Nike+ delivers (again) with The most Interactive Race Experience Yet!

It’s 9 am on a drizzly Sunday in July (none of the usual sunshine clichés to be seen this year); two Capgemini colleagues and I are nervously making our way to the start line of the British 10k, powered by Nike+. We’re running to raise money for Capgemini’s Charity of the Year: Springboard for Children, a cause definitely motivating enough for the distance ahead!

I’ve been running for over a decade with varying levels of enthusiasm from post-indulgent penitence to down-right obsession. With time, my pace has steadily slowed but today was to show me that, by contrast, the road race experience has ramped up the tempo to become a multi-channel, multi-sense, globally-interactive frenzy. Together with a sentimental reminisce of the village road series of bygone years, here’s what’s new in the road racing world of 2012:

Cheer Me On

I’ve raved about the hugely-popular Nike+ app in previous posts but the way they’ve integrated Facebook and the race-day experience certainly deserves another mention. The Cheer Me On component of the Nike+ App came out in Version 2.0 (2010). Activating Cheer Me On means that each time you start a new run, Nike+ GPS automatically posts a status update to your Facebook profile that you are setting off on a run. Then, every time your friends comment on or “like” your status, you hear, as part of your in-run feedback, a sound clip of a roaring crowd. This kind of publicity for every training run isn’t for me but at the British 10k Nike stepped it up a level. Before the race, runners signed up to Nike’s Facebook app with their race number. Their Facebook friends could then send personal messages of support which appeared real-time on giant screens along the route. Your splits are also recorded so your friends can track exactly where you are on the course.

The pre-race commentator, Reggie Yates, made me laugh: he described the Cheer Me on Feature to the 25,000 strong field below and explained there would be giant digital screens featuring these messages all the way along the route. “Tell your friends to get on the site now. “ And then he followed up with what a lot of us must have been thinking, “Or just post a message to yourself from your iPhone.” A big cheer ensued. I didn’t actually get any messages posted (nor, before you ask, did I send any to myself) but I did find the big screens and messages a motivation along the route. I don’t think I’d like to use the feature on training runs but I thought it was a superb innovation for the race day.


Chip Timing Innovations

I remember when I first ran with a race chip: it was in the Great North Run and I’m guessing the year was about 2002. It’s the largest half-marathon in the world and The Great North Run attracts over 50,000 runners which means that it can take over half an hour from the race officially starting before you might cross the start line. Prior to the introduction of chip timing, this could result in a rather frustratingly slow official race time for many runners. Chip timing means that you have a personal race time, recorded accurately from when you cross the start line until you collapse exhausted across the finish line. This brilliant innovation has improved further in the last 10 years. The British 10k featured antenna at every kilometre meaning that not only overall race time but kilometre splits were recorded.

I also remember chips being quite bulky affairs you wrapped round your ankle which made me worry about blisters. These chips were battery powered and had to be handed in at the end of a race to be interrogated to read your time. As well as there being the risk that you would forget to hand your chip in at the end, these chips were more expensive to produce. The British 10k used the D-TAG: a single-use tracking system which is light enough to attach to your shoe laces. This means no blisters, no forgetting to return your chip… no worries! The technology works by capturing electromagnetic energy produced by the antennae on the ground and utilises this energy to emit a unique code. Fortunately, in the case of Sunday, these tags are also completely water-proof!

In the excitement of the race, I forgot to start my stop watch so I was especially grateful for this timing and being able to look up my splits immediately afterwards. I also found knowing that this information was publicly available quite a motivator to put in that extra bit of effort!

Real-time race stats

The Cheer Me On feature and D-TAG system were combined to produce another race day innovation: Real-time race stats displayed on large digital screens along the route. The large screens were not just used to show messages of support from friends but also displayed personalised messages about your progress such as “Susanna, your time at 9Km is 44 mins. Nearly there!” Obviously these messages were only shown for a few runners but again I thought it was a great feature and use of the technology in place.

Beamed Motivational Imagery

Probably the least technologically advanced of the innovations, but still a great feature, were the motivational videos beamed onto the inside of the tunnels along the route. The race went through the long and dingy Blackfriars tunnel in both directions which could have been quite boring segments of the route. However, beamed onto the walls were huge videos of Paula Radcliffe and Mo Farah running with determined looks on their faces. This was quite a simple idea but I found having two of my heroes running virtually alongside me was a great experience!


The Cool-down

In summary, the British 10k was the most innovative race in which I’ve run and to my surprise, none of these innovations seemed gimmicky or annoying: quite the opposite. I think Nike and the organisers judged the mood perfectly. Result: I ran and finished feeling motivated, keen to get back and check my race splits online, and determined to be back for more next year!

Susanna, Neil and Matt ran the British 10K for Springboard for Children, Capgemini’s Charity of the Year. If you would like to sponsor them for their efforts, please visit: