Is Fixed Track Timing the Next Big Thing?
If you’re a keen runner or cyclist, or both, and you frequently use a Garmin, Suunto or Polar device to measure your kilometres, pace and steps (among other things) you’ll sometimes be taken aback by the difference in distance when you run exactly the same course, and start and stop your device at the same point each time.
It’s especially noticeable when you run from home, do your well-worn 5km, 10km or 20km training loop, and return to hit the button at the exact same spot in your driveway each time. Sometimes the difference can be a few metres; often it is a matter of 100 – 200, or more.
There is a move on in the United States to embed permanent timing points in the pavements, running trails and athletic tracks of selected communities. Spearheaded by Active Ipico, these timing points are integrated into the pavement, tarmac, or tartan surface, and behave in exactly the same way as a timing point in an organised run – such as a marathon or fun run. The runner wears a timing chip and his/her time is recorded over segments between the permanently fixed readers.
If set at 1km, 2km or 5km intervals, these ‘fixed track’ timing points are said to give a much more accurate representation of a runner’s pace, as they are unaffected by such things as atmospheric events (1) , signal arrival time, and the distortion caused by multipath signals (2).
So much so, that entire local government areas are committed to the installation of fixed-track timing points, along with several universities which are embedding the antenna in their newly installed or renovated running tracks.
Whether the timing chip ownership is a matter of lease, buy or loan is moot – the question that arises is not how good is this technological innovation, and are the benefits to runners worth the cost; but rather – can we imagine any local government in Australia committing to it?
In a country where bike lanes frequently consist of a painted line and stencil of a bike symbol – frequently obscured by parked cars – where road rage is directed at the person fortunate enough to get the ‘dream’ parking spot; where school zones are more and more becoming the scene of highly stressful battle for automotive supremacy – are we, as a nation, active enough to warrant it?
Putting aside the always-present obesity debate, even regular runners may be loath to change their habits and start/finish their run in a different place just to benefit from the assurance of an accurately-measured interval. The convenience of stepping out of one’s own front door and setting off is one of the attractions of unstructured, recreational running.
Interval training will be transformed however, and familiar Strava/MapMyRun/RunKeeper arguments won’t hold here.
I can see an application for it in larger centres – capital cities perhaps – where there are frequently-patronised, fixed distance running loops that are extremely popular (think the Bay Run in Sydney, or The Tan in Melbourne). Smaller and regional cities not so much.
But like real, separated bike lanes or solar power, perhaps it is worth trying in an effort to make regular, meaningful exercise more appealing – if not goal-focused – to a wider audience of would-be runners.
(1) Aarons, Jules and Basu, Santimay (1994). “Ionospheric amplitude and phase fluctuations at the GPS frequencies”. Proceedings of ION GPS 2: 1569–1578.
(2) Navipath: Multipedia