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High-Tech Runners Train Smarter With GPS

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It used to be all runners needed were a good pair of shoes and an open stretch of trail. But even this most basic sport has gone high-tech.

Many runners swear by their GPS watches that constantly update pace and distance. Now, smart phones with built-in GPS offer new tools to even more runners in the form of running applications.

I’m a runner. Not a good one, not a fast one, just a runner. I’m also a total gear head.

I’m the person you see coming down the trail with a GPS wristwatch on one arm, an MP3 player on the other, water bottles strapped to my waist and compression socks pulled up to my knees.

I realize this is super geeky, but I love to know precisely how fast I’m going. If my GPS says I’ve gone only 5.95 miles, I’ll run up and down my driveway to get it up to 6.

So of course one of the first things I did when I got my new iPhone was install a bunch of running-related apps: RunKeeper, iMapMyRun, the Nike+ GPS app and one from adidas called miCoach.

With miCoach, you set up a training plan online, and then the app guides you through your runs with voice cues. I take it out for a run around the National Mall and as I go, the app’s friendly female voice tells me I need to speed up.

“Speed up to yellow zone. Five minutes,” the voice says.

I’m breathing heavy, and running fast -- or at least, I think I am -- when the app says again, “Speed up to yellow zone.”

And so I do speed up. When the run is complete, the app offers a little encouragement.

“Great job,” the voice says mechanically. “Time: 35 minutes. Calories: 365.”

Like all of these running apps, miCoach allows you to check your stats, see the run on a map, tweet your results, and upload data to the Web. They cost less than $10 each and have slightly different bells and whistles.

“I’ve actually gotten quite addicted to the data and the specific information that I can get in real time and then sort of play with after my run,” says David Willey, editor-in-chief of Runner’s World magazine.

A regular user of iMapMyRun and RunKeeper, Riley says in the past only very serious or elite professional runners got this kind of coaching and detailed information. Now, anyone can.

“There are probably more runners that are out there training smarter than there ever have been, because of this technology and the sort of democratization of technology,” Willey says.

And then there are people like my running partner Rich Cohen, who has been a runner since college and can easily finish a 6-minute mile.

“It’s nice to just go out there with your watch and just enjoy the outdoors, and enjoy the nice weather and people running around you and maybe some of the scenes,” Cohen says.

When he says “watch,” he’s not talking about one with a built in GPS -- just a plain old watch so he knows what time it is. Rich and I run together when he wants to take it slow. And I get the sense that he thinks all my gear and technology are silly.

“If I want to run 6 miles, I’ll go for about 45 minutes. If I feel like I’m going a little slower, I might add on a few minutes,” Cohen says, “So I don’t feel a need to say I’m going out at 7:30 a mile. I need to run 7:30 a mile for 6 miles to feel like I accomplished what I was trying to do that day.”

But if you do want to know exactly how far and exactly how fast you went, there are now plenty of options. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

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