Last week at Runkeeper we held one of my favorite company events: our semi-annual “Hack-a-Thon”, a two-day event where we break from our usual routines in order to prototype crazy new solutions to challenging problems. It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn new things and work outside your comfort zone, while advocating for a new technology, approach, or feature you’re really passionate about. This time around, my team decided to tackle the following problem: how could people use Runkeeper to help reduce their risk of running injuries?
If you’ve been hurt by running before, you’re not alone. A number of academic studies have found that a high percentage of runners—as many as 79%—sustain injuries from overuse. Many new runners discover that learning to run goes hand-in-hand with a crash course in anatomical disorders, and before long terms like shin splints, Runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis, IT-band sydrome, or Achilles tendinitis have become part of their normal vocabulary.
For the Hack-a-Thon, our solution was to create an in-app experience to help Runkeeper users transition from “heel striking” to “forefoot striking”, a technique that can lower the amount of shock—and thus the potential for injury—experienced by runners. We wanted to help users distinguish when they were running light and easy on the the front part of their feet (which might prompt an audio cue like this one) versus when they were slamming down too hard on their heels (which might prompt an audio cue like this one). To bring this idea to life, we worked with researchers from Spaulding National Running Center (SNRC) and Queen’s University , leading experts in understanding the causes of running injuries, and with IMeasureU, a New Zealand company that produces sensors for obtaining incredibly accurate measurements of body movement.
On the technical side, our two-day project involved getting the IMeasureU sensor to communicate with the Runkeeper app, collecting data about how a runner’s feet were hitting the ground, and then developing an algorithm to decide whether a user was generating high or low impacts as they ran. At the end of a run, a user would receive an in-app “shock score” that characterized how much abuse their feet and legs had sustained during their workout.
As is true for any Hack-a-Thon, our team (dubbed “Feet of the Conchords” in honor of our New Zealand guests) faced its share of challenges. However, thanks to the hard work of the team, the guidance and expertise of our friends from SNRC and IMeasureU, and a bit of luck, we were able to present a live demo of our feature to the rest of our Runkeeper colleagues.
In the end, our team not only learned a great deal from one another and had a lot of fun, we were able to show how technology could be used to make running safer and more enjoyable for everyone. (We even were voted “Best in Show” for our efforts!) Thank you to everyone on our team, our guests, the organizers and judges, and especially all my colleagues who worked on so many other amazing projects for making this the best Runkeeper Hack-a-Thon yet!