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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 August 2005, 14:16 GMT 15:16 UK
Paula Radcliffe's 'bionic' kit
by John Hand
BBC News

Knee-length socks? Check. Nasal strip? Check. Titanium necklace? Check.

Britain's newly-crowned world marathon champion Paula Radcliffe wears a remarkable array of accessories when she competes in major races.

To assess whether such devices really help or are just gimmicks, ahead of the marathon BBC News spoke to three experts: athletics coach Fred Wooding, sports scientist Nick Morgan and Edzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary Medicine.

Click the links below for their views on Radcliffe's kit.

SunglassesNasal stripTitanium necklace
Back straps and emu oilSpecialist watchCompression socks

For more than a decade, Radcliffe has worn specially shaped sunglasses for most of her distance races, only discarding them if the conditions are particularly wet or cloudy.

Fred Wooding, a coach for 40 years and now president at Radcliffe's home athletics club in Bedford, said: "She likes to be 100% prepared for any eventuality on the road. This would alleviate the problem of dust coming up off the road in a marathon."

Sports scientist Nick Morgan of the Sports Injury and Human Performance Centre at Lilleshall, said: "Sports science would see no great benefit in wearing sunglasses. But Paula has got to concentrate on every fine detail during her race and if it helps her do that, then it can only be a good thing."

Edzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary Medicine at the Peninsular Medical School at Exeter University, said: "Some people are sensitive to sunlight so controlling this can only be a good thing."

Marketed to help breathing among endurance athletes, there was a phase in the 1990s when they were commonly seen on the noses of Premiership footballers but they have since fallen out of fashion. But Radcliffe has persevered in wearing hers.

Fred Wooding: "Paula has always dealt well with having asthma and really believes this helps her breathing. I don't doubt for a minute that it does."

Nick Morgan: "There is not an awful lot of sports science to back it up. It helps you take in a lot more air through the nose. But it's one thing taking the oxygen into your body and another to utlilise it effectively. Over the course of a 26-mile run, most people would be able to take in enough air through their mouth."

Professor Edzard Ernst: "Intuitively it does make sense but I'm not sure how much help it is. You need the extra air in your lungs, not just your nose."

This bemused Radcliffe's fans when she first wore it during the 10,000m final in Helsinki, with one visitor to her website describing it as looking like a bike lock.

Afterwards, Radcliffe explained the Japanese-developed device - widely used by baseball players - was designed to improve blood circulation and reduce muscle stress, but she chose not to wear it for the marathon.

Paula Radcliffe after the World Championship 10,000m
The chunky necklace look is not destined to be a fashion craze
Fred Wooding: "I did wonder what it was when I saw it but I knew that Paula would be confident it was helping her. It looked a bit big on her neck so I am sure she would have tried it out in training first."

Nick Morgan: "It is important to keep the muscles relaxed. If you're very tense throughout an event, you end up expending waste energy. If you keep doing that you are going to have problems, either a performance detriment or injury."

Professor Edzard Ernst: "There is no evidence that it works. We have just completed research on neck pain and saw benefits from some devices but not titanium."

Radcliffe has been wearing two see-through straps on her back to support muscles around her spine. She is also a keen exponent of emu oil after using it to speed up the healing of cuts and bruises sustained in a collision with a cyclist during a training session in 2003.

Emu pictured at Sydney Zoo
Long legs, bobbing neck and its oil helps keep Radcliffe fit to race
This elixir, made from oil taken from the fatty tissue on an emu's back and recommended by fellow athlete Sonia O'Sullivan, helped Radcliffe get fit in time to win that year's London Marathon.

Fred Wooding: "Paula would have a good team of physios who would know the best way to protect her and she would always follow their advice."

Nick Morgan: "Emu oil was a new one to me but anything that can safely help speed up recovery is key for endurance athletes, who need to be able to get back into a solid training routine."

Professor Edzard Ernst: "We have found no evidence that emu oil helps heal cuts. But sportspeople are very sensitive people and if they have a belief that a remedy helps them, then as long as it does not have any adverse side effects, that is a benefit in itself."

This is a straightforward piece of equipment but distance athletes are divided as to whether it is worth wearing a watch to monitor running times during events. Radcliffe is firmly in the camp who chooses to wear one at all times.

Fred Wooding: "Paula would be fully aware of where she wants to be time-wise at any stage of the race."

Nick Morgan: "A watch means she can check she matches her ideal times for the various splits. She is phenomenal in her ability to run an evenly-paced marathon."

Radcliffe has worn these knee-length socks for many years to support her calf muscles. And her kit is completed by a pair of specially designed trainers, which complement the contours of her feet and offer extra padding.

Paula Radcliffe in action
Radcliffe wore white socks until she found a flesh-coloured alternative
Fred Wooding: "The socks would be an important aid to blood circulation over a long race. There would be a danger of a pooling of lactic acid and it is a fact that these would help her. As for her shoes, Paula would be wearing a pair that would both give her sufficient grip whatever weather conditions she faces and also plenty of padding to compensate for the fact that she's going to be repetitively pounding her feet for 26 miles."

Nick Morgan: "Actually a build-up of lactic acid is not likely to be a problem for a marathon runner. The socks would help blood flow but they would be even better in aiding her recovery after the race. And a good pair of trainers is essential - I'm sure hers will be designed precisely because every millimetre would have an effect on her running gait."

Professor Edzard Ernst: "Some people have a tendency for their legs to swell up due to venous insufficiency and these socks would help control this. For someone running 26 miles, swollen legs would be heavy legs and that would be no good thing."

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