The London Marathon proves that runners just can’t get enough of data: wearables, smart devices and smart clothing are likely to be out in force. On paper, running is probably the least technologically demanding sport, so what’s the draw?
Want to run faster? There's an app for that
Apps have revolutionised the fitness industry in recent years, with major technology brands such as Google and Apple all launching health and fitness services of their own. Fitness apps in particular have been one of the fastest growing app categories, and have been credited with the rising popularity of running.
This year fitness app Strava analysed 4,000 runners in the 12 week lead-up to the marathon, and provided finishing times based on training schedules. This information can help first timers understand the level of training required for the event, while helping more seasoned runners to improve their time.
As the wearables market continues to gain momentum, we can expect to see a range of specialised running devices hitting the shelves in time for next year’s race. For example, Oakley is set to launch a range of sunglasses that speak directly to the user, giving information on running targets and when to conserve stamina, and a Samsung start-up IOFIT is developing shoes with pressure sensors to help runners improve their posture.
Of course, in order for this technology to be successful, it needs to perform flawlessly at all times. If runners find themselves having to stop to re-start their crashing app, or get home to find their fourteen mile run hasn’t been tracked, the tech will soon be abandoned and this will reflect badly on the brand of the provider. Any exercise tech must be glitch free to avoid frustrating users.
In the age of the ‘quantified self’, runners will stay loyal to apps that fit snugly into their training regimes and tap into their craving for progress and reward.
It's the community, stupid
Let’s face it, if there weren’t 36,000 other people running with you, you’d probably give up. The atmosphere is what pushes the runners to the finish line and sees them rush online to apply to do it all over again next year.
If you can't be there on the day, you could still run the marathon in a virtualised environment via the RunSocial app, with your friends. Tim Peake is even running the marathon from space, with the endeavour streamed to us earth-dwellers 400 kilometres below.
These apps have effectively democratised major sporting events, sweeping away differences of location and gravitational pull to bring people together to enjoy the moment. As messaging apps such as WhatsApp and FaceTime become more popular, we could see participants in the 2017 London Marathon weaving voice and video communication into the event.
Getting over the wall
Half the battle with long-distance running is psychological. How do you know your legs won’t give up the ghost if you’ve never run that far before? The advent of fitness trackers has given us easy access to actionable data, meaning even first time runners will begin to identify as athletes.
Reams of data collected from heart rate, perspiration and speed can be collated, presenting the athlete with a personal view of his or her workout. For example ‘smart socks’ can send information about a runner’s gait, and whether too much pressure is placed on joints, which is displayed on an app as a graphic.
Devices are now smart enough to look after something as individual as health, and give users the evidence of personal well-being they need to sign up for the marathon in sound mind. With a little help from data, what once seemed like a monstrous task is cut down to size as tangible, accessible – and even inviting.
Get running like it's 2017
As fitness and tech industries continue to overlap, it will be the brands that offer a personalised experience that win the race.
With the marathon being brought closer than ever to the armchair supporter, whatever your level, all the support is in place for you to shake a leg and start thinking about London Marathon 2017.