When a field of 127 runners lined up in Central Park on September 13, 1970, to run the first New York City Marathon, the only gadgets, per se, that could help them were a smattering of watches. A grainy finisher photo shows winner Gary Muhrcke breaking the tape with a watch band on his left wrist. Both of his hands are throwing peace signs. The only equipment required then was a pair of shoes, short shorts and enough grit to run 26.2 miles without collapsing.
Today, running without a GPS watch is as much a protest against screen time and the intrusion of tech as it is a tactical racing decision. Some of us, meanwhile, can't imagine running without headphones. Then there's all the self-care. Vibrating muscle relaxers help athletes recover. Sport-centric social networks, like Strava, help us bask in our best workouts. Meditation apps help us calm down before bed while calorie counting apps track our macros. Even the most basic of fitness devices capture heart-rate data; on running watches, it will soon be standard.
Speaking of sports watches, we have an entire buying guide for that, which we recently published as part of this outdoor gear series. But we were also curious about what it means to be better, faster, stronger when money is no object. We asked five elite runners, all of whom are flush with sponsorship deals and prize money, on what they use to train and how they protect their most important piece of equipment: their bodies.
A couple of items on this list were universally recommended, namely the Hyperice Volt ($349) massage-ball gun (as I'm describing it) and NormaTec's compression boots ($1,295), both muscle-recovery tools. And, of course, plenty were eager to tout the wares of their sponsor partners. Here's what they're using.
Events: 1500m, 3000m and 5000m
Sponsor: New Balance
Claim to fame: Represented the US at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 2012 London Olympics and the 2016 Rio Olympics; Bronze Medalist in the women's 1500m (Rio).
Epson ProSense 57 GPS Running Watch
"Over the years I have tried lots of different watches. I tried Garmin. Currently, I run with an Epson watch."
"NormaTec is a device that a lot of professional athletes use. The USA medical team travels with it when we go to major competitions and when we go to world championships. Other than just manual soft tissue therapy, it's the next best thing. And it's something you can have in your own home."
"[Author Angela Liddon] has published a book. And she recently put out an app. And on the app is over 100 recipes where she has the ingredients and the directions. It's easier than traveling with a cookbook. But it's so portable and so easy and it's also like delicious to look at; it reminds you to eat really healthy. That app has been really useful to me over the last year or so."
"You kind of have to get a knack for it. So I said I'm gonna use this every single day for two weeks. And forced myself to do things that I wouldn't normally do and just do it consistently. After doing that, it really forced me to find new ways to use it and now we use it a lot."
Claim to fame: World record holder in the four-by-one-mile relay.
Garmin Forerunner 945
"You can connect it to Garmin Connect, and you can see all your splits from your run, your elevation, your cadence, your vertical ratio, if you're leaning more to the left or the right. You get all these types of feedback for running."
"I think the heart-rate bands around the chest are just far more accurate. There are some times when [the wrist-based monitor] just spikes and you're like, 'OK, there's no way my heart rate's 180 right now, I'm only going X fast.' And so I would say there's more variance in the wrist, but if I'm laying down or just not doing very much or not moving, I think the heart-rate monitor on the wrist is really very accurate."
"It pretty much looks like a drill. Like a working-tool drill but at the end of it is a massage ball. And there are different heads you can put on it. And what it does is it pretty much retracts and recedes, so it's going at high velocities and you put it up against your leg and it's just an automated massager. And it works out really, really well, to where if there's a tight muscle or there's something that's a little bit sore it's easier to use that Hypervolt than to have to roll out on the ground on a rolling stick because the Hypervolt really gets into those spots that are a little harder to get [by] just rolling."
"So I bought this rice cooker and that has been the coolest thing I've ever purchased, I think. As simple as a rice cooker is, I messed it up the first time by putting the rice in the steamer portion and then the water in, like, the rice portion. And I cooked it fine, but I pretty much steamed the rice as opposed to cooking it. So, it's a pretty simple thing to do but I messed it up somehow."
"We have a nutritionist -- we just call him Dr. Kyle. We'll say, 'Hey Kyle, this is what we're eating, this is what's going on, and what do I need to do to supplement carbohydrates, proteins or fat?' If we're going into like a championship portion of the season we go into Meal Logger and we just take a photo of our meal and we post it."
Events: 1500m, 3000m, 5000m and 3000m steeplechase
Sponsor: Under Armour
Claim to fame: Represented Jamaica at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Under Armour recovery and training apparel
"A couple of years ago I signed with UA and got really interested in recovery because it was sort of simultaneous I moved from training at sea level to training at altitude. And the biggest difference I saw was in my recovery because everything -- your body, metabolism -- has a greater demand. I just needed to be able to recover better. I started in the pajamas and moved into having the recovery sleepwear sheets. Then they came out with Rush, which is the next step that now we can wear when we're training. The two pieces I really like are the tight: They make a running tight, and a T-shirt. And that was sort of the weather we were in, in Crested Butte, Colorado. It was still sort of winter"
"I'm more into listening to my body and then checking my data after, and this is just kind of the perfect blend: I get all the data but I can customize every screen to read what I want it to read. So I'm not plugged into my watch, looking at pace; I have created for myself really simple screens with duration, lap split and distance. And that's what I work off of while I'm training and then I can just flip open my phone and get all my data immediately. That's what I can give to my coach because he cares about the data. And I just care about running fast and feeling good."
