Susan Lacke tries to make some sense of all the products on the market available to runners.
As a writer for running and triathlon magazines, I usually get a first peek on the latest and greatest products and gear available to endurance athletes. Sometimes they’re shipped directly to me for a review or feedback; other times, I leg-wrestle my colleagues for the product because I’ve got a long run that night and I’m out of gels.
These new products usually come with an assignment from my handlers—write 400 words about this for the November issue of the magazine, or create a sidebar about why this item is beneficial to runners. Sometimes I’m told to take a product for a test ride to figure out if it’s even worth mentioning to readers at all.
Last week, I was assigned a pair of socks from a new brand that claims to revolutionize the way runners move, correct biomechanical issues, prevent injuries and improve performance for athletes at all levels. The spec sheet for the product was an allegorical bingo card of buzzwords: “optimized,” “contoured,” “performance,” “high-tech,” “sleek,” “power”—really, you could have recycled any advertisement for a luxury car and photoshopped this sock into the center.
Since receiving this assignment, I’ve run in the enchanted socks several times. I’ve worn them on pavement and trails, with race flats and with maximal shoes, on sweaty days and in the cool mountain air. In all, I’ve logged enough miles to feel well-versed in this product, this Bugatti of socks, if you will, and can say with confidence:
It’s just a sock, y’all.
That’s it. It’s a sock. It’s no different than any other running sock I’ve worn, except for the price tag, which makes me grateful I got these socks for free. There’s no way I could afford these socks on my writer’s salary. Even if I could afford them, I wouldn’t spend that much money because it’s just a damn sock.
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Every day, another company releases a product runners don’t really need. Recently, several readers sent me an article about a bell that alerts fellow runners they’re about to be passed, because … it’s too exhausting to call out “on your left?” I’m not sure. This is just one product in an endless stream of newly released lotions, potions, creams, fabrics, bandages, tapes, gels, chews, bars, shoes, watches, apps, straps, rollers, hair ties, knick-knacks and yes … socks. Each one promises to be the answer to all the problems of all the endurance athletes.
We want so badly to believe the herbal-infused drink will make us faster, the tape made from silver threads will hold together the body that’s falling apart, the shoes with Unicorn Foam™ will rebound energy to our tired feet, and the special hyper-hydrating caffeinated gel will be a magical PR elixir.
With little more than a few mouse clicks and a credit card, we can buy the idea of speed and comfort. But ideas are not reality. There are many, many excellent products available to runners. I come across them often in my work. But there are also many, many others that are nothing more than snake oil.
Innovation is good, don’t get me wrong. Innovation has taken us from Bill Bowerman’s waffle-iron shoes to the vast running industry we have today. But innovation is not magic, nor will it ever be. In our evolution as runners, hard work and a good attitude have been constant ingredients for success. You can’t buy those anywhere.
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One of the best things about our sport is that anyone can do it—anytime, anywhere, and with any gear (or no gear at all). Don’t buy into the hype, friends. Rarely do these products actually live up to the buzzwords on their glossy marketing materials.
Just once, I’d like to see an advertisement that says, “It’s just a damn sock.”
I’d buy that.
About The Author:
Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke