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Shoe Review: New Kid on the Block - Hoka Cielo X1 ($275)



Spring marathon season is upon us — Rotterdam (April 14), Boston (April 15), London (April 21) are just three of the most notable of the hundreds of marathons on the calendar in April — and that means we’ll probably be seeing a lot more prototypes of carbon-plated super shoes on the feet of elite runners very soon. One that dropped on Feb. 1 prior to the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Orlando that hasn’t yet gotten much coverage or hype is the Hoka Cielo X1.


Hoka was the second brand to launch a carbon-plated racing shoe (after Nike reintroduced the category in 2017) when it launched the original Hoka Carbon Rocket in late 2018. That shoe had a lower–to-the-ground design that resembled a traditional racing flat. And while it proved to be speedy — Cam Levins was wearing a pair when he set a new Canadian record of 2:09:25 at the 2018 Toronto Waterfront Marathon — Hoka quickly pushed its carbon-plated technology into the maximally cushioned shoes that it was most known for. (And so did every other brand, once it was realized that the thick, resilient foam is the real catalyst in these types of shoes.) That led to the successful launch of the Hoka Carbon X and the Hoka Rocket X shoes (and their subsequent sequels), which were well-received and fast but perhaps just a sign of even greater things to come. The Rocket X 2 and now the Cielo X1 are a couple of the “what’s next?” shoes for Hoka and, judging by my first several runs in the Cielo X1, it’s definitely a great next step into the future and a hint of what’s still yet to come.


What’s New: The Hoka Cielo X1 is a brand new shoe, but it actually debuted under wraps on the feet of a few athletes at the women’s edition of the 2023 Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, last October. It’s built around a winged carbon-fiber propulsion plate sandwiched in between two layers of a hyper-responsive Peba midsole (firmer on the bottom, softer directly under the foot) and a dramatic rocker geometry that promotes a lively, rolling stride cycle. A stretchy but very supportive and tightly knit upper is secured with a gusseted loosely knit tongue and flat laces, while a near-full coverage rubber outsole provides sufficient traction on dry and wet paved surfaces. It’s not as light as most top-level carbon-plated racing shoes, so whether this is one for your racing or training depends on what kind of runner you are. 


Fit/Feel/Ride: The Cielo X1 fits true to size with a medium/narrow interior volume (it’s especially narrow at the heel) and a toe box that’s roomy enough for my toes to wiggle and flex. The interior feels comfortably snug with a wrap-like sensation made possible by a lightly padded suede material around the heel cup and a stretchy knit tongue that is integrated into a partially gusset system at the arch. The step-in feel is soft and squishy (even before you run) because of the premium sockliner and that lays on top of the upper layer of extremely responsive Peba midsole foam.


The two layers of foam and the winged plate are the best juice Hoka has ever put into a super shoe, so it’s not surprising that the ride is very lively and bouncy. (I love the midsole of the Hoka Rocket X 2, but this feels more energetic even though this shoe is heavier.) On every run I did (at various paces and distances), I felt a significant spring jolting through every stride — and considerable energy return into my subsequent strides, too. 


Why It’s Great: It’s great because it’s energetic and stable. The cushioning puts loads of bouncy propulsion into every stride, while the wings (and the wide footprint of the forefoot) provide a good amount of inherent stability. There’s no question this shoe serves up what is known as “easy speed,” meaning that it’s a shoe that will help you run slightly faster than you expect for any run or workout you do. That said, it’s hard to overlook the fact that it’s nearly 2 ounces heavier than the top-tier racing shoes, and therefore not an all-out racing model for runners at the front of the pack. However, if you’re a beginner, middle-of-the-pack, or larger runner who’s looking to PR, the weight won’t be a huge factor. What will be a huge factor is the consistent, responsive ride that will serve up enormous energy return and make your gait as efficient as possible. (I’m hoping to run a 3:15 marathon later this year, so that applies to me, too!)


Specs

Weights: 7.4 oz. (women’s 8); 9.3 oz. (men’s 9)

Heel-Toe Offsets: 7mm; 37mm at the heel/30mm at the forefoot (women); 39mm at the heel/32mm at the forefoot (men)


Why You’ll Love It: You’ll likely love it because it’s a fun shoe to wear. The Cielo X1 made my easy recovery runs feel much more energized than they should have, while they also felt lively and comfortable on my longer runs (up to 12 miles). I loved this shoe for my tempo-paced runs, fartleks runs and the session of 5 x 1,000-meter repeats I did on a track. I haven’t raced in it yet, but I do think this could be a great race-day shoe for a lot of runners in the middle of the pack (especially for half marathoners), and also be a high-rev training shoe for others.


Pro: The eye-catching striped upper is the result of a high-tech micro-knit construction that provides a pliable, accommodating and a secure fit as well as very good breathability. (The corduroy pattern alternates between a tighter micro-knit for strength and a more airy micro-knit for venting.)


Con: The jury is still out on this shoe’s flat and stiff laces. And by jury, I mean my own judgment. They are awkward to lace up and seem to require more torque for a tight knot, but then again I only once had one of the laces come undone once. They’re better than round laces, but traditional flat and soft laces or sausage-link laces are still my favorite for their reliability.

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