Fitness GearPodcast

How Technology Can Help To Train For Your Next Marathon

20 Minute Podcast Episode #57

If your New Year’s resolution involves the word marathon, we’ve got you covered! Because on this week’s episode we introduce you to all the ‘tech hacks’ that can aid your training for the big race day. Whether you’re getting ready for your first run or you are a marathon veteran, Charlie has something for you.

So press play now to make the most out of your next run!

Three Things You Will Learn 

1) Which Are The Best Free Tools For Running Tips

Thanks to technology, we don’t only have expensive gadgets but also a number of free / low-cost resources available. There are plenty of great blogs out there that will guide you through your marathon prep with advice on diet, the perfect race attire and a lot more. Listen to this week’s episode to hear which blogs should get on your reading list!

Read Our Peloton Tread Review

2) Top Apps To Improve Your Running Technique

Of course we are all familiar with the more mainstream running apps, like Strava and MapMyRun. However, you can find many more hidden gems on the app store, which will actually give you better insights, feedback and guidance throughout your training. 

Check Out The Best Running Apps For Your Apple Watch

Some apps are really keen to track your impact and cadence to maximize your running efficiency. Other apps, like Aaptiv, put more emphasis on personalized training plans. Press play to learn what apps are out there and which approach seems to be the way to go!

3) Wearables That Will Become Your Virtual Running Coaches

The wearables market is striving, so the possibilities for gadgets that you can call for help when training for a marathon are becoming endless. However, most of these wearables have different focus areas so it really depends on your goals which one you should go for.

The Lumo Run for instance aims to perfect your running technique, whereas Polar’s Stride Sensor is more keen on optimal pacing. And taking it to the next level, besides all the same measurements, the Vi headphones also provide personalized real-time coaching. Tune in to learn more about the best running wearables!


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Full Transcript

00:00 Speaker 1: Hello and welcome back to another episode of 20 Minute Fitness. I really hope you enjoyed the latest episode about how I built this series, an interview with Allen Chen the co-founder of Fitbod. If you haven’t already listened to it to but make sure you do so as it’s a really interesting story. But for today, we are back with the, How Technology Can Help series, and we’re looking at how technology can help to train for a marathon. As usual, 20 Minute Fitness is powered by ShapeScale. ShapeScale is a 3D body scanning scale, you literally step on and the robotic arm will spin around your body capturing all sorts of data insights which are then available for you to view in the Shape Scale app and these includes your body fat percentage, your lean muscle mass and your muscle dimensions and you can literally see these transition as you start to train and work out harder making Shape Scale a truly comprehensive fitness tracker. It is now available for pre-order at shapescale.com.

00:55 S1: But now back to the show, how technology can help to train for a marathon. It is strongly advised to follow a training plan in the months leading up to the big race in order to get yourself in shape, make sure your body’s conditioned. ShapeScale of course, are massive advocates of tracking as we believe, what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done. How will you know if you’re getting closer towards your marathon goal if you can’t remember how far you run on your last run or whether you need to run a further distance this time, or whether you need to run at a faster pace? As a marathon is such a prestigious goal for many people, you want to make sure that you’re as best prepared as possible.

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01:28 S1: So we’re gonna tell you the different bits of technology, you can integrate to make sure that your performance is optimised for when you get to race day. Let’s first start off looking at the accessible category. And of course we recognise there’s all sorts of tips and advice that can be accessed as easily as via a Google search and we would suggest a number of different blogs which could give you an amount of insights into what you should doing pre-marathon race. We suggest considering, Runners World as they have tips on what to eat and drink and when to consume the different items, how to stay motivated and even what you should wear on race day. And all of this is to do with their training program for a marathon, and we’d also suggest looking at Coach Mike which provides 14 week training programs for different experience levels from beginners right up to the advanced runners. We wanted to take it a step further than just looking at different blogs.

