Wednesday, March 18, 2009

If the Emerging Runner developed products

It was great to do an outside run yesterday but it was back to the treadmill this morning. I'm still struggling a little with soreness around my right hip and it took a few minutes of warm-up for that to dissipate. Once I felt more comfortable I increased my speed and ended up running about 2 miles at 8:52/mile. I want to get these shorter runs closer to 8:30/mile but I'll take some pleasure in knowing that an 8:52 pace is a full minute faster than what I was doing four months ago.

While I ran today I thought about treadmill running vs. street, track and trail running. I am a fan of the treadmill but I'm not a fan of its limitations. If I created my own treadmill I'd do the following:

- Build the tread wide enough to move laterally. I don't know if there are limits to how wide the tread can be relative to factors such as power and weight capacity but most treadmills are narrow to the point of claustrophobia. I like when I get to run in hotel fitness centers because some high end units provide a wider track.

- Speed sensing. I know from tracking my performance with Garmin Connect that my running speed varies from minute to minute. On the road it's no problem as the speed of the runner is relative to a static surface. On a treadmill you are running variable paces and the treadmill is running at a steady pace. This translates into constant subconscious adjustment by the runner to regulate to the speed of the moving tread. Plus the constant concern that you'll either overrun the unit or fall back so far as to pull the safety cord. It would be great if the treadmill could detect subtle changes in cadence or pace and adjust the tread speed accordingly. If the runner wanted to sprint the treadmill would follow. Sure you can accomplish the same by constantly adjusting the speed control but that's tedious and imprecise.

- Use an electric eye or motion detector to control emergency shut off. Running with a cord attached to your shirt or shorts is another contributor to treadmill claustrophobia. Plus, based upon conversations I've had with people, many don't use the cord for this very reason. It's like seatbelts vs. airbags: active versus passive protection.

- It's not the first time I'm mentioning it but how about a virtual reality screen to simulate outdoor running? The video can interact with the treadmill so that it automatically goes to inclines on hills, etc. I don't know how to simulate different surfaces (muddy trails, dirt, macadam) but I'm confident the Emerging Runner Laboratories would figure that out.

It's possible that some of this technology already exists in the higher end units. To do what I'm suggesting above would likely add thousands of dollars to the cost. With advances in screen display and sensing technologies it's not unrealistic to think these features could be offered at a reasonable cost. Call now, operators are standing by!

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