Twenty Forty-Three

RW looks to the fu­ture, and asks: what will run­ning be like in 25 years?

Runner's World South Africa - - CONTENTS - BY JONATHAN BEV­ERLY

She opens a panel in the wall that folds out to an en­closed tread­mill. The walls comes alive with lush scenery as she steps onto the sur­face of the ma­chine, which feels soft but re­spon­sive.

Her ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence (AI) coach be­gins as­sess­ing her re­cov­ery: com­mu­ni­cat­ing with her bed on the qual­ity of her sleep, with a track­ing app on her nutri­tion, and with var­i­ous mon­i­tors re­gard­ing her heart rate, blood pres­sure, blood glu­cose, neu­ro­chem­istry, mus­cle dam­age, and things we don’t even know are im­por­tant yet. Tak­ing into ac­count her work­outs over the past weeks, her in­jury his­tory, her ge­net­ics and her goals, the AI coach sug­gests a work­out.

The run­ner ac­cepts and a holo­gram of the coach ap­pears to lead her through her pre-run ex­er­cises – per­son­alised, of course, to ac­count for the nine hours she sat at a desk yes­ter­day and her tight left ham­string. While she’s warm­ing up, she scans a list of other run­ners and buzzes her friend in Kuala Lumpur, who runs at her pace and is look­ing for some­one who will run a few com­pan­ion­able kays.

They agree on a venue – a sec­tion of Cape Town’s Sea Point Prom­e­nade, say – and both load the course. A 3D, 360-de­gree image of the Prom­e­nade ap­pears around her and a breeze whis­tles in from the left, smelling of ocean and grass. Her friend ap­pears be­side her. The tread­mill rises, falls and tilts with the ter­rain, au­to­mat­i­cally ad­just­ing pace to keep the ef­fort level ap­pro­pri­ate, but eas­ily mod­i­fied with ver­bal com­mands, hand sig­nals or sub­tle head or eye move­ments. Through­out the run, the tread­mill har­vests the en­ergy of each step and feeds it back into the grid.

Post-run, the AI coach leads her through stretches and ex­er­cises, per­son­ally tai­lored to ad­dress weak­nesses it ob­served in her stride. Elec­tric pulses as­sist her in tar­get­ing spe­cific mus­cle groups, while other cur­rents en­hance the plas­tic­ity of a spe­cific lo­ca­tion in her brain to help re­train move­ment pat­terns. Mean­while, her kitchen is busy pre­par­ing the per­fect smoothie, per­son­alised with the nu­tri­ents she needs and will ab­sorb most ef­fec­tively, as re­vealed by her ge­netic pro­file, gut flora, and blood and brain chem­istry.

On Sun­day, she toes the start­ing line of the Berlin Marathon, with­out leav­ing her home. She runs the race at the same time as those on the streets, see­ing the sights, hear­ing the crowds and bands, feel­ing the el­e­ments as they oc­cur. If the weather is un­sea­son­ably hot in Ger­many this morn­ing, she can choose to suf­fer with the ac­tual field, or she can dial the tem­per­a­ture back to her ideal 10 de­grees.

Peo­ple who should know be­lieve that all this will be pos­si­ble and avail­able in 25 years, if not sooner. The tech­nol­ogy is be­ing ex­plored, and only time is needed to fully de­velop it. Fo­cus­ing on the vir­tual re­al­ity sphere, com­pa­nies such as Pele­ton, Zwift and iFit are al­ready

Imag­ine a run­ner in 2043. She wakes at an ap­pro­pri­ate time in her sleep cy­cle as the cur­tains open to let the sun into her bed­room, while recorded bird­song fil­ters to her ears.


well on the way to cre­at­ing im­mer­sive, in­ter­ac­tive ex­er­cise ex­pe­ri­ences. “Our goal is to bring per­sonal train­ing into the home, as real as we can; con­tent so real and im­mer­sive, it’s ac­tu­ally bet­ter than be­ing out­side,” says Chase Wat­ter­son, mar­ket­ing direc­tor at Icon Health and Fit­ness, which makes the iFit tech­nol­ogy, ex­er­cise equip­ment and mon­i­tor­ing de­vices. “You can go any­where in the world, you can dial up any work­out you want, and we will take you there, or at least trick your body into think­ing you’re there – what you’re feel­ing, what you’re smelling, what you’re see­ing – work­ing out, run­ning what­ever race, climb­ing what­ever hill.”