02:15 S1: And we found a number of really cool apps that we think could help make your sessions more fun. They’ll better prepare you for the marathon and also make some of the grueling sessions appear just that little bit easier. Of course everyone knows the likes of MapMyRun and Strava and even Nike Running Club, but we want you to find some different running apps that people may not have tried out yet and they could be just the app for you as you prepare for your marathon. So, the first one I’m gonna talk about is Runzi and Runzi is all about improving your cadence and reducing impacts. They give you an overall impact rating which derives from the accelerometer data from your phone, and formulates that into an impact rating. Cadence as explained in the smart clothing, episode, a couple of weeks ago is the number of steps you take, in a minute, and the easiest ways to calculate that is to count how many times your right or left foot lands in a minute and double it and then you’ll have your cadence and most runners cadence has been found to actually be too low causing unnecessary effort and impact which can lead to injury.

03:14 S1: Runzi have recognised that people too often try and leap from one achievement to the next too quickly, or immediately set out on a 10 mile run, when trying to prepare for their marathon. And this really does increase the risk of injury, the strain and stress on your joints that your body goes through when training for a marathon is really quite significant. In fact, running puts a lot of stress in the knees. There are also several major ligaments and tendons involved in the movement of the knee which are affected by long distance running, patella tendonitis for example is one of the knee conditions that can be associated with too much running or too much strenuous running. So, obviously injury prevention is key, and you can do this by improving your technique and bettering your form and this can even help you shave off a few minutes of your marathon time.

03:53 S1: So, Runzi recognized the easiest way to fix this problem is assessing your running cadence, and to increase cadence, you’re meant to shorten your stride and move your feet faster, which inherently reduces the impact on your body. Despite some of the injuries associated with running and road running in particular, Dr. Lake a sport scientist at Liverpool John Moores University in the UK says that, “Whilst marathons are a huge challenge for our body’s training for them is likely to strengthen and condition, not only our muscles, but also our joints and our bones.” So now we’ve established that, how can Runzi actually help you reduce the impact on your body?

04:25 S1: Well, Runzi gives you regular cadence read outs along with an audio metronome, helping you push for that magic 180 beats per minute which is what we previously cited in the smart clothing episode. And the aim is to improve form and efficiency as previously mentioned. Like most good running apps Runzi also calculates your running distance, your pace, your duration, and your steps and you can get feedback and you can customise how regularly you want it on your cadence and distance. It also has indoor, outdoor and treadmill modes. And tracking is paused when you stop running, you are able to see the routes you ran after your work out and reflect on these in the work out history section of the app and then you can therefore aim to beat your times as you prepare for your marathon.

05:04 S1: The next app we explored is known as Runkeeper. Runkeeper has a dedicated community of 50 million plus people ready for you to join the family. Within this community, you can join challenges, participate in virtual races as obviously everyone knows a bit of healthy competition, always helps improve performance and motivation and then you can share your achievements with the rest of the community. Runkeeper has all of the functionalities of similar running apps as we previously said such as tracking your run and the various metrics and a route map and you can also receive audio cues that can be customised to inform you, your running pace or distance. Another neat feature potentially for serious runners, is that you can log your shoe miles.

05:41 S1: Runtastic said there’s an average each pair of trainers is optimised to limit impact on joints for up to 500 kilometers. So, you should then change your shoes once you reach that magic number and training for a marathon, I’m sure you’ll be getting a lot of kilometers under your belt. So, potentially, this is something you might want to consider to make sure that you have a new supportive pair of trainers later on towards your training to prevent risk of injury. But what’s really neat by Runkeeper is it’s running classes and plans. Routine leads to progress, and if you had choose to upgrade to the premium version of the app…

