The Running Technology Boom

 

Hover boards. Hand held tablet computers. Wireless video games. Video conferencing. Wide screen TV’s, wall mounted no less. All things that in 1989 when watching ‘Back to the Future II’ were unimaginable. But these are just some of the things that have actually happened since then (yes even hover boards). Many of us on a daily basis have become engrossed by technological advances, none more so than the modern day runner. Dare I say we may have even become reliant on it. But does the ‘weekend warrior’ really need all of this excess data? And if so what do they do with it?

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A framed black and white photo welcomes patients into my treatment room. Some people are familiar with the gentleman in the photo as he crosses the finish line on 6th May 1954 at Oxford. He had just set a new record for the mile in a time of 3 minutes 59.4 seconds. The gentleman in question is Sir Roger Bannister, an Englishman, who became the first man to break the 4 minute mile. He did this while working as a junior doctor. Apart from 2 pacers what other equipment did he use to record his pace per km, heart rate, sleep pattern, respiratory rate or cadence? Just a man sitting at the finish line with a stop watch and what I thought initially was a whistle. On closer inspection the whistle is actually a pipe he’s smoking. So just a stop watch then.

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Sir Roger Bannister 1954 going sub 4 minutes for the mile

I recently found myself without my Garmin watch for 3 weeks. It was reporting errors and not locating satellites but was covered by warranty so the company agreed to replace it if I shipped it back which they have since done. But in the interim period I was lost. Like my 2 1/2 year old without his teddy at night time I was missing what had become an integral part of my life in the last few years. And as I’ve just written that I realise (i) how pathetic that sounds, but also (ii) how over reliant I have become on this piece of equipment. When I began running in 2010 I did so as most people do when starting to run – just a pair of runners. I might look at the kitchen clock before I left and again when I got back but that would be the extent of my data for those early runs. Running is marketed as a cheap sport where all you require to get out is a pair of runners. One pair of runners. So then why in the last few years have I accumulated enough gear and equipment to dress an entire running club spending hundreds of euros in the process and enough gizmos to make Inspector Gadget himself look like someone from the stone age? I have more pairs of tights than my wife for God sake!

Continued advances with technology has made running very interesting for those in search of data about their performance and progress. And I continue to be drawn in by it. Research tells us that the information we get from GPS (Global Positioning System) about pacing and effort has a significant influence on lactate threshold training, a crucial component of any long distance runners training progamme (Smith et al 2013).  It gives us real time information as to what intensity we need to be working at in the form of pace, i.e. athletes’ will tend to fluctuate less from the intended pace while using GPS, particularly more novice athletes. So here lies it’s greatest use. After each run I will upload my data to Strava, an application to log information about all previous activity. Others exist but it’s the one I use. Not only that but it compares that performance with your previous performance of that same route (or segment of a route) as well as other people who have done that same route and compiles a record list. This provides an element of competition with other local runners or cyclists, some of whom you don’t even know, but also with your self to monitor progress. So after a few months of running and logging data you’ve built up a history of PB’s, average distance per week, how many miles you’ve clocked in your running shoes and whether it might be time to change them. I recently met my first ‘Strava friend’ in real life at the 2016 Donadea 50km race. We ‘followed’ each other as we saw we were both doing similar training routes but never at the same time. I’d give him a virtual thumbs up for putting a good effort into a run and vice versa. It creates a little community. Running and certainly training for a marathon or long distance event can be lonely when going it alone. I enjoy the alone time but its good to know others are in the same boat putting in the miles too. Would my training continue without this extra data? Of course it would but I wouldn’t have the information to hand that I now have about my best efforts over 5 or 10km during training runs, or heart rate training zones. Is this even necessary? Not really I suppose but it’s motivation as we always strive to better ourselves.

And it’s not just runners. Football and rugby teams now wear GPS vests during training sessions, monitor sleep and exertion in an attempt to determine if they are sufficiently recovered for another tough session. But this is only the tip of the ice berg as regards running technology. The market is about to explode with new gadgets: Smartwatches. Footwear with built-in sensors and chips to measure speed, distance and cadence that tells the athletes if their running technique is correct. What great implications this could have for avoiding injury. Chest straps to monitor power and effort during a run. Again this allows athletes access to real time data about how much they are pushing themselves and if they could be pushing harder. And it’s not just the professionals that have access to this. It’s surprisingly all quite affordable.

But for now I’m just happy to have my standard GPS watch back in action. Start. Stop. Reset. That will suffice for this weekend warrior. And Sir Roger Bannister’s record? It lasted just 46 days when it was beaten by John Landy. The record now stands at 3:43.13 set by Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj in 1999, a whopping 15 seconds quicker than Bannister. Happy training!

For more information on any of the issues addressed throughout this article please contact Rob via email at mccabephysiotherapy@gmail.com, Twitter @mccabephysio, Facebook at McCabe Physiotherapy or visit http://www.mccabephysiotherapy.com

Rob McCabe MISCP

Chartered Physiotherapist

MSc (pre reg) Physiotherapy, BSc Sport Science and Health, MSc Sports Physiotherapy, PG Dip Orthopaedic Medicine

Orchard House, Moorefield Rd, Newbridge, Co. Kildare

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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