Running's easy, right? It's just heading outdoors and putting one foot in front of the other.
But while it may seem like the most natural sport known to mankind there’s nothing a bit of innovative gadgetry can’t improve on.
And as any runner will tell you (along with an encyclopedic knowledge of public toilets and local water fountains) one thing all pavement plodders accrue over time is a love of data.
Monitoring your form and knowing how far, how fast, how heart-boundingly close to a personal best (PB) you’re running is a sure-fire way to help you understand your training, identify areas to work on and spur you onward to achieve your goals.
While a decent running watch, trainers and some sweat-wicking kit is probably top of your list, we’ve gone the extra mile to bring you a raft of running tech that could take you one step closer to that PB, one step further from injury and generally make running a smoother, more comfortable ride.
Note: we've ranked these from cheapest to most expensive according to prices at time of writing.
In a market saturated with stats, apps and data tracking, FlipBelt is one of the simplest bits of kit around. It’s also one of the most effective.
Pull the stretchy fabric tube up around your waist, fill it with all your run essentials – phone, credit card, energy gels, emergency change for the public loo – flip over. Hey presto, everything stays securely around your middle.
Unlike a bum bag with its adjustable straps and buckles, the belt sits flush to the body so there’s virtually no bounce. No zips on the openings mean no chafe, and providing you get the right size – there are five to choose from ranging from a 23- to 41-inch waist – there’s no riding up either.
You can even get water bottles designed to fit inside the belt, so it’s ‘see you later’ to that sloshing lopsided gait.
If there’s one thing every streamlined runner loves, it’s a space-saving two-in-one device like the Shapeheart Armband.
Unless you’re about to invest in the Apple Watch 3, carrying your smartphone on runs is often a necessary evil and that means while armbands aren’t everyone’s favorite, they often feature too. And if that’s the case you may as well make it twice as useful.
Not only does the Shapeheart deliver on the phone carrying front, with a magnetic case that allows you to easily detach your mobile from the strap to answer calls, take those vital running selfies (or check Google Maps), it also monitors your heart rate.
A removable optical heart rate (HR) sensor located in the neoprene armband sends your heart rate data to pretty much any running app you choose – Nike+, Strava and Runkeeper – so you can ensure you’re training in the right zone for your goals.
While it won’t trump the accuracy of a HR chest strap, the armband should be more reliable than the data from a watch as you’re less likely to get that gap between sensor and wrist that can skew HR stats.
If you’re serious about improving your speed and efficiency, the Lumo Run is one of the best running form trackers out there.
With no fewer than seven different sensors, including accelerometer, gyroscope and vibration sensor, all you have to do is clip the 25g lightweight device to the back of your shorts and you've negates the need for a trip to the biomechanics lab.
Lumo tracks all your vital running form stats – that’s cadence (steps per minute), bounce, pelvic movement and how much brake you apply with each step – and fires them to the Lumo app for you to pore over later, alongside personalized recommendations for pre- and post-run exercises based on how you’ve just performed.
You’ll also get recommendations on aspects of your form to work on during each run, along with real-time audio-coaching to help you adjust your form on the go.
The downside for those who prefer running on the light-side, however, is that audio cues and GPS stats such as pace and distance are only available if you take your phone along for the ride.
With 20 days of run time and onboard storage for sessions where you want to track phone-free runs this is your best weapon for improving form.
The Jaybird X2 in-ear headphones were a popular choice with runners and we expect the X3 to have a similar fan club. These new neckband-style Bluetooth buds offer plenty of improvements and an even friendlier price point.
For a start, they’re slightly smaller but retain the sweat-proof design and surprisingly great sound.
Bluetooth 4.1 means longer battery life that can easily cope with a marathon with juice to spare, while there’s also greater control over the audio thanks to a new companion MySound app that lets you tweak the levels to your preference.
But what makes them a killer choice for runners is how they fit and feel on the move. The abundance of fitting options means they stay secure in your lugholes while the lightweight band kills off any tug. The only thing that reminds you they’re attached to your head at all is your power song pumping you to a PB.
Read the full review: Jaybird X3
Designed for working out, the new generation of wireless AfterShokz IP55 sweat-resistant bone-conduction headphones weigh in at 30g, that’s around 20% lighter than the original Trekz Titanium – because every gram counts when you’re gunning for a PB.
Perfect for running, no wires mean no knocking your earbuds out with every arm swing, six hours of music and calls from a 90-minute full charge means they’ll see you through a marathon with change.
One of the best things though: the open-ear design allows you to hear what’s going on around you at all times, particularly important on darker nights and misty mornings and makes them race legal in the UK for open-road running.
Other useful improvements include dual noise cancelling mics so you can actually take that call while you’re on the run (as long as you can breathe) and redesigned bone transducers that deliver more bass, one of our biggest bugbears with previous AfterShokz. The pause button has been overhauled to be easier to tap too... in short, this is a brilliant upgrade.
And because sport headphones tend to spend a lot of time kicking about in the bottom of a bag, they come with a durable premium titanium frame and wraparound band that can withstand a few knocks.
Designed to improve your technique and reduce the chance of injury, just about the only thing these smart trainers don’t do is run for you.
As you plod the pavements they’re collecting all kinds of data via lightweight pressure sensors that run the length of the shoes, storing the stats on the Altra IQ app and providing live coaching tips to help you improve your stride.
Monitoring cadence, impact every time you hit the ground, data on how you’re landing – heel, midfoot or forefoot first – how your stride changes with terrain and elevation and even how long your foot is in contact with the floor, these zero-drop cushioned shoes are a stat-loving strider’s dream.
Vi is an AI running coach who lives in specially designed earphones. Offering personalized advice based on your goals and running history, she’ll adapt to your training schedule and throw out workout suggestions and tips as you run.
The bio-sensing earphones track your speed, distance, cadence, elevation, heart rate and more so Vi can train you on the go, encouraging you to keep going when you’re about to hit a new goal, telling you to slow down if you have a tendency to set off too fast, offering pace-specific training and suggesting recovery days or harder sessions where necessary.
Rather creepily, Vi also knows your name, the weather and where you are and can tailor her advice to your current situation, such as throwing in a few tips for running in the rain if you’re heading into winter.
Ambitious by design, Vi represents the future of running and fitness gadgets. We’ve spent a lot of time with her – the AI is female – and while right now she’s a great tool for casual and newer runners building fitness, she lacks a few of the essential features that will satisfy the more serious runners chasing PBs.
However, with the ability to support years of software upgrades, Vi can only get better as you do and for those who’d love real-time run coaching but can’t afford it, Vi could make for a good AI option.
There’s a reason these headphones look like they’re going to tweak your brain – they are.
Part of a rising trend for applying advanced neuroscience to sport and fitness, Halo Sport employs clever, and somewhat complex, brain science to make you run faster. Worn before your workout, Halo delivers a tingling electrical stimulation over a 20-minute warm up period known as ‘neuropriming’.
The idea is that electric signals help the movement-controlling neurons in your brain fire more easily.
Your brain learns to repeat movements such as the strides you make when running through a process called plasticity, but neuropriming is intended to get your brain into a state of ‘hyper-plasticity’ so it reaches its fine-tuning state more quickly and you get greater muscle control and better results from your workout.
Small-scale studies with baseball team San Francisco Giants showed improvements in speed and explosiveness and there’s a weight of scientific research to back up their effectiveness.
However, unless you really, really care about shaving that elusive minute off your Parkrun time, then this might be a trend to monitor rather than dive in to at this stage.
- Now check out the best running headphones