Running is a pretty low-tech sport — all you need are some shoes and a path — but the New York City Marathon is changing that.
It wants to be the most technologically advanced race in the world, officials say, to benefit both participators in the grueling sport and those who just want to watch.
This year marks the 48th New York City Marathon. On Sunday, Nov. 4, more than 50,000 runners and nearly a million spectators will fill streets in all five boroughs for the 26.2 mile race.
That’s a lot of faces to scan if you’re looking to cheer on a loved one. That’s where the TCS New York City Marathon app comes in.
TCS (Tata Consultancy Services) is the title sponsor of the race and the year-round sponsor of New York Road Runners community efforts. As an IT company, TCS wants to use technology to improve any experience, said Michelle Taylor, TCS head of sports sponsorship.
“This sport is so unique in that its not an arena, it’s covering 26.2 miles across the city,” she said. “If you’re standing in one place and a runner goes by and you don’t see them, you sort of missed your opportunity. That’s where we leverage technology for people.”
For four years, the New York City Marathon app has allowed spectators to track runners via their bib number, showing a pin on a map that moves along the course as they do.
Now, a new feature called “spectator guides” aims to ensure you see that runner as many times as possible.
From wherever you start watching the race, you can tap on the in-app map and see, based on the predicted time of the runner you’re tracking, green circles for next spots along the course where you can catch them, or red circles if your runner will get there before you, meaning you’d miss that chance to cheer them on.
Spectators can create an itinerary that moves along the marathon course ahead of the runners. The app will also provide transportation directions between locations.
“That way the spectator has a game day plan the same way the runner has a game day plan,” said Taylor.
The tracking option alone has already changed how both runners and spectators enjoy the race, she added. Once, a woman approached Taylor because of her New York City marathon shirt, asking if Taylor ran the marathon. Taylor explained no, she just watched.
“She said, ‘My daughter ran and I used this tracking app and got to see her in four different places!’ She had no idea who I am and that this is what I work on all year around,” said Taylor. “This is such an amazing moment and accomplishment for people, everybody wants to celebrate it, and you can see how people are using this technology to bring these great moments to life.”
More New York City Marathon tech features
If you swing by the New York City Marathon Expo at the Javits Convention Center from now through Saturday, you can play a TCS interactive game called “Marathon City — Spring to the Finish” that lets you run (or spin your wheelchair wheels) in place on a mat to move your character down the last 200 meters of the race toward the finish line. The game is open to anyone, official runners and beyond, and lets two people compete at a time.
After the race, Pepper the Robot will be at the TCS hospitality area to scan runners’ bibs to congratulate them and show their finish time on a built-in display.
For those who couldn’t be on the course for the New York City Marathon, some have a chance to run a virtual 5K race along the streets of New York. Five hundred people registered for that digital event, for which they’ll get an entry into the 2019 race.
Ten New York City Marathon runners (Meb Keflezighi, Teri Hatcher and others) will also be outfitted with wearable tech during the race that collects info in real time. These details, like heart rate and stride, will be used, Taylor said, to add some storytelling to the race broadcast.