Runners Take Tech on the Road

Tracking your run and keeping your run on track

By Charlie Wojciechowski
|  Thursday, Oct 7, 2010  |  Updated 12:14 PM CDT
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Fitness watches aren't just about telling time.  They now have GPS and heart monitors to track runners' progress.  And then there's those music players!

Fitness watches aren't just about telling time. They now have GPS and heart monitors to track runners' progress. And then there's those music players!

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David Willey runs almost everywhere he goes.  It's a fact one might expect that of the editor-in-chief of Runner’s World magazine.  But what you might not expect is the GPS watch on his wrist.

Like many other marathon enthusiasts, Willey is taking advantage of new technologies to get more from his running experience.

"That’s the great thing about technology," he said.  "It’s a tool that is there for you to use however you want to or need to."

His watch not only keeps track of how far and how fast he goes, it beeps to let him know about his pace during a run.

"It can become an important training tool to help you train for a specific goal: be faster," Willey said.

At the Garmin Store on Michigan Avenue, fitness watches like these have become a major part of their business; especially in the weeks before the marathon.

Just this week, the company introduced two new, easier to use models: the Forerunner 210 and Forerunner 410. They look less like computers and more like a typical digital watch.  What is recorded on these GPS watches during a run can be uploaded to you computer afterward; so you can see where you’ve been and analyze every step you’ve taken.

A popular accessory for these watches is a heart rate monitor band.  According to Product Expert Steve Weith, the band and watch together let you tune your train in a specific heart rate zone to improve your fitness.

There once was a time when the only sound a lonely runner heard was one foot after the other hitting the pavement. That time is long gone. For almost every runner you see, there is a pair of white earphones around their neck.  And Apple is keenly aware that runners constitute a big part of iPod sales.

When the company redesigned its lineup this year, even more running-specific features were added to the three remaining models. They put buttons back on the body of the Shuffle, so runners wouldn’t have to fiddle with controls on the cords. The diminutive Nano got a complete makeover complete with a spring clip that lets you attach it directly to your clothing instead of using an armband or a case.  And it now includes a stopwatch and a pedometer along with support for the Nike + iPod Sport Kit.  Even the top-of-the line iPod touch, which is deigned for games, retains its Nike + iPod integration.

But not everyone thinks you should put your ear buds in and tune out the world.

"That’s a polarizing topic in the running community," said Willey.  "Some people feel they can’t take a step without their iPod buds in their ears."  Others, he said, like the silence in their own heads while they run.

Expect to see both on Sunday when 45,000 runners step off from Grant Park for this year’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

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