At the Skydive Ultra, my biggest difficulty was pain in the soles of me feet. I think this is to be expected to some degree, particularly for a larger and heavier runner. But running the first 29 miles in fairly minimalist Merrell Bare Access Ultra's certainly didn't help. And, while the Altra Olympus shoes I switched to were much better in terms of cushioning, I'm just not totally in love with them. They're a bit heavy at 11 ounces and don't quite feel right on my feet no matter how much I adjust them. That's led me to search for a new, highly cushioned shoe for long runs.
Delray Beach Running Company. After lots of testing and trying, I did end up with the Clifton despite liking the Hoka One One Conquest quite a bit.
First Run Impressions
This morning I was able to get out for my first run in the Cliftons, a 14 miler on easy and non-technical trail along an Everglades levee. It's also only my second long run (and first comfortable long run) since the Skydive Ultra, so my impressions may be somewhat colored by lack of training.
Overall, this shoe feels wonderful to put on. It's exactly as soft and cushioned as described, and so wonderfully light. At 7.7 ounces per shoe, they feel almost weightless on foot. Odd that a difference of just over 3 ounces compared to my Altras can feel so different, but it does. The feel on foot is just great.
The cushioning while running is everything I expected and read about. Tons of cushioning, but it never felt like the thick sole would cause me to twist an ankle or tip over. I felt nicely connected to the ground and was able to move along easily despite them being an entirely new shoe for me.
I do have one gripe, and it's the same one you'll read in many reviews. The toe box is really cramped. I didn't notice it for several miles, but by mile 10 my small toes were definitely developing hot spots from being squeezed between neighboring toes and the edge of the shoe. No blisters developed over today's 14 miles. I'm not sure that would remain the case over 50 miles, however. I'm going to try running in the Clifton wearing Injinji socks to see if that relieves some of the rubbing. My Clifton's also come with a second insole which I understand is a bit thinner and softer. I'm going to try those in the shoes to see if they offer a touch more space in the toe box.
But I'm worried about the toe box issue. I want to wear these shoes for really long runs given how great they feel otherwise. That won't be possible if the small toe issue continues.
The Other Big Gripe
I have one other issue with the Hoka One One Clifton's. They're expensive. They retail for US$130 which was far more than I've ever paid for a pair of running shoes. That's not a price really out of line with other running shoes, but it's just more than I'm comfortable spending. I generally watch for previous year models of shoes to go on sale, then buy them on the cheap. That wasn't possible with the Cliftons. And I would not have bought them had I not gotten a little money for my birthday last week. But I am willing to spend a bit more now that my running distances are really increasing, if the shoes help with pain and injury prevention. I was also happy to discover my membership with the Boca Raton Triathletes got me a nice discount.
Given the cost, I'm concerned about durability. The shoes are super light, the soles made of fairly soft materials. I'm a heavier guy. I'm not sure I'll be able to run in a pair for 400 miles, or even if they'll make it to 300 miles. Combine that with their high cost, and they may simply not be a realistic shoe for me.
Would I Buy Them Again?
I think the big question on any piece of gear is, would I buy it again? Even if I love something, but cost would prevent me from buying it again, it doesn't feel like a good value. However, if I just like something, but cost allows me to buy it again, that's value. Or I might love something so much that cost becomes less relevant; then again, that's value.
It's too early for me to say that I'd buy the Clifton's again. I wish one run would have been enough to make that decision. I do really love the feel and ride of the shoes. But the toe box is concerning. The cost is tough for me to swallow, particularly if durability is below par. These shoes are so close to perfect, but just not there. We'll see.