Imagine, for a moment, watching a really good runner in full flight. How do they look? Elegant, light, loose. Perhaps it is more technically accurate to describe the way they run as economical. It’s as if they are expending minimal effort as they fly along.
Next, imagine what it would mean if you could improve your running economy. Well, that is one element of the Under Armour MapMyRun app: helping runners to improve their economy. The app achieves this by using data from runners who increased the distance they ran by 3% and their speed by 7% after they used the app’s Form Coaching technology, benefiting from personalised real-time Form Coaching around cadence.
B E C O M I N G A B E T T E R R U N N E R
When it comes to running, getting better can take many forms. For one person, just running regularly is the improvement they seek. For another it could be running further than they have in the past. Or covering a familiar distance faster than before. Or it could equally be about running more comfortably.
What are some of the essentials for becoming a better runner? No matter where you are on the journey, motivation, opportunity and information are all required.
Motivation is necessary because without it, nothing much will happen. The status quo will remain. Of course, motivation is a funny thing. It is hard to define and pretty much unique to each person and each situation. But it is undoubtedly required.
Opportunity is also essential. All the motivation in the world won’t help if you aren’t able to practise the activity at which you are trying to improve. Thankfully there’s not much you really need in order to go for a run: a pair of shoes, appropriate clothing and you’re pretty much good to go.
The third ingredient is information to guide us on the road to improvement. It is possible to get better at something by guessing and trying out different methods. But if your desire is to improve in the most efficient way possible, then data and analysis are your friends.
T E C H N O L O G Y D E L I V E R I N G I M P R O V E M E N T S
Providing information and analysis is the mission of the team behind connected footwear and MapMyRun at Under Armour. This training system includes real-time Form Coaching, which analyses a runner’s cadence and then provides audio prompts to help optimise running economy.
The Under Armour MapMyRun platform is a great way for runners to see data about how they are running and, crucially, receive tailored tips on how to get better.
One of the elements of how the Under Armour MapMyRun app helps runners through Form Coaching is cadence.
Cadence is important because it offers the opportunity for big improvements through relatively small changes. Until recently cadence coaching has been limited to a one-size-fits-all suggestion that runners should aim for around 180 steps per minute. This number was actually derived from a study where elite runners at the 1984 Olympic Games were observed to have a cadence of at least 180 steps per minute. But a group of Olympians is hardly the ideal model for most runners. Still, the number stuck.
For some time, researchers – including Jeff Knight, Senior Manager of Digital Product Science at Under Armour – have known that actually there is no optimum number of steps for every runner. The problem has been how to give all runners access to the data and coaching that can help them not only to discover their ideal cadence, but then run in a way that hits that number.
“We know from academic research that cadence is closely related to how running feels,” says Knight, an experienced running coach. “So if you can get your cadence right, your running is going to feel easier. And if you can optimise your cadence, then you’ll reduce the amount of impact your body feels when it makes contact with the ground.”
As a coach, Jeff used to take a metronome to group runs so that he could help athletes improve their form by exploring different cadence values. But while that method was highly effective, it was not very scalable. And it involved a lot of guesswork.
“I have had a long relationship with running,” Jeff says, “starting with running 5km races with my mom when I was eight years old. I love the freedom of running and the feeling of moving fast. I’m an addict, really. After school I started coaching and was able to help thousands of runners improve. But I was still limited to what I could do as one person.
“Now, through being part of the team at Under Armour, I have the chance to work on footwear and technology that helps many, many more runners improve. What we’re now able to do through MapMyRun is reach millions of runners. And, of course, one area that is really exciting is cadence. When we started building the Form Coaching technology, we knew that cadence was something runners were talking about. They knew there were improvements to be had. And we wanted to challenge the assumption that one cadence was right for all runners.”
For Kaitlyn Carpenter, Director of Digital Product at Under Armour, running has been the ideal activity to support her physical and mental health after she finished her education and joined the workforce. As a youngster, Kaitlyn competed at a range of sports. It was once Kaitlyn started work that running became a regular part of her routine – it remains the ideal way to stay fit and she also uses it as a type of meditation.
At work, Kaitlyn is driven by the idea that Under Armour can bring technology that had been the preserve of elite athletes to runners of every level. This is part of a broader mission at Under Armour to develop technologies and products that, once runners have had the chance to use them, become essential.
“The aim with MapMyRun and Form Coaching is to develop technology that looks at something like cadence and bring it to all runners,” Kaitlyn explains. “Personally, I used to think that understanding the optimal cadence for each individual athlete was just for professional runners. Now I know everyone can benefit from it and it is available to all.”
Another member of the Under Armour MapMyRun team, Chiara Travia, Senior Manager of Global Digital Marketing, agrees with Kaitlyn’s assertion that through Form Coaching, runners at all levels can access information that will help them improve.
“When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, gyms and sports facilities were closed,” she says. “A lot of people were suddenly unable to exercise in the way they had been used to. So we saw many people discover running for the first time or fall in love with running again. And because of Form Coaching and connected footwear, we were able to see that users ran further and faster thanks to improved technique. That was pretty amazing for us to see.”
T E C H N O L O G Y N O W A N D I N T H E F U T U R E
Currently the Under Armour MapMyRun app uses data from connected footwear to deliver real-time Form Coaching. This is exciting because it personalises the advice that each runner receives, the overall aim being to assist runners in maintaining form during the run, helping them to manage their injury risk and improving performance.
But the team at Under Armour still has plans for ways in which the combination of best-in-class footwear and cutting-edge technology can combine to help runners be better.
“The trajectory for Under Armour is embedding ourselves in the running community,” says Kaitlyn, “and by doing that we can understand more about the problems runners face. Then we can use data and coaching technology to help solve those challenges.”
For Jeff Knight, there are also opportunities to support athletes beyond the time they are actually running.
“As runners ourselves we can see how the athletes who run in Under Armour shoes and use the MapMyRun technology are becoming more and more aware of the importance of what happens aside from the run. There is a lot that we can do to support runners holistically and that is really exciting for us.”
Chiara understands first-hand the value of real-time Form Coaching.
“My aim now is to run further than I have in the past,” she says, “and Form Coaching will allow me to do that. I am really looking forward to seeing what I am capable of.”
Kaitlyn echoes Chiara’s thoughts.
“I’m using real-time Form Coaching and the latest connected Under Armour shoes to work on becoming a little more competitive in my running. I want to get a bit more serious about the times I am achieving. As part of that, I am also running longer than I have in the past because, thanks to optimising my cadence, I’m much more comfortable as the distance increases.”
For Jeff, connected footwear is a key to allowing him to keep doing what he loves.
“With a young family now, my aim is to maintain my fitness. I’m still completely in love with running but perhaps now, more than ever, I see running as a way to unplug for a while. So while I still want all the information so I can see where I am fitness- and form-wise, I love that I can rely on connected footwear to gather all the data while I just lose myself in my run.”
Whether you are relatively new to running or a seasoned athlete, the combination of Under Armour footwear and MapMyRun technology is able to support you in whatever your goals are – whether they involve running further, running faster, running easier… or all three.
I N P A R T N E R S H I P W I T H U N D E R A R M O U R