2018 Sports Medicine Holiday Gift Guide

Joe Uhan’s 2018 sports medicine holiday gift guide.

By on December 11, 2018 | Comments

Stay the CourseIt’s that most wonderful time of the year! And no, it’s not just race-lottery season; it’s also the holiday season. What do you get the runner who has it all? (A Western States 100 entry? Silly runner, no one gets one of those!)

We’ve done this a couple times before, in 2013 and 2015, and we’re doing it again: the Stay the Course Sports Medicine Holiday Gift Guide. Previously, we’ve kept this gift guide thrifty. This time around, we start simple and finish with some big-ticket items. Price points aside, this year’s list includes some of the most useful, durable, long-term investments for your serious runner.

[Author’s Note: The author is neither affiliated with nor compensated by any company or product mentioned below. Specific item brands do not necessarily represent an endorsement for the best product in a particular field; they are only an example of novel or quality products.]

Travel Foam Roller

Why: Half-length, hollow foam rollers offer terrific self-massage capability that are both durable as well as lightweight and space-preserving. While conventional foam rollers are often up to three feet long and solid, rollers like the 13-inch TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller is both short enough for a traveling runner to pack it into a backpack and hollow enough to afford additional packing space inside it. These rollers are remarkably tough, too: they support the full body weight (up to 500 pounds!) and are just wide enough to unwind your spine after a long trip!

Where: Internet search for “travel massage roller;” your local community running store; TriggerPoint’s website

WHOOP Recovery Device

Why: I’ve written a lot about heart-rate monitoring (the basics of it and its importance, as well as recommending it as a previous gift idea), in contrast to my reticence in embracing the GPS running watch and the hyper-comparison it has created.

This technology is different. WHOOP is among the first wearable-technology devices that focuses solely on the stress-versus-rest balance. It primarily measures three things: general heart rate during workouts, heart-rate variability (HRV)–an important measure of neurological fatigue–and sleep–both its quantity and quality. While other devices might do one of these measures, WHOOP does them all. Using a lightweight, comfortable wrist strap worn 24-7, it develops a measure of your recovery using HRV and sleep quality/quantity. From there, it recommends the length and intensity of training based on that recovery score.

Personally, I’ve been a user for a couple months. While I can’t say I’m sold on the accuracy of the workout measures, I’m sold on its sleep metrics. Few runners track their sleep volume (let alone quality), and the WHOOP does not just measure when you go to sleep, but when you actually fall asleep, how many times you awake, and your various sleep cycles. On top of that, WHOOP–like the well-intended, nagging parent or spouse–pings your phone each night with a reminder of how much sleep you need to get and when to go to bed.

While that feature alone might not be worth the pricey $30/month subscription, refocusing our training toward recovery is a fresh take amidst the ‘more is more’ approach to most running technology today!

Where: WHOOP’s website

Filtering Water Bottle

Why: I contracted giardiasis from drinking unfiltered water on a trail run and the resulting physical problems have been among the worst things to happen to my running. But what if someday there was a bottle that magically filtered water without a special pump or pills and was fast enough to use as a trail runner?

That day has come. Among the technological advances for the outdoor adventurer, the portable, direct-filtration water bottle ranks near the top. Long gone are the days of lugging a filter pump along the trail and having to stop and use it, drinking nasty iodine water after a 30-minute wait, or–like me–playing Russian roulette with your gut.

My wife purchased the Katadyn BeFree Filtration System. There are multiple-size containers, but she bought the 0.6-liter soft flask that, when empty, easily fits into the palm of your hand, and when full, fits into a sleeve of a hydration vest and behaves like any soft flask. The system contains a small filter which allows you to dip it quickly in a creek and run on while drinking filtered water as easily as you can from any soft flask. No more excuses for drinking unfiltered or unpurified water: get a filter bottle!

Where: Internet search “filtering water bottle;” Katadyn’s website

iRunFar’s Meghan Hicks and her Katadyn BeFree Filtration System stowed during a fastpacking trip. Photo: Marissa Harris


Why: I drank a few thousand giardia on a New Year’s Eve trail run nearly two years ago, and my gut (and whole body) still isn’t the same. (A full column on this topic is forthcoming!) After riding a rollercoaster of infection followed by potent and destructive pharmaceutical antibiotics, I had to reconstruct my gut from scratch.

Key to this process was the Gastrointestinal (GI) Microbial Assay Plus (MAP) test. This is a stool test that measures an unprecedented depth and breadth of gut elements, including parasites, bacteria, and fungi (both ‘good’ and ‘bad’), as well as digestive enzymes and other markers of inflammation and digestive function.

