Friday, September 27, 2013

Running In The Infonautic Age - How Technology Will Change the Way We Run

Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of presenting to a packed house of runners at the San Francisco Running Company in Mill Valley, CA. The subject was "how technology is changing how we run and train", and included a sneak preview of a few new inventions coming to market in the next 2-12 months. Perfect for a Silicon Valley nerd/runner/blogger like me!

The event was part of Altra's #runtalks Series, and I opened for three other great guest speakers - nutritionist Sunny Blende who talked about Superstarches, fitness coach Nate Helming with some awesome training and analysis tips, and the incredibly funny Bart Yasso, Runner's World's Chief Running Officer, who shared his insights and stories from racing the globe over the last 35+ years. And, of course, a chance to learn about Altra's zero drop shoes. All in all, a fun and educational event!

Here's my preso and a transcript for your viewing pleasure. I hope you are all having a great weekend!

Running in the Infonautic Age - How Technology Will Change the Way We Run from Scott Dunlap

[Slide 1 - Cover] 

Thank you for having me! And thank you to SF Run Co, Altra, and Runner's World for hosting the event. 

I’d like to spend the next 10 minutes talking to you about our favorite sport, running, and how it is changing in the infonautic age. What is “infonautics”? It’s my clever word to explain the creation, organization, and exploration of personal data coming from the explosion of technology in areas such as smart devices, mobile phones, social networks, and more. We are entering an unprecedented era of data creation and accessibility, with dozens of new products being released every month, something the tech industry refers to as "the Quantified Self". On top of that, many high-end products made for professionals and hospitals are coming to the main stream. I find it endlessly fascinating. This presentation is going introduce you to a few game changers, and give you a quick sneak preview of some products coming out in the next year.

[Slide 2 - Intro to Scott]

Quick intro on me. I’m an ultrarunner, trail runner, and triathlete that really just loves to get outdoors, blog about it on A Trail Runner’s Blog (, and share the experience.  My day job is working in Silicon Valley at 10th Dimension Design Labs, where we play with data and new mobile experiences all day long. So I’m a data nerd. A big one. I can admit that now. 

[Slide 3 - You Don't Need Tech, Just Ask Forrest Gump]

Before I jump into the nerdy bits, I should point out that you don't "need" technology to run. As Forrest Gump shows us, you don't even need a destination to access the joy, optimism, and fitness that comes with the oldest human sport. But if you're tech-curious, a little nerdgasm can be fun.

[Slide 4 - The Gold Rush]

And if you are tech-curious, this is your era. We are in the Gold Rush of tech-meets-athletics, and "data is the new gold".

Hardware costs have brought sensors, chips, and networking costs down to where a consumer can buy a product for less than $50. This influx of sensors and data is what many refer to as the Quantified Self movement. On top of this, we're seeing a boom in display devices and capabilities riding the growth of mobile smart phones, presenting opportunities to use, analyze and massage that data in real-time (infonautics). 

Capital has become accessible through crowdfunding with sites like Kickstarter and IndiGogo, which have funded a number of new devices by placing the first 10,000 orders directly with consumers.

And “the cloud” is alive and well, making it easy to create software services that are accessible to any device for storing, sharing, and analyzing information. 

[Slide 5 - Where Tech Can Be Helpful]

When is tech helpful for athletes? When it can help increase motivation, knowledge (as the band Us3 said in the 90’s “you gotta get mad knowledge of self”), and optimization of your time and training.

1)Sensors and tracking devices. These are the things that collect new information from your body and/or the environment. GPS, pedometers, hydration flow meters, etc. How many of you have one of these already? Five years ago, a GPS watch was a $800 expense and it barely worked. Brett, what is the cost of an entry level GPS now? [ans - $50] And it works beautifully.

2)Display and analysis. This can either be real-time, such as Strava on your mobile phone or the new Google Glass, or passive analysis like blood analysis.

3)Augmentation. These are efforts to use technology to augment the human body, or a process such as recovery.

4)Core tech. This is the underlying technology that allows many of these other things to happen, such as the creation of a new material like graphene, or a new battery.

What’s the point? When the user experience is right, tech can helpful in finding motivation, knowledge, and training optimization. And help us really understand when things are going right, or going wrong.

[Slide 6 - Just Don't Overdo It]

Just try not to go "full Borg". Remember, this is about having fun!

[Slide 7 - You Are Familiar With Pedometers...]

