Well, I did it. During my last marathon training cycle, I finally tried a pair of Hoka One One shoes.
When I first began running, I was a typical heel-striker unless I was sprinting. In an attempt to stave off persistent lower leg injuries, I switched to a mid-foot strike with the help of Vibram’s and Newton’s. Shortly thereafter, I was amazed to find my chronic knee pain had subsided. This wasn’t pain I developed as a result of running but pain I had endured most of my adult life.
I was officially a member of Team Minimal Cushion in time to witness the birth of Team Max Cushion.
I’ve tried on the Hoka Clifton a few times, but I just couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. They didn’t feel right on my feet, and like most other heavily cushioned shoes, I found the lack of stability disturbing. Regardless, I decided to dive in wallet-first and try a pair of Clifton’s, the model I had heard the most about online.
Even though the Clifton 2 had already been released, I ended up with the Clifton 1. For whatever reason, the Clifton 2 felt drastically different between left and right so I went with the Clifton 1. Looking back, I wonder if the Clifton 2 at the local running store may have had different insoles in each shoe. The Clifton 1 came with 2 insole options so if the Clifton 2 is the same, the previous shopper may have been experimenting. Regardless, I was happy testing the Clifton 1 because it seems like it’s the shoe that kicked off the maximal trend.
So without further adieu…
Clifton 1 vs. Clifton 2
The main difference between the Clifton 1 and 2 is the tongue of the shoe. The Clifton 1 has what feels more like a thick piece of leather as a tongue whereas the Clifton 2 has a fairly traditional, cushioned tongue.
I can understand why people didn’t like the Clifton 1 tongue, but I actually liked it. The thick leather seemed to spread out the force of the laces and make it more comfortable on my feet than the thick, softer tongue of the Clifton 2.
How can I not jump straight to the cushioning? That’s really what this or any Hoka review is about, right?
Between August and November, I put in about 400 miles training for the 2015 Route 66 Marathon. At least half of those miles were in the Hoka One One Clifton. During the first several long runs, I honestly considered giving up on the Hoka’s. Nothing felt right. I was slower and felt like I was exerting more effort than normal. It was like running in quicksand.
I don’t remember when that changed, but the first hint was on a downhill during one of many long runs. I don’t like running downhill, and I alternate between trying to go with the flow and applying the brakes. On one of my downhills in the Hoka’s, I realized I was running aggressively downhill without any discomfort. As my confidence grew, there were times I was pushing my downhill pace into the low 5’s on steep enough hills. Considering I was attempting an 8 min/mile marathon pace, that’s pretty quick for me, even downhill.
Shortly thereafter, I noticed a similar change on the uphills. Keep in mind that I like running uphill, and I find minimal shoes great for running uphill. That said, on the same hill where I was hitting low 5’s downhill, I found myself bounding up the hill near the end of a 20 mile run and feeling surprisingly good.
I don’t know which of these changes can be attributed to the shoes and which can be attributed to the volume and quality of training. All I know is I wasn’t a fan of maximal cushioning, but I grew to appreciate its benefits on my long runs. If I were lacing up for a 5K, I would never wear the Hoka’s, but at half marathon distance or longer, soft, maximal cushioning like the Hoka One One Clifton 1 is definitely worth consideration.
Unfortunately, there is one glaring problem with the Hoka One One Clifton 1’s and most Hoka’s from what I’ve seen. The toe box is way too small.
Before you object, hear me out . I’ve run in a variety of shoes, both traditional and minimal, trail and road. In 5 years of running, I have never bruised a toenail, much less lost one. Actually, in all of my 42 years, regardless of the sport or activity, I’ve never bruised or lost a toe nail.
So what’s my secret? Ridiculously tough toenails. Seriously, that’s it. Most people struggle with their big toenail, and my big toenails are just tough. If I don’t have the extra heavy duty toenail clippers, the odds of bending the clippers versus cutting the nail are about 50/50. Gross, right? The other toes are softer, but most of them also curve with the shape of toe instead of sticking out straight so they don’t take much impact.
Around mile 20 of the Route 66 Marathon, I knew that was going to change. At the end of the race, I had 3 bruised toe nails. The 4th toe on my left foot and both of my big toes had bruised. A short 6 weeks later, I lost the nail from the 4th toe, but the big toenails look like they will survive.
I know some runners wear lost and bruised toenails as a badge of honor, but I consider most bruises and blisters the fault of bad equipment.
The Hoka One One Clifton upper is reasonably comfortable and breathes pretty well. The only problem I ran into beyond the size of the toe box was a hot spot on the inside of my right ankle. Given that it showed up on only one foot I suspect this was a manufacturing defect. A properly positioned bandaid prevented the blister, but seeing as I always forgot to put the band aid on, I now have a nice Hoka spot on my foot that seems to be in no hurry to go away.
Underneath my foot, the Hoka One One Clifton performed well. Traction was good, and the Clifton easily handled a few miles of trail running during my long training runs. It surprised me that I could feel the ground so well running on the trails. The trails here are rocky, and though you could feel the rocks for proprioceptive feedback, the soles were durable enough to protect the foot from injury.
The insoles included with the Clifton could use some work. As I mentioned above, they included 2 models. The default was more molded to the shoe and more comfortable on my foot. Unfortunately, after about 50 miles of training in the shoes, those insoles decided they had had enough and tried to walk out the back of my shoes during a run. After that experience, I looked around online and found I wasn’t the only one who had experienced problems with Hoka’s insoles. Hopefully newer Hoka shoes have solved this problem because it’s pretty aggravating to find yourself at mile 5 of a 10 mile run with insole sticking out the back of your shoes.
As far as the feel of the shoe, I’ve not noticed any dropoff in the Hoka One One Clifton. Now closing in on 300 miles, I don’t see any reason to retire them. The outsoles are taking a lot of damage, but it’s not affecting the ride in the least. It might affect the off-road traction after a while, but since these are road shoes, it seems inappropriate to judge them based on trail performance.
Though I generally liked the way I ran in Hoka’s, I will never buy again unless they change the toe box dimensions. What I find amusing is I went into this review leery of maximal cushioning and especially the potential for rolling an ankle in a maximal cushioned shoe. I came out of this review only having rolled an ankle in minimal shoes (looking at you Nike Free), appreciating the maximal cushioning for helping me run better downhill, but disliking the shoe for a very boring, traditional reason….fit.
- Downhill Running Comfort
- High Mileage Durability
- Toe Box Too Small
- Faulty Insoles
- Potential QC Issues (hot spot on one shoe)