Posted by: David Stewart | July 27, 2013

Understanding the Connection Between Running and Technology

I just completed a little ritual that I have performed weekly for the last three years which probably brands me as either a geek runner or a runner geek.

I uploaded the week’s running results into the cloud and sent them off in a spreadsheet to my coach.

Not too strange I suppose, there are plenty of runners who do this. But the act itself betrays how tied up my running is with technology.

I first started running in my mid-30s as a way to keep active and stave off the health impacts of a desk job. I picked running primarily because I thought it was cheap. Hey, you only need a pair of sneakers and a T-shirt and you’re good to go! The open road beckons, no need for fancy equipment or a gym membership.

Then in 1998, I thought it might be a great goal to run a marathon. So I joined a marathon training group (Portland Fit) and got going. 

Running 26.2 miles in days gone by was a simple matter.  But today there is a vast army of casual athletes attempting to check this off of their life list. Technology has stepped up to help the runner be safe, comfortable and aware of their body.

  • Let’s start with those shoes: I remember the first time I went to a technical running store in my dependable old Nikes, and the clerk asked to see me run in them. “Stop!” she soon cried. “It’s too painful to see you running in those.” Unless you were blessed with perfect feet, shoes can mean the difference between a comfortable run and injury. My current shoes are Mizuno Wave Inspire – I love their light weight. Running shoes have come a long way since Bill Bowerman experimented with a waffle iron to make the first Nikes. Material science, physiology, mechanics all figure into these high tech babies.
  • Clothing: I remember the first time I ran Portland’s venerable Shamrock run. My all cotton T-shirt became soaked and leaden, mixed with the blood from my raw, chafed nipples. Today’s micro-fiber shirts, shorts, socks and hats use their ever-improving technology to wick away sweat and stay light.
  • GPS: The belle of the running technology ball is the GPS-based speed and distance monitor. Want to hit a particular pace on your next run? These babies have improved greatly from the first version I bought which looked like you were wearing a candy bar on your wrist. My current Garmin will tell me my running pace, heart rate, and record elevation and location. Uploading this now into the cloud, I can reference the data any time and share it with my coach so she can monitor my progress.
  • Race results are now recorded with “chip time,” a little RFID transmitter attached to the runner’s shoe or bib. With this advance, races can more quickly put race results up for all the world to see.
  • There are plenty of examples on the nutrition and hydration side – sports drinks, gels, electrolyte tablets, Muscle Milk.

Has all this technology spoiled the simple act of going for a run? There are times when I do feel like a slave to my equipment sometimes. But when I look at my running improvements, I feel like the treadmill of constantly improving technology has helped me get better as well.

What about the future? 

  • As cool as the GPS-based speed, distance and heart rate monitor is, there are other things which would be helpful to monitor. Besides heart rate, what about monitoring the runner’s hydration level? How about blood oxygenation? If my GPS monitored the weather and temperature conditions besides just road elevation, I might have more data to help me in those kinds of conditions. And health monitoring might not only be helpful to me to drink more but might give race officials a heads up that someone is struggling and might need the sag wagon to rescue them.
  • Shoe models designed for every runner’s feet are great. But what about a shoe which adapts automatically to running conditions? Like Marty McFly’s inflating shoes in “Back to the Future,” we could have adaptation to keep us injury free.
  • I wouldn’t want an unfair advantage in the food or drink I take, but I am sure to look for any legal advantage I can get from nutrition and hydration technology.

If I keep running, maybe I’ll still be running in my 80s. Of course, maybe if technology keeps improving, I can figure out a way to stay fit without running.



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