Running, is it all about the data?

I love new gadgets and the most recent addition has been my fitbit alta, that I purchased at the beginning of April. As a nation, we are constantly bombarded with news articles about how sitting is the new cancer, how we are all becoming over-weight and how we must take more care of health due to our over-sedentary lifestyles. With all these wonderful new gadgets on the market, do they help us become more active?

Heatmap feature in Strava

Heatmap feature in Strava

As a runner, it is very easy to get a bit obsessed with data and numbers. Running past the house at the end of a run to ensure your Garmin makes it to the nearest mile, or constantly checking your speed so you can crack a PB is something a lot of runners will admit to doing.  Is being this obsessed with data and electronic goals a good thing? Does it make us healthier and fitter as a result?

Physical inactivity is “the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality” – World Health Organisation, Global Health Risks.

The Tech

It has been over a month since I’ve been wearing my Fitbit Alta everyday; I’m not sure that I am a fitter person as a direct result of it but it does act as a reminder for me to get out of my seat and move around. Most of us spend long hours at a computer or in a car, which isn’t great for flexibility or mobility. That coupled with the stress of life, bad sleep and a lousy diet all piles up.

Knowing all this, I thought it would be handy to try out the Fitbit to see exactly how much I am moving about in a day or if i’m spending long periods sat down, not using moving my body about.

Fitbit Alta Data

This Fitbit model tracks my steps and sleep throughout the day. It also plugs into other apps such as My Fitness Pal, if I want to keep an eye on my calorie intake too. I set a goal – 10,000 steps a day, 8 hours sleep a night – and each day the band will sync to my phone and let me know how I’m getting on.

Between the Fitbit and Garmin there is a lot of data to take in. The trouble is, who has the time to analyse it all?


The immediate positives of all this tracking has been the following:

  • I’m monitoring my overall mileage weekly – not increasing too much that I could risk injury.
  • I’m constantly reminded that I need to move about, so I get out of my seat more. Even if it is just to get a glass of water (another bonus – hydration!).
  • It is turning into a habit – a good one, being more energetic on a daily basis.
  • There is friendly competition – can you beat your own goal or that of a friend?
  • Making smarter diet decisions – If I’ve only walked 500 steps, should I really have fries with that?

Of course you don’t need a fancy gadget to do all of this; you can easily set reminders to get up more frequently, offer to do the tea round in the office and remember to take decent breaks from your screen. But if you do own a fancy watch, does it make you more likely to remember to do so?

The Future

With all these gadgets attached to my wrist I have started to build a picture of how I am getting on – hours slept, miles run, time at desk. I have a much better understanding of just how much you need to be moving around in a day in order to maintain or reduce your ideal weight, and it is a lot harder you’d initially think.

The next stage from here would be to get a greater understanding of how to interpret all the data.

In a couple of years time, is there key information sat within in the data that can benefit other aspects of my life? Could this data unlock information such as food intolerances, dehydration effects on my body, how weather changes my running, potential long-term issues based on exercise type? Does a hangover cause detrimental affect to my Half Marathon time? Who knows!

Could I walk into a doctors appointment, have them download my data and help them lead to a diagnosis?

With some much going on in the tech world, it is a wonderful time to be around and be active.  What are your thoughts of the use of tech in running or your chosen sport? Do you reply on them too much? Do you think they have made a difference in your level of activity throughout the day?




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