The use of mechanical aids to assist a runner in moving forward is against the rules in most ultramarathons. For instance, a runner will be disqualified for getting a lift in a car, riding a bicycle, or hopping along on a pogo stick.
Some fools classify trekking poles as mechanical aids. Remind me again -- exactly how many moving parts does a trekking pole have? Is it therefore also illegal to use the branch of a fallen tree as a walking stick? If so, is it illegal to grab rocks and branches with one's hands while climbing up a steep slope?
But it's not my purpose in this article to argue in favor of trekking poles. Rather, I would like to consider for a moment a new device that has entered the scene: the iPod (and similar devices).
Should the iPod be declared an illegal mechanical device? It has two buttons and a spinning disk drive, which makes it considerably more complex than a trekking pole, and could be classified as a drug delivery system, in that playing good music is known to stimulate the production of endorphins and adrenalin which propel a runner forward.
When I first started running with my 80GB iPod, after decades of running without any such assistance, I started by listening to the podcast of a talk show. While the content was fascinating, I definitely ran slower than usual. But when the show was over and I switched to some of my favorite music my pace picked up considerably.
Think of the possibilities: You could sabotage someone else's race by erasing all the good music on his iPod and substituting podcasts of Fox network news (a.k.a. McOpinion), bringing the listener way down. You'd be able to beat him walking on your hands. But some people would probably think that would be cheating.
Maybe the only solution is to ban iPods entirely.