Years ago, logging miles during the summer months came naturally to me. As the weather warmed and the days lengthened, I longed to see the fruits of my winter block of training show signs in my fitness. Now, between self-perpetuating remote working hours, cautionary summer travel during year three of a global pandemic and the rest of the plans filling my calendar, I’ve returned to the simplest reasons to get out for a run.
I run because it clears my mind. It gets me outside and away from screens. And I run because my body is capable. However, I’d be remiss to leave out that one of my favorite reasons to rack up the miles is that a fresh pair of trainers awaits me on the other end. This summer, those trainers happened to be the HOKA Mach 5, and not only did they live up to all the hype from fellow running enthusiasts, but they also gave me a reason to run pretty much everywhere.
HOKA markets the Mach 5 as a “lively pavement pounder built for performance and ready to race.” The original Mach hit the market as part of the PROFLY™ line, with emphasis on an impressively high cushion-to-weight ratio. This iteration features a new soft, lightweight foam in the midsole paired with a rubberized foam beneath, resulting in a ride that is both plush and powerful. With no races on my calendar, however, I was curious if this shoe would also be a fit for the type who runs just to run. The short answer is yes, as I learned over a series of quick and dirty test runs.
|Average miles-per-week||20-30—dependent on what’s on the calendar|
|Preferred race distance||5K—but have been known to jump up or down|
|Roads—though you’ll often find me exploring the trails|
Meant to Fly
Despite being a bit of a night owl, I often find myself registering for a 6am neighborhood yoga class, which means I’m practically sprinting once my alarm goes off a mere 10 minutes before class begins. I sleepily slip on the Mach for its maiden voyage at 5:55am, aware I’ll have to boogie to make it to class on time. To my surprise, the shoe responds with an alertness I envy. With every stride, I feel as though these kicks truly are meant to fly. The shoe’s proprietary PROFLY™+ midsole balances the signature plush HOKA cushion with a bit of firmness that encourages speed. I arrive at the scheduled hour and contemplate my next test. While I’m feeling quite confident in the responsiveness of the shoe on fresh legs, I wonder if the sensation will remain when my legs feel a bit less spry.
Supportive and Snappy Strides
After a day of video calls and a bit too much sitting, my Garmin watch tells me to get moving. I’m already dressed for a run from the waist down, so I simply swap my blouse for a tee and reluctantly attempt to shake off the day with a few easy miles. It’s warm, a bit too warm, but the Mach has a breathable mesh upper that I find does not overheat. The shoe seems to wait patiently for my body to wake up, never forcing a change of pace; the Meta-Rocker (a curved shoe design technology that rocks the foot forward at faster paces) provides the smoothness I’ve come to love from HOKA, allowing the foot to toe off with ease. The cushion feels supportive, and the reinforced heel collar adds some stability throughout my run. My seemingly heavy legs appreciate how light the shoe is, and every stride provides springback that’s comforting despite my easy pace. Before long, I’m back home and feeling motivated to work in some strides up and down my street. A slow jog turns into a snappy run and the same shoe that felt stable and supportive just a few blocks earlier is now efficiently aiding push-off the quicker my cadence gets. I know that if I had to race a neighbor at this moment, I’d win.
|Out and About: Additional Tester Responses|
With the Mach 5, running can become a means of commuting, simply because the miles feel so good underfoot. As one tester observed, “Santa Barbara is an easy city to be inspired to get your run in, however the California car culture is still strong. From brunch to lunch to happy hour it seems car trips of under 5 miles are the norm. However, the Machs were so comfortable, springy and stylish, I felt inspired to lace up and break the status quo. While the distance often totaled under 5km round trip, a quick cadence often meant I arrived well before my friends had found parking—which left just enough time to wipe the sweat from my brow.”
REI senior store manager and experienced trail runner Alan Ortega shared his first-look review on the Run with REI Co-op YouTube channel. “If you want a daily trainer… and you have goals in mind, I actually think this shoe is going to be great for a lot of folks,” he says. He explains how the Mach falls in between the “cushy fast” Rincon and the “carbon fast” Carbon X 3. The shoe “really feels like it gives you the best of both worlds.”
Mid-long distance road runner Lily Poppen, a former REI summer intern, felt the Mach 5 “retains the same classic HOKA chunky look but with a slimmer profile and weight.” While she too felt the shoe responds well to “speeding up during a run and provides excellent cushioning,” she did mention that “on longer, more steady runs, the shoe feels very heavy.”
The Long Haul
Knowing that the shoe has checked the boxes for the quick, the short and the easy, I now turn to the LSD (long slow distance). I step out the door and again feel the Meta-Rocker propulsion getting to work—but that’s not what I’m looking for on this Sunday morning long run. It almost feels as though I’m forcing the shoe, and so I pump the brakes as I try to settle back into my true long run effort. Despite my conscious effort to slow it down, I check my watch a bit later and my pace has quickened. On top of that, I feel myself missing the extra cushion I’ve come to look forward to in a HOKA shoe when the time-on-feet is extended. What once felt snappy and light now feels a bit too aggressive. I agree with Lily: While the Mach 5 is versatile enough to handle easy runs and speed work, it isn’t ideal for long, slow efforts.
There is a brief behind every shoe, and this one appears to have achieved what HOKA was looking for with the Mach 5. It’s a comfortable, light option for days where you want to turn it up a notch. It’s fast enough to approach the starting line and solid enough to log some easy miles. And though it might not hold up as well if you’re trying to go the distance—it wasn’t meant to. Save the Mach for the runs where you need to put a bit of pep back in your legs, the days when you’re squeezing miles in where you can get ‘em or the times where you race your running buddies the final quarter mile back to the start—because you’re pretty confident you can win.