How­ever, it’s fair to won­der whether such a run­ning ex­pe­ri­ence will be nec­es­sary or wel­comed. Vir­tual or aug­mented re­al­ity may well al­low the run­ner to never leave home in the fu­ture, but many will want to. For­tu­nately, run­ning out­side will be eas­ier and more pleas­ant, if you be­lieve Scott Cain, CEO of RunFriendly ( Cain sees fu­ture cities as greener, more pedes­tri­anised and health­ier.

“We’ll see much more fo­cus given to place and vi­brancy, and to healthy peo­ple,” says Cain. “That plays out beau­ti­fully to a fu­ture where walk­ing, run­ning and cy­cling are very much big­ger parts of how peo­ple go about their daily lives.”

Cain fore­sees run­ning be­com­ing in­te­gral not only to fu­ture life­styles, but also to pub­lic pol­icy. “For­ward-think­ing cities will ask, ‘How do we use tran­sit to de­liver other out­comes, in­clud­ing the health of the peo­ple of this place?’” he says. “Then walk­ing, run­ning or cy­cling be­come not just a trans­port choice; they be­come el­e­ments of the health strat­egy of the city. There is an op­por­tu­nity to make run­ning more of the an­swer to some of the big global chal­lenges, such as cli­mate change, obe­sity or air qual­ity.”

As our trans­porta­tion be­comes in­creas­ingly pedes­trian, run­ning will be­come more com­mon, both as an ef­fi­cient form of ex­er­cise and for the same rea­son that young Kenyans run to school: you can get where you’re go­ing faster. To make it more fea­si­ble, we will see shower and chang­ing fa­cil­i­ties in ev­ery busi­ness and in pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties. Vend­ing ma­chines or kiosks will sell or rent in­ex­pen­sive, busi­ness-ac­cept­able at­tire and laun­der your ath­leisure ap­parel dur­ing your work day.

In Cain’s bright vi­sion, run­ners will re­ceive dis­counts on their taxes or health in­sur­ance, en­cour­ag­ing more peo­ple to get in­volved. “I think there’ll be an evo­lu­tion in terms of how peo­ple un­der­stand their own well-be­ing and health, both phys­i­cal and men­tal,” he says. “I think run­ning will play an in­te­gral part. I can see run­ning be­ing pre­scribed – I see it be­ing the won­der drug of the 21st cen­tury.”

Not all share this op­ti­mistic view. A more dystopian vi­sion of the fu­ture pic­tures a world di­vided by grow­ing in­come in­equal­i­ties, where run­ning is re­served for the rich. “What we’re in­creas­ingly see­ing in ur­ban cen­tres is the pri­vati­sa­tion of pub­lic, open spa­ces,” says Ta­mar Kas­riel, fu­tur­ist and au­thor of Fu­turescap­ing. “Lots of places are try­ing to build lit­eral fences around where rich peo­ple are. For the non-rich, where you’re al­lowed to run, that will start to change.” This darker view sees fu­ture cities that are too hot, pol­luted and crowded to go out­side, where only those who can af­ford it run in parks and cli­mate-con­trolled sta­di­ums, while the teem­ing masses get in­creas­ingly seden­tary and un­healthy.

Cain can also en­vi­sion bleak fu­tures, but doesn’t con­sider them in­evitable. “You work on a set of sce­nar­ios, then say, ‘Which is your pre­ferred one?’” he says. “Then, you ask, ‘What is the best way of us re­al­is­ing that pre­ferred fu­ture?’” It takes peo­ple like Cain, and the rest of us sup­port­ing them, to mar­shal the in­flu­ence and re­sources to make sure the dystopian fu­ture re­mains a night­mare rather than re­al­ity.


