Running Innovations

These days, it seems like technology is taking over every aspect of our lives. Even the sport of running – the simplest activity imaginable – is susceptible to the avalanche of high-tech innovation, as Mike learned at the 2009 Running USA conference in San Diego last month.

That’s not to say that all of the applications are beneficial; in fact, many of them seemingly exist just to make an otherwise basic pursuit overwhelmingly complicated.

For example, you can now download something called iMapMyRun for your iPhone to help measure your distance, speed, and average pace with GPS tracking. Because as we all know, you really can’t have peace of mind on a run unless you’re carrying your iPhone. The product is marketed as “Your Redefined Running Partner,” so be sure to let your current partners know that their services are no longer necessary.

Many years ago, races started with someone yelling “GO!” and the first person to the finish line was the winner. Then we evolved to the more sophisticated method of giving every finisher a numbered popsicle stick. When we first strapped timing chips to our shoes, we felt like we’d entered the Space Age – but nowadays, race timing continues to evolve exponentially.

One company offers modular timing systems that are flexible and scalable. Another uses a disposable RFID tag placed on each runner’s shoe. Another has a J Chip attached to the race bib to time the athlete’s torso instead of his or her feet. We have no idea what any of this technical jargon means – but we’re eagerly awaiting the inevitable ZZ tag as all the letters of the alphabet are eventually exhausted.

Modern timing systems also allow runners to have their split times during a race e-mailed or texted to their relatives and friends, via desktop, laptop, cell phone, or other hand-held devices. This way anyone wanting to see you at the finish line can wait until the last possible moment to finish their latte before heading to the finish line to scream your name.

Besides being technical, many races are striving to be greener as well – which is the kind of technology we all appreciate. For instance, some race bibs are now recyclable, and others have self-adhesive to avoid the use of safety pins – an especially nice perk for small children doing youth races. You can even buy race bibs that have seeds in them, so that instead of recycling the bib after the race, you can plant it in your garden, water it, and a short time later you have flowers. Honestly, we’re not making this stuff up.

Technology is also changing the way races are promoted. Several speakers told race directors to create “virtual velocity” for their races by generating buzz about the event on YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, blogs, running forums, and other on-line communities. One went as far as to say that, “Any race that doesn’t use virtual velocity is in the dark ages.”

Listen to these sales pitches for long enough, and it seems pretty amazing that we were ever able to run races and enjoy them without all these modern advances. While we appreciate any development that improves the experience for race committees or participants – as well as anything that helps the environment – we never want to lose sight of the basic qualities of running that we fell in love with in the first place.

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