Gear Talk: 26.2 Miles In The Name Of 'Why Not?'
A skier gives marathon running a try while testing Hoka’s new Rincon shoe at the SF Marathon, one of the sport’s more notorious proving grounds.
I’m not a runner, I’m a skier. At least, that’s what I’ve always told myself. Anyone close to me can attest that running a marathon has never been high on my achievement tick-list. The thought of pounding pavement for 26.2 miles never appealed to me. But as an avid backcountry skier, I’ve grown accustomed to long days on my feet. Whether it’s remote peak-bagging missions, dabbling in ski-mo races like Aspen’s Power of Four, or just exploring a new zone, I’ve found myself gravitating toward larger, more challenging goals.
I’m a firm supporter of type-two fun and the lessons that the associated suffering can teach. So, late one night in March, my friend and workout partner, Kevin, and I made a slightly impulsive pact to commit to the 42nd annual Biofreeze San Fransisco Marathon.
This race is a notorious proving ground with roughly 1200 feet of climbing as you navigate the steep streets of “The City.” It wasn’t the hills that scared the skier in me, just all the pavement. And the only enticing variable, other than the challenge itself, was the relatively low summer temps in San Francisco. I was in fairly good shape from a physically demanding set of spring ski mountaineering adventures and figured now was as good a time as any to bite off all this running, so I went all in.
Fortunately, this stoke-fueled decision was about 5-months prior to race day, which left me ample time to train and condition my body for the pending physical onslaught. Years of dealing with many injuries from skiing-induced, lower-body abuse had me a little nervous about the demanding training.
One thing is for certain: as long as runners have been in satellite social circles of mine, I’ve always heard great, almost legendary things about HOKA ONE ONE running shoes and their cloud-like soles. The mere thought that a feature like this could make running more enjoyable always piqued my interest. But the constant buzz from friends about how HOKA’s signature, full compression EVA midsole cushioning, among other industry-leading technologies, allowed them to rebound from injuries more quickly and with less threat of reoccurrence gave me hope.
Photo Credit: HOKA ONE ONE
Maybe it’s the gram-shaving, ski mountaineer in me, but my search for a race day shoe ended with HOKA’s new Men’s Rincon Shoe. Its emphasis on maximizing cushion and breathability while minimizing weight and excess material seemed ideal. I also relied on the ultra-cushioned Clifton 6 for the longer training runs to keep my Rincons fresh and the slightly goofy-looking but absolutely dreamy Men’s Ora Recovery Slide to ease the toes after training runs and in the days following the big day. But on race day, when every gram matters, the Rincon was my purebred challenger.
We arrived at the start line way too early. The gun was set to go off at 5:30 a.m., and we rolled in around 4:00 a.m. The early bird gets the worm, I guess. Or in this case, gets to anxiously wander around, hoping to poop, while doing our best to stay warm in our tank tops as the cold, bay wind worked in direct opposition of our efforts. We slurped down GUs (I had 7 over the course of the morning), drank water, and eventually made our way like a herd of cattle to the start corral awaiting the pending slaughter.
The clock struck 5:30 am, and like a congested family of lemmings, we mindlessly ran off into the dark. It took the first few miles for the field to thin out and afford us the space to run at our own stride and pace. The rising sun brought us new life and a much-needed reminder to embrace the coming miles and do our best to relish the experience of this new endeavor.
The surprisingly beautiful course takes you from the Embarrcadero Waterfront at sunrise, over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, meandering through Golden Gate Park, jammin’ through Haight Ashbury, with a final push past AT&T Park to the long-awaited finish line at the Bay Bridge. Mile after mile, The City woke up and its residents lined the streets to offer all 27,000 of us bacon, candy, and whiskey, among other more nutritious options. As my legs began to tire around mile 22, the shoes sure didn’t. Their single-layer mesh upper kept my frequently clammy feet dry and refreshed while the asymmetrical design and stripped back profile allowed for quick and springy acceleration. The early-stage Meta-Rocker soles were the perfect complement to my whining metatarsals and kept them effortlessly propelling onward.
The author about to fall over as he nears the finish line.
Photo Credit: Lauren Strauss
Kevin and I had two successional goals for the morning: 1) make it to the finish line, and if we survived the roughly 40,000-step adventure, 2) finish in under four hours. At mile 23, with more than expected left in the tank, I decided to leave it all on the street. I figured I could push at full effort for just a measly 5k, so off I went. It sure was quite the ego stroke as I ripped by hundreds of runners doing my best, internal Rocky impression on a fast track to the finish line. Had I turned on my not-that-spectacular afterburner even a fraction of a second sooner, I surely would have collapsed like a rag-dolling, big-mountain skier moments before the finish line. Timing was on my side that morning, I guess. Clearly, I made the right choice as my last 4 miles were my fastest 4 miles of the race.
The bros muster up some stoke for the camera after the race.
Photo Credit: Lauren Strauss
I crossed the finish line, wasted from overexertion and dealing with some almost comical tunnel vision, with a time of 3:52:59. I stopped my watch, grabbed the guard rail, drank two bottles of water, poured one over my head, and turned to give Kevin a hug. We did it. FU marathon. My brain was empty, my legs tried their best to keep moving, but thanks to my Rincons, my feet felt great. I shoveled cups of mandarin oranges into my face as we were corralled away from the finish in a hopeless search for our handfull of friends that agreed to wait for us as we completed our latest suffer-fest.
While that was my first, and almost certainly my last, marathon, there are a few key takeaways. 1) HOKA ONE ONE’s Rincon and the brand’s associated buzz is legit. For years, I thought it almost impossible to have fun running, and while my feet danced along on clouds like that little turtle in Super Mario, I actually enjoyed myself on that jarring yet rewarding morning. 2) Say yes! Please do so responsibly, but you never know the bounds of your own effort unless you occasionally put it to the test. Whether it’s learning a new skill, biting off an adventure seemingly too big to chew, or challenging your comfort zone in smaller ways, new experiences are good for the soul. They allow for fresh perspectives, a chance to escape from life’s monotony, and opportunity for growth. 3) Anyone can run a marathon. Yes, it’s difficult. Yes, the training is time-consuming and requires hard work. But at the end of the day, it’s just one foot in front of the other for about as long as your last Netflix binge session. I continue to learn that the best things in life are the things you work the hardest for. Some things suck, some require suffering, but there are few better feelings than embracing your time spent in the pain cave and enduring.
Nat Houston is an outdoor loving, maple syrup slurping, East Coast native who grew up skiing at Bromley Mountain just outside his hometown of Landgrove, Vermont. After graduating from the University of Colorado in 2014, he stuck around Boulder for business and pleasure, working for companies like Freeskier Magazine and Dynafit, but mostly skiing and climbing in the vast mountains of the American West. Today, he lives in Berkeley, CA so he can explore the mountains of California and the Pacific Northwest, sample the local taco offerings, and write gear reviews for Warren Miller Entertainment.