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Shoe Review: Hoka Mach X ($180)

By Brian Metzler

OK, let’s jump right in with this hot topic: Should you train in shoes with carbon plates embedded in the midsoles? Heck yes! But take my enthusiastic vibe with the simple bit of advice that I would not recommend training in your carbon-fiber marathon racing shoes every day. There are two reasons for that: 1) Those shoes aren’t durable enough to endure hundreds of miles of training—the foam will break down quicker than sturdier midsole compounds—and that means you’ll reduce the propulsive properties you really want to save for race day; 2) Most of those marathon racing shoes feel snappy and a bit too sharp for everyday training—meaning the energetic pop you want on race day is too severe and aggressive for slow, moderate and even fast training paces.

However, there’s an emerging class of training shoes with plastic propulsion plates (nylon, Pebax, etc) that offer a high level of responsive energy return and plenty of stable cushioning without that sharp race-day feeling. The Saucony Endorphin Speed 3 has been the class of the crop since it launched three years ago, but that’s a performance trainer and sometimes speedier than what you need or want for everyday training efforts. That’s where the Hoka Mach X enters the picture. Launched this summer, the Mach X is a neutral-oriented maximally cushioned training shoe with a Pebax plate that gives enough pop to put a spring in your step without running your feet and lower legs ragged. (If you’ve ever trained too many days in a marathon racing shoe, you know what I mean!) It’s like a utilitarian e-bike for your daily commuting or simply a comfy cruiser of a training shoe. The bottom line is that it gives you a little bit of extra oomph on long runs and recovery runs while also serving up a lightweight, soft, stable and smooth ride.

What’s New: The Mach X is a brand new shoe, but it takes some of its design inspiration from the fast, light (and unplated) Mach 5 performance trainer in the Hoka line. It has a thicker, softer and more responsive midsole than the Mach 5, thanks to its top-tier ProFlyX PEBA and EVA foam compounds. The semi-firm propulsive Pebax plate, which is made from 65% bio-based material, is embedded between the two densities of foam (and exposed in a channel that opens up the midsole/outsole under the arch). The creel jacquard upper is airy and breathable (but also slightly reinforced), while three sections of rubber comprise the outsole. The Hoka Mach X is made from several sustainable materials, including the recycled polyester and nylon upper and the recycled polyester strobel board under the sockliner.

Fit/Feel/Ride: The Hoka Mach X fits true to size with a reliably secure locked-down feel in the heel and midfoot and plenty of wiggle room in the forefoot. The upper is integrated into a thin, slightly padded, fully gusseted tongue, although it doesn’t quite create a snuggly bootie compartment like some gusseted tongues. There’s a soft, high-off-the-ground step-in sensation that feels comfortable and conforming, in part, because the semi-stretchy upper adapts and moves with any foot shape.

The ride is semi-soft and smooth, thanks to the shoe’s rocker geometry that helps ease the transition from heel to midfoot to toe. With that final phase of the gait cycle, you can feel a little mild burst of forward energy as the propulsive catalyst of the semi-firm plate kicks in. The plate actually flexes slightly, so the energetic sensation isn’t abrupt like that of some carbon-plated shoes. You can definitely feel it at faster speeds, but it’s much more subtle at slower speeds. But that’s OK, because knowing it’s there and getting the benefits from it are more important than feeling it.

Why It’s Great: It’s great because it provides a certain amount of liveliness that most high-off-the-ground training shoes have lacked. Unplated maximalist shoes tend to feel mushy and sluggish, both in general and in the latter miles of a long run, but the Mach X feels almost like a mega-sized performance trainer. It’s not hyper responsive and snappy or bouncy like some of its race-ready cousins, but it offers enough pop to help you feel livelier at any pace.

Why You’ll Love It: For a high-stack shoe, the Mach X is more versatile than most. If you’re used to wearing cushy, high-stack training shoes, you’ll love the familiar cushiness, but you’ll really appreciate the extra energy it provides. That extra responsiveness can give your legs some much-needed spark during long runs, and it will help your recovery run feel easier and less fatiguing. It’s nicely capable of doing medium to long tempo runs and spontaneous fartlek runs and could even be a marathon shoe of choice for a middle-of-the-pack or first-time marathoner who is focused more on comfort than all-out speed. (My favorite workout in the Mach X consisted of alternating between 3-minute hard efforts and 3-minute jogging segments for about 30 minutes.)

Hoka Mach X

Weights: 8.0 oz. (women’s size 8.0), 9.4 oz. (men’s size 9.0)

Heel-Toe Offset: 5mm (women’s: 37mm in the heel, 32mm in the forefoot; men’s: 39mm in the heel, 34mm in the forefoot

Pro: The Mach X is designed for neutral runners with a symmetrical bed of cushion without additional prescriptive technologies. The widebody footprint of the midsole/outsole chassis delivers plenty of inherent stability that I appreciated in the late miles of the long runs I did while wear-testing this shoe.

Con: Like a lot of max-cushioned trainers, the Mach X isn’t very nimble or agile. Its high-off-the-ground set-up mutes the proprioceptive feel for the ground, so it wouldn’t be ideal for running a 5K race course with a lot of curves. It’s definitely more lively than most maximally cushioned shoes, but that energetic pop has its limits.


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