Hoka One One – Speedgoat 4 Review
I became interested in trying the Speedgoat 4 because I was looking for a well-cushioned shoe for ultra-marathons. I had the Spine Fusion race booked in until it was cancelled due to Covid-19. I was looking for plenty of cushioning (I am not the lightest runner in the world), a low drop to help the knee pain I get on occasion, and comfort on the heel to avoid flaring up my Haglund’s Deformity.
The first thing you notice when unboxing the Speedgoat 4 is just how chunky they are, the second is how surprisingly light they are. This is the essence of Hoka’s – maximum cushioning while maintaining a lightweight. At 306g per shoe, they are certainly light.
The Speedgoats are named after the legendary runner Karl ‘Speedgoat’ Meltzer who broke the Appalachian Trail record in 2016 (since beaten by Karel Sabbe). When you consider that they are designed for long-distance (not necessarily as long as the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail), I would like a little more wiggle room in the toe box. I went up a half size because my feet tend to get hot and swell. Having said that, the feet feel very looked after: sunk into the cushioning and on a huge footprint. These two features combine to make the Speedgoats supremely stable, even on uneven terrain.
Setting out on the road you float along with the low drop (4mm) helping you to feel peppy and energised. So far the low drop seems to be helping with the knee pain, even on the 70km training day I did from Edale to Hebden Bridge. I do feel myself striking the ground slightly further forward on my feet. The 5mm lugs are not so spaced out that you can feel them on the tarmac, and there is enough surface area in contact with the ground that they won’t wear away if you have some distance to cover on tarmac each time you head to the trails. The lugs have been grouped on the heel to give more surface area because this is a high wear zone.
An important thing to note is that while it’s true the Speedgoat is one of the more aggressive Hoka shoes, it is not a good fell shoe. I have been asked a few times in store about this and I think in dry conditions it might be a good compromise if you definitely want the cushioning, but the width of the heel means that you would ski down muddy slopes, even with the 5mm deep lugs. Another feature that makes them less than ideal off-trail is the padding, if your foot gets submerged then they will take a while to dry out, adding weight to the shoes. For me, though the plush padding is a good thing- I tend to find Hoka shoes a bit stingy around the heel and this can flare up my Haglund’s Deformity (bony lump!) which can be debilitating. My advice would just be to stick to the trails.
On-road and easy trails Hoka’s signature meta-rocker is very noticeable in the Speedgoat 4, kicking in just when you get onto the forefoot giving you a stable and efficient toe-off. It’s a feeling that takes a bit of getting used to but helps you feel fast in what appears to be a cumbersome shoe. If you are a heel-striker then this gives you a smooth-rolling feeling from heel to toe, and if not then you can still feel the efficiency of minimising flexion in the toe joints.
You wouldn’t expect to feel nimble in such a big shoe but due to the lightweight you can be precise with where you plant your feet, and if you miss then the cushioning will soak up any rough stuff underfoot. Equally, the excellent Vibram outsole gives you confidence-inspiring traction and grip when it gets a bit sloppy. The pattern and depth of the lugs mean that the Speedgoat 4s excel on drier trails, but I have had no problems in mud so far. The only issue I had was on smooth icy off-camber flagstones- if you can make a shoe that gives you confidence on that then hat’s off to you!
Overall, the Speedgoat 4 is excellent at what it is designed to do- keep your feet comfortable and give you confidence over medium to long distances. It has definitely become my go-to trail shoe, despite my race being cancelled. Now I need to find a different ultra to enter…