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The use of technology in running and jogging

Updated on April 9, 2014
Running in the ancient Greek Olympics
Running in the ancient Greek Olympics | Source

Introduction

For the physically abled, running is probably the sport that requires the least technological outlay. You don't need a racquet or a ball. Technically, you don't even need to wear anything. I imagine that our ancestors used to hunt their prey stark naked, perhaps with the exception of a fig leave to protect their modesty. In the ancient Greek Olympics, runners used to run naked and barefooted, as you can see from this amphora carving dating from 333-332 BC. Of course, while some of us prefer running barefoot, virtually none of us run naked today (there are exceptions, of course).

While running doesn't require any gadgetry, many of us have chosen to incorporate them in our running routine, perhaps to make the experience more pleasant. This is especially so as more and more of us start running not to win a competition, but rather to keep fit and healthy.

While on a run one evening, I realised how many gadgets I have on me and thought that it would be nice to trace the evolution of running through the use of technology.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Onitsuka Tiger Marathon: one of the best shoes in the 1970sThe Nike Air Max 95: an over-engineered shoe typical of the 1990sThe Vibram Five Fingers: a minimalistic shoe designed to emulate barefoot running
The Onitsuka Tiger Marathon: one of the best shoes in the 1970s
The Onitsuka Tiger Marathon: one of the best shoes in the 1970s | Source
The Nike Air Max 95: an over-engineered shoe typical of the 1990s
The Nike Air Max 95: an over-engineered shoe typical of the 1990s | Source
The Vibram Five Fingers: a minimalistic shoe designed to emulate barefoot running
The Vibram Five Fingers: a minimalistic shoe designed to emulate barefoot running | Source

1970s to Present: The Running Shoe

First introduced in the mid-19th century, they gained popularity in the 1970s as people started jogging for leisure. Running shoes protected our feet from the elements and provided the cushioning needed for a more comfortable run.

The classic sneakers we wear today were actually flagship running shoes in the 1970s, although right now, we probably wouldn't think they were actually made for running. It's funny how fashionable these shoes would have become. A classic Onitsuka Tiger or Nike shoe nowadays probably costs more than a typical modern running shoe.

From the 1980s to the early 2000s, the focus shifted more on improving cushioning, with every brand incorporating some form of cushioning 'technology' in their shoes. As they got more and more overzealous with cushioning, soon enough, shoes became rather heavy.

In recent years, there seems to be a shift back to lighter running shoes as the focus shifted to running 'naturally', that is, with a forefoot instead of a heel-strike, as it purportedly reduces the stress on our joints.

Today, running shoes have become an essential item in a typical runner's arsenal of running gadgets.

Not just for running?

Osama bin Laden, pictured with a Casio F-91W stopwatch
Osama bin Laden, pictured with a Casio F-91W stopwatch | Source

1980s to Present: The Stopwatch

The running shoe is probably highest on the list, but perhaps no run isn't complete without a timing. Many of us choose to run with a stopwatch, for it gives us a sense of how fast we're running and whether or not we need to increase/decrease our pace. It gives us a sense of accomplishment when we complete our runs faster than we expected to, or a sense of disappointment when we fail to achieve our goal.

As digital watches became mainstream, a stopwatch was seen as a natural addition to them, in addition to timer and alarm functions. The Casio F-91W, introduced in 1991, is arguably Casio's most timeless design and has gained a legion of loyal followers. It is still being sold today at less than $10. Apart from running, the F-91W has also been used as a timebomb by terrorists. Osama bin Laden once owned a F-91W.

As a kid and a teen, I used to run with either a Casio or a Timex Ironman stopwatch. These watches had a split or lap function that allows you to gauge your current pace. One of my Casio stopwatches had an interval timing function which I was especially fond of. Unfortunately, it seems that Casio no longer manufactures (cheap) watches with interval timers.

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The Sony Walkman W-series, the first wearable mp3 playerThe Apple iPod shuffle which has a built-in clip so runners can listen to music on-the-goThe Apple iPod mini with an armband
The Sony Walkman W-series, the first wearable mp3 player
The Sony Walkman W-series, the first wearable mp3 player | Source
The Apple iPod shuffle which has a built-in clip so runners can listen to music on-the-go
The Apple iPod shuffle which has a built-in clip so runners can listen to music on-the-go | Source
The Apple iPod mini with an armband
The Apple iPod mini with an armband | Source

1990s to Present: The Music Player

I may not have been running in the 1990s myself, but looking at certain old music videos, it's apparent that some people used to run with Walkmans, Discmans and the like.

With their bulkiness, it's apparent that the number of people who ran with these 'primitive' media device attached weren't that significant. The Discman, in particular, was prone to skipping when you shake the device, which probably happens all the time when running.