As­sum­ing there will still be an ac­ces­si­ble, live­able out­doors, peo­ple will not only con­tinue to want to go there, but will also want to gather with oth­ers. Few doubt that vir­tual rac­ing will en­able mil­lions – in­clud­ing those who lost out on lim­ited en­tries – to en­joy the world’s iconic races in re­al­is­tic de­tail. Yet it won’t re­place par­tic­i­pat­ing in events large and small.

“There is still a mas­sive ap­petite for peo­ple to talk with each other, spend time with each other,” says Nick Pear­son, CEO of parkrun. “That so­cial in­ter­ac­tion is in­cred­i­bly valu­able.” Run­ning events pro­vide a unique and rich con­text for that so­cial re­quire­ment. How­ever, what run­ning events will look like and feel like may well change over the next 25 years.

Big, his­toric race fix­tures show no sign of wan­ing. “I still think the ex­pe­ri­ence and the pageantry and cel­e­bra­tion that hap­pen at the fin­ish of a large marathon, with a back­drop of the best global cities of the world – that will never lose its lus­tre,” says Tim Hadz­ima, gen­eral man­ager of the Ab­bott World Marathon Ma­jors. Hugh Brasher, event direc­tor for Lon­don Marathon Events, says, “Peo­ple get­ting to­gether and par­tic­i­pat­ing in iconic events around the world will be just as im­por­tant, if not more so, than now, be­cause of the way it uniquely shows a to­geth­er­ness – and the world is be­com­ing less to­gether.”

From the out­side, these races may still ap­pear much the same in 2043, but tech­nol­ogy will al­ter el­e­ments of the race ex­pe­ri­ence. De­vices – be they clipped on, built into ap­parel, stuck on or im­planted – will mon­i­tor mul­ti­ple vi­tals and tell you when to drink more, when to take on carbs, when you’ve ex­ceeded your anaer­o­bic thresh­old and should slow down, when your pos­ture has de­te­ri­o­rated or your ca­dence sig­nif­i­cantly slowed. They will also sound alerts and share your in­for­ma­tion with med­i­cal staff if, say, you’re dan­ger­ously over­heat­ing or hav­ing heart trou­ble. “I think that tech­nol­ogy will have one of the big­gest changes in how we look after peo­ple in an event,” says Brasher.

The big races will sur­vive and thrive, but fore­cast­ers also see in­creased growth at the other ex­treme: in­for­mal, small, free events such as parkrun and run­ning crews. The key to the sus­tain­abil­ity of such events, says Pear­son, is to keep them low cost, eas­ily re­peat­able and ap­pro­pri­ately scaled, re­quir­ing a min­i­mal amount of struc­ture and or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Small events will avoid the prob­lem of se­cur­ing road clo­sures and an­ger­ing the

res­i­dents in in­creas­ingly crowded cities by shar­ing pub­lic spa­ces with­out over­whelm­ing them. “Twenty min­utes be­fore­hand, you won’t know any­body is com­ing; and 20 min­utes after, you won’t know that any­body’s ever been there,” says Pear­son.

What will prob­a­bly go away are many mid­sized events that are of­ten un­wieldy, in­va­sive and bland. Those that sur­vive will be ex­cep­tional, both in ex­pe­ri­ence and lo­gis­tics. Sam Browne, founder of lets­, sees races us­ing tech­nolo­gies such as fac­ere­cog­ni­tion to elim­i­nate the has­sles of reg­is­tra­tion, num­ber pickup and image and video re­trieval. Com­bined with care­fully cu­rated cour­ses, sup­port and race-day de­tails, these events will “cre­ate a seam­less and fric­tion­less ex­pe­ri­ence to get peo­ple to that eu­pho­ria in run­ning”. Not only will races be bet­ter, but how you se­lect them will be trans­formed. Browne is work­ing to­wards a fu­ture where data from re­views, your train­ing log and your rac­ing and so­cial pref­er­ences will be com­bined to cu­rate your race sched­ule, en­sur­ing op­ti­mal ex­pe­ri­ences.

