New technology and fearless fashion have overtaken the increasingly borderless world of the modern day distance runner.
Written by: T.J. Murphy | Photos by Tim Mantoani
This piece first appeared in the May issue of Competitor Magazine.
The first running boom occurred in the 1970s and is largely credited to three people: Frank Shorter, the American who won the 1972 Olympic marathon, Dr. Kenneth Cooper, author of the book “Aerobics,” and Bill Bowerman, the legendary University of Oregon coach and cofounder of Nike.
Cooper’s story, in particular, stands out. In 1960, at age 29 and some 40 pounds overweight, he thought he was having a heart attack while water skiing and decided it was time to get in shape. In 1962, he ran the Boston Marathon. His 1968 book “Aerobics” was part of his message about the importance of preventive medicine, and a portion of increasingly sedentary Americans extinguished their cigarettes and responded to the call. Shorter’s Olympic victory was an additional catalyst, and Bowerman’s Nike running shoes caught the wave of the first generation of recreational marathoners.
Four decades have passed and the figures continue to rise. The number of Americans finishing marathons, in fact, grew by 8.6 percent between 2009 and 2010, and almost half of these finishers were women—roughly one tenth of marathoner finishers in 1980 were female. Give the likes of Joan Benoit Samuelson, Olympic marathon gold medalist in 1984 and Paula Newby-Fraser, perhaps the greatest triathlete of all time, plenty of credit for the rise of women participating in the endurance world.
While running has become more inclusive, it has also become more eclectic. Visit a half-marathon in 2011 and prepare to be blinded by color. Will you see basic nylon shorts and singlets? Sure. You’ll also see compression gear, running skirts, GPS gadgets and an immodest mix and match of brands and colors that can make your head turn.
Is it all flash? Some of it yes, absolutely, but there’s substance as well. Fortunately for the modern day runner—the new school, if you will—running is not just running. It’s an activity that combines high-performance nutrition, high-tech recovery, state-of-the-art injury management and Internet-enabled coaching. Runners are also besieged with gear and apparel choices that enable training at night, indoors, on trails, and for jumping into the multisport world. Participants of today’s boom have no qualms about trying new gadgets or high-tech clothes, thus changing the visual landscape of a sport once identified by sweat pants, tube socks and red-white-and-blue head bands.
Presenting the latest iteration of running enthusiasts: The New School runner who revels in all that running technology and fashion have to offer.
Photo: Sugoi Sakura Arm Warmers, $40 – C9 by Champion Women’s Seamless Fashion Cami, $17 – Reebok Sports Essentials Tank, $32 – Under Armour Team Girl Short, $30 – CEP Running 02 Compression Socks, $60 – Newton Running Terra Momentus Trail, $139 – Garmin F60 HRM Bundle, $170 – Oakley Fast Jacket Sunglasses, $220
In his 1978 novel, “Once a Runner,” John L. Parker Jr. describes how runners constantly have to dodge the nagging injuries that logging daily mileage produces, coining the phrase “the injury fandango,” and questioning, “Does it ever end?” It typically doesn’t. Running USA estimates that a total of 173,000 people finished marathons in 1980 as compared to 507,000 in 2010, and with all the controversy that continues to rage around what causes injuries—stretching? Not stretching? Running shoes? Not wearing running shoes?—the injured can easily get frustrated.
However, one thing today’s runner can take advantage of is a buffet of prevention and rehab tools, from Trigger Point Therapy massage gear to the Compex muscle stimulator you can buy over the counter.
Photo: Brooks Glycerin Print Support Tank II,$46·Under Armour Team Girl Short,$29.99·Skechers S2 Lite Shapeups,$100·2XU Compression Arm Sleeves,$55·Garmin Forerunner 110 GPS Watch and HRM,$199.99·Moji Knee Two-Piece Cold Compression Wrap,$119.95·Compex Sport Elite Muscle Stimulator,$999.99·The GRID Revolutionary Foam Roller by Trigger Point Therapy,$39.99·TP Massage Ball by Trigger Point Therapy,$24.99 each·KT Kinesiology Tape by K Tape,$12.99
Did you know that the Western States 100-mile trail run, one of the world’s most famous ultramarathons, was formerly a horse race? Known as the Western States Trail Ride (and also the Tevis Cup), it had been more of a torture fest for the horses than the riders until 1974, when a rider with a lame horse approached the race director 10 minutes before the start and said, “Well, I guess I’ll head out now.” As he later recounted in a story for Marathon & Beyond, rider Gordon Ainsleigh wrote: “As the daylight of Aug. 3 dawned and the morning wore on, I shared the trail with my favorite people and their magnificent beasts. I ran with exuberance and vigor, occasionally racing with the horses, happy to be alive and still part of it all (even though horselessly).”
