I’ve seen the future, runners, and it involves 3-D scanners that gather data for custom-fit shoes, reflective material you rub directly onto your skin, and tree-sap-powered workout fuel.
Every year at the Running Event, manufacturers unveil the newest in gadgetry and gear to retailers, race directors and media from across the country. Elite athletes like Boston Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi and Olympic medalist Deena Kastor mingle with show-goers. And it’s closed to the public, so unless you own a running store or direct a major race, you probably can’t go.
Since the show first came to Austin in 2005, we’ve seen the trendy-in-the-running-world pendulum swing from minimalist to highly cushioned footwear. A few years ago, all anybody cared about were wearables that calculated calorie counts, pace and heart rate.
This year’s trends? Three-dimensional technology in shoemaking, clothing and gear designed to make runners highly visible in a world filled with digital distractions, and nutrition made with all-natural ingredients and less sugar and caffeine.
“It used to be stability shoes and cushioning shoes and lightweight shoes. What we’re seeing now is a synthesis of all those ideas into one shoe, and a lot of the shoes have material that adapts as you run in them,” says Mark Sullivan, president of Formula 4, which puts on the Running Event. “I think we’re on the edge of a new frontier.”
Without further ado, some of my favorite products from the show:
1. Safety Skin. Johnny Kulbis was painting houses by day and biking by twilight when he splashed some paint on his arm. That got him thinking, and this year he launched a reflective skin spread that goes on like stick deodorant. Safety Skin is made with seven natural ingredients, all tested for safe use on the skin. Unlike a reflective vest or jacket, it can’t billow or bind. One stick contains 110 applications of 6-inch marks. It’s easy to wash off with soap and water or a baby wipe, too. And think of the fun you could have writing things on your legs! ($18.95 at safetyskinproducts.com or Rogue Running.)
2. Fitstation. It sounds a little futuristic, but at Superfeet’s new Fitstation, runners can stand on a 3-D foot scanner, walk across a gait analysis pad a few times and, based on data the machines collect, get a recommendation or two for a well-matched running shoe. Customers also can order custom-fit insoles or recovery sandals by Superfeet — and, coming later this year, custom shoes through a partnership with Brooks. Superfeet calls the process “kinetic profiling,” and representative Dave Kennedy told me it can help runners predict what type of injuries they might be prone to — and, it’s hoped, prevent them through proper footwear choice.
3. Untapped. Doug Brown’s grandparents started Cochran Ski Area in Richmond, Vt., in 1969. About 10 years ago, rangers noticed that more than 20,000 tappable maple trees grew on the property. Rather than hire someone to tap the trees, Brown, his brother and two cousins decided to do it themselves. Slopeside Syrup sells straight-up maple syrup. More recently, the company teamed with a pro cyclist and ex-Nordic ski coach to launch Untapped, a line of pure Vermont maple-based nutrition products marketed to athletes. The lineup includes individual packets of syrup, three flavors of stroopwafel, and, new this year, two powdered drink mixes — one made with maple sugar, ginger and sea salt, and a lemon tea mapleaid, a spinoff of a classic drink favored by Vermont farmers.
4. HydraPak. Don’t want to lug around a rigid plastic water bottle? Swap it for HydraPak’s hand-held soft flask. The squishy, collapsible container conforms to your hand (or body, if you shove it in a pocket) and features an opening big enough to accommodate ice cubes and a locking bite valve. The 500-milliliter flask will be out in January and costs about $20.
5. Picky Bars. I first discovered these yummy energy bars during a running trip to Bend, Ore., where the company is based. Collegiate runner Jesse Thomas and his wife, Lauren, a long-distance runner, started making the bars in their kitchen eight years ago, when Jesse, who has a sensitive stomach, was training as a pro triathlete. Now they sell nine flavors of these gluten-free, dairy-free and soy-free bars, with the perfect 4-to-1 carbohydrate to protein ratio. My faves? Moroccan Your World, Lauren’s Mega Nuts and Blueberry Boomdizzle ($2.75 at pickybars.com). Now they’re preparing to unveil a line of oatmeal formulated for athletes. Think low in sugar, high in protein, with good stuff like chia seeds, matcha and beet root thrown in.
6. Hoka One One. The mother of ultra-cushioned running shoes unveils the Bondi 6, the sixth incarnation of Hoka’s maximum-cushion road shoe. It weighs less and breathes better than ever. The company is also introducing a lighter-weight trail runner with aggressive lugs and sticky rubber soles (due in July) and the Speed Go Mid-lite, the running world’s answer to a fat-tire bike (and it’s perfect for backpacking). Next October, keep an eye out for the new Fly at Night collection, made with reflective properties woven right into the fabric of the shoe.
7. SPIbelt. I’ve always been a fan of Austin-based SPIbelt, which makes handy little waistbands with stretch pockets that open wide to swallow keys, cellphones, ID cards, Gu packets and whatever else you need on your run. The company recently acquired NiteBeams and is adding a line of LED-illuminated armbands, shoe spurs, shoe laces, hats and gloves. (Check out the line at spibelt.com.)
8. Runbell. With the flick of your thumb, alert other trail users that you’re approaching. The Runbell looks like a pint-size version of an old-school bike bell, except you wear it on your pointer and middle fingers like a two-fingered ring. (Sells for $25 at run-bell.com.)
9. NipEAZE. Look, we know that long runs can wreak havoc on your nipples. Duct tape and Band-Aids look funny, and balms and gels can stain your shirt. But coin-size, transparent, breathable NipEASE adhesive covers prevent chafing and don’t show at all. (Come in two sizes, about $7 for a dozen at Walmart.)
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