Nike Zoom Fly ($150)
Race shoes can’t be training shoes. Or so we thought. The Zoom Fly—a speed-addicted trainer born out of Nike’s attempt to break the two-hour-marathon mark—was both the most exciting shoe of the year and the most fun. With its carbon-infused nylon plate running from heel to toe, the Zoom Fly is the stiffest trainer we’ve ever seen, period. But that isn’t a bad thing. We immediately noticed the powerful, propulsive forward spring, lightning-quick turnover, and snappy feel, despite the relatively thick cushioning of the 33-millimeter stack height. It feels like a highly caffeinated ride—an easy grab for fast long-distance training sessions and a no-brainer race-day pick for middle-of-the-packers, who won’t mind the extra foam. The only downside (if you can call it that): you may find yourself running PRs on recovery days. Wide feet? Mind the narrow, streamlined fit. 8.8 oz (men’s) / 6.5 oz (women’s); 10 mm drop.
ASICS RoadHawk FF ($100)
The Test: If it weren’t for a little bit of road slap, we would have had nothing but compliments for the RoadHawk, a new, impressively light, amply cushioned trainer with a socklike fit. The stretchy mesh in the toe box feels open and accommodating, but the slimmer last and midfoot overlays give it a secure and responsive locked-down feel. With its eight-ounce weight and springy FlyteFoam midsole, the RoadHawk can hammer out fartleks and tempo sessions while providing a soft landing—comfort without a sluggish feel. That crisp clap in the toe with every stride was not a deal breaker, but it was definitely a distraction.
Hoka One One Clifton 4 ($130)
The Clifton got a significant update in its fourth generation. It is still a mega-fat shoe built for easy cruising, but with a more durable midsole, a completely revamped upper now built with reduced overlays and engineered mesh, and a wider, slow-cinching fit that got a thumbs-up from our team. The rockered outsole throws heel strikers into the back seat, but the characteristically low weight allows for a good clip. The new midsole felt radically different as the seasons changed—almost too firm and energetic on crisp mornings, but breadloafy on warmer afternoons. A few testers sniped at the still too narrow toe box.