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Elite long-distance runner Ryan Vail suffered a stress fracture early this year in tandem with two other injuries that kept him from participating in Olympic marathon trials.
Vail had gone more than 15 years without being severely injured. The rash of injuries challenged Vail, who runs a blog detailing his training, to look deeply into how being hurt impacted him as an athlete. During his recovery, the makers of TUNE, a product aiming to enhance a runner’s technique and performance, approached him about their product.
“There were some imbalances created by the initial injury and time off that we just weren’t able to figure out with the usual tools. So I started wearing TUNE,” Vail said. “The biggest goal from that was to sort of pinpoint weakness or asymmetrical issues that we were finding in my stride.”
Vail said that before TUNE, he had used an intuitive treadmill that gave him comparable information. But that technique only allowed for a small window of running, and running on a treadmill is different than a track.
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“There’s always been ways to look at the measurements that TUNE is doing, but this is the first time that it’s really something affordable that everyone can stick in their shoes and look at,” Vail said. “This is something that’s accessible by everyone, and you don’t have to change your running routine. You stick the insert in and you’re out the door.”
Rectangular TUNE devices click into “docking stations” attached to shoe insoles placed under the existing insole of running shoes. Vail’s insoles are less than .07" thick. The devices weigh a little over an ounce and can withstand 10 hours of continuous usage. The insoles and devices, one per shoe, gather and communicate information to the user through an app.
TUNE also suggests strength exercises potentially beneficial to the user, complete with demonstration videos. Vail said this has made him rethink some of his practices as a coach.
“I’ve been much more conscious, especially since my own injuries, of the importance of tune-up strength exercises in everyone’s routine even if they’re not currently hurt,” Vail said.
Because changing form can be a “dangerous game,” Vail said, this aspect is particularly important. Since he had been running more than 100 miles a week for over a decade, he sees strength training as a way to edit form without disrupting the body’s natural structure.
“Your body, your muscles, your bones, they adapt to whatever the style is that you’re currently running with so trying to just change that simply to be more efficient could put loads on other parts of the body which can be a dangerous situation,” Vail said. “The important part of this is to say, ‘This is what the data is showing so it’s time to, very slowly and gradually, do these small strength exercises to try to strengthen issues rather than change form.’”
With the help of TUNE, a physical therapist and his own willpower, Vail is focused on recovery.
“I was really determined to get back,” Vail said. “2020 is still a possibility so right now it’s all about getting healthy and getting back on the right track, getting back on a long streak of injury-free running.”