25th June 2018
Running wearables: immobile yet stable
Tech & Emerging
20th November 2017
When I joined the running club at my university, I was struck by how science-y the team was. Thinking back to the ninety, or so, runners I met there, I can only recall four team members who did anything that could be considered an Arts degrees. This is because endurance sports – running and cycling, particularly – attract scientists. I remember athletes who used to measure their consumption of pre-cooked rice to the gram, the evening before events. The offer of relatively simple causes and effects appeals to a scientific mind.
For many amateur runners today, the key metrics are not just time and distance, but also heart rate. GPS devices, which were mass marketed last decade, recorded distance travelled with unprecedented accuracy. I clearly remember the first time I uploaded data from a run: it was curious to see the names of various locations in Dublin mapped out against my route. Given the popularity of Strava’s free smart phone app, this practice of analysing data after a run is now as common as post delivered through the letter box of our homes.
Although Strava has become fairly ubiquitous, early GPS-enabled stopwatches were aimed at committed sportspeople. My Garmin Forerunner 405 cost around £175 and I considered it a big investment. It was only bought half a decade ago but given the current state of the wearables market, it already looks very dated. I can’t even upload its data now, without purchasing additional hardware.
Working full-time I tend to train less than I did as a student, so I mostly rely on the Strava app these days. My Garmin has not aged well – the strap now longer works without sellotape and the battery gives one a similar level of confidence to David Davis leading Brexit negotiations.
However, when I’m training for an event, I make an effort to bring out the Garmin and dust if off, like old family silver. It still allows me to train with all the tech professional runners require as essential. Partly, this is because of the prosaic fact that one can check pace-per-mile while moving (so, for example, if a training plan demands a recovery run of 7-minute miles, it can be stuck to). But it’s also because the Forerunner allows me to keep track of my heart-rate, so I can do threshold training and make sure my condition isn’t way behind where it should be.
Compared to cycling, the tech needed by competitive runners is basic. But the capacity to measure heart-rate is the one real value-add that keeps sports watches on the market.
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