“Vending Machine Dispenses Free Running Gear” by Matt McCue, Runner’s World

The crowd arrived in flats and heels, polished black wingtips, tan loafers and shiny gold Top-Siders, but they all left with the same shoes: The New Balance 890V4 in pink and blue (for women) and bright yellow and gray (for men.)

Earlier today, New Balance and Westin Hotels partnered to celebrate National Running Day by setting up a vending machine that dispensed 75 sets of free running gear. Runners who stopped by The Westin New York Grand Central and tweeted “I want to run @Westin” and included the hashtag “#National Running Day” received a pair of tech shorts, a lightweight Run Westin T-shirt, and a pair of socks and shoes. The total retail value of the items was approximately $150.

A line of people began to form before the promotion began at 8:30 a.m. Luba, one of the first people waiting, lives and works in downtown Manhattan, but schlepped to Midtown for the complimentary schwag. If the line had moved slower than expected, she had an excuse planned to explain her tardiness to her boss. “I would tell him the trains weren’t running,” said Luba, who described herself as a beginner to intermediate runner.

Fortunately, the line moved swiftly, but that didn’t matter for another female runner, who declined to give her name. When asked why she demurred, she replied, “I’m supposed to be at work, but I called in sick to go for the group run.”

It was a good morning for playing hooky. The sun peeked through the clouds and the temperature hovered in the low 70s. As part of the event, Chris Heuisler, the hotel’s national running concierge, led a 5K run around town at 10:30 a.m.

“If chips are the best thing you can get from a vending machine, I have to think that free running gear is way better,” said Heuisler.

Macklin, a lanky college student at Bates, was one of those who ran with Heuisler. The 5K was a first for Macklin, who is interning at Fitness this summer. He had heard about the giveaway at work, and his boss had given him the morning off. As Macklin waited in line, it was pointed out to him that he was sporting Nike running shoes. “That will change,” he promised. Sure enough, after he picked up his gear, he morphed into a head-to-toe jogging billboard for Westin and New Balance. (Those participating in the group run could change outfits and store gear inside the Westin.)

Others who waited in line wondered how the fitness-focused vending machine might be incorporated elsewhere. “Maybe they should put these kinds of vending machines in schools to promote healthy living early for kids,” suggested Jenny, a three-times-a-week runner who stopped by on her way to the office.

After watching runner after runner walk away with a hefty bag of free merchandise, this reporter felt journalistic duty compelled him to participate. The human-sized machine had no panel of lettered or numbered plastic buttons on the front. Instead, it was activated by Twitter. Each cubby hole was filled with a pair of gray shorts, white T-shirt and socks wrapped in a bundle. In addition to the Tweet and hashtag, I punched in a special numeric code and my clothing size, and a corresponding bundle fell off its ledge into the compartment below. A few feet away, the event organizers handed me yellow and gray shoes. It was like Christmas, in June.

By 11:30 a.m., the vending machine had dispensed all of its women’s gear, while a line of men waited patiently to try to nab the last of what they could.