The music revolution, when it comes to running, probably came when mp3 players started taking the world by storm. Hard disk-based mp3 players, which were commonplace in the early 2000s due to the iPod and iPod mini, had skip-protection features to prevent skipping while you were walking or jogging with it. Later, flash-based mp3 players meant that skipping became a thing of the past.

Today, we have many mp3 players that seem to be catered for running. The Apple iPod shuffle has a clip which you can easily attach to your shirt or pants while running. Meanwhile, the Sony Walkman W-series is clearly designed for sports, including running.

2005 to Present: Google Maps and Milermeter

I don't know how many of you have used Milermeter before (it was formerly known as Gmaps Pedometer), but I used to use it extensively before I had GPS.

What Milermeter does is allow you to plot route points on an overlay of Google Maps. From there, the distance is calculated for you so you know how far to run.

Granted, most of the work is done before running itself, but at one point in time it formed an important part of my running routine that I have included it here. I no longer use it after I had GPS, which only goes to show how technology has improved the way we do things, even in seemingly technology-agnostic activities like running.

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Nokia 6110 Navigator: the first Nokia GPS phoneA Garmin GPS watch
Nokia 6110 Navigator: the first Nokia GPS phone
Nokia 6110 Navigator: the first Nokia GPS phone | Source
A Garmin GPS watch
A Garmin GPS watch | Source

2007 to Present: GPS

From the mid-2000s onwards, GPS started to enter mainstream use. My first encounter with it was through the Nokia 6210 Navigator phone. The Nokia Navigator line introduced GPS to the masses, with the launch of the Nokia 6110 Navigator in 2007. Around that period, GPS watches started becoming popular, although they were (and still are) expensive items that not casual runners usually do not own.

The greatest advantage of GPS is that you no longer needed to map your routes beforehand just so that you can clock a certain distance. With GPS, distance and pace is measured for you, so wherever you run no longer makes a difference. And if you use a GPS-enabled phone when running, you won't have to worry about getting lost because Bing/Google/Apple Maps will guide you back home. Essentially, GPS has unshackled us from the traditional confines of the running track or neighbourhood.

The RunKeeper app, which is available for both iOS and Android
The RunKeeper app, which is available for both iOS and Android | Source

2008 to Present: The Smartphone and its Apps

I mentioned the mp3 player earlier, but many of us don't even have a dedicated mp3 player any longer now that we have a smartphone.

More than that, the smartphone today encompasses all the other innovations I've mentioned above, except the running shoe, of course. Perhaps that's why many of us choose to bring our smartphone along with us instead of all the other fancy gizmos.

There are a plethora of running apps available for smartphones that do everything from tracking your distance to setting long-term running goals. Most of them even have their own social network, and allow you to share your results on Facebook and Twitter, among others. Personally, I use RunKeeper, which I've used for the past three years. It ties in neatly with my music player, and adds an audio overlay every few minutes informing me of the distance I've travelled and my running pace. Essentially, everything is taken care of for me, if only I had a place to store my Galaxy S4 in...

The FuelBelt Super-Stretch
The FuelBelt Super-Stretch | Source

Well, I could carry my Galaxy S4 in my hand, but it gets really cumbersome after a while. I'm probably not the only one, which is why running armbands and waistbands were invented.

I used to carry an armband around, but after a while I found it annoying because it kept shifting down my arm ever-so-often. I have since switched to using a FuelBelt waistband, which keeps in its place much better, and the weight of the phone feels much less noticeable at my waist. Small as they seem, these waistbands can usually expand to accommodate the size of really large phones!

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Google GlassSamsung Galaxy Gear 2
Google Glass
Google Glass | Source
Samsung Galaxy Gear 2
Samsung Galaxy Gear 2 | Source

The Future?

What, then, lies in store for the future of running? Technology has pervaded running, and will probably continue to do so.

Wearable devices seem to be the in-thing nowadays, and companies are eager to cash in on this trend. Google Glass, introduced in 2013, could perhaps be the next big thing in running. It already has an integrated earpiece which could plausibly morph into an mp3 player in future. The heads-up display could provide constant feedback on your running statistics, and possibly even tell you where to run next!

Or, smartwatches, by virtue of their smaller footprint, may become more dominant instead. The recently launched Samsung Galaxy Gear 2, complete with water- and dust-resistance, comes with a heart rate monitor built-in and has a strong focus on fitness. A future version could perhaps function as a GPS and even a mp3 player as well when paired with a Bluetooth headset.

The future of running looks pretty exciting. Just like how we dumped our heavy running shoes in favour of lighter alternatives, perhaps we'll get sick of lugging our large phones along with our runs, and go back to basics instead, as these wearable gadgets become more mainstream.

Do you think wearable devices will be the next big thing in running?

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