On a Tuesday afternoon at the West Orange Trail outside of Orlando, Florida, Tracksmith ASP (Amateur Support Program) athletes prepare for the Olympic Marathon Trials. Even though the race is just four days away, the mood is relatively calm.
One of the runners is 25-year-old Amelia Keyser-Gibson, a University of Washington graduate student studying plant science. She’s running her first Trials and is laced up in the Tracksmith Eliot Racer prototype. The shoe is planned for a summer release, coinciding with the 2024 Olympic games.
Amelia Keyser-Gibson (second from left) runs in the Eliot Racer prototype.
The Eliot Racer is still being fine-tuned before its launch. Shoe specs like upper material, weight, stack height, and pricing are yet to be finalized. Our RW test team will put the Eliot Racer through our usual rigorous testing once we receive the finished product. But we got a first look at the prototype the week leading up to the Trials. The most intriguing aspect of the Eliot Racer is its energy return system. The shoe will come with two sockliners: one for training and one for race day.
Tracksmith’s Amateur Support Program began in 2020, when it was still known as the OTQ Program. Elite amateur runners who apply and are accepted into ASP are provided with race kits and competition expenses, and receive special support leading up to race day. Two weeks before the Trials, ASP athletes went through heat-acclimation camp to prep for racing in Orlando’s humidity.
Over 70 ASP athletes are competing in the Trials, making Tracksmith’s representation just under 20 percent of the field. According to Nick Willis, who spearheads ASP, the gender ratio of men to women is about 50/50. The athletes’ ages range from 22 to 46 years old. The team includes everyday runners—lawyers, scientists, teachers, students, parents—who somehow manage to juggle full-time jobs with elite-level marathon training.
Prototype Tester/Racer: Louis Serafini, 32
global director of community at Tracksmith
3x Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier and competitor
Qualified at 2022 California International Marathon, 2:14:59
Previously raced in the Nike Vaporfly 4% Flyknit, Nike Alphafly Next%, and Saucony Endorphin Elite
“My big target workout was a 25-miler that I did two weeks ago. I wore the Eliot Racer with its firmer, more responsive sockliner. That run gave me the confidence I needed to want to wear the Eliot Racer prototype on race day. It was one of the best long run workouts I’ve ever had. I hit some of the fastest paces I’ve ever hit in a marathon-specific workout.”
“They’re just really genuine, humble people,” said Willis at the ASP House, a villa Tracksmith rented that’s located on the outskirts of Orlando. “We’re really proud that we embrace the amateur spirit, and we use the original definition of the word (amator is Latin for lover). It’s for the love.
“This is our athletes’ big moment. Their whole support community is going to be watching and cheering them on. Our athletes want to represent all of those loved ones as best as they can.”
At the ASP House, athletes convened, received massages poolside, and ate brunch before being presented with their OTQ race kits. Many of them were staying at Airbnbs covered by Tracksmith and had just completed heat camp. Eight of the athletes were given the opportunity to test a prototype of the brand’s top secret super shoe. Some will even race in it.
When Tracksmith decided to toss its hat into the super shoe ring, it had no delusions about entering an oversaturated market. This was all a part of the brand’s strategy. Beginning with the Eliot Runner, which was released in September 2022, the Hare approached footwear by focusing on the core shoes a runner needs.
“You could say the Racer was always a part of the plan,” said Tracksmith’s co-founder and CEO, Matt Taylor, on a video call.
The development of Tracksmith’s training and racing shoes overlapped, which helped the team’s understanding of the geometrical differences between each. For instance, the Eliot Racer’s last is slightly wider in the forefoot because the foot applies more force during turnover at faster paces.
Many people on the product team previously worked for other shoe brands, including New Balance, Puma, and Salomon. There’s even a member who worked alongside NASA. With that diversity of experience at the table, the team dived into the challenge of creating a different kind of racing shoe.
At this point, the ingredients of a super shoe are well-known: carbon-fiber plate, high energy foam, aggressive geometry. There are also those rules every marathoner tries to follow: lay out your gear the night before, start out slow, nothing new on race day. That last rule was the driving force behind the Eliot Racer.
Prototype Tester/Racer: Grace Moore, 25
ASP athlete, medical market specialist at InBodyBWA
First time Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier
Qualified at 2023 Project 13.1 Trials of Miles, 1:11:53 (debut)
Previously raced in the Nike Vaporfly Next% 2
“I got to try the Eliot Racer prototype in early December, once I started to build up my long run. I had good workouts with them, so I didn’t really think twice about racing in them. The only other shoe I tried before was the Vaporfly, and that’s what I ran my qualifying time in. I found the Racer to be just as bouncy as the Vaporfly. And what I actually liked more about the Tracksmith shoe was its forefoot. I think the Vaporflys are really narrow, so it kind of hurts your toes after the race.”
Nowadays, many runners struggle to return to normal daily trainers after running in a super shoe. Instead of reserving super shoes for race day, the urge to train in them has become irresistible. Brands have released super trainers—carbon-plated shoes with thick slabs of foam well beyond a 40mm stack height—to feed that craving. There’s also this back-of-mind worry: Is training in a shoe for only a couple of runs enough for me to confidently race in it for 26.2 miles?
This is where “freeing the foam”—the two sockliners—comes in. The “training sockliner” gives athletes reassurance throughout their training by allowing them to log workouts in their racing shoe. The second sockliner, which is more responsive and has more cushioning, provides athletes with a fresh platform on race morning.
