Since the first stopwatch, athletes have been looking for the perfect gizmo to help them run better - or at least give them something to do while they’re running.
“The truth is, running can be pretty static,” said Brian Frank, a San Francisco-based runner and nutritionist.
“People use these things to vary their workouts.”
The number of gadgets catering to racers and runners is larger than ever - ranging from $80 wristwatch-type heart monitors to $6,000 treadmills that do nearly everything but play the “Rocky” theme song at the end of a workout.
Runners training for Sunday’s Bloomsday can pick from dozens of different monitors that attach to ears, chests or arms and keep track of heart rates, speed, calories burned and distance covered.
For $500-800, some of these devices store and then transfer that data into a computer for later analysis.
“You can even use some of those computer programs to define the dayby-day running schedule. Hard one day, less difficult the next,” said Eric Braverman, a representative for Polar Electro, Inc., a manufacturer of heart monitors.
Even the trusty treadmill now is computerized.
They can be programmed to tilt uphill or downhill at different points in the workout.
Some carry display boards with a figure racing on a course - representing the person on the treadmill - trying to catch or pass other runners preset by computer to run at certain speeds.
In effect, runners like Spokane marathoner Kim Jones or wheelchair racers like Cheney’s Craig Blanchette can simulate the Boston Marathon or any other race without leaving their homes.
“I have 40 courses programmed into my treadmill, and one of them is Bloomsday,” said Jones.
“I’ll jump on the machine and do the Bloomsday course once before the run, especially if the pollen is bad some day,” said Jones, who trains often indoors because of her asthma.
Eight-time Bloomsday champion Blanchette has tested lots of exercise equipment, some good, some bad.
The worst is buried in a corner of his garage.
The best is a system he just got two weeks ago.
“This new machine, the D&J; Roller, is the one system that does it all,” said Blanchette, who Sunday wants to beat his Bloomsday course record of 27:24.
He can program the $3,000 machine to imitate any terrain or simulate any race course in the world.
It comes with sensors and monitors to track energy he’s burning, distance, speed and heart rate.
The machine also has adjustable rolling resistance to imitate a range of wheel “drag” - the slowing of a wheelchair because of changing road surface or tire pressure.
“You can even create the effect of being drafted behind another racer. Or if you want, feeling like you’re going against a 40-mile-per-hour wind,” he said.
Those using treadmills equipped with timers and heart monitors are people who’ve moved from merely serious to competitive running.
Karen Byrd, a Holy Family Medical Center emergency room nurse, recently bought a $2,000 treadmill that helps her run five days a week in her spare bedroom.
She usually runs in a timed race each weekend.
Using the treadmill lets her get in an hour’s training while watching her young son play in the same room.
“The best thing about it is I can tell when I’m maxing out” based on the heart-rate monitor readings.
“That tells me I’m working too hard, I’m tired or whatever.”
As computers get smaller, the number of people using smaller, hand-sized heart monitors keeps growing, said Dave Cuplin, retail manager for Kimmel Athletic Supply in Spokane.
Those devices used to appeal only to college runners and their coaches.
“Now I’m outside having a barbecue and I see people walking by, wearing them. I know it’s getting more popular,” he said.
“You can never have too much data,” said Blanchette, the wheelchair racer.
“Sure, you also have to listen to your body. But these monitors give you very accurate data.
“And the more data you get, the better you can evaluate how you’re doing in your training.”
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