Similarly, the popularity of mobile apps, high-tech toys and online communities aimed at the running enthusiast is soaring. As Woodstock runners prepare to hit the streets of Anniston on Saturday, it is likely they are doing so with the help of a fancy gizmo and the support of their friends list.
Todd Henderson, ultra-race director of the ARC for the last four years, said he has already gone through a couple of Garmin Forerunners, a series of sports watches equipped with GPS tracking tools.
“I’m planning on getting the newer model soon,” he said. “They’re a great training tool. You put it right on your arm and use it to track your pace, distance, heart rate.”
Henderson, who organizes training runs for the local club, said runners just starting out often ask him about the gadget and he is quick to recommend it.
“It shows you exactly what mile you’re at,” he explained. “You can actually follow your breadcrumbs all the way back to where you started, which is pretty cool.”
First-time Woodstock runner Hayley Long is another Garmin advocate.
“It’s basically like I have a personal coach,” as she described it.
Long, who admits she is not that technologically savvy, got the basic Forerunner 110 in June and quickly joined Garmin’s online community where she uploads her stats from her device and tracks her progress.
“My husband uses RunKeeper.com through an app on his iPhone,” she said. “I used to manually enter my information on RunKeeper until I got my Garmin.”
RunKeeper and Garmin Connect are just two of the websites where runners can set goals, measure their progress and share it with other users. Most can be coordinated with members’ Facebook and Twitter pages, allowing them to share with their entire social media circle as well.
Henderson said he has tracked his data on WinningStats.com since the day he took up running ten years ago. Although he doesn’t share the data on social media, he said he does use ARC’s Facebook page to promote training runs to the site’s 320 followers.
As the club’s active Facebook page implies, most members have embraced the tracking and sharing of the sport’s online communities, according to Long.
“It’s gotten so much more tech-savvy just in the last year,” she said, estimating that along with RunKeeper and Garmin, the most popular app among members is Endamundo Sports Tracker.
With ARC’s membership spiking from 50 to more than 600 in the last five years, the question may arise, which came first, the runner or the app?
According to Henderson, high-tech gadgets and social networks don’t inspire people to take up running. The need to get in shape does. However, he did concede such tools might be responsible for keeping more runners in the race.
“It motivates you to do better,” he explained. “Once your body adapts to the routine, you set a new goal, a faster pace or longer distance or whatever.”
Long said she couldn’t say whether technology had a role in the sport’s resurgence, but her own story is a tribute to the role of a social network, be it online or off.
A runner in high school, Long dusted off her running shoes a year and a half ago to lose weight. In six months she had lost 30 pounds and a year later she was the overall female winner of the Anniston Army Depot’s 2011 Making Tracks 5K.
Long attributed her success to the Anniston running community.
“I couldn’t have done anything without them,” she said.