Instead of PEBA, which is what the Eliot Runner midsole is composed of, TPU foam is used to sandwich the carbon-fiber plate. (You can see it after removing the sockliner.) The TPU closer to the ground is more durable and slightly harder, whereas the TPU in the sockliner is more responsive and has more give.
“In our testing, the properties of these foams definitely have differences based on the volume and the shape of the foams,” said Taylor, who raced in the Eliot Racer prototype himself at a mile track race and cross country 10K. “For the amount of volume in the insole of the Racer, we’ve proven in our lab that TPU actually performs better for us than PEBA.”
The lab also ran energy return tests, comparing the Eliot Racer prototype to other racing shoes, including Nike’s. According to Taylor, Tracksmith’s shoe had the highest energy return across the board.
Prototype Tester/Racer: Tyler Jermann, 31
ASP athlete, chief data scientist at Sports Betting Analytics
3x Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier and competitor
Qualified at 2022 Chevron Houston Marathon, 2:14:58
Previously raced in Nike Alphafly Next%
“At the 2020 Trials, I ran in the Alphafly. And I kind of regretted that decision—don’t try anything new on race day. Since then I’ve been searching for the shoe that fits me best. I really liked the original super shoes that came out because they had that noticeable bounce. I feel like they’ve kind of lost that a bit.
“They’ve gotten very plush and bouncy, but also pretty clunky. Or, they’ve gotten more aggressive but also harder. There’s not really that middle ground of aggressive, but also soft and supportive enough where it’s protecting your legs all the way through the whole marathon distance. I feel like the Eliot Racer strikes that balance. It’s exciting to finally scratch that itch.”
The shelf life of the sockliner is dependent on the runner. The first sockliner is meant for training cycles of three to four months. But that’s not to say it can’t be used past one training cycle. Similarly, the second sockliner isn’t necessarily a one-and-done feature.
ASP athletes at the ASP House in Orlando.
At the ASP House, I sat down with athletes to chat about the Eliot Racer. Trials first-timer Alberto Mena, 25, who briefly tested the prototype on a six-mile tempo, noted how the Eliot Racer is a more sustainable choice for athletes. Other brands, he said, release super shoes that last for roughly 100 miles, then the shoes pile up in a landfill. With the two sockliners, the Eliot Racer lasts longer and reduces the amount of shoes a runner has to buy. Tracksmith is currently working on a sockliner renewal program as it makes final adjustments on the shoe.
I asked Taylor on a video call weeks before the Trials what he would say to critics calling the Eliot Racer a gimmick.
“We’re not trying to do something different just to be different,” said Taylor. “Our team has literally decades of experience in footwear and we have watched this category evolve. We know what works: the geometries, predominantly the stack height; the foam; and the carbon plate. So let’s take that package that everyone knows works and build on it.
“Given the properties of these foams and plates, we thought this was the best way to get maximum energy return. Maybe other brands will look at what we’re doing and continue to evolve their offerings. But we just wanted to make the best shoe we could with what we knew existed in the market.”
There’s another rule all runners should follow before toeing the starting line: run your own race. That’s the approach Tracksmith has with its super shoe.
Amanda is a test editor at Runner’s World who has run the Boston Marathon every year since 2013; she's a former professional baker with a master’s in gastronomy and she carb-loads on snickerdoodles.
Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts
I am an expert and enthusiast assistant. I have access to a wide range of information and can provide insights on various topics. My knowledge is constantly updated, and I can engage in detailed discussions on a variety of subjects. I'm here to assist with information and insights on a wide range of topics.
Concepts in the Article
The article discusses several key concepts related to the Tracksmith ASP (Amateur Support Program) athletes and the development of the Tracksmith Eliot Racer prototype shoe. The concepts covered include:
Tracksmith ASP (Amateur Support Program): This program provides support to elite amateur runners, including race kits, competition expenses, and special support leading up to race day. The program aims to support athletes who juggle full-time jobs with elite-level marathon training.
Eliot Racer Prototype: The article provides insights into the development and features of the Eliot Racer prototype, a new racing shoe planned for release coinciding with the 2024 Olympic games. It discusses the shoe's energy return system, two sockliners for training and race day, and the testing experiences of athletes who have used the prototype.
Athletes and Testing: The article features insights from athletes who have tested the Eliot Racer prototype, including their experiences with the shoe during training and race-specific workouts. It also highlights the perspectives of athletes who have used other super shoes and their impressions of the Eliot Racer.
Shoe Development and Technology: The article delves into the development process of the Eliot Racer, including insights from Tracksmith's co-founder and CEO, Matt Taylor, and the product team. It discusses the shoe's design, materials, and the use of TPU foam and carbon-fiber plate for energy return.
Sustainability and Performance: The article touches on the sustainability aspect of the Eliot Racer, emphasizing its longer shelf life and reduced environmental impact compared to other super shoes. It also addresses the performance aspects of the shoe, including its balance of responsiveness, cushioning, and support for marathon distances.
Industry Trends and Market Positioning: The article provides insights into the competitive landscape of super shoes, including the evolving trends in shoe design and the positioning of the Eliot Racer within the market. It also addresses Tracksmith's approach to developing a super shoe that maximizes energy return and performance.
These concepts encompass the key themes and topics discussed in the article, providing a comprehensive overview of the Tracksmith ASP, the Eliot Racer prototype, athlete testing experiences, shoe development, sustainability, and market positioning. If you have specific questions about any of these concepts or would like further details, feel free to ask!