To improve your running, you don't necessarily have to work harder -- just more efficiently. These innovative products can help you do just that, getting you up to speed with better form, more thorough muscle preparation and recovery, even easier refueling.
An efficient system, with strings attached
EZ-Run Belt: Elastic-cord device that helps you pick up your feet.
Likes: Trains you for a more rapid turnover (the most efficient way to run faster) by helping keep your feet off the ground and by limiting overstriding. Rubber stretch cords, which connect the belt and ankle straps, lift your heels toward your butt and make it harder to fully extend the leg forward. The elastic cords come in three strengths, allowing a progression from the green tubing to the stronger yellow and red tubing. Inventor Joe Sparks, an Ohio triathlon coach, recommends that the device initially be used for 10 minutes at a time, then removed for the rest of the workout.
Dislikes: Must wear long socks to prevent slight rubbing on the Achilles tendon area.
Price: $89.95. www.fitnesswithjoe.com.
Roll on to ease muscle knots
The Sprinter Stick: Instant, do-it-yourself muscle massager.
Likes: Fast and effective for both warm-up and warm-down. Especially beneficial for those who have a tendency to develop stiff, aching calves, a common running malady. My calves used to hurt the day after a long run, but not since I've used this for one minute before and after on each leg. Grab the simple two-handled device -- a stiff, 19-inch plastic rod overlaid with 10 hard nylon spindles -- and roll it over calves, quads and other muscles as if you are flattening pizza dough. Inventor Pat Belcher, a retired Atlanta orthopedic doctor, says the stick eliminates muscle knots, pushing out blood and waste products such as lactic acid, and elongating the muscles (thereby strengthening them) without disturbing the joints.
Price: $32.95. (888) 882-0750; www.thestick.com.
Handy for quick hydration and storage
Amphipod Hydraform water bottle: Sculpted 20-ounce bottle with hand-strap and storage pouch.
Likes: Improves refueling on the run. Flattened, curved shape is more comfortable and easier to hold than standard bottles. With the adjustable strap snug, the bottle stays on your hand without requiring a grip. Zippered compartment holds a credit card, energy bar and a couple of keys. Wide mouth makes it easy to clean.
Price: $16.95. (800) 806-1288; www.amphipod.com.
A forward-thinking design
Velocy Runner: Running shoe designed to make you lean forward on your toes and forefoot, not land on your heel.
Likes: Works as advertised. Unique, so-called "forward gravity design" that angles the front edge of the shoe up to 1 3/4 inches off the ground, effectively forcing you to land on your forefoot, not your heel. This puts you into a forward lean, which a growing number of coaches believe is the most efficient way to run (i.e. faster, with a lower heart rate) as well as less injurious to knees, ankles and hips than heel landings. I found the forward bias quite natural feeling, especially after immediately switching back to conventional heel-cushioned shoes for comparison.
Dislikes: The shoes are a bit heavy at 15 ounces.
Price: $125. (503) 764-9418; www.velocy.com.
Irvine-based Roy M. Wallack writes about health and fitness. An endurance cyclist and runner, he's the author of "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100." He can be reached at email@example.com.
- Roy M. Wallack