It’s the morning of Tuesday, February 6, nearly 72 hours after the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the Marathon wrapped up in Orlando, and Chris Hughes shares an apology.

“Sorry,” begins Hughes, VP–business operations at Track Shack, “I’m still catching up. It’s been a wild few days.”

All, of course, is forgiven in the wake of the U.S. Marathon Trials and Hughes’s active role in the effort alongside his parents, Track Shack owners Jon and Betsy Hughes, dozens of Track Shack team members, local allies and a plethora of industry partners. 

For nearly a week, Orlando was the epicenter of U.S. running culture, a high-octane hotbed of group runs, athlete meet and greets, panel discussions, brand activations and more before an estimated crowd of 100,000 spectators watched athletes chase their Olympic dreams around the city’s downtown streets.

And Track Shack, the city’s 47-year-old independent run specialty store, was in the middle of it all. 

A High - Quality Trials                                                              

Two years ago, Track Shack played a prominent role in bringing the Trials to Orlando. The company’s event management arm, Track Shack Events, worked with city and county leadership as well as the Greater Orlando Sports Commission on a proposal for USA Track & Field (USATF) and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC). 

In November 2022, USATF and USPOC announced Orlando as the host site, trumping a competing bid from Chattanooga, TN. The victory for Orlando marked the first time a Florida city would ever host the Marathon Trials. It also represented a tremendous show of confidence in Track Shack Events, which has been putting on races for more than four decades, including events such as the Orlando Half Marathon, the SimplyIOA Corporate 5k and the runDisney races.

Thereafter, Track Shack endured a 16-month sprint with its bid partners, the sport’s governing bodies and key sponsors to cement event details, from the course to spectator galleries to the start time to contingency plans.

On race day, Track Shack Events oversaw all aspects of the 26.2-mile competition, including course set up, start and finish line management and timing.

“Years of practice paid off in a big way,” Chris Hughes says. 

The race was widely hailed as an efficient, professional operation. The Orlando Sentinel declared race day a “resounding success,” while men’s race runner-up Clayton Young called the event “phenomenal,” specifically noting the fast course and loud, supportive crowd.

“I’m really grateful to the city of Orlando for having this event,” Young said post-race.

Pushing Orlando’s Running Prowess

But Track Shack’s fingerprints on Trials week extended far beyond the race. For a week, the family-owned retail shop championed the sport and Orlando’s running vibrancy with tenacity and spirit, setting an example future host city running stores might follow.

On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of Trials week, Track Shack hosted five different group runs, teaming up with the likes of Brooks, rabbit, Feetures, Hoka, the Outta Pocket Track Club, Ciele Athletics and Puma to entertain and delight locals and visitors alike. Chris Hughes says 200-300 people attended each of the five events, including upwards of 50 Track Shack regulars.

Such activations enabled Track Shack to support local partners, including breweries, restaurants and caterers. The events also afforded Track Shack a unique touchpoint with local residents, who could have been perturbed by mounting traffic around the store and throngs of runners consuming local streets. Betsy Hughes penned a note to local residents thanking them for their patience and included a gift card to a local coffeehouse as a show of gratitude.

“The Trials gave us an opportunity to engage with the Orlando community in so many powerful ways,” Chris Hughes says. 

While Track Shack’s retail store was “slammed” for days, according to Chris Hughes, the retailer also staffed three different pop-up shops, two peddling Trials merchandise – one next to its Mills Avenue storefront and another in a fan zone located alongside the course – and the Brooks Hyperion House (in photo). On race day, Track Shack opened its doors early for a watch party.

“It was overwhelming, though I mean that in the best possible way,” Chris Hughes says. “There was buzz everywhere all week.”

A frequent Best Running Stores honoree, Track Shack is no stranger to hitting lofty performance goals, but Chris Hughes describes the Trials as something altogether different given the magnitude of the event. He hopes the successful activations strengthen Track Shack’s relationships with vendors and that the liveliness of Trials week boosts Orlando’s status as a first-rate running city.

“It was important for us to put Orlando’s run community on the map and show just how special it is,” Chris Hughes says. 

Mission accomplished.