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Gearing Up Better, Stronger, Faster - The Low-Tech Sport Of Running Has Gained High-Tech Influence

Tue., April 30, 1996, midnight

Given our culture’s penchant for lotteries and liposuction, it’s no wonder that entrepreneurs practically trip over each other touting products that promise to shave a few seconds off runners’ race times.

“We’re a very, very resultsoriented society,” observes footwear specialist Curt Kinghorn, who began selling sports accessories more than two decades ago.

“Everybody wants the fastest time. Everybody wants the biggest house and the newest car, which makes it nice for anyone out there who can convince you they have something that will make you better, prettier, faster, stronger or whatever.”

The latest issue of Runner’s World magazine is loaded with ads for everything from nutritional supplements and lightweight fabrics to something called Oxy-Moxy - “10 to 20 drops under the tongue for 5 percent more oxygen with each breath … ACTS ALMOST INSTANTLY!”

“As far as meeting our needs (for performance-related accessories), I think we’re saturated,” says Kinghorn, who works at Sport Town in downtown Spokane’s Parkade. “But as far as choices, I think we’ve barely scratched the surface. As long as more and more people are biking, Rollerblading, running and swimming, there will be a market for products claiming to enhance performance.”

Elite runners are among the most eager when it comes to these products, since the difference between first place and “first loser” is measured in fractions of a second.

Yet anyone capable of covering Bloomsday’s 12-kilometer course in under an hour might gain some advantage from performance products, even if the effect is only psychological.

“Most of these products can be beneficial if used properly,” says Kinghorn. “But it’s difficult to use them properly. A lot of nutritional supplements depend on timing - you have to experiment to discover what works best for you.

“If people come in this week looking for something to give them an edge in Bloomsday, we’ll tell them not to try anything exceptional. If they’re not ready by now, it’s too late.”

Keeping that caveat in mind, here’s a list of items Kinghorn says serious runners might consider:

Racing flats ($70-$85) - Advantage: Lighter than training shoes, racing flats can cut your time about one second per ounce per mile. (Translation: If your racing flats are 6 ounces lighter than your training shoes, expect to save 45 seconds over Bloomsday’s 7.5 miles.) Disadvantage: Racing flats offer less protection, causing lower-body muscles to work harder. Could be a factor in races longer than Bloomsday. Also, racing flats last only 150 miles, compared to 500-600 for training shoes.

CoolMax socks ($3-$6) - Advantage: Moisture-transfer fabric maintains a dry layer between skin and socks, reducing friction and the chance of blistering. Disadvantage: None.

Full-split, microfiber shorts ($23-$28) - Advantage: Lightweight fabric both wind- and moisture-resistant; full-split design offers better range of motion. Disadvantage: Short length, full split don’t hide much.

CoolMax singlet ($18-$22) - Advantage: Design provides good range of motion, less strain on upper body; moisture-transfer fabric reduces body temperature. Disadvantage: In cool weather, may cause upper body to tighten.

Sport bra ($24-$29) - Advantage: Reduces workload on shoulders, easier to control body temperature. Disadvantage: None.

Lightweight, snug-fitting sunglasses ($105-$135) - Advantage: More comfortable than conventional sunglasses. Disadvantage: Expense.

Heart-rate monitor ($100-$175) - Advantage: If used properly during training, can help build strength, speed and endurance. No advantage during race. Disadvantage: Extra weight, distracting. “If you’re worried about reading a heart-rate monitor during a race,” says Kinghorn, “you’ve already lost.”

Gel-form nutritional supplements ($1-$1.50) - Advantage: Concentrated carbohydrate gels can provide a burst of energy when runner feels depleted. Disadvantage: Must carry it with you, may require water to swallow, may have unpredictable effects if you haven’t used it before.

Liquid nutritional supplements ($1.50) - Advantage: Milkshake-like drink consumed one hour prior to activity takes guesswork out of what to eat morning of race, puts burnable, easily digested fuel into body. Disadvantage: Like gels, effects unpredictable if you haven’t tried it before. May cause stomach cramps.

Formulated thirst quenchers ($1-$1.50) - Advantage: Helps replenish carbohydrates and electrolytes lost through sweat. Disadvantage: Harder to digest than water.

Energy bars ($1.25-$2) - Advantage: Loaded with calories and carbohydrates yet low in fat, provides usable fuel if consumed one hour before race. Disadvantage: So dense, they require lots of water to wash down.

Breathe Right nasal strips ($6 for box of 10) - Advantage: “They open nasal passages,” explains Kinghorn, “and the better you can get oxygen in, the faster it gets to muscles and the less tired and fatigued you become.” Disadvantage: “You look stupid.”

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