No pain no gain?

With the New Year upon us, how can technology help people run without injury?

For those of us who are currently trying to remedy some of Christmas' worst excesses, there are a number of options available. Abstinence from rich food, drink and all those other good things is one option, of course, but probably the most effective solution is to undertake exercise. And for many people, that means running. It is no coincidence at this time of year that the pavements positively teem with large numbers of people in running gear that looks suspiciously new and whose red faces, laboured breath and even more laboured progress suggests that they are fulfilling a New Year's Resolution to shed unwanted pounds. The problem is, however, that running places considerable strain on the human frame. The shock put through the joints is considerable: a fact that often only becomes apparent too late. These strains are of naturally made even worse if the runner is carrying excess weight (which, of course, they usually are at this time of year. And, of course, the amateur runner is usually not equipped to combat these problems. They do not have expert trainers telling them how to improve their running style in such a way as to maintain health and usually also lack enough knowledge to provide themselves with the right equipment – and the single most important type of equipment in this context is the running shoe. So what should they do? The Challenge The challenge, this month then, is to devise a type of running shoe that genuinely helps to prevent injury. Of course, most runners usually assume that this is simply achieved by the largest possible quantity of shock absorbing and cushioning material. This is not necessarily the case, of course, because however much padding one's shoes may contain, if they are putting your feet in the wrong position, the knock-on effects on the runner's joints will still be damaging. Plus, of course, if you actually provided enough cushioning to negate the impact of running, the shoe itself would become unwieldy, heavy and also be almost impossibly high – which, of course, would present its own dangers. As ever, we have a solution in mind that employs some relatively sophisticated technology to aid the runner. However, this may not be the best solution and Eureka's readers may be able to devise a lower-tech solution that can make 'runner's knee' a thing of the past. -Solution- Solution to the January 2014 Coffee Time Challenge The solution to last month's Coffee Time Challenge of how to devise a running shoe that prevents injury comes from the Fraunhofer Institute, which has developed a battery-powered concept shoe that relies on an RF module, GPS sensors, accelerometers and microelectronics to evaluate a jogger's running form and technique in real time. The system captures biomechanical signals from the body and transmits them via Bluetooth to the jogger's smartphone app, which then evaluates the data and offers feedback to the runner on how they can improve performance. "The app could recommend running more slowly, for example, or rolling off the foot differently, suggest seeking a different running surface or stopping if necessary," explained researcher Andreas Heinig, from the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems IPMS. For more detailed analysis, the data captured by the system can also be transferred to a dedicated website, so that users can create a customised training programme with specific performance goals. "Pulse-rate watches and chest straps record only vital signs like breathing and heart rate," Dr Heeinig continued. "In contrast, our running shoe medically evaluates and monitors training while jogging. It informs the runner for example of incorrect foot position, asymmetric loading, or warns of exhaustion or overload. There has never been a comparable device before. The researchers are now working to make the system even smaller. The running shoe is expected to go on the market by early 2015.