Lo­cal runs, crews and clubs will be in­creas­ingly di­verse, not only in style and cul­ture but also in how they mix in other fit­ness and so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties, lur­ing new par­tic­i­pants off the couch and from other sports. “Run­ning is go­ing to fit into the to­tal­ity of who we are in a dif­fer­ent way,” says Mary Wit­ten­berg, former pres­i­dent of the New York Road Run­ners and global CEO of Vir­gin Sport. She sees run­ning in the fu­ture be­ing an in­te­gral part of ac­tive, di­verse, in­volved and con­nected life­styles for all. “The fu­ture of run­ning will be not only be about de­feat­ing obe­sity, but also an an­ti­dote to lone­li­ness.”


Run­ners young and old will ben­e­fit from tech­nol­ogy that will help coaches, train­ers and med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als to bet­ter as­sess, mon­i­tor and con­nect with run­ners. This chal­lenge is be­ing pur­sued by com­pa­nies such as FitQuest, which makes lab-qual­ity fit­ness as­sess­ment ma­chines cur­rently be­ing de­ployed in gyms around the UK. Brian Firth, FitQuest’s CEO, sees mea­sur­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties ex­pand­ing rapidly in qual­ity and in the types of vari­ables that can be ex­am­ined.

A gait as­sess­ment that now re­quires a R3 mil­lion tread­mill, for ex­am­ple, may be done in the fu­ture by R2 000 smart sen­sors that can com­mu­ni­cate with each other. He pre­dicts that im­prove­ments in bat­tery life, com­put­ing power, cam­era tech­nolo­gies and the abil­ity to mea­sure in­creas­ingly small sam­ples of body flu­ids non-in­va­sively will al­low us to ac­cu­rately and af­ford­ably gather reams of im­por­tant data and com­mu­ni­cate it to you and your coach, PT and po­di­a­trist.

Oth­ers share this dream. “Imag­ine you go to your doc­tor; in­stead of just say­ing ‘Ow’, they’ve got met­rics they can look at eas­ily,” says Jay Dicharry, phys­i­cal ther­a­pist and direc­tor of the REP Biome­chan­ics Lab in Bend, Ore­gon, US. “If you have knee pain, they can see your knee has been over-ro­tat­ing for 80 per cent of your run­ning vol­ume. Let’s look at the fac­tors that drive that; let’s look at footwear that could help with that; let’s look at giv­ing our ther­a­pists the right tools.”

This data will be avail­able to pro­fes­sion­als any­where in the world, trans­form­ing coach­ing. “Can I get coached by some­body in, say, Den­ver, when I’m in Lon­don?” asks Firth. “The more mea­sure­ment data and qual­ity of data you have, the more pos­si­ble that is.”

Re­gard­less of who is re­ceiv­ing the data, the big­gest ad­vances will be in mak­ing it use­able. “Right now, we’ve got a lot of noise,” says Dicharry. “I would like to think that we would have some more in­di­vid­u­ally pre­scrip­tive tools by then. That can be


ev­ery­thing from how to pick bet­ter shoes, to how to op­ti­mise your stride, to how to de­ter­mine that you’re fa­tigu­ing dur­ing a long run, to how to op­ti­mise your train­ing.” Peo­ple need help, be­cause it’s hard to view your­self ob­jec­tively.

Even­tu­ally, ma­chine learn­ing will in­te­grate and in­ter­pret data to cre­ate per­son­alised work­outs and train­ing plans – thereby greatly ex­pand­ing the af­ford­abil­ity and ac­ces­si­bil­ity of in­formed coach­ing. iFIT al­ready draws in­for­ma­tion from its sleep mon­i­tor, ac­tiv­ity tracker and shoe sen­sor to mod­ify work­out plans, and its coach­ing pro­gramme learns over time how your body re­sponds to work­outs and your pre­ferred pat­terns.

