Monday, September 29, 2014

Why a sub-two hour marathon is inevitable

Yesterday, for the sixth time in the last twelve years a talented runner at the Berlin Marathon set another world record, with Kenyan Dennis Kimetto doing so by an astounding 26 seconds! Finishing in 2 hours 2 minutes 57 seconds this translates to an average pace of 4 minutes 41.5 seconds per mile, a great pace for one mile, and an unfathomable one to nearly all runners for 26.2!

As we move ever closer to the prospect of a sub-two hour marathon, for the many doubters that this day will ever come the situation in my mind parallels the early 1950's. Up until the 6th of May, 1954, few but Sir Roger Bannister thought it possible that a human being would ever break through the four minute mile barrier. Yet, Bannister, a hard working medical student with limited time to train applied scientific principles and succeeded. A remarkable achievement, the veritable flood of runners who soon broke Bannister's newly set record proved that the four minute barrier was solely psychological, and not physiological (read the wonderful book The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb.)

Since Khalid Khannouchi set the marathon record in London in April 2002, the record has been broken half a dozen times, on average, once every two years. Interestingly, each of the six world records happened on the flat and fast Berlin course, on average by a 27 second margin.

On the assumption that the next dozen years follows the pattern of the prior dozen, the sub-two hour marathon will be broken within that time. Personally, I believe this super achievement will occur far sooner. First, Kimetto already demonstrated that he possesses the needed leg speed, had he run the full marathon at the pace that he ran between 30 and 35 km. Second, and most important, the mega-motivation of a fantastic financial and fame reward will entice many other talented marathoners to the requisite level of physical and mental conditioning.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Apple Watch, preliminary thoughts on its huge benefit to runners

I believe the newly announced Apple Watch will be hugely significant to all health oriented iPhone users, and especially for active runners since:
  1. Typical runners train on average one to two hours daily. As with most individuals with desk jobs, even runners' lives are otherwise sedentary. The Apple Watch technology, continuously connected to the internet via the user's Bluetooth connected iPhone will operate continuously on behalf of the user, promoting healthy habits including standing more often and taking the stairs whenever possible.
  2. The Apple Watch's familiar, yet new interface, strapless heart rate monitor and accelerometer combined with the iPhone's barometer, cellular-assisted GPS, motion co-processor, an intuitive user interface and third-party Apps will usher unimagined new capabilities.
  3. Cardio-based fitness aficionados of all types will hugely benefit from the Apple Watch's integrated heart rate monitor. It must be noted that this is despite most such individuals already owning a conventional chest strap based heart rate monitor, such as Garmin's or Polar's. The reason that I and most runners rarely use our conventional heart rate monitors is that their straps are typically constrictive and uncomfortable. Consequently, having readily available heart rate measurement conveniently displayed on the runner's Apple Watch with no required chest strap will allow the runner to vary the intensity of their exertion, to share their training with their coach or friends, and via an easy yet sophisticated analysis of the results to see and improve their fitness.
  4. As with many committed runners I am fortunate to train with a group during my long Saturday morning runs during which we follow the coach's pre-planned route (e.g.: one from my Kenyan Way group.) To avoid getting lost along the often complex, frequently changed and lengthy route we study it in advance and bring along a printed copy. A far better solution will that provided by the Apple Watch as the runner can pre-program their route, then allow the Apple Watch's vibration based haptic feedback to silently alert the runner to each forthcoming turn. This capability will help the runner safely navigate while allowing the runner to relax and enjoy varied new routes.
  5. Just as Apple's iPhones' App platform opened the door to new and creative content which hugely extended the leading smart phone's functionality into unanticipated areas, the Apple Watch similarly being open to App developers via the soon to be released WatchKit will quickly grow new Watch-specific Apps. For example, as a fan of the excellent iSmoothRun iPhone App I have been in touch with its developer and am delighted that iSmoothRun will offer an Apple Watch App.
  6. The Apple Watch will allow the runner to make payments for potential expenses incurred during the run from supporting merchants, thereby relieving the need to bring cash for the run.
As noted, the Apple Watch user will need their Bluetooth connected iPhone 5+ phones to enable these capabilities. While many runners are uncomfortable at the prospect of bringing their smart phones on their runs, as I had noted over one year ago I have exclusively monitored my runs' distance and pace using the iSmoothRun App on my iPhone 5, carrying it in my belt or in an arm carrier. The App's periodically announced mileage, pace and cadence generally satisfies my needs, though in the future I will appreciate having this information available at a glance.  

Pending my getting my hands on the Apple Watch hopefully early next year it is premature to be fully confident in these high expectations. Nevertheless, I believe that Apple will help many Americans strengthen their commitment to fitness and health.