Skip to content

Marathon training & Personal data collection

LA marathon

The 2013 LA Marathon is happening in a few months on March 17. The new course, from Dodger Stadium to the Santa Monica pier, looks like an amazing race to run. I’ve decided to enter the race and collect my activity data as I run and cross train 6 days a week for 16 weeks (2 down, 14 more to go). I’ve decided to use a few gadgets, mobile apps as well as analog recording using pen, paper, and a calendar.


Nike+ sportband

A few years ago I started jogging so that I could run 5k races. In a gadget fever two christmas seasons ago I bought myself the Nike+ sportband to go with some shoes I  had been running with. The Nike+ sportband corresponds with a wifi transmitter that you put in the middle of your left shoe sole. It’s basically a GPS tracker and pedometer that estimates calories burned by measuring the pace of your run. You can combine this data with more information, like regularly taking your BPM during runs, counting calorie intake and your weight before and after runs to measure your strength and endurance. Some people call this self-tracking data collection part of the Quantified Self movement, while others call it fitness tracking. You can read more about biometric tracking, sensor collection and the “data-driven life” here.

I’m acquainted with two self-quants in my life. My brother, who is a sailor in the Navy, regularly measures his time, distance, and BPM for his strength training. He used to use a GARMIN watch to collect data but now I think he uses his iPod or a mobile phone app. My friend Mike, studies self-quantification, electronic health records, and personal information management in his dissertation. We took a triathalon training class a few years ago at UCLA where our trainer appeared to be an über-self quantifier (as most triatheletes happen to be). Over the summer, I met a few people who use FitBit trackers to measure activity. Interestingly, the people I have met who use FitBits have varied motivations. A few people were specifically using them to lose weight or to passively measure activity as opposed to self-directed goals (e.g. military physical readiness tests, a 4 minute mile, weight management). This is to say that some self-trackers are self quantifiers, we have different goals and reasons for tracking, collecting, sharing and interpreting our personal activity information.

Activity trackers

While wireless activity trackers are fairly discrete, once you know what they look like it’s easy to spot other people wearing them. BodyMedia’s Fit CORE arm bands are probably the most conspicuous, with the Nike Fuelband’s distracting LED display coming in at a close second. Since I started using my Nike+ sportband I notice the wristbands, the armbands and chest straps where people are working out–bike paths, running, at the gym. Every now and then, I will see people wearing activity trackers at the grocery store, but usually I only notice them in workout contexts. It’s outside workout environments like the gym, where I wonder what people use their fitbit ultras for (running? hiking? cycling? walking? just counting steps?). I’m also really curious about people who share their workout information on social media sites. I am reluctant to use all the sportband tools because of the social networking aspects of the Nike+ interface. On the other hand, I do like most of the map features.

Nike+ mobile app

Over the past few months I’ve spoken with a few colleagues about the promises, mythology and rhetoric of Big Data and how many of these ideas get folded into arguments about social data and personal information management. A lot of the activity tracking tools have sharing and social networking options so that you set can set goals and share your results with your network of friends or other fitness enthusiasts with with the same training goals. Fitness tracking is different from self quantification or bodyhacking, so I’m going to try and locate some of the differences and similarities between tracking for marathon training and lifelogging for discovery. I’m also interested in seeing if they’re are differences between gadgets and recording devices (both digital and analog) to collect activity data.

This is my first concerted effort at ramping up to a quantified self project. I’ve done personal data collection before, on a cross-country bike tour Cycling for Libraries 2011, from Copenhagen to Berlin. This was mostly video and GPS coordinates. It was fun to do it in a group of cyclists, there were at least 5 other people collecting video, GPS coordinates, and distance covered. I also worked on a mobile survey app for participatory sensing collection, and I tested the app by logging GPS and submitting surveys. The difference between collecting personal information as part of a small group or community and collecting as an individual can mean different things: you have different motivations for collecting and you can make different arguments based on those contexts of collection. I’m excited to see what conclusions I will be able to draw about myself, activity trackers, and QS after a few months of personal data collection.