Race day live tracking for runners
updated in January 2019
It's been a while since this post and I finally released raceday.me 🎉.
The state of my current side project
I call myself a runner and I do races pretty regularly. When you're into running, race day is a very special event as it mostly involves a longer period of focused preparation that all goes down to nail this special day.
When a friend or someone I follow on twitter or strava is going out for a race, I share a lot of this excitement too. I'm getting nervous and wonder if everything is working out as expected and I wish to follow the race the way I watch my favorite soccer club playing.
But in reality, you are staring at a website displaying a table with a few splits which is as exciting as watching sports on Teletext. So basically you are waiting for this post-race message with the simple words like "I made it in $finishTime". It's 2018 and that's it. End of story.
How does live tracking look today?
There are some tools out there that are available today but most of them are either not convenient or not optimized for sharing a proper race day experience.
Offered by the organizer
There is always a race time measurement system from the organizer which mostly involves you running with an RFID chip through a magnetic field. This is optimized for time accuracy and using this data for a viewer live stream is just a by-product of the real purpose.
Some ultra events equip the runner with a GPS chip which trades some time accuracy against a big safety advantage. On this very long races, it's not "that" important to have splits to be exact to the second. The live stream of this events have the greatest potential but usually end up on a website that is either hard to use or look like they have been designed in the late 90's. Mostly both.
Using your supercomputer in your pocket
However, since we don't choose our races depending on the organizers tracking system we could have skipped the previous part. So we all have smartphones which weigh almost nothing and should be in our pockets during the run. In cases you drop out, they are very handy for orientation and communication.
Let's see what apps can do these days. You can go with classic location-sharing apps like iMessage or WhatsApp, but they only show you the current position, no pace or any running context at all. You basically only see if someone is running or standing. Then you have apps like Strava Beacon and Garmin LiveTrack which add the route that you have already run including your current time, pace and distance. Both of them are focused on running/riding but seem to be meant for safety reasons to inform your loved ones that you are save during a long workout.
What should live tracking look like today?
You could change the way that event organizers track (like racemap does) but since you can never reach them all, it would be the best approach to fix it on the runner's side and give everyone on every race the possibility for the best live tracking. Here is a list of things that should be improved in my opinion:
Live viewers should see more than just your current location and the route you already run. The complete course should always be visible to properly reflect your current progress.
Live tracking should be more personalized. You should be able to provide information about your personal goal of the event and pass this to the viewer with real-time feedback. People should see if you are ahead of your goal or not to get an idea of how your race is really going.
Make it accessible to non-runners! This is a big one. People that follow your race may have no idea of splits and paces. They should be able to get information that is as clear as possible. Message like:
Stefan is about to reach the 4 km mark. He is 2 minutes ahead of his aimed time. Looking good!
It should be aware of the viewer's location. When you view the race on side, you should be informed when the runner will pass you.
Let's build something
If you're unsatisfied with something you have basically two options. Deal with it or do something about it. I'm a developer and this time I chose the second option (I did that before btw). Please watch this video to get an idea of what I've been working on for the last couple of months.
This is still an early prototype but I'm very curious about any feedback. What do you think about it? Tell me your thoughts on twitter.
written on 1/14/2018 in raceday