Running technology goes ‘Back to the Future’ — part two

2011-05-26 00:00

AT last the world has awoken from its marketing slumber, prompted in many respects by the likes of the Mexican Indians who run 100s of kilometres in makeshift sandals and bare feet.

Ironically, a study by a Durban podiatrist and local shoe factory, was instrumental in turning the shoe market on its head. The impact of the highly flexible Froggie shoe not only showed a better range of foot and joint movement, but also caught the attention of major shoe manufacturers.

As we head to the 86th Comrades, running shoes are coming back to get to the future.

Puma has launched its highly mobile FAAS 300 and 500 range, Innov8 has arrived in the country with both trail and road shoes that not only promote natural running, but also provide a transition from the thick heels to lower, more stable wear. New Balance is about to launch its natural-movement shoes, and the five-finger, glove-like foot covering has quadrupled its market share in the past year.

For years, Adidas has maintained a flexible Adizero range, and Saucony has the Mirage, Kinvara and Fast-twitch series, which are pillars in this new thinking. Reebok’s Zig-Zag may be thicker than most recommendations, but at least they are flexible. Nike has already committed to the flexible Lunar series and has launched the Run-Free range.

Maybe it’s not so amazing given the (mis)representation in the market — it is only South Africa’s top-selling manufacturer that remains stuck to the promotion of control shoes. But, it’s not only shoes that have gone back to go forward.

Coca-Cola was introduced to the refreshment tables in South Africa over four decades ago. Here was a drink that could assist runners with energy for the marathon and longer events. The combination of sugar combined with the effervescence made this a refreshing change from water. Indeed, South Africa led the world in the use of carbohydrate drinks in distance races, and in the early eighties innovations born out of Bruce Fordyce’s use of sugar in his Coca-Cola and Professor Tim Noakes’s research led to the production of the first long-chain carbohydrate sports drinks under the Leppin banner. This became a world leader and soon had distributors in Australia and the United Kingdom.

As the world caught up, research continued to evolve, with the need for electrolytes, and salt in particular, coming to the fore.

Second and third-generation drinks have been developed recently. A better understanding of carbohydrate absorption has evolved 32 GI as a low glyceamic-index drink. While the Leppin products changed the landscape in the eighties, the true origin of today’s sports drinks can be traced back to one Arthur Newton, who as far back as his first race in 1922, knew that an ideal mix would have sugar and salt in it.

Newton’s sweetened and salted lemonade soon evolved into Corpse Reviver, which had the added buffering effect of bicarbonate of soda. This provided an alkali drink, which was said to revitalise even the most fatigued runner towards the end of the ultra-marathons.

This really should not have been a surprise, given that the majority of drinks and foods provided on the run are acidic.

Bicarbonate of soda has been researched many times and has shown to have a performance-boosting effect of around two to three percent due to the buffering of acid. Recent research has even gone on to say that this effect may be even greater in longer events.

Runners in 24-hour and longer events have been using alkali rehydration drinks for similar purposes for years. Rather than a constant intake of acidic carbohydrate drinks throughout the race, runners benefit from a sachet of Hydrassist at regular intervals after the initial three to four hours of exercise. This has proved effective in overcoming nausea and water bloating. Although Hydrassist is the only product matching the World Health Organisation formulation, the use of buffers in sports drinks have yet to catch up. Perhaps they will if they go back to the basics that evolved from the great-thinking Newton and the Comrades runners of yesteryear. They knew what good shoes and drinks were.

Oh and what of Zola Pieterse? She is back in the country and will be at the Comrades Expo promoting a new range of American shoes that teach you how to run the natural way. The name of the shoes? Why, Newton of course.


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