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Footloose and fancy-free

Footloose and fancy-free
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First Published: Sat, Jun 30 2007. 12 00 AM IST

Walking on air: Nike’s Free 3.0 shoes are super lightweight
Walking on air: Nike’s Free 3.0 shoes are super lightweight
Updated: Sat, Jun 30 2007. 12 00 AM IST
I’m not much of a runner, but the high that I get from a session on the treadmill often surpasses the one from a traditional weight workout at the gym. And hey, a sweat-soaked T-shirt makes you look more athletic post-workout, never mind if it was just because the aircon wasn’t working very well in the gym. Having shed a considerable amount of avoirdupois off my 5ft 9 inch frame over the last two years, mainly through sensible low GI diet (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GI_Diet) and twice-a-week strength training, I was eager to include running to stave off the boredom of my exercise regimen.
Barefoot feel
I was intrigued by the wireless Nike + iPod Sport Kit that records the time, distance, pace and calories burned in real time as you run. You can track those results on an iPod Nano and, after connecting the Nano to a computer, on the Nike+ website (nikeplus.com). However, Nike is yet to get these shoes to India, but hearing of GG’s noble desire to get off his duff to shave off a few pounds, the nice guys at Nike sent over a Nike Free 3.0 for
Walking on air: Nike’s Free 3.0 shoes are super lightweight
testing.
From the moment I put them on, I realized how much better technology not only makes our minds feel, but our feet as well! The whole idea behind the “Free 3.0” Nike is that, even though you are wearing shoes, it feels like you are going barefoot. The shoes offer the benefits of barefoot training to every runner—even those who don’t live in Kenya, combining it with the advantages offered by traditional footwear. The key to the “barefoot” feel of the shoes is the special tread. The tread has deep cuts in it and the sole is divided into lots of squares similar to a slab of chocolate, so any direction your foot wants to flex, the sole will bend to the will of your foot instead of your foot bending inside the rigid hull of the shoe.
The Nike Free’s basic premise is that a barefoot runner strengthens his foot by using intrinsic muscles that he wouldn’t normally use. When you support an area by cloaking it in supportive footwear, it gets weaker, but when you use it extensively, it gets stronger. Barefoot training produces stronger ankles, knees and hips, all the way up the body involved in the mechanics of running. Nike points out that the Free is not supposed to criticize or replace traditional or technical footwear. The Free is a conditioning shoe, a complementary product that trains your foot and gives you added strength and flexibility benefits in competition.
Like Nike recommends, I eased into training with the Nike Free using them as normal shoes for a week before trying them out on the treadmill. Apart from the initial soreness in the arch from the fuller range of motion, I am finding the Free to be a very comfortable training shoe. The shoes are super lightweight. There is no rigid heel cup to stabilize your ankle. In fact, the entire heel cup is feathery mesh that offers no support and you wouldn’t want it any other way, with your heel finding the most comfortable neutral position unhindered by layers of rigid material. Your feet don’t sweat because the entire shoe is covered in ventilation. It doesn’t feel like you are even wearing shoes. The Nike Free 3.0 can be worn sockless, but I find it is easier to wash my socks than to wash my shoes on a regular basis, so I always use socks. I think the fit and feel of the Nike Free is better with socks and I did get some chafing below my ankle where the bone rubbed against the shoe on occasions that I went sockless.
I have a lot of running to do beforeI meet my fitness goals, but having the Nike Free at least makes it more fun. Rs6,200.
Music on the run
I dislike chit-chatting with the porker on the adjacent treadmill since, at my current fitness level, running and talking are mutually exclusive, so listening to music while running is ideal for me. The 1GB Zen Stone portable music player is Creative’s smallest player and is the size of a small rounded stone. It’s also the cheapest, costing only $40 (about Rs1,600) in the US, but the corresponding price in India is an astonishing Rs3,299, taxes extra. The Zen Stone has an early July launch in India and Creative was a bit cagey about revealing the price, considering it has the pricey 1GB Apple iPod Shuffle at Rs4,600 squarely in its
sights. I got a shiny black one, but there are also white, blue, red, pink and green avatars. Its design seems to be well thought out. The control panel is very simple, with a ring of four buttons and a recessed play/pause button in the centre that doubles as a power switch when held down for a few seconds. The front panel has a single LED, which displays red, green and orange to indicate different functions, such as play, download and battery status. The controls have a nice tactile response as you push them, with no discernible lag. At the top of the Zen Stone is a three-way switch to skip from one stored music folder to another as well as options to repeat or shuffle music. The mini-USB port connects the included, but rather short, cable to your PC for charging and file copying, which is a simple drag and drop process. I wanted a secondary MP3 player so I could just hit play and forget about it, and the diminutive little Zen Stone was perfect for my needs. One key feature absent on it is a built-in clip. There is, however, an integrated lanyard hole, though Creative fails to supply a lanyard in the package.
The sound quality is rather poor with the included earphones, so out they went and were replaced by Sennheiser MX 70 VC Sport headphones, which made a dramatic difference. The MX 70 VC earphones (in sporty neon green) really shine with crisp mid-high frequencies and startling low-end clarity. The rubber earpieces ensure a snug fit though you may have to push and twist for the best positioning, and the magnetic volume control on the cord is a pretty convenient feature. The earphones, with their magnetic faces, can be clipped together behind the neck when not in use. Included are a shirt clip, extra rubber ear buds and a nifty semi-transparent carrying case. The almost identical MXL 70 VC earphones have an incorporated lanyard to which a player can be attached, which could have been handy since the Zen Stone comes sans clip. Sennheiser MX 70 VC Sport, Rs2,590, and MXL 70 VC Sport, Rs2,990.
OK, now the next thing I’m looking at is a heart rate monitor so I can run at my training heart rate (www.runnersworld.co.uk/news/article.asp?UAN=181). Any suggestions?
Let Harsh know what heart rate monitors to use at gizmoguru@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, Jun 30 2007. 12 00 AM IST
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