06:10 S1: You can get race training plans ranging from five kilometers to marathons designed by ASICS Institute of Sport Science, and these plans provide detailed insights such as side-by-side workout comparisons, and even what the weather was like during that run. As obviously the weather and the terrain have such a influence on how well you perform on the day. Some of the goals include achieving a new distance by a certain date or total overall distance by a certain date. And this gives you that extra sense of accountability to get out and beat it and obviously that motivation that you’re going to achieve your goal, and this should translate into performance when undertaking the marathon. The training plans have been designed by Runkeepers employees and generally the programs have received positive feedback. An example of the plan is when we look at a 10K, you can choose whether you’re aiming for a sub 55 minute 10k, a sub 60 minute or a sub 65 minute and this creates an environment where by one can push themselves or find a comfortable pace for them, depending on whether their goal is to just complete the marathon or to really try and push for a great time. Despite this nice feature of having these generalised training plans, Runners Connect have found that generalized plans aren’t actually as effective as people might think they are. They aren’t tailored to that individual runner.

07:19 S1: So for example, they found that those following time-based goals, such as the ones we’ve just said when you’re aiming to run a certain distance at a certain time, only 26% of their test subjects following these plans achieved their time goal, whilst 33% got injured. So I suppose all that’s left to say there is just that, it’s not the be all and end all having this functionality. However, having a plan is still better than having no plan whatsoever. Now let’s move on to the mid to high-end category. First up, it’s another app, but it does have more functionality and this app is Aaptiv. Aaptiv is much like having a personal trainer in your pocket. It is an audio-centric fitness subscription app. You enter your goal, which could be to run a race, for example, a marathon or to lose weight, from a number of different options, and then you can choose a workout based on the music, the duration of the session, the trainer and lots of different other factors. The training can be anything from the total body training, to yoga. But of course for this episode, we’re focusing on running, and in particular marathon preparation. So how does it work? You put in your headphones, and let the workout begin and during the workout you’ll get audio cues from your trainer. With an Aaptiv membership, you get access to over 2,500 workouts with 40 new classes added every week.

08:27 S1: An Aaptiv membership will set you back around $15 a month or $99 a year. So as you can imagine, it will start to add up the cost. However it is still significantly cheaper than a personal trainer. And it gives you that added confidence knowing that what you’re doing is the right method of training to help you towards your marathon. And you’re getting help from world-class trainers. There are a number of running programs to help you prepare for race day, from training for your first 5K right up to your marathon. And for the marathon training, you get a 33-day program. The majority of Aaptiv ‘s running programs also include cross-training. And this is where you switch disciplines. If you need to take a break from running to mix up your routine, or you’ve got a slight ankle injury you’re suffering, it can be good to give yourself a break from pounding the floor as you run, to actually doing some other forms of aerobic exercise. In fact, studies have shown that the training effect on VO2 max, which is the measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen a person can utilise during intense exercise, transfers between disciplines.

09:24 S1: So that’s whether it be swimming, cycling or running. You can still get the benefits of training towards getting fitter and building up your endurance by cross-training as you prepare for your marathon. And within this, Aaptiv give you options to do rowing, yoga, stretching, elliptical training, many options for your cross-training. The second device we’re looking at in the mid to high-end category is the Lumo Run and you may already have seen a bit about the Lumo Run in our fit tech feature on our blog, but it definitely has a place in this 20-minute fitness episode. So the Lumo Run is a device that clips onto the back of your running shorts and again strives to help optimise your running technique to help you avoid injury and help you shave time off your runs. Cadence is again measured by the Lumo Run, but the Lumo Run goes further than this and tells you a number of different metrics that will help perfect your running technique and form. These audio cues can be delivered through your headphones for real audio time insights, and examples of these will be anything like whether you have to improve your posture and keep your chin up to optimise your energy levels. Or whether your strides are too long, all helping you to save up and conserve energy, which will prove to be very, very valuable when competing on marathon day.

10:30 S1: So what other insights can Lumo give you? Well, these definitions are taken from Lumo’s own website, and one of the factors they measure is breaking. Breaking is the measure of how much your speed slows down on every step. So each time your foot hits the ground, your speed temporarily drops and then has to pick back up again for when you push off. This is a good measure of running efficiency. By working on having as little speed reduction in each step as possible, the least energy you’ll waste and more energy conserved you’ll have for your marathon. Another factor they measure is bounce, and bounce or vertical oscillation of your pelvis, refers to the up and down movement of your body while you run. The larger your bounce value is, the more energy is taken away from propelling you forward. Again, this is so important for running efficiency. By reducing these factors and taking into account what Lumo are telling you, you’re gonna make sure your performance is as optimised as possible. They also measure your pelvic rotation, your ground contact time and your stride length.

