The Millennium Runner: Substance & Style

New technology and fearless fashion have overtaken the increasingly borderless world of the modern day distance runner.

Written by: T.J. Murphy  |  Photos by Tim Mantoani

This piece first appeared in the May issue of Competitor Magazine.

The first running boom occurred in the 1970s and is largely credited to three people: Frank Shorter, the American who won the 1972 Olympic marathon, Dr. Kenneth Cooper, author of the book “Aerobics,” and Bill Bowerman, the legendary University of Oregon coach and cofounder of Nike.

Cooper’s story, in particular, stands out. In 1960, at age 29 and some 40 pounds overweight, he thought he was having a heart attack while water skiing and decided it was time to get in shape. In 1962, he ran the Boston Marathon. His 1968 book “Aerobics” was part of his message about the importance of preventive medicine, and a portion of increasingly sedentary Americans extinguished their cigarettes and responded to the call. Shorter’s Olympic victory was an additional catalyst, and Bowerman’s Nike running shoes caught the wave of the first generation of recreational marathoners.

Four decades have passed and the figures continue to rise. The number of Americans finishing marathons, in fact, grew by 8.6 percent between 2009 and 2010, and almost half of these finishers were women—roughly one tenth of marathoner finishers in 1980 were female. Give the likes of Joan Benoit Samuelson, Olympic marathon gold medalist in 1984 and Paula Newby-Fraser, perhaps the greatest triathlete of all time, plenty of credit for the rise of women participating in the endurance world.

While running has become more inclusive, it has also become more eclectic. Visit a half-marathon in 2011 and prepare to be blinded by color. Will you see basic nylon shorts and singlets? Sure. You’ll also see compression gear, running skirts, GPS gadgets and an immodest mix and match of brands and colors that can make your head turn.

Is it all flash? Some of it yes, absolutely, but there’s substance as well. Fortunately for the modern day runner—the new school, if you will—running is not just running. It’s an activity that combines high-performance nutrition, high-tech recovery, state-of-the-art injury management and Internet-enabled coaching. Runners are also besieged with gear and apparel choices that enable training at night, indoors, on trails, and for jumping into the multisport world. Participants of today’s boom have no qualms about trying new gadgets or high-tech clothes, thus changing the visual landscape of a sport once identified by sweat pants, tube socks and red-white-and-blue head bands.

Presenting the latest iteration of running enthusiasts: The New School runner who revels in all that running technology and fashion have to offer.

Photo: Sugoi Sakura Arm Warmers, $40 – C9 by Champion Women’s Seamless Fashion Cami, $17 – Reebok Sports Essentials Tank, $32 – Under Armour Team Girl Short, $30 – CEP Running 02 Compression Socks, $60 – Newton Running Terra Momentus Trail, $139 – Garmin F60 HRM Bundle, $170 – Oakley Fast Jacket Sunglasses, $220

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