"I see a physio once a week in Boulder who is great, but you can't see a physio every day; you'd have to be a billionaire to get that kind of treatment. Using a tool like a vibrating foam roller or the Hyperice gun and the Hyperice ball, those help me a ton."
Claim to fame: Took home gold last month in the Canadian National 10,000m championships.
"SmartVent is a new technology that Reebok is using for its apparel. In particular, we use a lot of shirts that are supposed to be more like a breathable type of material, which is really nice considering we're based out of Charlottesville, Virginia, and it gets pretty toasty. And then as for shoes, pretty much the whole team is in Floatride Energys. Kind of like a lightweight neutral shoe that we use for long runs, speed work on the track, pretty much everything. And they're very durable. So in addition to that, I do run some Harmony Road 3s on my really easy days; it's a more structural shoe. And then lastly, if I'm racing on the roads, I'll be running in the Reebok Run Fast Pros, which are a super, super lightweight racing shoe."
"When I first started in high school GPS watches definitely existed, but they weren't as prevalent. I used to run in a Timex and I just very strictly used the start and stopwatch, or the start and stop button in some intervals. [Now] I use GPS for everything. I like tracking my paces. I don't look too, too far into the heart rate, personally, but I know a lot of other people do."
Claim to fame: Competed in the 2016 Olympic Marathon trials; finished the 2017 Boston Marathon in 3:05:08 while 13 weeks pregnant.
"I use Adidas Ultra Boost 19 as my recovery shoe. They have a lot more cushion and support, but also the neutral arch that I need for my own gait. And then I alternate between the Adizero Boston 8 and the Adios, the Adios 4 as my trainers and my racing shoe. So, the combination of those three pairs of shoes has kept me, knock on wood, really healthy in my training in the last two years."
"For someone that doesn't want to spend over $100 on a pair of sunglasses, I like Goodr because they're just super easy. You can buy a pair for $25 and not worry if you lose them; they stay on your face pretty well."
"It's a clip that hooks onto your sports bra in the back between your shoulder blades, and it holds your cell phone and you literally can't feel it. I've gone on 22-mile runs with my large iPhone X and I literally can't feel my cellphone. It's amazing."
"For me, as a marathon runner and not really doing too much of other sports, I find that this is kind of the perfect combination of techie but not too overloaded with features that I won't need. I love the heart-rate feature because it tells you what zone you're running in. I sleep in it so I always know what my resting heart rate is overnight. I especially love the race predictor, so judging by my heart rate and the workouts that I'm doing, it saves all that data and produces what it thinks I could run for 5K through marathon. It keeps me motivated to really work toward those goals."
"I don't like when headphones have kind of a heavy cord because I find, especially when I'm running faster, if the cord's bouncing it tends to pull the earbuds out of my ears. Those ones are good. They have actual little earbuds that fit really well into your ears without moving."
"We have a Ninja blender that has a food processor piece and also an individual, single-serving smoothie container thing, and I use that every day. Because, my son -- he's one and a half -- and I can get him to eat a lot of vegetables by including them in smoothies. I just make double the portion and then he and I split smoothies every day. And, I make popsicles out of the smoothies."
"I love listening to Ali on the Run. She's my favorite podcast. She's just a really good interviewer; she just has really good questions and she gets a lot of good information out of people. And also, she just has had such an amazing group of runners and fitness professionals on her podcast."
"I have had neuroma and bursitis in my right foot. These are little silicone toe spacers and I wear them to walk around the house. Sometimes I even wear them to bed for a couple of hours then just kind of take them out when they don't feel good anymore. But, it gives the space between my big toe and my second toe a little extra room so that the inflammation can go down."
Arcanum Sports - Freeze Natural Pain Relief Gel with Hemp Extract
"It's [from] a sports company that makes products that are all CBD, so it's like a relaxing thing, but basically feels like Bio-freeze. My son's 28 pounds now so I'm carrying him around, and I just feel like my shoulders are totally out of whack. So, that helps relax me a lot and I think it helps me fall asleep faster. Maybe it's a placebo effect, but it feels really good on my traps."
Run Fast. Eat Slow: Nourishing Recipes (Rodale Books)
"I loved [Shalane Flanagan's] first book, but the second book is all much quicker, easy-to-make meals. And I'm a mom to a toddler and also work full time, and I am trying to train at a high level with my own running, so I find that those recipes are super easy to make and there are less ingredients than some of the recipes in the first book. The turkey-trot meatballs are kind of my go-to in that book, and we make a lot of salad bowls at my house."