11:24 S1: The app provides you with recommendations based on your running style and what they’ve taken note of, whether it be your bounce or your breaking, to help you improve on these factors, and these are done through simple pre-run or post-run exercises, and obviously it’s important to warm up and cool down to help prevent injuries and these are also given as well. One potential pitfall of the Lumo Run, is that the positioning of the device is very key. The data will not be as accurate if it is not clipped on the back of the lower body garment in line with the spine. Also, another annoying factor is that the Lumo Run is not compatible with android devices. We do acknowledge there are a plethora of really great running smart watches. We won’t go into those today. These obviously include devices like the Polar M430 and the Garmin Forerunner 235 or the Garmin Vivoactive 3. So if you are a massive wrist wearable advocate, then definitely check out the three watches just mentioned there.

12:16 S1: Finally, let’s look at our top end category, and the first device we’re looking at is the Stride Sensor. The Stride Sensor is a wearable that attaches to your shoe. It measures power, which has obviously been long-tracked by cyclists, but not really by runners. It’s a metric measured in watts, and they think it is the best way to train effectively and produce perfect pacing for your marathon. In its simplest terms, power is work rate. It’s the measurement of how much work you are doing and the rate of speed or how fast you are doing it. So why should we measure power over heart rate or pace? Well, Stride argue that you will never hit the wall when you pace yourself with power. Pace will tell you how fast you’re going, but it won’t show you the physical price you’re paying for doing so.

12:55 S1: So, if you’re purely looking at pace they think you might push yourself too early and then you’ll hit the wall too early in the marathon. Heart rate is said to tell you how your body is responding to the work you’re currently doing, but it’s also subject to a number of different factors, such as dehydration and tiredness, both of which can affect your heart rate without meaning your muscles are necessarily having to press harder. But power measures the work itself. It tries to ensure you are running to a consistent output that you can maintain through the whole race. Your target power. And this allows you to just push just below your threshold for the whole race. From my own experience, I can tell you, when I did a half-marathon, the very best advice I got was just to not stop and to keep going at a consistent pace throughout. And I actually ended up shaving 17 minutes off my previous time. The only limitation of this was that I had lost a lot of weight, but I definitely know it was down to not stopping and running at a consistent pace. So if power can really keep you at a perfect pace for the whole marathon, it could be a great device to consider.

13:51 S1: So power accounts for all the factors that influence your run. From the speed, to form, to technique, to terrain change, fatigue, you name it. So you can understand, based on your current running conditions, how hard you should go. Stride can be used in two ways, directly from the smartphone app which tracks both indoor and outdoor runs, displaying your duration, your miles, your pace, and your power. Or you can connect it with a running watch of your choice, such as the Garmin Forerunner or a training platform, and Stride will then plug in the collected data into the app or web tool for that product. If you choose the latter, it could be a costly affair, as Stride retails $199, this will be on top of whatever you pay for your smartwatch. Once you’ve completed your run, Stride allows you to analyze a number of different metrics, such as your average pace, you’re running stress score, which is an assessment of how much you’ve trained and the variety of intensity in your training. It will also let you measure the leg spring stiffness, which is how well the runner recycles the energy applied to the ground. Your heart rate’s also measured and many more factors. Because power is calculated at the point that your foot strikes the ground, Stride also encourages you to pay a lot of attention to your form.

