Article by Michael Ellenberger
Hoka Cielo X MD ($160)
Pros: Aggressive and firm; undoubtedly built for speed; upper is amazingly thin without sacrificing lockdown
Cons: Hole in the outsole limits cross-country utility; no signature Hoka squish
Official Weight: men’s 4.5 oz / g (US9) Official: 4.5oz
Sample: men’s 4.4 oz / 125 g (US8.5)
Stack Height: men’s 11 mm heel / 7mm forefoot
Available now at $160, including at our partners at the end of the article.
Michael is a 2019 graduate of Northwestern University Law School in Chicago and is a patent and intellectual property attorney. Prior to law school, he competed collegiately at Washington University in St. Louis (10,000m PR of 30:21). He recently finished 2nd at the Chicago Half-Marathon in a PR of 67:43. He has a 2:23 marathon PR (2nd place) from the 2021 Lakefront Marathon in Wisconsin
First Impressions and Fit
The new Cielo X MD is Hoka’s elite, mid-distance, carbon-plated spike.
With a shimmer effect glazing the midsole and outsole, carbon fiber peeking through at the heel, and a color scheme that Hoka pulls off beautifully, this spike without question looks the part – and feels it, too.
Though the “MD” in the title (and the build of the spike!) mean this is geared towards distances shorter than I usually take on (800m-3000m; I think you could take it to a 5K if you really wanted), my relative lack of fitness coming off winter training meant I was happy to test this over some shorter track repeats without the need to take it to, say, 25-laps of a 10K. And without fail, I was running with less effort than expected – and in this case, I was fully confident it was not some surprisingly great workout, but instead a shoe that really delivers on its promise of improving performance through engineering. The Cielo X MD is fit, fast, and quite a ride… if you’re lucky enough to need a shoe for a track mile.
The upper here is a light blue and orange engineered mesh, with a perforation pattern to the weave such that it looks as if you could tear through it with little effort.
Fortunately, that’s not the case, but the material engineering here is really impressive; it’s soft, light (I tested my pair both with thin socks and sockless, without issue) and doesn’t feel like it’s going to rip… despite looking like it’s going to rip. Moreover, there’s a midfoot lockdown system that keeps your foot from bursting through the paper-thin material.
As with most spikes, I’d consider trying either true-to-size or a half-size down; my 8.5 test pair works well, but I think I could have gotten away with an 8 to really feel “race ready.” I additionally had a slight bout of heel irritation when I wore them without socks, but it wasn’t necessarily due to heel slipping, per se – I think it was more a re-aggravation of a previous chafe.
The Cielo X MD touts a full-length PEBAXspike plate and 6-spike layout (despite what Hoka’s website says; Hoka’s sister spike, the Cielo X LD only has 4 pins, so I suspect it’s a copy/paste error).
Of course, for a spike targeting middle-distance track racing and geared towards elite runners, there’s no way around it – it’s an aggressive stance, and you’re going to need to be up on your forefoot to feel comfortable in the Cielo X MD.
Once you find that groove, and are moving at a quick clip (often a sprint, in my case), you’ll find that the aggressiveness doesn’t work against you, but instead for you. That is, while the midfoot plate is undoubtedly stiff (so much so that you’ll immediately notice the lack of flexibility walking around in the spike), it doesn’t feel uncomfortable when being used as a spike is meant to be used – on the track!
Now, despite PEBAX being one of my favorite midsole materials, I can’t say much about the cushion underfoot here – there’s technically cushion, and honestly you can feel some energy return through your footstrike, but this is a shoe meant to be raced in for ~2 to ~10 minutes, not a Boston qualifier attempt. It’s firm without being harsh, but there’s no doubt it’s built for speed.
If you’re a casual track runner looking for a spike to use at all-comers meets, I would likely try the Cielo X LD instead, for a slightly more gentle (and lighter) approach. Also, cross-country runners take heed – there’s a gap between the actual plate and the midsole near the heel, and I’m sure twigs leaves, and other debris will love to take home there (and yes, I think those running 2 miles, 3 miles, or 5K cross-country distances could wear this without issue, in terms of posture – but I’d avoid it on anything with heavy woodchip or dirt presence.
Conclusions and Recommendations
In general, the evaluative process for spikes is fundamentally different than trainers, or even racing flats. Hell, if Hoka pitched this shoe as guaranteeing a 5K track PR, at the cost of some bloody toes, I’d still consider it a successful product, because track spikes aren’t constructed for comfort, durability, or range – they’re narrowly designed products to get you around the oval quickly. Fortunately, Hoka has made a fast, light, and fun spike that, you know, won’t make your toes bleed – and instead will cover 400m laps in relative comfort and style. Actually, I’d love to see this upper on a short-distance (dare I say, Nike Streakfly-esque) flat from Hoka – perhaps a plated EVO Rehi? One can dream.
All that to say – the Cielo X MD is one of my favorite track spikes I’ve ever tested, and undoubtedly a great choice if you’re looking for a middle-distance PR. If you’re a high school or collegiate athlete who is allowed to wear Hoka, I would very seriously consider the Cielo X MD alongside the next generation of spikes (Nike Dragonfly and New Balance FuelCell X line included). “Back in my day,” we evaluated spikes pretty much purely on weight – the Nike Zoom Victory or Matumbo were the de facto choices because they were the lightest options. Now, the midsole and plated technologies have changed the game (again!), and I don’t think the Cielo X MD is anywhere but at the forefront of that movement.
Michael’s Score: 9.5/10
Index to all RTR reviews: HERE
Nike Zoom Victory 3: This was my go-to (read: only) post-collegiate spike for a while, and it’s interesting to see how spikes have improved since the introduction of carbon plates. The Victory 3 was stiff, to be sure, but didn’t quite have the same explosive “pop” that a plated option will have. With the Hoka’s upper being as comfortable as any trainer, there’s no reason to not try a next-generation spike.
New Balance Fuelcell MD X: This is the closest competitor to the Cielo X MD that I’ve tried, and while both are terrific leaps in spike technology, I think the Hoka is a more refined and usable spike. The New Balance is undoubtedly fast – besides my experience, we’ve seen records fall in it – but the Hoka feels slightly more comfortable, and is likely a better option for runners targeting 3K-5K (whereas the NB feels more at home in the 800/1K/Mile).
Tested samples were provided at no charge for review purposes others were personal purchases. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors’
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