This test was enormously important to assess gut function and, more importantly, identify the precise complexion of my gut microbiome. From there, my gut specialist and I were able to rebuild my gut from the ground up: first selectively eliminating pathological bacteria, and then promoting the development of more positive species. And while my gut continued to heal from the protozoan and antibiotic destruction, we were able to supplement with key digestive enzymes.

As a result, my gut is the healthiest it’s been in… maybe ever. (And as soon as the rest of me comes around, watch out!).

Where: Discuss this test with your medical professional or seek out a doctor who uses it. Learn more on Diagnostic Solutions’s website.

Compression Boots

Why: A few years ago, I wrote about the benefits of recovery facilities–gyms that focus on athlete recovery, often featuring high-end recovery systems. Thankfully, like a lot of technology, gear that used to be prohibitively expensive has gotten more economical and take-home for the athlete. This includes compressive-sleeve systems.

‘Compression boots’ are large sleeves covering the entire leg. Connected to an air pump and computer, the system fills the sleeves with air (usually in a bottom-up pattern). The idea is that the sleeve pressure forces post-exercise muscle or interstitial fluid into the venous system, resulting in faster processing of the ‘metabolic wastes’ in the lymphatic system.

Research into the performance benefits of these compressive systems yields equivocal results. But like a lot of recovery practices with similar scientific footing, the facts are: it feels pretty good and runners seem to really like it. And for placebo alone, that is a good-enough combination for most.

Lastly, the price point for compressive technology has greatly reduced. The flagship brand, NormaTec (the Kleenex of compressive tech), used to cost $2,000 per pair. Now with other players in the market offering comparable quality, the prices have dropped to about the same as your average GPS watch.

Where: Internet search “compression boots for recovery;” NormaTec’s website

NormaTec compression boots are available for use at the High Altitude (HAT) House Endurance Camp in Colorado. Photo: iRunFar/Meghan Hicks

Woodway Treadmill

Why: The dirty little secret of nearly each of the world’s top trail runners is hidden in the warm and dry confines of a spare bedroom or basement: a treadmill!

The fact is, runners can’t always be outside. Perhaps the weather is insurmountably terrible even for the toughest trail runner. Or, perhaps more often, childcare duties preclude an outside run! In either case, a treadmill is at worst a painful necessity. But a great treadmill can be a tremendous tool in the kit of a serious runner.

Home treadmills get a bad reputation for being pricey, noisy, uncomfortable, and fragile. But there’s something different about a Woodway.

Woodway treadmills stand out from–and above–other treadmills due to their unique design. While not quite wooden like the name implies, the hallmark feature of the Woodway is its unique slat technology. Its propulsive system leaves behind the standard conveyor belt (and clunk deck underlying it) in place of a revolving chain of horizontal slats. These slats, resembling wooden planks, provide a simultaneously firm and soft ride, resulting in the most comfortable and confident artificial runs on the market. Neither legs nor eardrums suffer from even a long or fast run on a Woodway.

Another benefit of Woodways is their open, minimalist control panel. As a physio and coach, I loathe treadmills because of the restrictive nature of the railings and forward display. Between the bulky forward display and short deck length, runners commonly self-restrict forward posture, hip and knee drive, and rearward push-off to create an inefficient, upright, shuffle-y stride. Conversely, the open Woodway design has an unrestricted forward area with a liberal tread length that allows for a more confident and efficient stride.

The downside to the Woodway is that they are expensive. Their website outlines lease options resembling a new car loan. That said, for the serious runner who ‘runs more miles than they drive,’ the Woodway is extremely comfortable, durable, efficient, and quiet, making for an ideal long-term running investment.

Where: Internet searches for “Woodway treadmill” will yield both the manufacturer website as well as a large option of used treadmills (a strong indicator of their durability and resale value).


The theme for this year’s runners’ gifts may be largely big ticket, but I see each of these options as durable, quality, and long-term investments in your running health. Check them out for your favorite runner–even if that’s you!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What runner-specific gifts are on your holiday gift list this year?
  • Which of the items on Joe’s list have you previously tried?
  • What other items would you put on a sports medicine holiday gift guide for runners?
Joe Uhan

Joe Uhan is a physical therapist, coach, and ultrarunner in Auburn, California. He is a Minnesota native and has been a competitive runner for over 20 years. He has a Master’s Degree in Kinesiology, a Doctorate in Physical Therapy, and is a USATF Level II Certified Coach. Joe ran his first ultra at Autumn Leaves 50 Mile in October 2010, was 4th place at the 2015 USATF 100k Trail Championships (and 3rd in 2012), second at the 2014 Waldo 100k, and finished M9 at the 2012 Western States 100. Joe owns and operates Uhan Performance Physiotherapy in Eugene, Oregon, and offers online coaching and running analysis at uhanperformance.com.