The biggest storyline heading into the 2020 Summer Olympics might not be about any of the world class athletes fine-tuning their training for a run at gold. High-tech running shoes are instead the focus of the most compelling pre-Games saga, as Nike’s game-changing Next% line barely skirted a ban to be ruled eligible for competition.
But Nike isn’t the only competitor in the performance running race. As the U.S. Olympic Trials for the marathon take place this weekend, a bold new shoe from running specialist Brooks looks to jockey for a top spot in the super shoe category. The Hyperion Elite, a lightweight, carbon plated comet of a racer, is Brooks’ shot at glory.
Brooks Hyperion Elite
Unlike some other competitors with carbon plate offerings, Brooks’ super shoe already has a champion’s pedigree. Brooks runner Des Linden wore a prototype in 2018 when she became the first American woman in over 30 years to win the Boston Marathon, while fellow endorser Shadrack Biwott took third in the men’s competition wearing the shoes.
“It was a secret weapon, it still is”
Linden and Biwott’s prototypes were painted black for the race, to keep the shoes under wraps—which led Biwott to feel like he had an edge on the unknowing competition. “It was a secret weapon, it still is,” the runner told me of his podium finish in the shoes.
But Linden and Biwott aren’t the only runners who were able to lace up the secret weapon shoes before a big race. When I took on my first 26.2 last year at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC, I also got an early preview of what the Hyperion Elites can do. My own race wasn’t quite podium material, but I still felt like there was something about the shoes that affected the run. Since the Hyperion Elites were still under wraps, I understood what Biwott meant when he was talking about having a secret weapon.
Just by looking at the Hyperion Elites, you can tell they’re cut from a different cloth from other Brooks shoes—and from carbon plate competitors, for that matter. The sleek, super-thin stretch woven upper leaves no room for excess weight, but the real show is below, with the midsole and foam. There’s more of it than in most Brooks shoes, like the Ghost, but the height isn’t as extreme as some other carbon plate super shoes. Cushioning comes from Brooks’ DNA Zero compound, a lightweight foam that Brooks claims can adapt to each wearer’s particular stride. The all-important carbon fiber plate, which is shaped to help propel runners forward as they strike from heel to toe on each stride, is sandwiched between layers of the foam. The shoe is slightly curved up to the toe, so you can almost imagine driving forward before you even put them on your feet.
Once I put the shoes on, I could feel how their shape enables that forward movement. This effect is more present than in Hoka One One’s carbon plate shoe, the Carbon X (which I love), but it’s not so overpowering that I felt like a runaway train. Ditto to the foam—it’s not overly springy, and if I wasn’t hitting my stride, the effects felt only a little more than a normal pair of runners. But once I really got moving, the shoes helped me kick into gear.
That’s Brooks’ stated mission here. The Hyperion Elite’s secret sauce isn’t meant to make runners superhuman, but to help to keep them in their ideal motion for as long as possible, beyond the point that fatigue would usually throw off their stride.
That was an ideal goal for my time wearing the Hyperion Elite. Like Biwott and Linden’s 2018 Boston race, my marathon run was in the middle of pouring rain. I was stuck behind my pace group after a starting line snafu to boot, so I was fighting the field and the elements to get up to my target pace. I had to pass through those roadblocks before I could even think about super-powered performance.
Even so, the Elites performed impeccably—the upper’s minimalist design and forefoot vents kept water from collecting in the shoes, so even though I was chugging along through comically deep puddles, my feet didn’t get any heavier. When I had to go off-road to pass walkers, the surprisingly grippy soles kept me from spinning out. Once I broke away from the slower groups and hit my stride, I felt like as long as I could put one foot in front of the other, I would be able to hold my pace. For the most part, that was the case.
The Hyperion Elites are ideal for races, but that’ll be the only time you’ll wear them, if you’re smart. Brooks estimates that the shoe will only hold up from 50 to 100 miles of running, so you shouldn’t be pounding the pavement rocking them for your training sessions if you don’t want to have to keep replacing your $250 kicks every 100 miles (experts typically recommend replacing your running shoes after about 300 to 500 miles, for some perspective). But you’ll face that wear issue with other super shoes too. Brooks is also introducing a companion shoe for training sessions to address that issue at least a bit—the Hyperion Tempo, which has a new nitrogen-infused foam for more energy return than your standard road shoe. But that still means you’ll have to get another pair, which might be a big ask for some more casual runners.
The Hyperion Elites will finally be available to everyone this weekend on Leap Day, in conjunction with the Trials—but, unsurprisingly, the running world moves too fast for Brooks athletes like Biwott and Linden to be wearing the same exact model of the secret weapon shoes again, or even some souped-up prototypes, like the Elites were in their Boston run. Following a ruling by the governing body for international running competition, World Athletics, the shoes allowed in competition are now restricted to those widely available for retail purchase by April 30 of this year. That also means that this version of the Elites will soon have a follow-up on the consumer market. Brooks reps say that the Hyperion Elite 2 (which the Brooks runners will wear in Atlanta) will be available before April 30.
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