14:57 S1: To generate the correct power requires good form, perhaps more than great pace. Stride’s website also provides you with marathon plans and shorter distances as well, so that’s great to have that resource there. The features are broken down into two distinct areas, those being training and racing, and, as you’d expect, the former is all about using powers to guide the intensify of your training sessions whilst the race day feature helps you make the most of out of that training once you get to the start line. Stride will help ensure you don’t go out all guns blazing, it’s obviously so tempting to do with the amount of adrenaline the builds up as you’re on the starting line, but you’ll be reminded to stick to your target power to be able to run consistently at the same pace.

15:37 S1: Calibration can be a bit of a faf, because each different running watch has slightly different integration processes to follow, and, obviously, the Stride sensor is about improving competitive performance and being your very best on race day. So if you’re just trying to prepare for the marathon and get through it to have that real sense of achievement, but you’re not too bothered about your time, it might not be the right device for you, that’s why it’s in the high end category. If you are someone who’s looking to do as best as possible, then, potentially, this is something you’d want to consider. In fact, runners from wearable tests of the Stride, during a number of different races of different terrains, and they hit back to back 50km PEBs, and ran their second fastest half-marathon ever despite having challenging conditions.

16:14 S1: The final device we’re gonna look at are the Vi headphones. The Vi headphones provide you with a fitness coach powered by AI. Vi counts your running distances, your step rate, and your heart rate in real time, and will tailor your workouts based on how you are doing in that current moment. So it’s similar to Runzi in this instance, but it goes a few steps further. Vi’s guidance is based on your biometrics and it’s designed to motivate you that little bit more as you prepare for race day. You can expect to hear your trainer tell you when you are running in your target heart rate zone or they’ll play a beat and you have to keep in rhythm with it. What’s really cool is that you can control your experience through your own voice. So you can ask Vi how you’re getting on and you’ll get real-time insights into your heart rate, calories, distance, pace, and more.

16:55 S1: So, for example, if you say, “Vi, heart rate,” you’ll find whether you’re in your target heart rate zone and then you can adjust your performance to either push harder or ease off. Vi considers your workout history, and will adjust your sessions if necessary. So, for example, if you pushed really hard in your last run, it will acknowledge this and therefore give you a potentially easier run to avoid any chance of injury. Whereas some fitness trackers are only tell you your pace per kilometer, Vi contextualises this and it will tell you if the pace you’re going at is unsustainable or encourage you if it knows you can do better. And, trust me, that encouragement will be needed when preparing for a marathon, as it’s such a long grueling distance.

17:32 S1: Obviously, we saw earlier that generalised plans had been criticised, but Vi provides personalised plans which are adapted guiding you on the most efficient path to success. And Vi headphones also come with the Vi Trainer app allowing you to access prior stats and training plans and a library of personalised workouts. The only real pitfalls that we’ve assessed are that it’d be great to see Vi have GPS eventually, so you can look back at the map of your runs and it does take around two hours for Vi to get to know you as a runner, but, obviously, overall, this is quite valid, because then it knows your running technique, your form, how you usually do on a set distance, and expert reviews actually found this to be quite useful as immediately they assessed that one of the runner’s stride length was too long, and that actually helped him improve his endurance, which you’ll definitely need for the marathon.

18:20 S1: So, overall, the Vi does look very promising for the future, and they’re constantly trying to adapt to bringing new features, and it’s on their website now for an absolutely great price, so I definitely recommend going to check that out. But now that’s all we have time for. It’s been 20 minutes. I really hope you enjoyed this episode of 20 Minute Fitness: How Technology Can Help You Train for a Marathon. I hope you look forward to the next episode or the How I Build This series. Until next time.

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Lilla Laczo

Lilla is a content writer and community manager at Shape.

4 Comments

  1. How do you spell the name of the app that tracks cadence? I can’t spell it, so I’m having a hard time finding it on the AppStore.

  2. Great post Lilla! Being a running coach for the last several years, I’ve helped my clients get the best out of their training with the help of technology. Currently, I coach at “The Run Experience” and we’ve got an awesome TRE Mobile App that’s full of running resources like this. Check it out here-https://therunexperience.com/app. Mind vetting it & sharing your feedback? You’re welcome to link it here on this page too!

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