he wanted but that last sprint, along with an earlier surge of about four miles at 5:36 pace before the halfway mark, did him in for going after the 100K record. In the cruel world record setting, however, you must finish the set race length for any record to count, so he would have to walk and jog his way the last 12 miles to the 100K finish line.
The other runners, holding steady throughout the day, crossed the 100K finish line in style one by one: Hideaki Yamauchi (6:19:54 – winner), Patrick Reagan (6:33:50), Yoshiki Takada (6:52:02), Mike Wardian (7:29:12) and Sabrina Little (7:49:28).
As Walmsley completed his last lap of the course, he stopped to high-five every single person on the way in and even hugged his parents before finally crossing the finish line at 7:05:24, now the new 50-mile World Record holder.
One takeaway I had from watching the race yesterday — we are all human. Just like the rest of us, pro athletes have good days and bad days, and suffer quite often doing the sport they love, albeit at a much faster pace. During the pre-race press conference, the athletes were asked if they have a mantra to keep them going during a race. The universal answer from every one of them was “embrace the suck.” Fitting, as Hoka’s new Carbon X is made for anyone who wants to push themselves to go a little faster and embrace the suffering, regardless the pace.
The Hoka Carbon X retails for $180 and will start shipping May 15th.