Technology Catches Up With Runners
April 13, 2001 -- This coming Monday, runners from around the
world will converge in Massachusetts for the 105th running of the famed Boston
Marathon. And it's a fair bet that many of them will have trained for the race
using some new, high-tech items designed not only to provide motivation, but
also to reduce the chance of injury.
Computers are at the center of some of these products, such as
the Raven ThinkShoe from VectraSense Technologies. Designer Ronald S. Demon
says ThinkShoes provide comfort and protection.
"The shoe can basically look at how you move, the pressure
distribution on the foot, and adjust how the shoe feels," he tells WebMD.
"Inside the shoe is a very small computer with seven sensors. These
continuously sense the pressure being applied [by the foot]."
When the foot-strike changes, the computer alters the pressure
inside an air bladder at the bottom of the shoe. Demon says the chip analyzes
these changes within a two-second window -- that way, it won't activate
inconsequential things like stepping on a curb. The computer is the size of a
nickel, Demon says, and more durable than you might think possible.
"It's water-resistant, shock-resistant. You could throw the
shoes off a 10-story building and they might come apart but the computer won't
be harmed," he says.
The price: just under $150 and sold only on the VectraSense
Technologies web site.
Computer adjustments while running may be extraordinarily
useful to some athletes. But in the view of Gregory Lekhtman, they don't
address the central problem with the sport.
"Physically, we are not designed to run," he says.
Lekhtman, president of Biosig Instruments, of Champlain, N.Y., has for several
years been trying to get across the message that the best way to run is to
"lope," and the best way to do that is by attaching his Exerlopers to
The strap-ons consist of a collapsible, elliptical spring whose
rationale stems from this Lekhtmanism: Our muscles are just not fast enough to
compensate for the impact of running, and so transfer most of the force to the
"It means with running that we spend 2/3 of our energy to
abuse our skeletons," he tells WebMD. "Only 1/3 is absorbed by the
muscles. The muscles and the skeleton in biomechanics work like parallel
systems. What the muscles can't take the skeleton does."
With the Exerlopers, Lekhtman says, the muscles do more of the
work, burning three times the number of calories in the process. A pair of
Exerlopers goes for $159.
Years ago, runners relied on stopwatches and car odometers to
assess performance. But that has all changed, thanks to computers. The FS1
Speedometer, manufactured by FitSense Technology of Wellesley, Mass., sits in a
lightweight pod secured between running shoe laces. It picks up speed, pace,
distance, and calorie data and transmits them wirelessly up to a