How many of you have a pedometer or GPS watch? No surprise, nearly all of you. And these technologies from companies like Nike, Jawbone, Fitbit, Garmin, and others are selling like crazy.
It is projected that 43 million will be sold this year alone, growing to 167 million in the next four years.

Pair this with the 2 billion smart phones that can also track these things, and you can see how measuring your body will quickly become the norm.

[Slide 8 - ...Now With LED and Skin Sensors]

One of the first improvements you will see with pedometers is the addition of LED and skin sensors. The LED heart rate monitor is going to be big with these devices, much like this one from Basis Science. No straps needed – it just shines a light into your skin to read your heart rate, and to a degree of accuracy that some predict the heart rate “digital signature” may even eclipse the fingerprint. And that just came out last week on the iPhone! But I also like that these sensors can pick up more things, like skin temp, perspiration, and hopefully someday, salination levels.

[Slide 9 - Measure Your Brainwaves]

A Canadian company called InteraXon has developed a portable EEG that can track brainwaves. Other vendors are coming up with similar tech.

Why? By itself, it may not be interesting, but combined with other data it could help you understand what conditions are affecting your mood, stress, etc. It could even be used to trigger or control events.

One case I could see this used is with other data to indicate what leads you to hit a mental low point, and start becoming predictive. Or have it change your songs based on your mood.
This one is Kickstarter-funded, hopefully coming in early 2014.

[Slide 10 - Smart Socks]

Sensoria has developed a “smart sock” that has sensors woven directly into the fabric. This is a trend we are likely going to see, where measurement devices are non longer separate straps or devices, but instead put right into the fabric.

The smart sock can tell you all about your foot strike and weight distribution, for example, and how that affects your cadence. Available now.

[Slide 11 - Smart Shirts]

Here’s another example of a sensor built right into fabric, this time from OMSignal.
Their new biometric shirt is designed to be worn all day, and measures heart rate, breathing, and stress levels, sending the info in real-time to your phone. This is already being beta tested by a few early adopters, likely coming in 2014.

[Slide 12 - Google Glass]

Google Glass is a fascinating new display product, not only because of it’s lightweight feel and just-out-of-view display capabilities, but due to the fact they are creating an ecosphere of developers around it. What this means is you likely will have hundreds of apps, many of them sport-specific, to choose from. It also tethers to a mobile phone, and can take voice commands.

Rumor has it that apps from both Nike and Strava will include real-time heads up data when announced in late October with the Glass Developer Kit (GDK). The GDK is less static than the apps to date, so it will be cool to see what comes out. 

[Slide 13 - Other Heads Up Displays]

Similar heads up display capabilities will be popping up everywhere, and in many cases already has for things like skiing (Oakley).

Here’s one that I’m looking forward to – the Instabeat swim goggle that tracks laps and strokes. I’m always losing count. Let’s face it – anything is better than the bottom of that pool.

[Slide 14 - Visor-based displays]

Here’s another angle – put it in the visor like Nordic Semiconductor did. You touch a button and the display is visible for a few seconds.

[Slide 15 - The Apple iWatch]

Ah, the iWatch. Yes, there have been smart watches before, but when Apple gets in the game, it all gets so much better.

Wall St is abuzz about research indicating that Apple is working with outside suppliers to ship as many as 65 million next year. That would be the equivalent of the first 2.5 years of iPod sales.
I can believe it though – this is selling right into the 700m strong Apple iPhone base, and quite frankly, we'll buy anything they make since the design is so solid. 

The reason the iWatch will work is it takes one critical step out of the user experience – having to pull out your phone and login. You can see who is calling, get real-time data feeds, get weather warnings, you name it. If you look at what else came with the iOS7 operating system upgrade such as iBeacon, it will be easy to customize experiences for both the phone and watch based on location. Want a guided tour of the Dipsea Trail with all the history? Done. 

[Slide 16 - More Body Analysis]

Genetic analysis and blood analysis are two other things that have dramatically come down in price, both now can be had for less than $200.

Genetic analysis is interesting, although hard to say exactly how it helps running. It does show your genetic propensity for sprinting vs long distance, but it told me I’m a sprinter, so there.

Blood analysis is quite helpful if you haven’t tried it. A full blood chem can give you a baseline for key nutrients, show you all the symptoms of overtraining, and spot iron deficiencies, which anyone who has had a run in with anemia can tell you is worth avoiding.

