The RW Takeaway: A smooth ride with impressive energy return makes the Rocket X a worthy, race-ready option up against its other carbon-fiber-plated contenders.
- Early-stage Meta-Rocker for a propulsive toe-off
- Open mesh upper for breathability
- Narrow toe box
Type: Road, racing
Weight: 7.4 oz (M), unisex
A year ago—what seems like a billion years ago—runners toed the starting line at the Olympic Trials Marathon in Atlanta. Blissfully unaware of how the rest of 2020 would unfold, we were in the present moment, eyes glued to the course, wondering if the winners would be wearing the most buzzed about shoe: Nike’s Air Zoom Alphafly Next%.
But the women’s first-place winner wasn’t sprinting to the finish in those controversial kicks. Hoka One One–sponsored athlete, Aliphine Tuliamuk, earned her Team USA spot racing in Hoka’s Rocket X.
There’s no question Tuliamuk’s win was fueled by determination, talent, and hard work. But that doesn’t spoil the mysticism of lacing up in a pair of Rocket Xs so you can channel Tuliamuk’s grit as you run.
To simulate the exhilaration of racing in the Rocket X, I had to find the right testing ground. I had to run 26.2 miles with a competitive mindset.
Having already run in a virtual marathon, I wasn’t too thrilled about repeating this challenge again on my own. After some research, I managed to find a fall race—Chasing the Unicorn Marathon in Washington Crossing, PA— that met my criteria: nearby, small, and following strict COVID-19 guidelines (i.e., limited field size, no-touch curtained porta-potties, masks required at the starting line, single-runner wave start, no spectators, and no medal ceremony). Even though the Boston Marathon is postponed indefinitely, my intention was to clock a qualifying time below 3:25, evaluating how the Rocket would perform at race pace.
Hoka’s Fastest Shoe
In Hoka’s family of competition trainers, the Rocket is advertised as the fastest. Compared to the Carbon X and X2, the Rocket feels much lighter—and snappier. There’s definitely more flexibility in contrast to the beefier, more cushioned Carbon models. And yet, according to one tester, the Rocket isn’t “rock hard” like the brand’s other road racing shoe, the Tracer.
I had recently tested Saucony’s Endorphin Pro during a virtual race, and run marathons pre-pandemic in Nike’s Flyknit Vaperfly 4% and Brooks’s Hyperion Elite. All of the above beg you to go one speed: ultra-fast.
Like the Endorphin Pro’s Speedroll tech, which promotes smooth heel-to-toe transitions, Hoka’s early-stage Meta-Rocker does the same job, encouraging quick toe-off with a slightly rounded sole. During the race, the ride was springy, and I felt like my entire body was slashing through the air on the downhills. But the Meta-Rocker’s roll isn’t as severe as the Speedroll. Oftentimes, I felt like I was tipping forward in the Endorphin Pros.
For stability, an internal heel counter offers some support. However, my ankles wobbled a couple times when the ground became uneven or when I skirted around turns. It didn’t help that the surface rotated between pavement and trail. The outsole has virtually no traction, and I found myself cautiously jogging on grass to avoid slipping on mud. If you want to PR in these shoes, maybe preview the course beforehand; these shoes are strictly meant for the road.
Paired with the lightweight EVA in the midsole, the platform is adequately cushioned and springy. It may not be the Pebax foam found in Nike’s shoes, but it delivers the kind of bounce that will have you double-checking the pace on your wristwatch. Yes, you are running that fast.
The fit is secure for a unisex-size shoe. I found other racing shoes, such as the Vaporfly and Hyperion Elite, tended to have a loose-fitting heel collar, which is a common issue for women wearing all-gender trainers. The upper is breathable and drains surprisingly well. I had to splash through a water crossing four times, and my socks didn’t feel too soggy and dried quickly. Usually Hoka’s shoes run a half size larger (a side-to-side comparison with a pair of Brooks and the Carbon X2 showed an obvious difference in length), yet the all-gender Rocket X was surprisingly true-to-size.
One caveat: the narrow toe box. One tester found the shoe cut a little too close over his pinky toe. I, on the other hand, had a more traumatic experience. Postrace, after alternately curling my toes or feeling them scratch the mesh just below the toe cap for over 26 miles, I ended up with three black nails, one of which—TMI–fell off a week later.
However, my loss wasn’t in vain. I achieved my goal, qualifying for Boston, and earned my spot on the podium, coming in first place in the women’s division.
It’s not just the shoes, of course. Finding my inner Aliphine had given me courage to finish strong—blackened toenails be damned.