The Bionic Runner, an alternative to the elliptical, is helping runners train for marathons and recover from injuries.

By Brett Huston
August 16, 2016

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What if becoming a record-setting marathon runner was as easy as riding a bike?

According to one Australian company, it can be.

Injury-free training is the idea behind Run4’s Bionic Runner, which is also designed to allow ailing runners to recover more quickly and maintain their fitness level on their way back.

A sort of bicycle and scooter hybrid by design, the Bionic Runner hit the pavement following a Kickstarter campaign in late 2014. It’s the only nonimpact fitness trainer that mimics the typical gait and timing of running—think a more natural version of an elliptical. But unlike that ubiquitous machine that probably has a dedicated row in your local gym, the Bionic Runner’s nonimpact closed kinetic design eliminates injury risk from impact fatigue and joint overextension, the most common causes of joint, tendon and muscle-related injuries from running.

“Unlike an elliptical trainer, the Bionic Runner has a unique patent-pending 60 percent swing and 40 percent stance phase timing, which guides the foot along the path of a mid-foot running gait,” says Steve Cranitch, who founded Run4 four years ago with the vision of an injury-free running community. “Basically, you not only look and feel as if you’re running, you engage the same muscles as you would pounding the pavement, too, which sets the Bionic Runner apart from any other cross trainer in the market.”

Perhaps it’s only fitting that the biggest success story to come from using the Brisbane-based product thus far is a local. John Shaw had a recurring calf injury when he was introduced to the Bionic Runner, but the 63-year-old—a former runner who returned to the sport at 60—was determined to train for a half-marathon in just five weeks. By putting in 45 minutes twice a week on the Bionic Runner, he believes he’s increased his cadence and made his hips stronger.

Shaw was pleased enough with his time in the half that he decided join three friends just two weeks later in an attempt to break a 4×1,500-meter age-group record that had stood for two decades. Instead, they shattered it, beating the Australian record by more than a minute and the world record by 27 seconds

O.K., that’s impressive, but could Shaw live up to those now-lofty standards on his own? He certainly did at the Gold Coast Airport Marathon in July, setting a single-age world record.

Shaw is now the No. 2 ranked runner in the world in the 60–64 age group.

“The BR has been a savior in recovery,” he said. “My lower legs rejoice when they are on the Bionic Runner as they get to have a holiday while the rest of my body gets back to the business of running.”

Runners in 34 countries have purchased the Bionic Runner, so Shaw is hardly the only one to experience noteworthy results after using it. Dutch runner Nicole Weijling-Dissel has broken national Masters record in the 100-meter, 200-meter, 800-meter and 1,500-meter, while United Kingdom-based Brandon Lee-Hall has taken a longer view, using the Bionic Runner on his journey to break a Guinness World Record time on an 813-mile trek across Great Britain.

Shaw, Weijling-Dissel, Lee-Hall and others have reason to believe their experiences are more rule than exception. According to data published in the Australian Journal of Strength and Conditioning that’s been collected over the past year, the Bionic Runner offers the same intensity as conventional running—be it for interval, Fartlek, tempo or hill sessions—without the risk of injury from overextension or impact fatigue.

After all, you have to ride before you can run.

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