Ainsleigh’s joyous description of running on the trail was not in sync with a running boom, but in recent years trail running has become the ultimate escape for runners weary of civilization and hungry for fresh adventures. With Xterra trail races to mountain ultra events to mud-run style obstacle courses, there’s no shortage of opportunity for modern day runners to take their sport off road.
Photo: CW-X Women’s Ventilator Web Top Long Sleeve,$80·Pearl Izumi Elite Barrier Vest by Pearl Izumi,$69.95·CW-X Women’s Stabilyx 3/4 Tights,$86·ASICS Gel-Noosa Tri 6,$120·Amphipod RunLite Snapflask 4 Hydration Belt,$44.50·Knuckle Lights,$39.99
THE GREAT INDOORS AND TECHNOLOGY
The 1970s was not only the decade of the first running boom, but also was the first indicator that technology would happily go along for the ride. Although Chris McDougall’s book, “Born to Run,” makes a compelling case that running shoe technology might have done more harm than good to the American runner, the last year of reporting on the subject has generated more questions. Do we blame running shoe technology or a society in which we spend most of our time, childhood and on, wearing shoes and sitting at desks?
One thing is for sure: Thanks to technology a runner can be a lot more comfortable now than in the old days.
The late Ron Daws, author of the “Self-Made Olympian,” was considered a runner of average talent who used cunning and hard work to make the 1968 USA Olympic team as a marathoner. From Minneapolis, Daws trained through the winter in sub-zero temperatures and snow, and it surely had a positive effect on his mental toughness. If Daws was a runner in 2011, would he have been seduced by the indoor treadmill? Hard to say, but there’s little doubt that the modern-day runner has thoroughly embraced everything from high-tech treadmills to online coaching wizardry.
Photo: JayBird Sportsband Bluetooth Headphones,$99·Reebok Vibram Statem Top,$50·Running Funky Capri Tights,$39.99·Newton Running Gravity Neutral Performance Trainers,$175·adidas miCoach Pacer,$139·Precor 9.35 Premium Series Treadmill,$4,999
hat could possibly be more confusing than sports nutrition? From the vegan diet of ultrarunner Scott Jurek to the meat-and-fish laden Paleo diet advocated by the likes of triathlon coach and author Joe Friel, what’s a runner to do? The newly infamous marathoner Joe D’Amico responded to all the conflicting information by going truly old school: He fueled his 30-day buildup for the 2011 L.A. Marathon with an ultra-strict diet of McDonald’s. Cokes, fries, burgers and Egg McMuffins included.
Most of today’s runners, however, have been turned on to the “clean” diet, eating only fresh, unprocessed whole foods. While exercise clearly can help deter disease, there’s nothing like the one-two punch of proper exercise and a proper diet. High-sugar and high-fat intake have become the working targets of the current generation of fitness enthusiasts.
Photo: Oakley Fast Jacket Sunglasses,$220·Lululemon Athletica In Stride Jacket,$108·Reebok Sports Essential Tank,$32·Running Funky Capri Tights,$39.99·Nike + SportWatch GPS,$199·Newcastle Mini Keg,$19.99·NUTRILITE Sports Bottle·PowerBar High Intensity Sustained Release Beta Alanine Dietary Supplements,$39.99·SFH OmegaMaine Omega 3 10oz. Oil,$38·Endurox R4 Recovery Drink Powder,$34.95·Nuun Electrolyte Tablets,$52 for 8-TUBES
About the same time that Gordon Ainsleigh took off on the Western States route without a horse, the sport of triathlon was heating up in San Diego, and when a bunch of endurance nuts, most coming from various branches of the military, decided to concoct the Ironman triathlon on the island of Oahu in 1978, a new breed of endurance athlete was born: the triathlete.
In general, two types of runners have flocked to triathlons over the years: those in search of a new challenge and those wanting to escape injury. The built-in variety of triathlon—a heady mix of swimming, cycling and running—is typically seen as both a way never to get bored and as the ultimate all-around endurance event. But it’s only been in the last decade or so that triathlon has begun to repel its way down from the mountaintop of perceived craziness to a sport that appeals to the masses. Thanks also in part to triathlon’s inclusion in the 2000 Olympics, USA Triathlon membership has grown from around 19,000 in 1999 to 135,000 in 2010, and nowadays 78 percent of people racing triathlons are doing so in the more digestible sprint-distance variety. Old school runners—still in no short supply today—grind their teeth when the thought of swimming comes up, as they have since the days of yore.
Photo: Athleta Long Sleeve Twist Top,$69·PUMA Essential Fitness Shorts,$35·Specialized S-WORKS Road Shoe,$350
·Kuota Kaliber “Pinkie” Triathlon Bike with Spinergy Wheels