All of this will help you stay off the in­jured list, but run­ners will still find ways to get hurt. When they do, their treat­ment op­tions will be far greater. Ge­net­ics prom­ises some of the most ex­cit­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties. “If run­ners have in­juries, they will be able, with DNA and stem cell ther­apy, to re­cover much faster,” says Maarten van Dijk, founder of Pure Ge­netic Life­style. Im­planted stem cells will be able to re­gen­er­ate car­ti­lage, lig­a­ments and bone quickly and ro­bustly. Ac­tive re­hab­bing will be eas­ier than ever, with de­vices like an ex­oskele­ton ‘bionic leg’ at­tach­ment bear­ing some of the load while you re­gain strength – a tech­nol­ogy al­ready be­ing de­vel­oped by Al­ter-G, mak­ers of the weight-bear­ing tread­mill pop­u­lar with to­day’s elites.


The over­ar­ch­ing trend that ap­pears in ev­ery sphere is a shift from the generic to the per­sonal. Mon­i­tors, rat­ings, data­track­ing and ge­net­ics all prom­ise to pro­vide train­ing plans, nu­tri­tional ad­vice and events de­vel­oped and catered specif­i­cally for you.

The same is true with footwear. “To­day we are very well aware that run­ning form and foot-strik­ing pat­tern is as in­di­vid­ual and unique as a fin­ger­print,” says Olivier Bern­hard, co-founder of shoe brand On. “The con­se­quence of this learn­ing needs to lead into per­son­alised shoes that adapt to the run­ner’s need.” Ev­ery brand agrees that be­spoke shoes are nec­es­sary and im­mi­nent. How per­sonal those shoes will be is much less cer­tain.

“In five years from now, you can or­der shoes spe­cially made for you through the in­ter­net,” says biome­chan­ics re­searcher Benno Nigg. “You have to an­swer three or four ques­tions, then you get the shoe for you.” Nigg be­lieves that even in 25 years, cus­tomi­sa­tion will only ad­dress fit and pref­er­ence for most run­ners. Per­son­al­i­sa­tion, he says, will still be “more

what they like, not func­tion­ally de­ter­min­ing what they need. We’re work­ing on that, but it is damned dif­fi­cult.”

Oth­ers have more con­fi­dence we will be able to cre­ate shoes that sup­port your per­sonal move­ment path, pre­vent in­jury and en­hance per­for­mance. “A fully cus­tomised shoe will take a few years, but the rate at which we’re mak­ing im­prove­ments is pretty phe­nom­e­nal,” says Ge­of­frey Gray, pres­i­dent of the Heeluxe biome­chan­ics lab. “We’ve made some pretty good strides to­wards a shoe tuned for stride me­chan­ics and tai­lored to your foot, your body weight, your run­ning speed, and the types of things you like to feel.”

That con­fi­dence is based on the abil­ity to gather data from large pop­u­la­tions and process it to find us­able pat­terns. “It used to be that a run­ning biome­chan­ics study would be 10 peo­ple in a lab over a cou­ple of weeks or months,” says Gray. “Now we’ll be able to get data on tens of thou­sands of peo­ple in a few days.” Says Pete Humphrey, vice pres­i­dent of re­search and de­vel­op­ment at Brooks, “We’re mov­ing so much faster now, just with mo­tion-cap­ture sys­tems we have in-house. Now we start adding sen­sors to the body, start adding bet­ter di­a­logue with run­ners.”

