Valentino Luna Hernandez
Running is a great sport, and it is easy too. All you have to do is to put one foot in front of the other and you’re on! How easy is that? No rules, no gear, just raw effort. For a hardcore purist, that’s running. Anything on top is just waffle.
So when I started thinking about the ‘Tech’ issue, I tried to ask whether any technological improvements in my lifetime (40 years) made running any better or worse – or if these improvement were just waffle. On a first cut, we can look at most of the improvements and chuck them in the ‘waffle’ basket:
Food technology: salt tablets, electrolyte drinks or chews or gels, obscure nutritional acronyms (LCAA, BCAs, etc). We all use them in one form or another, mostly in races. For 90% of the time, we run without them and we are just fine. Waffle
Textile technology: Merino, Gore Tex, Dry fit, Seam seals, HEX performance, Aeroreact. You have as many names as you want for tech. advances in textiles and they all have lovers and haters. Any sport goods store has a dozen different types we can (and do) choose from. They are helpful items, but I am inclined to think that if I ran in cotton gear my 10k PB would be the same. Waffle.
Shoe Tech: High density rubber, low density, lacing systems, Maximal, Minimal, GTX, blah… blah blah. These technologies have helped us to achieve record braking performance. (A guy ran 1:59:40.2 in a space-era design shoe, we all ran PBs using some sort of shoe technology application.) Yet, a bunch of other guys argue that we can go back to sandals or bare feet, and we will run to the best of our biomechanical potential.
Biometrics and biomechanical analysis: ohhhh! Strava, Heart Rate, cadence, power! Never had we have access to so much feedback about our running. As a coach, I have a sweet array of tools at my disposal to dissect my athlete’s training and play with variables in preparation for races. Personally, I hardly ever look beyond heartrate, distance and time; but more capable coaches than I have made huge improvements based on these type of feedback. My own take on this subject is that this type of feedback is more of a self-fulfilling prophecy… If you start following a well-prepared training plan, your arm swing, cadence and gait length will look better whether you record it or not. Most often I get more feedback by looking at an athlete run than by stalking their Strava log.
And I guess that is the point this article will drive to. Technological improvements have made available to us a wide swath of tools. And like Henry Ford might have said, “a runner can choose whichever tech gadget she/he likes, as long as she/he keeps running”. As athletes and coaches we can chose to include some technologies in our toolbox. We can do that to improve, or to stay in the sport (in the same way e-bikes bring brought a lot more people back into cycling), or to learn and test hypotheses.
Have all these technologies impacted running? From a purist’s point of view, probably not. Running is still about placing one foot in front of the other, as my 3 year old son reminds me every time we play in the park. The technologies have impacted us as athletes, coaches, running groups, communities. And they have made us more or less aware, more or less anxious and more or less inclined to come into (and stay in) the sport.
Finally, one of the reasons I run is because it keeps me physically and mentally healthy. In my world… running is part of making us and our communities better. Yet, we live in a small and rather privileged country where one every three of us is obese. Technology should help us get more people running and getting healthier and as long as it does, I am OK with it.