My Quantified Marathon : One run, three trackers and ….

Few years ago, I got the running bug. It all began with small jogs, 5Ks, 10K, half marathons, and eventually to full marathons and eventually today I was elated to complete my next marathon in the beauty and splendor that is North Carolina. This was my first trail marathon – a different experience than running on asphalt, for sure has to be extra careful about where you step and not twist your ankle. 

Every one of my past marathons have been a memorable and unique experience in an awe inspiring setting offered uniquely by each state that make up the US of A. I am well on my goal of 50 marathons by 50. This brings another level excitement of going to a new state every time and visiting these colorful threads that make-up our American fabric. Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how distinctive our states are. 

For the inquisitively inclined: Most marathoners have a routine the night before. Mine is a careful choreography of flying on a Saturday, rush to pick up the bib before they close, get a subway sandwich carb load. Wake up at 4, eat a banana, drink plenty of water, head to the start line rain, cold or shine – and convince the brain that this is the best thing to do that morning (believe me there is more stick than carrot in this mental debate). At the end of the run the surreal feelings marked by huge burst of endorphins and adrenaline and collapsing just past the finish line, “feeling at top of the world, while lying prone on the ground oblivious to the crowd”.

For me, running has always been a thought-cataloging act, when I run, I think. It is a fertile time to envision new ideas, widen current strategies and create new approaches. The mind is fecund with the endorphins, the adrenalin and the quiet of nature – what better place to experience the rush, the euphoria, the runner high. 

Given the recent visit to SXSW, and the buzz around the Wearables , I wanted to do something different this time and quantify my entire run and capture hard data along with my thoughts – and see what insights I could gather.

There is one advantage to being in Digital Health – fun and work are synonymous. As I started the run today I decided to try three devices: Nike Fuelband, Fitbit Force and Jawbone UP. Imagine 40 degree weather, surrounded by bunch of special forces and airborne jocks (given Fort Bragg is so close) and me with a nerdy look with three devices on my arm, shivering in the cold -imprecating, do I really pay for this pain? Not being dissuaded by the weird looks I was getting, I was determined to figure out a few things today.

I was going to prove or break some myths about quantified self today. And then the run began. A quick tip for somebody planning for a marathon – prepare your mind for 3 milestones, when you reach mile 10 – you get into double digit miles, mile 16 – the remaining run is in single digits and finally mile 22 –  you only have less than 5 miles.

Some quick learnings: 

(1) On a long run I want instant updates on my progress on the device versus opening another app to look. Force and Nike display distance, steps directly on the device – huge, when you are tired and want to minimize distractions
(2) Fitbit was more reliable with the fit and did not slip much. After the first few miles, I had to fiddle with both Jawbone and Nike to make sure they did not come of the wrist.
(3) Accuracy: 

Steps: All three were close enough (variance of +- 2%)

Calories: I am not sure if any of the three were accurate. In my view a device that captures the galvanic temperature of your skin is probably a better proxy. (Variance +- 30%)

Miles: All three were accurate (variance +- 0.5%)

These devices have to be accurate and consistent to be an underpinning of trust. Imagine a thermometer manufactured by Braun gives you a different reading than the one by Welsh Allyn. This should be fundamental and the device manufacturers have to get their act together. Stop blaming the consumers – they are always right ;). 

(4) Design Aesthetic: Fresh from hearing IDEO’s Tim Brown and Joe Ito from MIT Media Lab at SXSW – “future of making”, we are entering a new era of human centered design. The traditional modalities of a phone or a computer as being the interface for human interaction will rapidly change in the next couple of years. User design should include not just the form but the function, purpose, and discreetness as appropriate (or fashion statement in other cases).  We will quickly get bored of knowing how many steps you took each day”. What’s more interesting is where companies have taken advantage of the ‘always on’ nature of wearable tech and created products / apps that enable you to actively manage your health and wellbeing.

How are they going to lead us to fundamental quest of total health -mind, body and spirit (MBS). No eastern culture myth here, even though I am from India- the reality is that the more we can connect the MBS the more mainstream quantified self-movement will become. We are long ways to get there and for now I will continue use my FitBit to track my daily activity till the perfect system arrives…

Onward to the next one…

 Comments and your quantified stories are welcome


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