It wasn’t love at first sight—this isn’t that kind of love story. My relationship with the HOKA ONE ONE Bondi more closely resembles a ’90s-era rom-com wherein the protagonist slowly falls for his quirky, underappreciated friend. The first time I saw the Bondi, a max-cushioned road runner with fluorescent yellow uppers, I laughed. They were just so ugly. It wasn’t until my body stopped protesting the way it usually did after my first few runs, that I fell hard. I loved the Bondi—deep, soul-mate love. A decade later, that love has become a full-blown addiction, and it’s hard to run without them.
I’ve been a runner since I was in elementary school. Running is how I cope. I’ve cheered every success and mourned every setback of the last 35 years with a few miles. When my high school girlfriend broke up with me, I worked through my heartbreak by running the neighborhood hills in Kennesaw, Georgia, where I grew up. I celebrated with a couple of breezy miles under tall Georgia pines when I made the basketball team. In my twenties, when my dog died, I drove straight from the vet’s office to a local trailhead to cry myself through three slow miles. And on the day I proposed to my wife, I worked up the courage to pop the question with speed work at the track. Running became a fitness gauge as I got older—Can I make it up Heart Attack Hill without stopping?—the way I proved to myself I was still an athlete. After my twins were born, I signed up for my first ultramarathon, mostly since my friends and family told me I wouldn’t have time for big adventures any longer. I ran 31 miles through the mountains of Tennessee that summer—my longest run yet.
“Running is how I cope. I’ve cheered every success and mourned every setback of the last 35 years with a few miles.”
I needed running more, not less, as the stresses of work and family started to stack up. But my sport was starting to hurt. Blame a high school back injury, genetics and the usual wear and tear that comes with middle age. I was developing random injuries like calf strains, and the pain that once plagued my back was now wrapping around my hip and radiating down the front of my right leg. My knees were aching. It took days to recover after long runs. I started making deals with myself. I wouldn’t run back-to-back days anymore; I’d limit my mileage and keep my pace slow. Deep down, it felt like I was postponing the inevitable: My running days were numbered. At some point, I’d have to give it up. I might even have to buy an elliptical.
But about ten years ago, I had the opportunity to test out a pair of HOKA ONE ONE Bondis for a gear guide I was writing. Here was a max-cushioned road shoe designed to soften the blow of each footfall. Maybe the future didn’t look so dire after all.
The idea of ultracushioned shoes is simple: give runners extra padding to soften the impact. HOKA ONE ONE helped define the maximalist shoe market and the Bondi has been the brand’s plushest road shoe since it was introduced in 2011. The version I’m wearing now has more than an inch of cloud-like cushion under the heel. Perhaps most importantly, the Bondi has pep—the EVA foam midsole is springy—and the rockered shape of the footbed (picture the bottom of a rocking chair) helps me get onto the balls of my feet quicker. Running in the Bondi makes me feel light and quick.
Not everyone loves maximalist shoes. All that padding can be cumbersome, and the stack height can be intimidating and even a bit unstable. I’ve never rolled an ankle while wearing the Bondi, but I understand the concern. If you’re a track star looking to run a sub-4-minute mile, you’re not going to do it in the Bondi. This is a workhorse, designed for runners looking to cover ground in comfort, and that’s okay with me. I’m 44 and my legs are always tired. Every run is a recovery run. I just want to enjoy myself and not have to sit in an ice bath after tacking on an extra mile or two. The Bondi lets me do that.
I’m not saying these shoes are the sole reason I’m hurting less. I’ve also developed a pre- and post-run stretching routine and started working out at the gym to correct muscle imbalances. But the Bondi has played its part. Running these days isn’t as painful. Gravity has a little less hold on me.
The biggest issue I now face is that I’ve entered evangelist territory. I find myself steering conversations toward running and the benefits of some extra foam underfoot. And I get weirdly excited when I see another person wearing HOKAs. That person has also traded style for comfort. We may be strangers, but we share a bond that can’t be broken.
I can’t help it. I’m hooked on the Bondi and I want the whole world to know—I can’t imagine running in anything else. Life is hard enough, why not make running just a little bit easier by adding extra cushion?
For more odes about our favorite stuff, check our Gear I Hold Dear series.