Although I have never competed in a running race myself, I know at least a dozen people who have.

Just last weekend I made my way to Manhattan's Central Park at 9:30 a.m. to watch a friend compete in a 10-kilometer race. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but considering it was mid-December and 36 degrees outside, I did not anticipate more than a couple of hundred people.

So as I stood there in my hat, mittens and large overcoat and saw almost 5,000 participants race by me, I realized how wrong I was.

With the holidays fast approaching and numerous friends who enjoy running, here's a list of gifts any runner would love. Who knows, they could even inspire a dormant marathoner or two.

A Running Buddy

While some people run for a cause, others take part for the experience and thrill of racing with spectators cheering them on. And still there are others who take such competitions more seriously and run to win or challenge themselves physically.

Running partners help athletes achieve their goals more quickly by pushing them and helping them to become better racers. If you are unable (or unwilling) to fill this role, here's the next best thing.

Garmin ( GRMN) recently upgraded its Forerunner training device. Retailing for about $350, the Forerunner 305, dubbed a "personal trainer" and "running partner," has the capability to calculate a runner's speed, distance and pace with the help of GPS technology.

The Forerunner 305, made to be worn like a wristwatch, enables runners to train against preset personal goals and features a graphic "running buddy," which embodies these goals and offers the spark of competition.

And thanks to its GPS satellite link, the device has outstanding navigational capabilities and can easily direct athletes back to their starting positions.

In addition, it comes equipped with a calorie-burner calculator and a heart-rate monitor.

Oakley's Thump 2 Sunglasses

Singing Shades

An accessory almost any runner would enjoy is Oakley's ( OO) Thump 2 Sunglasses.

Retailing for $299, these aren't your ordinary shades. Rather, they come fully stocked with a gigabyte of storage (enough to hold 240 songs) and adjustable speakers.

While providing full UV protection, the sunglasses serve double duty as a MP3 player but without the hassle of wires or cords. The player, along with a rechargeable battery, is snugly built into the frame of the glasses and hidden from view.

Intelligent Sneakers

Earlier this year, Nike ( NKE), in a partnership with Apple ( AAPL), came out with a new system using wireless communication to relay speed and distance information to a runner in audio form.

The entire system, which adds up to about $300, would include the Nike Air Moire or Air Zoom shoes, the Nike + iPod Sport Kit and an iPod Nano (each sold separately).

A sensor inserted into the sole of these sneaker gathers and conveys the runner's speed and distance to a receiver connected to the bottom of the iPod.

At the push of a button, the sensor transmits the information to the iPod, which then relays it to the runner in a computerized voice.

Pretty cool, huh?

In October, Adidas ( ADDYY) partnered with Finnish heart-rate monitor manufacturer Polar Electro and introduced a similar high-tech system (for about $680) that provides essential heart-rate information.

Adidas shoes and gear can run from $110 and $245, and the Polar Running Computer retails for $470.

Frost Fight

Throughout the year, there are countless races held in the winter season or in colder regions.

For runners to compete effectively, it's necessary for them to seek out gear that will act as a shield against the cold weather -- otherwise they'll find themselves shivering and unable to compete at their best.

Sports apparel company Mizuno recently came out with a new insulation fabric called "Breath Thermo," which absorbs body moisture and converts it to dry heat, warming the athlete up at once.

The Breath Thermo gear rings in at $40 to $70 per item and ranges from tights and sweat pants to tanks, jackets and gloves.

Jogging for Two

Aimed at runner mommies and daddies, my next pick is the BOB Ironman Jogger Stroller, which is designed for the ultimate run.

Breath Thermo by Mizuna

For $359, this stroller would be the perfect gift for any parent who is an active runner.

It not only sports 16-inch bike tires, but it is one of the lightest baby joggers on the market, weighing slightly more than 20 pounds.

Plus, it comes equipped with a sun-blocking canopy and three-inch stiff shocks, which ensures a more comfortable ride for baby.

And if you have twins, try the Valco Twin Trimode Runabout ($660).

With independent reclining seats, a head hugger for newborns and duel swivel wheels, this stroller has baby comfort written all over it.

It's also able to be folded into a compact size and has quick-release wheels, making it ideal for transport.

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