This weekend launched a shoe in a style akin to a popular model from another brand that received a lot of buzz a couple of years ago. However, HOKA, as it does, put its own spin on things and expanded both the shoe and distance, applying its ultra touch to “Project Carbon X” by hosting an invitational road ultra where they went after a number of world and national bests. While none of the record attempts held the numerical symbolism of Breaking 2, HOKA’s event was a fully sanctioned race, and they had the fortune of seeing two world records broken.

The 100km time trial kicked off at 6am on May 4 in Folsom, California with stacked field of HOKA runners from the US and Japan. The course ran 18 miles on a paved bike path abutting the American River to Sacramento, where runners and their pacers began doing 4.7-mile loops. Runners included Sabrina Little and Aiko Kanematsu, the two chasing the women’s World Record of 6:33:11, set in 2000 by Tomoe Abe. On the men’s side, Jim Walmsley, Patrick Reagan, Tyler Andrews and Mike Wardian were joined by reigning IAAF 100K World Champion Hideaki Yamauchi and fellow Japanese runner Yoshiki Takada—all HOKA-sponsored runners.

HOKA Project CarbonX Invitational
photo: Adam Chase

On the women’s side, HOKA only fielded two runners, compared to six males. Sabrina Little and Aiko Kanematsu raced the 100K, chasing the women’s World Record of 6:33:11, set in 2000 by Tomoe Abe but, unfortunately, Kanematsu dropped after about half way and Little was off the mark, slowed by the heat, finishing in 7:49:28 with impressive drive and consistency.

The men’s goal was to top Nao Kazami’s World Record of 6:09:14, set last year, although at the prerace press conference Walmsley also spoke of Bruce Fordyce’s 50-mile World Record of 4:50:21, set in 1984 in Chicago. That was foreshadowing for Walmsley’s push for the intermediate mark, which, after a moderately conservative first few miles, he went after with abandon.

Walmsley ran the first 25k in 1:29:36 (5:46 average pace) and then picked it up slightly to get through 50k in 2:58:28, a 5:45 average, which, if maintained, would have brought him to 50 miles in 4:48. With the heat rising in Sacramento, however, he slowed to just over six minutes per mile for the next 20 miles. But with about 800 meters to go for the 50-mile mark, Walmsley found a reserve and ramped it up to dip just under Fordyce’s longstanding world record, posting a new best of 4:50:07.

Record accomplished, Walmsley pulled the reins way back to a pedestrian jog in order, under USATF rules, to complete the entire listed race distance. The ensuing 12-mile cool-down run, which he described as “really long,” brought him to the 100K finish line in 6:55:24. Yamauchi ran a more conservative race and surged past Walmsley after 52 miles to win the 100k race in a time of 6:19:55.

Post race, Walmsley, who had been studying up on South African, Bruce Fordyce, whose record he had just broken, cited the African proverb, “You can’t chase two rabbits,” in explaining his race strategy. Seeing things were heating up quickly, he decided to focus on the 50-mile mark. “100k wasn’t in the cards for me today but maybe in the future,” he said. Project Carbon X served Walmsley’s goal of racing Comrades and he used the road ultra to gain experience so that the famed South African race won’t “be total learning experience.”

Jim Walmsley
photo: courtesy HOKA

Walmsley said he applied Fordyce’s mantra of “cautious” for the first 20 miles but then went with the day. “I like to run out of instinct,” he said. Tipping his hat to HOKA, both the host and his sponsor, he said he chose to push as a way of giving something back. “They’ve been really good to me,” he said, and he was good to them by producing a record on this highly-visible day.

In addition, there were four teams of ten runners that also broke a rather obscure 100K relay World Record with the winning team hitting a 5:45:51 to easily break the existing mark of 6:01. The mixed-gender teams contained both HOKA athletes and runners from select retail partners—all wearing the new Carbon X shoe.

HOKA Carbon X
photo: Adam Chase

The race was designed to highlight the debut of HOKA’s new racing shoe, the Carbon X. The shoe will be reviewed in an upcoming Rundown, but the 8.5 oz (men’s 9) $180 shoe is a cushioned racer with a noticeable rocker to put you on your forefoot but with a very stable platform that serves mid and rearfoot runners well.

Although made for road, the Carbon X runs well on all surfaces, with the heel-to-toe carbon plate that follows the curve of the foot and provides efficiency benefits, stride integrity and push-through protection. The 32mm rearfoot/27mm forefoot midsole is essentially a sandwich of 1.5mm of carbon between two types of foam, a firm injected rubberized EVA below the plate and a softer foam above, giving the shoe a loading feel that is both springy and cushioned. The shoe performs better at a faster clip and while the Carbon X isn’t for a 5 or 10k, it will work well for half and full marathoners wanting a plush racer and an even better option for road ultras where the dual benefits of comfort and efficiency make all the difference.