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Technology Catches Up With Runners

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

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 running shoes.

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 skeleton.

"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 wristwatch.

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