It’s been two years since the Japanese press got all out of breath announcing an “unprecedented running boom,” and yet the spandex-clad pack of joggers shows no sign of slowing down. Though the numbers are down from last year, this Sunday’s Tokyo Marathon still had almost 10 times as many applicants as the 35,500 spots in the race. The increase in women running put the phrase “beautiful jogger” onto the shortlist of top buzz words for 2011. As the marathoners get in their final practice runs and the spectators stake out their spots, we bring you a few of the tech trends that are going the distance for runners in Japan.
Sites like Run Net and Sports Entry make it easy to apply online for the growing number of races held all over the country. Popular races can fill up the same day they’re announced, leaving many would-be entrants hovering over their computer screens like they’re waiting for a starting gun. In addition to dedicated sites like these, runners in Japan are using Twitter to find running partners and groups with hashtags like #run_jp and #running (in both English and katakana).
The American fitness app RunKeeper has a loyal following among runners in Japan, even though the interface is only in English. A similar Japanese app called Tweet Runners also maps and shares completed runs on social media and is sponsored by pharmaceutical and supplement company Otsuka. Maybe not surprising for an app from a company better known for products like CalorieMate bars and the sports drink Pocari Sweat than its software, runners find its functions less robust than RunKeeper’s.
While not a role model for every runner, Tokyo Marathon veteran Joseph Tame is showing exactly what is possible when mobile tech is applied to the marathon course. Over the past few years, Tame has made an international name for himself by broadcasting his Tokyo Marathon runs via a wearable Ustream studio cobbled together from various mobile-tech devices. He keeps in shape between races and sharpens his tech capabilities at the same time with his “Art of Running” project: His meticulously plotted routes draw pictures or Japanese characters on the Tokyo map when he’s done. This year, he’ll be broadcasting a live interview with a fellow runner every kilometer of the race.