I remember it like it was yesterday. It was October of 1991, only a few weeks into my senior year of college, and several of my friends gathered twenty-five or thirty bucks as incentive for me to enter a charity 5K organized by one of our school's sororities. I played pick-up basektball almost every day, so I was in fairly decent shape, but I couldn't imagine running for exercise. Even so, I held up my end of the bargain and ran every step of the 5K that day, only to have several of my "friends" welch on me. I think ended up with about ten bucks. Bastards. Flash forward sixteen years to 2007, and you wouldn't recognize me. (Well, actually you would. I haven't changed much. But play along.) I'm off for Spring Break, but when I go to bed tonight I'll still set the alarm for 5:30 AM so I can get a run in before the kids get up. How did I get from there to here? Two words: Nike Plus. I've never really been overweight, but I've never really been in shape either, at least not since college. Somewhere soon after turning thirty a small voice started whispering in my head, telling me that I should start doing something -- anything -- to get in shape. And so when Apple and Nike joined forces last summer and announced the release of the Nike+ iPod running system, I took it as a sign. I became a runner almost over night. Here's how it works. First, you need an iPod Nano, Apple's smallest version of its most ubiquitous product. The Nano ranges in price from $149.00 for the 2GB model up to $249.00 for the 8GB model. If you've already got a grown-up iPod (and if you don't, what the hell are you waiting for?), you might as well get the small one. Five hundred songs is plenty for a running library. Next, you'll need the Nike+ iPod Sport Kit. For $29.95 you get a chip that plugs into the bottom of your iPod Nano (it won't work with any other model), and a small sensor that fits into a compartment in the bottom of a Nike+ shoe. (If you'd prefer, you can buy a little pouch and attach the sensor to the laces of your non-Nike shoes.) Once you've got all this together, you're ready to go. First, you choose the type of workout you want: time, distance, or calories. (I always go with distance.) Next, you choose the playlist you want to listen to, and a friendly voice will ask you to push the center button when you're ready to start. For me, the feedback that I get from the system is the main selling point. Every half mile the friendly voice will let me know where I am in my workout. Also, I can ask for feedback at any point during my run by pushing the center button. I get distance covered, distance remaining, time elapsed, and current pace. It's absolutely beautiful. But here's the coolest thing. Sometimes, when you've knocked out a particularly good run, you'll get some words of congratulations from Lance Armstrong or Paula Radcliffe: "Congratulations, that was your longest workout yet!" It might sound cheesy, but trust me on this -- when you're standing in the driveway as your lungs are working desperately and your legs are burning, it's very, very cool. Then you come in the house and plug your iPod into your computer, and the fun really begins. Apple's iTunes software takes the information from your iPod and automatically sends it to Nike. When you log on to Nike's site, your entire run history is available at your fingertips, free of charge. First, you'll get a graphic picture of your recently completed run (click on the image at left to see what this looks like). In addition to this, you can track your mileage by week or by month, set personal goals, participate in Nike+ events, and even challenge friends to match you stride for stride. Did I mention that this is a beautiful thing? Here's the Nike commercial which slickly sums it all up. (By the way, some readers have been e-mailing and asking for pictures of the mysterious man behind the Mellow Hut. If it helps, you can picture me like the guy in the commercial.) So I've been using the Nike+ iPod system since it came out last summer, but there were two features that I hadn't tried out until last week. The first was the Power Song. You can choose one song and designate it as your Power Song, and then when you reach that point in your run when your legs are starting to feel like sand bags and the voice in your head is telling you how nice it would be to lie down and take a nap on the sidewalk, all you have to do is push and hold the center button on your iPod and your Power Song comes to the rescue. It sounds good, but would it work? To find out, I paid 99¢ to buy "Gonna Fly Now" (the theme from "Rocky") from the iTunes Music Store, and locked it in as my Power Song. The next morning, as I turned for home on the final leg of my run, I fired it up. I cannot describe how sweet it was. I was instantly energized as the trumpets blared the opening fanfare, and my pace immediately picked up. In my mind I was running the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, chasing chickens with Mick, and sprinting on the beach with Apollo Creed. Normally this stretch saw my stride faltering and my pace slowing, but on this morning I was smiling and throwing jabs and uppercuts. The Power Song feature gets a big thumbs up. Two mornings later I went in another direction. The iTunes Music Store offers several pre-packaged workouts, forty minutes or so of music designed to pace your runs. I chose a forty-five minute piece created specifically for the Nike+ system by the sound wizards who call themselves LCD Soundsystem. As good as the Power Song was, this was exactly that bad. I need good, motivating music when I'm running, the type of stuff you might put on for a long drive. Monotonous, electronic dance music is pretty much the opposite of that. It might just be a matter of personal taste, but I spent the entire run wishing it was over, which made for a pretty crappy run. There are other mixes that I might try in the future, but for now I think I'll stick to my own creations. Quite simply, I cannot recommend this product highly enough. It has completely changed my life. Eight months ago the thought of running for exercise made me nauseous; now I can't imagine a life without running. If my cheapskate friends had kept their word sixteen years ago, maybe I would've gained that appreciation a long time ago. Better late than never.