How weird would it be to see tech gear hanging off a jogger's every appendage? Ears fitted with iPod earbuds; hand clenching a Global Positioning System (GPS) gadget; feet in innovative "heelless" shoes.
Manufacturers have always been eager to tap the jogger market. This summer, runners have more options than ever.
Sometimes sprinting down city streets with a pedometer isn't enough. For the pavement-smacker looking to monitor both pace and mileage, several new GPS units are available, the better-known ones created by Garmin.
Its wrist-mounted Forerunner 201 hand-held isn't much bigger than a remote control; it calculates in real time the distance travelled, the pace of each lap and calories burned. It has a cool auto-pause option to stop recording if you take a breather, as determined by dropping below a predetermined pace.
The Forerunner supplies data (detailed graphs and summaries of each run) that can be laid out on a PC. And, since GPS can measure more than just latitude and longitude, the Forerunner provides stats on elevation. Who cares? Well, running uphill in a training session can slow your pace. You need to consider those numbers as either helpful or distorting if the upcoming marathon is all flat land.
Another company taking the GPS idea a step further is online service MotionBased. You need a hand-held GPS unit to take advantage of this site for true running nerds: data such as time, distance, speed and even heart rate can be converted into simplified Google maps. Users can tour the site for new routes, although the company is very U.S.-focused.
What about the shoes? Newton Gravity is one of the most intriguing new products out there for runners. Made to mimic barefoot running, the Gravity is designed to make you stride on your forefoot. A membrane beneath the midsole acts like a mini-trampoline to tip your toes forward and emphasize the ball of your foot. The company claims this kind of running lessens impact on your poor knees. A tricked-out sneaker like this doesn't come cheap, though, ringing in at $184.
Another inventive shoe makeover comes from England, where inventor Adri Hartveld shadows Newton's idea by creating what he calls a "heelless shoe." A slanted sole design greatly decreases heel impact, a notorious area for sharp pain over long runs. Will all this focus on saving the heel make the balls of the feet the new running sore spot?
Nike and Apple teamed up to create the Nike+iPod Sport Kit: a small chip attached to the shoe sends data to a small receiver tucked into the iPod Nano. Next time the iPod is synched with iTunes, the Nike+ app transmits info on the most recent workout and uploads charts automatically on NikePlus.com. This technology was initially only offered for one style of Nike shoe, but word on the tech blog street is that Nike will soon apply the iPod function to most of its others new releases.
Before you get all iPod-Nike-crazy, one caveat is worth mentioning: Wired News found that the RFID device, which broadasts a radio signal up to 60 feet, can be a target for malicious hackers and stalkers. Does an evil-doer want to mess up your running route?
Finally, it's important to recognize the impact of music in a runner's life. Jogging to Joel Plaskett is a lot different from jogging to AC/DC.
But it's not the musical aesthetic that ardent runners should consider. A podcast called PodRunner bases each week's song selection on number of beats per minute. You can select a mix that best matches your pace. Intense, yes. But, then again, sports-lovers memorize statistical minutiae for fun.