Technology on the Run

As I sat down at my computer on Monday night to check out the results of the 111th Boston Marathon I started thinking about the incredible changes that technology has brought to the sport of running, and racing in particular.

I started running in the early 1970’s during the hey-day of the running boom. Frank Shorter, winner of the 1972 Olympic Marathon and Bill Rogers, four time winner of the Boston Marathon, were known as Frank and Bill around our house. My running log featured the legs of Jim Fixx, author of The Complete Book of Running, on the cover. I used Jeff Galloway’s training schedule in Galloway’s Book on Running to train for my first marathon. I still remember where I was when I heard that America’s most promising distance runner, Steve Prefontaine had died in a tragic car accident.

Back in the day, if you weren’t in the race, it could have been days or even weeks before you could actually find out how your running buddies did. Many of the races would send out results in the mail or publish them in the next edition of Runner’s World or The Michigan Runner. The wait was almost as agonizing as the wall at the 20 mile mark in a marathon.

Runners, for the most part, are statistics junkies. Not only do we want accurate courses with splits at every mile, we want to know our pace per mile, and how long it takes us to cover the course from the time we cross the starting line. Age group results are important to us, too. We want to know how our times compare against other runners of the same age and sex.

Computer technology and the internet have added much to the entire racing experience. Most of the major road racing events as well as a large number of the smaller local races have incorporated the use of ChampionChips, which have revolutionized timing and results. According to their site, ChampionChip is a mini transponder that attaches to your shoe laces. It can provide accurate net and split times for every individual athlete.

Chip timing works hand in hand with the internet. During the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon, it was great to be able to track friends and family while they were actually running the race. After pulling up split times at key points in the marathon, I was able to congratulate my brother on the nice, even pace he ran throughout the race when I spoke to him shortly after he finished.

On the Official Boston Marathon website, I enjoyed breaking down the results of this year’s race by city and state as well as age and sex. The Boston Globe’s website has a nice selection of photos and video from the race. And if you really want the feeling of being there, you could listen to the Hopkinton to Boston podcast of Steve Runner. He invited his fans to share in the Boston Marathon experience in real-time as he covered the 26.2 miles.

There have been so many additional technological advancements in running over the years, from shoes, clothing, watches and heart rate monitors to training techniques, injury prevention and recovery. While I embrace all that this technology has to offer, and the positive impact that it has had on the sport, running still has that same feeling of familiarity, freedom and escape that it always did.