Tracking the trackers

Runners just past the 10 mile mark

My friend Jason ran in the Marine Corps Marathon yesterday. The marathon, like many races, uses a chip on runners’ shoes to track times.

The Marine Corps Marathon also offered runner alerts: you could sign up before the race to get alerts when your runner hit the 5-, 10-, 13.1-, 15-, 19-, 22- and 26.2-mile marks. A chip reader would scan your runner and then send a text message or email. It makes it easier to position yourself to find your runner in the crowd, just camp out a mile or so ahead of the checkpoint and the system would let you know when to keep your eyes peeled.

That’s the theory, anyway. In reality, the system failed miserably. We got an alert when Jason crossed the 5-mile mark. More than 90 minutes later, we were still waiting for the 10-mile alert. Did Jason get hurt? Did we miss him? I called a friend to check the Web site. Same data. We looked up another friend and the system showed that she’d crossed the 15-mile mark. Uh oh.

We continued to wait and eventually saw him just before the 16-mile mark. Still no alerts past the original.

The alerts eventually showed up. After the race, the system blasted numerous duplicate messages: 96 Jason alerts to one phone.

The race announcer said more than 200,000 people had signed up to receive alerts. Multiply that by 96 and that’s a lot of text messaging revenue. made good use of simpler technology. Runners can watch three hours of video of the finish line. Now if they’d start geotagging their photos, you could create cool maps like this.

More on: geotagging, newspapers


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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1 Response to Tracking the trackers

  1. Kevin says:

    Rocky — couldn’t agree with you more. The mobile text solution vision for marathoning could be so powerful, but it is a major, major disappointment.

    Unless they can do it well, I think they should not do it at all.

    And if you think about what they are trying to do, it shouldn’t be this hard or this poor a performer.

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