By Brian Metzler
With the Sept. 24 Berlin Marathon right around the corner, the fall marathon season is officially upon us. And that means it’s prime time for running shoe geeks like me. Adidas announced its new $500 racing shoe that its elite athletes will be wearing this season, and there will certainly be more next-gen shoes dropping in the coming weeks.
One shoe that’s likely to be on the feet of a lot of age-group marathoners is Hoka’s Rocket X 2. Although it was on the feet of several pro athletes at last year’s Boston Marathon and the 2022 Ironman World Championship in Kona, the much-anticipated Rocket X 2 wasn’t released to the public until this past March. Since then it’s made a big splash, both in half-marathons and marathons around the world. And in the recent men’s edition of the 2023 Ironman World Championship in Nice, France, 6 of the top 10 finishers wore a pair of these energetic speedsters. Expect to see a lot of these on the feet of fast runners in Berlin, and in the Oct. 8 Chicago Marathon and the Oct. 14 women’s edition of the Ironman World Championship.
Why is this shoe so hot right now? Two main reasons: First, it has a remarkable fit, feel and ride. Second, it’s Hoka’s first true top-tier high-performance racing shoe and the brand is one of the world’s fastest-growing running shoe brands. (It’s Hoka’s third model of a carbon-plated racing shoe after the original Rocket X and Carbon X models, but the first one that has had impressive high-level results.)
What’s New: The original Rocket X carbon-plated racing shoe debuted on a handful of runners’ feet during the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Atlanta, including women’s winner Aliphine Tuliamuk. That shoe had a more traditional low-to-the-ground design with a first-generation superfoam midsole, so, although it allowed for fast and efficient running, it wasn’t as inherently energetic as most contemporary supershoes. The Rocket X 2 is an entirely new maximally-cushioned long-distance racing shoe built on a midsole platform of a new formulation of Hoka’s super-critical PEBA midsole material that produces a high-rebound sensation. That’s combined with a curvy carbon-fiber plate embedded between two layers of the foam, a one-piece, breathable micromesh upper and small, thin segments of outsole rubber for traction.
Fit/Feel/Ride: The Hoka Rocket X 2 fits true to size with a medium-narrow interior volume and a fairly snug toe box that has only a tiny bit of wiggle room for your toes. (It’s a unisex-sized shoe that’s only available in a standard width.) The fully gusseted tongue, technical micromesh upper, and flexible but reinforced heel (sans a rigid heel cup) create a decidedly snug, locked-down fit. Once I laced them up and started jogging at an easy pace, I immediately felt the unique rolling/bouncy feeling served up from the shoe’s energetic chassis. That’s when I started to realize the lively sensation it can produce at faster paces. The first time I ran at race pace (and honestly every time since then), I have appreciated the smooth heel-toe stride sensation that ends with a snappy burst of energy as I have started my next stride. It almost feels too good to be true, but it’s legit and, assuming your fitness and leg strength are up to the task, it can help you run fast and efficiently as long as you’re able to keep it going. Like all supershoes, it’s oriented for neutral gaits, but it’s much more inherently stable than many of its contemporaries.
Why It’s Great: It’s great because of the forward propulsion it provides in every stride. The shoe is stiff and inflexible in your hands, but that’s what allows the foam and plate to create such a propulsive vibe on your feet. That propulsive sensation comes from Hoka’s ProFly construction – the combination of the extremely responsive foam, the aggressively shaped carbon-fiber plate, and perhaps most importantly, the convex-shaped geometry of the bottom of the shoe. (Hoka refers to it as an early stage MetaRocker design.) It’s one of those shoes that feels like it’s doing a lot of the work for you because as soon as you get two-thirds of the way through the heel-to-toe roll-through, if feels like your forefoot drops off the edge of the shoe and you get a burst of propulsion that ignites the toe-off motion into your next stride. I love shoes like that, both for racing but also long weekend runs and longer intervals like mile repeats or the 3 x 3-mile pre-marathon workout I did earlier this week.
Why You’ll Love It: You’ll love it because it’s a shoe that can help you run more efficiently, even if you’re tired and running with a very fatigued heel-striking gait. The fact that so many high-level triathletes are wearing the shoe should be intriguing to age-group and recreational marathoners. Why? Because those athletes are running their marathon segments at the end of a triathlon under considerable fatigue, which means they’re relying on the shoe more when their running gait is already compromised. For an age-group marathoner like me, it means I don’t have to be able to run with the form of an elite runner like I need to do with some supershoes. The rocker shape and carbon plate design help compensate for my less-than-optimal form, especially when I’m fatigued late in a race or long run.
Weights: 6.5 oz. (women’s 8); 7.5 oz. (men’s 9)
Heel-Toe Offset: 5mm (40mm in the heel, 35mm in the forefoot)
Pro: The lightweight upper material is very breathable, comfortable and supportive. It’s subtly but effectively reinforced with an interior web of TPU bands that stretch slightly to help create some supportive structure and a near-custom fit.
Con: This shoe is slightly heavier than some marathon racing supershoes and about an ounce heavier than the previous version of the Rocket X. That’s mostly a factor of the thicker form midsole and I don’t think it inhibits its ability to run efficiently, but if you like featherweight shoes (like Nike’s Vaporfly Next% 3 at 6.5 ounces), you might notice the difference.