The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Running

Meb's No-Impact Workout Weapon

When I first heard that running pros—the likes of Meb Keflezighi and Magdalena Lewy Boulet—were supplementing their training with elliptical-style bikes, I was skeptical. Why ellipti-cycle when you could run? Why drop 3Gs on such a funny contraption when you could buy a carbon fiber bike for less? When I heard that ElliptiGO, the leader of this low-impact revolution, holds a 100-mile world championship event in September, I rolled my eyes. "Who are these weirdos?" I wondered. What’s the deal?

But despite my skepticism, when an ElliptiGO 8C arrived at Outside HQ, I was eager to try the product that so many professional and/or injured runners have raved about. I walked the gargantuan, 44-pound machine onto the Santa Fe Rail Trail and hopped on. 

Getting started is the hardest part. ElliptiGOs are about 11 inches off the ground, so you have to simultaneously jump on with one foot and push off with the other. I got off to a wobbly start: I'd erroneously assumed riding the ElliptiGO would be like riding a bicycle, that my feet would move in big, looping circles beneath me. But, like an elliptical machine (and like running, for that matter), your feet stay on a relatively flat plain. It’s a very forward motion, as opposed to a more centralized pedaling motion. After a minute or two, I fell into a comfortably rhythm. The wind whipped through my hair, and I felt alive for once on a Monday morning.*

{%{"quote":"“Meb got really excited about the ElliptiGO. As he’s aging, he feels that fear of injury more and more.”"}%}

Apparently, that’s the whole point of the ElliptiGO: feeling alive. Or, more specifically, helping runners (who are injured or have bad knees or are otherwise unable to run) to achieve a runner’s high. “It’s for people like me, who miss that experience of running,” says ElliptiGO founder Bryan Pate, a former Ironman triathlete who suffered knee and hip injuries. “The bike just doesn’t fulfill the runner’s high."

Pate dreamed up ElliptiGO in 2005 and sold his first contraption in 2010. The Solana Beach-based company has now sold more than 10,000 bikes and works with more than 100 elite athletes. Of that group, Keflezighi is the most well-known. “Meb got really excited about the ElliptiGO,” Pate says. “As he’s aging, he feels that fear of injury more and more.” The ElliptiGO allows him to have a cardio workout with minimal impact, which is particularly useful for recovery. “Instead of doing a 5-mile recovery run, he’ll go out and ride the ElliptiGO for an hour and a half,” Pate says. “So he gets a way better cardiovascular experience because he gets the blood moving, but he puts zero pounding on his body. When he goes to work out the next day, he’s way fresher.” 

Okay, that makes sense. But what if you want more than a recovery workout? “I just went for a run in Central Park on an ElliptiGO and my heart rate was probably 180,” Pate says. “It was the real deal.” ElliptiGOs—which have many of the same components as bicycles, just arranged a little differently—can reach speeds of more than 23 miles per hour and climb hills with a 30 percent grade. They have gears that allow you to tackle inclines, and hand brakes to slow you down. They also come sans-shocks, and aren't intended for technical off-roading (mellow trails are OK). 

The handlebars are reminiscent of those on a Razor scooter—flat and supported by a long stem. Balancing with one arm is tricky at first—removing a hand to signal to traffic might result in you falling off the ElliptiGO—but as with riding a bicycle, practice makes perfect.

Practice also makes you faster, which is why the company has teamed up with running legend Greg McMillan, who's agreed to write training plans for runners who'll use the ElliptiGO to help them PR (in running, not ElliptiGOing). Pate uses Keflezighi as an example: “I mean, if you think about how unlikely it was that Meb would have fun faster than he ever has in his career at age 38 without doing something different training-wise, that’s not gonna happen. The fact that he changed his training is what led him to be able to do that.” 

Maybe when I am 38 years old, I will agree. Although I enjoyed my ElliptiGO experience, I am not a complete believer—yet. But I will say, with the glide factor, riding an ElliptiGO is way easier than going out for a run. And, the ElliptiGO fills a void that long distance running often lacks: pure speed. You can go really fast on an ElliptiGO, and there is a sense of weightlessness while riding it. You are guaranteed to have fun on board.

You’re also guaranteed to get some really weird looks from strangers. 

*Helmets are recommended for ElliptiGO riding.

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The Sweetest Running Swag

Going the distance means getting some goodies. And no, we aren’t talking just the sense of accomplishment you feel at the finish line. We are talking freebies, treasures, and swag—whatever you want to call it. It doesn’t matter when it’s free. At these races you will find the best, the worst, and some of the weirdest stuff in your swag bags.

Most Luxurious

Nike Women’s Marathon; San Francisco, California
Sorry guys, but the 15,000 runners who come together in April to take on the roads of San Fran are ladies only. Lottery-only entry makes the Nike Women’s Marathon even more exclusive. But you have to be selective when you are doling out Tiffany & Co. necklaces at the finish line by the hands of firefighters in tuxedos. The beginning is just as extravagant as the end, with pre-race festivities including a four-day expo chock full of free vendors giving out boutique and spa products. For all the ladies who are always multitasking, here is a way to pound the pavement while getting pampered. 

Smelliest

ORRC Garlic Festival 10K; North Plains, Oregon
The ORRC Garlic Festival 10K does feature some pretty vanilla race goodies. Finishers get a medal and can win running gear at the raffle. Winners get plaques and ribbons. But that’s where is the blandness ends. The ice cream at the finish line is garlic flavored. So is the celebratory beer. So is the shape of the medal. In the past, “secret” prizes for the winners have included giant bags of garlic bulbs. Don’t expect to get any kisses in the winner’s circle at this event. 

Most Indulgent

Hershey Half Marathon; Hershey, PA
Well if you are a running lover of dessert with a child-like love for theme parks, the Hershey Half is a dream come true. Along with chocolate-filled swag bags, a Chocolate Aid Station at mile 12, where volunteers hand out Reese’s and Special Dark like it’s well, candy. The finisher’s goodie bag includes two tickets to Hersheypark amusement park. After running 13.1 miles, and eating an equivalent amount in ounces of chocolate, we dare you to take a spin on the Sooperdooperlooper coaster. 

Most Random

London Marathon; London, England
You would think that a World Major marathon would be handing out some pretty legit stuff but in the past, London swag has been a little swag-less. Not only do they hand out one mish-mash, but two. The pre-race bag contains the common and expected nuts, nutrition bars, and leaflets. It’s post-race where things get really weird. That one includes everything from Mars Bars, a beer, a single prune, a sachet for a pasta bake, chewing gum, and a one-size fits all shirts the size of blankets. 

Best International

Le Marathon du Medoc; Bordeaux, France
With a 2014 theme of “The Countries of the World and Their Carnivals,” you can bet the Medoc is going to be a party. Before you even get to the start line, the marathon oraganizers a proper carbo-load, called “Soiree Mille-Pates,” complete with fine china and a twenty-piece band. The pre-race celebration seems to carry right through the race, where 23 different red and white wines are offered at drink stations along the course in the middle of France’s vineyards. Wine serves as hydration and gourmet foie gras, entrecote steak, pain au chocolat, fruit and oysters at pit stops serve as fuel. Put all this together you have yourself some world-class swag. After the race, and downing nearly six bottles of wine, winners are given their weight in even more wine. All finishers are rewarded with a rose, a kiss gym bag and a bottle of vintage Medoc to go. 

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