[Slide 17 - Gravity-assisted Treadmill]

The Alter-g Treadmill can alter gravity to make you feel lighter, and has already come out of the labs to regular use at clubs, recovery facilities, and the workout rooms of professional athletes.
Some use it to continue through training with things like stress fractures or IT band issues. Alberto Salazar has his athletes use it weekly to run at 95% weight and goal pace.

I tried it a few years back, and it gave me a really good idea how far off a 4-minute mile I was. My stride length has to be HUGE. But of course I was only 74 lbs heavy. I guess I just need to lose 80 lbs!

[Slide 18 - Near-Instant Core Cooling]

This one is still in the labs, but could change high heat races forever. A lab at Stanford accidentally discovered that our palms have special veins that act like a radiator to dissipate heat from the body. When the proper vacuum is applied, your core temp can go back to normal in a matter of minutes. 
Do a full set of weights, stick your hand in the glove, and do it again and again and again as if it was the first set.

Test patients were able to go from 125 max push ups to over 600 in a month. This could be a big game-changer in getting your body to adapt quickly with less training. And I’m sure Western States will never be the same.

[Slide 19 - The Drone War Has Begun]

The drone war has begun! My last two races, the Matterhorn Ultraks in Zermatt, Switzterland, and the Ironman Lake Tahoe, had drones following the lead pack and zooming all over the place.
With a 2-3 mile range, it’s debatable if they are FAA approved, but regardless there is no doubt they are here to stay.

When in Paris last year, I got on the phone with a manufacturer of one of these and asked about what it could carry. He delivered a newspaper and cup of Starbucks to my 3rd story balcony 20 minutes later.

Pictures, crew, supplies, delivery…the possibilities are endless. And at $1200, you can expect to see a lot of them. The LAPD has already had to put warnings out to folks drone snooping around Hollywood houses. 

[Slide 20 - High Tech Recovery]

Want an instant ice bath? Cryo-tanks can now spray you down in 90 seconds.

Want to see exactly how and where your muscles, bones, and tendons are wearing and tearing? The Dexa X-ray can scan you in minutes and give you a full break down.

Want the heat? You can now get an infrared sauna put into your house for $5k that can heat up in 2 minutes.

And hospital-grade inflatable compression can now be purchased for the home. There was a guy on my flight two weeks ago who just whipped these out in coach – apparently it’s that socially acceptable now.

[Slide 21 - Graphene Supercapacitors]

The core tech is the really nerdy stuff, but one worth mentioning is the recent development of graphene-based supercapicitors. Graphene is a very cheap, abundant, and condusive material, and it’s what is responsible for giving modern lithium-ion batteries the 10x boost they needed to power cars and smart phones thanks to mixing graphene in.

But a new all-graphene-based supercapicitor could really take it to the next level, bringing another 3-20x more power to batteries in a biodegradable format.

Bottom line, it means we can power all of these new devices without filling the dumps with batteries. 

[Slide 22 - Thank You!]

Well, that’s the fast tour! I hope you enjoyed it. If you spot some cool tech, drop me a note!

Otherwise, I hope to see you on the trails. Naked or borg, if you’re out there getting it done, you are winning!

Thank you!


  1. Scott, great to meet you last night and really interesting presentation. I'm looking forward to someday slipping on some cooling gloves at an aid station, with biofeedback being presented back to me by my visor while a drone films it all from above!
    See you on the trails, and Go Ducks!

  2. There is already a word for what you're describing coined a long time ago -

    1. Yes, I referred to the Quantified Self in the presentation. But I had a lot of things in here that weren't logging of personal data (displays, recovery devices, etc.) so it wasn't quite the right term to capture everything. Plus I see infonautics being much broader than the quantified self - place, environment, proximity, etc. - there is a lot more that can be brought into the exploration.

      But thanks for the anonymous comment!

  3. One thing you didn't mention that I think is interesting is the idea that companies like Strava will use their "big data" to predict injuries. They can start looking at how fast, how far, how high you run, what your breaks are, how many rests you have and compare that across their subscribers. Even if they don't ask subscribers about injuries, they can infer them (sudden drop off, changes in speed, or slow ramp back up on distance) and then use that to give you red flags if you're overdoing it. I'm amazed that someone hasn't plugged in the 10% increase per week rule into Strava to warn you when you're ramping up too much.

    Not that that other stuff you talked about isn't interesting - I just hope that we don't take too much of the randomness out of running in the way that GPS watches have already.


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