Wearables and running: An experiment

Wearables and running: An experiment

Rogue_Garmin_FSL_GroupAs a runner, I’m always thinking about my fitness goals and working on ways to achieve them. As a semiconductor industry veteran, I’m always driving for new ways to enable innovation in the market. I’m pretty passionate about both of these items and love it when I get to combine them! I’ve blogged several times in the past about the wearables market including my own marathon journey and how my job fits into that journey.

Let me take a step back though and talk about wearables. According to Google®, the electronic definition of wearable is: “denoting or relating to a computer or other electronic device that is small or light enough to be worn or carried on one’s body”. This definition highlights a couple of the challenges in creating wearable devices: size and functionality. However, there’s more to it than that.  The use cases for wearable technology are diverse and cover multiple market segments and applications. Examples include fitness watches, smart watches, glasses, cameras, healthcare patches, wrist bands, virtual reality gears, smart clothing or smart shoes and the possibilities are endless as technology evolves. Each of these use cases has its own criteria and challenges to solve.

We have provided solutions that address the key requirements for this market for many years and continues to evolve our solutions as the market evolves: size, battery life, user experience and connectivity. Our microcontrollers, microprocessors, connectivity and sensor portfolios provide scalable, low power and targeted features to address the various use cases. We also provide enablement such as application specific reference designs like the WaRP board around our technology to give developers a head start in their development efforts.

That’s gives you a brief summary of wearables and our involvement in this market so now let’s turn to the second aspect of this blog: running. I live and work in Austin, TX where running is a key part of the core culture. You’ll see runners all over town at all times of the day and night. The Austin Marathon and Half Marathon was started by Motorola many years ago and we re-started sponsorship of this iconic Austin event last year. In gearing up for this year’s Austin Marathon, we wanted to address the topics of wearables and running by testing how wearable technology impacts athletes. And as a runner myself, this topic was of great interest so I eagerly got involved in the experiment.

The Experiment

Garmin_220The objective of the project was to track how wearable technology assists with motivation and performance, as well as to uncover overall attitudes towards wearable technology when training for a race.

We partnered with a local running store, Rogue Running, who trains hundreds of athletes for all types of running events to run this experiment.  This also happens to be the place that I train and the specific running group I train with was selected to be the experiment group (lucky me!). We worked with the group’s coach (Chris McClung) to identify 25 people training for the Austin Marathon or Half Marathon and provided them with Garmin 220 running watches (enabled by Kinetis K22 MCU based on ARM technology). Garmin Connect (an online tool and app for capturing data from the watch) was used by everyone to upload their running data and share with others in the group. The requirements were to submit a weekly report from Garmin Connect on their running and submit three surveys through the 12-week trial period (beginning, middle and end) answering a series of qualitative and quantitative questions directly related to their training experience. The group was a great mix of seasoned and beginner runners, men and women as well as a range of ages. I’ve enjoyed training with this great group of people for a while now, but this experiment definitely helped us become an even tighter group.

The Results

The overall results from the group resonated very strongly with my experience with a majority of the group (95%) reporting the wearable having a positive effect on their training regimen. Here are the highlights:

  • Wearable Technology definitely has a positive impact on motivation and performance in training for a marathon or half marathon. I’m fairly dedicated to my training but having the data from the watch to analyze and discuss with my coach was extremely insightful for me and helped me set the right goals for myself. It also made me feel more competitive and accountablae as I knew that my data was visible to the others in our group.
  • Despite how helpful the wearable was for training, it still does not replace the coach. Coach Chris sets our workout program including how often, how far and how fast to run. He also watches our individual progressions and continues to guide our goals, pushing our limits more than we would do on our own. And, it’s not just about the actual running. Coach Chris educates us on nutrition, helps us pick the right running gear and provides us inspiration.
  • I enjoyed sharing data with others on my team and with my coach but didn’t necessarily share via my other social channels. Sharing data with others on my team helped build friendships which definitely positively impacted my motivation and performance in training, but I didn’t really feel the need to share with all my friends because they aren’t all runners.
  • From a coaching perspective, Coach Chris felt that using wearable technology helped him quite a bit as a coach. He was able to use this data to promote accountability with his runners, help diagnose injuries based on running patterns and to provide more individually targeted goals for the runners by analyzing data captured from their actual races.
  • The main data points that most people relied on where speed/pace and distance. There are many other factors/data points that the running watches can capture like elevation, heart rate and running dynamics. While having a lot of data is interesting, it can also seem overwhelming and difficult to interpret. Like with all wearable technology, capturing the data is just a piece of the benefit. The real power is in the analytics of that data. Automating this analysis and using it to impact other activities is an area of focus for all wearable developers with a strong potential to really make an impact on people’s lifestyles.

Back to my personal story, I ran the Austin Marathon last year to push myself and run a marathon on a difficult course in my own hometown. It went well, but I didn’t achieve my initial goal with weather (hot and humid) being the main reason why I had to re-adjust my goal. This year, I wanted to try a different course and push myself to a more aggressive goal so I chose to run the Houston Marathon on Jan 18th.

Once the decision was made, I dedicated myself to the training program Coach Chris prescribed! The experiment and Garmin watch helped keep me motivated and honest.  I travel frequently for work, am a mom to two kids (14 years and 12 years old) and a wife so it’s difficult to find time for everything. However, knowing that all my data was being tracked and available to my coach helped give me that extra bit of motivation to always get my runs in and to do them right.

In the end, all this hard work paid off big time for me as I achieved a personal record of 4 hours 18 min in the Houston Marathon which was 12 min faster than my first marathon and 14 min faster than my performance in last year’s Austin Marathon! The feeling of accomplishment and happiness was beyond my expectations. Coach Chris kept telling me to “trust the training”.  Although I had some initial doubts, by race day I knew in my heart that I was capable of executing the plan because I trusted Coach Chris’ assessment of my running abilities and knew I had done the work. The data he had access to during this training definitely gave me more confidence in his goal for me.

With the Houston Marathon over, the Austin Half Marathon was next. I was very tempted to “race” this course but instead used my Garmin watch to keep myself in check and run it for fun not for a personal record. A month is not long enough to fully recover from a marathon so the goal truly was to enjoy the experience of a half marathon and not get injured. What’s next? I’m not sure on the details yet, but I do know that I’ll continue to use my Garmin watch to push myself and smash more personal records.

 

Sujata Neidig
Sujata Neidig
Sujata Neidig is regional marketing manager for Americas and drives leadership and growth with ARM-based Kinetis MCUs and i.MX applications processors. With 22 years of experience in semiconductor industry, Sjuata is active in the IoT and Wearables markets and serves as VP of marketing of the Thread Group. She's also an avid marathoner who enjoys family, friends, traveling, wine, and cooking. Find her on Twitter @SujataNeidig.

2 Comments

  1. Avatar Dylan Cornelius says:

    Great article, Sujata!!!

  2. Avatar Brian W. Sharp says:

    Very nice article. Sujata, can you tell me when the next Freescale running event will be?

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