To ad­dress these ques­tions and make shoes that are truly per­sonal will re­quire the de­vel­op­ment of ‘smart’ ma­te­ri­als that adapt to changes. “Imag­ine an up­per that is com­pletely sup­port­ive, yet feels and be­haves like a sock, de­pend­ing on en­vi­ron­men­tal or sit­u­a­tional cues,” says

Kurt Stock­bridge, footwear de­vel­op­ment vice pres­i­dent at Skechers Per­for­mance. Wendy Yang, pres­i­dent of Hoka One One, dreams of “a mid­sole that can adapt shape, re­spon­sive­ness, firm­ness, and so on – based on the run­ner, the ter­rain, the speed and more”.

Whether your shoes are printed for you, par­tially cus­tomised from var­i­ous pieces or se­lected from a wide range of mod­els, there is gen­eral agree­ment that they will be made closer to home, in robotic fac­to­ries that cre­ate shoes on de­mand – re­duc­ing waste in ship­ping, in­ven­tory and ma­te­ri­als. Those ma­te­ri­als will have evolved to last longer and have a smaller en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print. Bern­hard pre­dicts “biodegrad­able, nat­u­ral and even bet­ter-per­form­ing ma­te­ri­als will be the base of a run­ning shoe con­struc­tion”. Oth­ers talk about shoes cre­ated from re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als and de­signed to be re­gen­er­ated post-use.


In all the glit­ter­ing fu­tures, it’s easy to for­get that utopian vi­sions have rarely panned out. “Many times when we try to out­smart na­ture, it back­fires in our face,” says Kyle Pfaf­fen­bach, nutri­tion con­sul­tant for the Brooks Beasts run­ning club. “We of­ten think of progress as some sort of tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment; but it doesn’t have to mean that.”

Progress in run­ning may mostly come in how we un­der­stand our­selves. Pfaf­fen­bach thinks ad­vances in ge­net­ics may not lead to cus­tomised di­ets and train­ing plans any­time soon, but in­stead to a more wide­spread ap­pre­ci­a­tion of how unique and com­plex each in­di­vid­ual is, free­ing us from one-siz­e­fits-all pre­scrip­tions.

John Kiely, elite-per­for­mance lec­turer, says im­proved un­der­stand­ing of the ef­fect of the brain on per­for­mance will not nec­es­sar­ily lead to tech­nolo­gies for ma­nip­u­lat­ing the neu­ro­chem­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment, but recog­ni­tion that “we can be bet­ter masters of our brain”. Fu­ture train­ing pro­grammes may fo­cus as much on cre­at­ing rou­tines that fos­ter men­tal health and build ex­pec­ta­tions of suc­cess as they do on vol­ume and pace.

Any in­formed pre­dic­tion of the fu­ture should also ac­knowl­edge the cul­tural pen­du­lum that swings be­tween em­brac­ing and re­pu­di­at­ing tech­nol­ogy. Even in the most op­ti­mistic in­dus­trial times, says Kas­riel, “there’s al­ways the sense of a lost, ide­alised, hal­cyon past when we were more in touch with na­ture than we are now.”

Alex Hutchin­son, RW colum­nist, sci­ence writer and au­thor of En­dure, says, “I pre­dict that a best­selling book 25 years from now (hope­fully mine!) will spark a mas­sive move­ment known as the New Min­i­mal­ism, in which run­ners around the world de­cide to shed their wear­able tech­nol­ogy, un­plug their im­planted mon­i­tor­ing and anal­y­sis chips, and go for a run set­ting their pace based on noth­ing more than how they feel.”


About that feel: in the end it’s what re­mains and never changes. In 25 years, re­gard­less of how the world is trans­formed, run­ners will head out the door and put one foot in front of the other. As they set­tle into a pace, the rhythm will take over, wor­ries will fall away. They will feel pow­er­ful, con­nected and alive. They will run.


AN­OTHER DAY IN FU­TURE WORLD! First things first: let’s see how the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions are go­ing…

DRESS CODE “Some­thing from 2018, please. It was such a good time for fash­ion.Yes, it was.”

WE CAN DREAM “See those things? They’re cars. They ran on some­thing called petrol, what­ever that was.”

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