Jaco van der Merwe
The Under Armour HOVR Machina makes some bold claims to justify its big price tag, so The Citizen's sports editor decided to put those claims to the test by hitting the road in a pair.
It boldly proclaims the HOVR (pronounced hover) Machina’s features include “coaching’’.
Seriously? A shoe was going to tell me how to run? After following my meticulous biokineticist’s stringent running programmes for many years, for thousands of kilometers, in my tireless pursuit of four Comrades Marathon medals, I was going to lend my ears to a pair of stitched rubber and mesh? I had my doubts.
Runners are creatures of habit. Once we’ve found what works for us there is very little tinkering. We swear by our ludicrously early starting times in the morning, have set pre-run routines, stick to our favourite routes like clockwork, and love indulging in our proven post-run recovery snacks, whether that be peanut butter toast or banana smoothies.
Most importantly, we have our preferred brand of shoes. And even when there actually might be truth to a manufacturer’s typical claims that it has reinvented the running shoe with its annual offering, that’s still not enough to sway us away from the brand that got us to the top of Polly Shortts time and again.
Unless you’re a scientist, you probably won’t care about the spec sheet and trying to figure it out.
In my case, I’m an Asics man through and through, having settled on my brand of choice after some seriously painful – and expensive - trial and error in my early running days. But I have to admit that the pair of HOVR Machina that Under Armour was kind enough to hand The Citizen to review definitely looked the part. Clad in blue and orange colours what the American sport apparel calls Water and Orange Spark, our test pair looked fresh and highly inviting for a run.
My knowledge of rocket science is too poor to explain all the hi-tech materials indicated on the spec sheet, so just trust me when I say they are very soft and comfy right from slipping them on for the first time.
How it works:
What makes the “coaching” possible is a Bluetooth chip moulded into the sole of the right shoe. And the best part is you don’t have to buy a single piece of additional equipment. All you need to be able to tap into this coaching business is a mobile device to download the UA MapMyRun app. And to download the app is free, aside from any data costs involved.
You don’t have to run with your device either to have access to the information as the chip automatically stores every run. When you are done with a training session, you just sync the shoe with the app to conveniently download your run in a matter of seconds. And upon feasting your eyes on the spectacular analytical breakdown of your run, you can’t be blamed for feeling like a professional athlete looking at his coach’s drawing board in the cool-down room.
It shows a basic breakdown of your workout, which includes distance, duration, average pace, split time per kilometer and calories burnt. In addition, you get a complete breakdown of cadence, stride length, foot strike angle and average ground contact time. Even a seasoned veteran must admit that that is a mouthful.
And it’s in the midst of this myriad of numbers where the actual coaching comes in. After syncing my very first run, I was very excited to notice that there was a personalised coaching tip waiting for me. The excitement faded upon the cold scientific fact that my stride length was “only’’ 82% in the target range. Because 18% of the time my run stride length was deemed to be too long, it apparently increases the risk of injury.
Each run teaches the shoes more about you, allowing it to generate personalised coaching tips.
Did it actually improve my running?:
I simply wasn’t going to accept not being as efficient at something I had invested so much time of my life into. Long distance running was the one thing I actually got more respect for than I did captaining the third rugby team at high school and I was not going to be told that I suck at it. Not by an invisible, plastic, microscopic thingy in any case.
In trying to rectify the potential shame hanging over my head, I set off doing what any dignified, addicted runner would. I accepted the challenge.
“Try taking shorter steps for the first two and last two minutes of your run,” was the virtual coach’s recommendation.
I gladly obliged and believe it or not, within 10 runs, I managed to improve my average stride length to be 99% within the target range. Whether the coach telling me that is a chiselled Adonis swinging a whistle around his finger at the side of the athletics track or an invisible plastic component hiding in the sole of my shoe, I’ll take it.
If science had reason to believe my running style was imperfect and it motivated me to make it less dodgy – I’m mature enough to understand that I’m never going to win the Comrades – then I have no other reason but to oblige. Doing it in the comfort of advanced materials that is good enough for astronauts was a bonus.
Should you not already have a running watch showing your real-time pace and distance, the MapMyRun app is capable of doing that too, should you be comfortable with carrying your device along on your run.
My results improved, and so did my stride, apparently, making me less prone to injury, if the shoe’s built-in coach is to be believed.
Are they worth the price?:
Even though the HOVR Machina is a seriously expensive pair of running shoes at R2,999, the added benefits it offers makes up for the price tenfold. You might save a few rand in buying a pair of high-mileage running shoes and a very entry-level running watch, but together they won’t be able to offer the same level of comfort and features the HOVR Machina does.
That is not even including the coaching part, which ultimately has the power to soothe even the most stubborn running ego.
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