For the past 10 years, Tracksmith has made a name for itself as somewhat of a retro-styled running apparel brand that has made decidedly modern running shorts, shirts, tights and jackets while honoring the heritage of the sport. The brand’s look has been described as “New England chic” or having an “Ivy League vibe’ but you get the idea the brand is all about sensible, reliable sport-specific clothing and not at all about splashy colors or chasing trends. That’s not an easy thing to do when it means doing the polar opposite of every other brand out there, but Matt Taylor, the brand’s co-founder and CEO has always had a smart design aesthetic and a way and an appreciation for visual storytelling. But he’s also about creating products that last, both from a durability point of view and having the ability to transcend generations.
Still, when Tracksmith announced plans to launch its first running shoe last fall, it seemed odd that an apparel brand was getting into footwear. (Usually, it’s the other way around.) But knowing the penchant Taylor (and his team at Tracksmith) have for design and value, I figured it would be a shoe that harkened back to shoes from the late 1970s to mid-1980s, only built with modern materials. It was a good guess on my part, but I couldn’t have been more spot-on in my prediction and the way the new Eliot Runner turned out. It looks like something out of a magazine ad from the original 1970s running boom back when runners really had only one pair of shoes for all of their training and racing. However, the shoe runs like a modern marvel—a no-nonsense, do-everything daily trainer with a high-rebound foam Pebax foams, a smart-fitting upper, a snug fit and no superfluous additives.
Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, shoes hadn’t yet become the spectacle they are now and nor were there a very wide range of materials available. Before the advent of Nike’s Air insoles or ASICS GEL cushioning packets, shoes were mostly made of single-layer EVA midsoles, nylon uppers, suede support overlays and rubber outsoles. Tracksmith has incorporated those simple design concepts into the Eliot Runner—named after Boston’s famed Eliot Lounge runner’s hangout until 1996—and made a better version of an old-school everyday trainer.
The Eliot Runner launched last fall at the New York City Marathon with a very limited number of pairs from the first production run, but it finally became widely available in February and March. It’s a shoe that will no doubt get a lot more buzz during the Boston Marathon weekend, mostly because of the foot traffic and hype Tracksmith draws that weekend from its Tracksmith House on Newbury Street in Boston. It’s where the cool kids hang out that weekend and, no doubt, those younger, fitter and faster runners will appreciate it even more than I have, which is quite a lot.
What’s New: It’s an entirely new shoe, so it’s hard to compare it to anything else, except maybe a circa-1985 Saucony Jazz or Nike Pegasus. The materials are all very modern, including the soft, squishy Pebax insole that contributes to the secure fit and comfortable feel and balances the slightly firmer and highly responsive Pebax midsole that provides durable protection and a noticeable energetic pop in every stride. The engineered mesh upper contributes to a locked-down fit with some degree of stretchiness, while a retro-styled suede support band and nylon sash provide extra support without added weight or getting in the way of a foot’s natural flex.
Fit/Feel/Ride: The Eliot Runner fits true to size with a medium-narrow interior and a fairly lean toe box. While it feels a bit snug initially, the interior fit is enhanced by the softer Pebax foam insole that helps give it a touch of plushness. Combined with a gusseted tongue that is softly padded, plus a little bit of cushioning around the heel collar, the svelte fit and feel will definitely grow on you—especially when you consider the shoe’s versatility and ability to run faster paces so well. The ride is definitely on the firmer side at slower speeds compared to many everyday trainers at stores this spring, but it’s also got a bit of hidden springy softness from that insole that comes to life at faster paces.
Why It’s Great: It’s great because it’s versatile. This is a shoe that’s light and lively enough to run tempo runs and intervals on the track, but it’s also comfortable enough to run moderately long runs on the roads. I’m not sure I’d run longer than 15 miles in it, but I’ve run 8 to 12 miles several times and really appreciate its cushioning and protection. If you’re a runner who does most of your running with one shoe in your quiver, this is a good one to consider. It’s a reliable and durable jack of all trades, even if it’s a master of none.
Tracksmith Eliot Runner
Weights: 8.1 oz. (women’s size 8), 9.2 oz. (men’s size 9)
Heel-Toe Offset: 9mm (33.5mm in the heel, 24.5mm in the forefoot)
Why You’ll Love It: It’s a fun, snappy shoe that inspires quick-cadence running and makes running fast feel easier. (In fact, I felt more comfortable running faster paces than slower paces in the Eliot Runner.) The shoe offers great proprioceptive feel for the ground, especially on paved roads or concrete bike paths. (You can still get most of that sensation on soft dirt trails and gravel roads, but it’s much better on firmer surfaces.) I ran two different track workouts in them — mile repeats and a modified set of 300s and 200s — as well as a fartlek workout that covered a variety of terrain and was impressed (and sometimes surprised) at how good they felt running fast.
Pro: These are beautifully designed shoes, but I mean that equally about its functionality as I do about its fashion sense. It doesn’t look like any other shoe out there, but whether you understand the connection to the heritage of running shoes gone by or not, you will feel it in how it runs. You’ll start to appreciate the stunning design the moment you pull them out of the box, but it’s also a shoe I loved more as I logged more miles. The look, the durability and snappiness seemed to grow on me — especially because it reminded me of some of the daily trainers I wore in high school and college.
Con: The Eliot Runner doesn’t have the most conventional road running feel. That’s partly because of the 9mm drop, the narrow interior and because of its partially firm demeanor.