Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Is Technology Making Us Faster?

Felt a little better this morning and got in an easy run that included some shoe-soaking laps around the grass soccer/rugby field at St. Mary's College. During the run, I started wondering about the impact technology has had on running and then I came across this article in the Kansas City Star.

Back when I started running 25+ years ago, you only had a stopwatch and running shoes, and it was like that for a long time. Basically you just went out and ran.

Now there are all kinds of cool gadgets for runners. Some provide a single function, such as GPS distance monitoring, like the Garmin Forerunner 205, or heart rate monitoring (HRM). Others combine a host of functions like GPS with HRM, MP3 player with distance montioring and even a cell phone with GPS distance monitoring.

While all of this technology has done wonders for providing us data-driven running geeks with tons of info about how far, how fast and how hard we ran, are we actually running faster/better because of it?

If you have improved is it because you're training smarter due to the technology? Or because you're just getting in more running?

I think for the general running population it's a combination of factors. The tech helps, but more importantly you have to train smart and put in the consistent work to achieve results. I'm probably wrong, but it would make for an interesting experiment.

At the elite level, it's even harder to tell if technology is making a dent at the highest echelons of the sport. You hear of American distance runners using HRMs, altitude tents, etc, to get an edge, but on the world stage it's still the East Africans (Kenya, Ethiopia) dominating (I'll refrain from commenting on drugs and steroids). From what I've read about their training, they run often and run hard with little use of the gadgets we're so fond of.

So maybe the ultimate running devices are a stopwatch and a pair of shoes after all. That doesn't bother me so much, because I like buying running shoes too....

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