Though it is the most basic of all sports, running has always had a pretty high Geek factor, especially among its more serious adherents. Whether it’s in shoe design, the latest moisture-wicking apparel, or the most sophisticated GPS or heart rate monitor, runners are always searching for that Holy Grail that might help get them from point A to point B even faster than before.
Over the years, the Los Angeles Marathon has ushered in a number of technological firsts for the sport. In 1996, LA was the first major U.S. marathon to utilize a field-wide chip timing system. Then in 2009, LA became the first big city 26-miler to fully adopt social media outlets such as Facebook, YouTube, RSS, Flickr and Twitter. Now again in 2012 L.A. will showcase another new technology. But this development, rather than being ancillary to the sport, is focused on directly on it. What’s more, it has the potential to unlock long hidden secret chambers that, once opened, could change the very nature of how runners train, avoid injury, while at the same time illuminate the competition for a television audience in a way never before possible.
This Sunday at the 27thHonda LA Marathon, wireless sensor technology will be utilized to monitor and analyze the stride characteristics of several runners, both elite and local, as they move from the start line at Dodger Stadium 26.2 miles to the finish line in Santa Monica.
Small motion-detecting sensors, weighing less than an ounce each, will be worn atop the shoe laces of the runners. Then, using a smartphone transmission, three distinct characteristics of their strides – Cadence, Ground Contact Time, and Kick Dynamic – will be uploaded to KTLA-TV which will then broadcast those metrics in real time via an on-screen dashboard for analysis and comparison.
“Through this technology, we can identify the changes in a runner’s stride dynamic over the course of the marathon,” explained Bill Kaiser, co-director of the UCLA Wireless Health Institute, and one of the inventors of the technology now licensed by Pegasus Sports Performance.“We can then analyze those changes to evaluate their efficiency as fatigue begins to take its toll, but which might yet be too subtle for the human eye, alone, to pick up.”
Cadence (strides per minute), Ground Contact Time, and Kick Dynamic (called distal leg lift) will be monitored on a continuous basis at a rate of 60-100Hz per second. These metrics will then be shown to the TV audience in real time on a graphic dashboard throughout the race – no different than how NASCAR illustrates the internal workings of their race cars on TV via dashboard displays.
Josh Cox Laces Up
Josh Laces up
“I’ve trained with the sensors several times, and competed in them once,” said Josh Cox, American 50K record holder who beta tested the sensors at last fall’s Rock `n’ Roll Los Angeles Half Marathon. “The advantages for the athlete are twofold. One, you can analyze the data post-race or post-workout, and fine tune your workouts according to what you’ve learned about your stride mechanics. But it’s a real eye-in-the-sky for the coach, who is able to coordinate and monitor an athlete’s stride characteristics during the workout itself. And while an athlete might have previously given his coach feedback like ‘maybe I went out a little too hard, but I felt okay on that last interval’, now the coach can just look at his smartphone and say, ‘Hey, your heart rate is up, your stride is beginning to change. You’re doing more harm than good. You’re done for the day’.”
Perhaps more impressive is the ability to actually monitor a workout in real-time off site. Say Meb Keflezighi was in Mammoth, California doing a tempo run, but his coach Bob Larsen was back home L.A. Bob could still monitor Meb’s workout in real time via his smartphone or computer as he watches Meb’s heart rate, cadence, ground contact time, kick dynamic, pronation, and supination 300 miles to the north. Then, with an escort alongside in a car or on a bike – as Meb so often has – coach Larsen could communicate his observations and instructions to Meb on the fly. Continue reading