When Eliud Kipchoge broke the two-hour threshold for running the 26.2-mile marathon distance, he did so as part of Nike’s Breaking 2 project and later through the Ineos159 Challenge. Both efforts used large numbers of people.
During the last run – during which Kipchoge completed the course in 1 hour, 59 minutes, 40.2 seconds – he had 41 pacemakers working with him, not to mention nine members of his core performance team and six others, who trained and treated him during the controlled experience.
Kipchoge recently improved his own world record in a sanctioned marathon, running Berlin in 2:01:09 in September, and one technology services company believes that an artificial support team – a digital twin – could be so important in overcoming additional barriers, as much as any trainer or coach.
Tata Consultancy Services is the namesake of Sunday’s TCS New York City Marathon, and its team is exploring technologies such as augmented reality and AI to further enhance running performance, touting the potential to make two-hour marathons “ordinary” — maybe even and in 2030
“Specific to running, things like the digital nose help us evaluate air intakes and optimize them in terms of runner performance,” says Frank Diana, chief futurist and managing partner at TCS. “The digital brain is interesting in many ways, but in the context of running, just being able to assess our mental makeup and what allows us to maybe overcome pain thresholds and get into that flow state — there’s a lot going on there . Digital heart [helps simulate] the kind of stress that is put on the heart while we run and maybe optimizing some of that.
Much of the work done so far revolves around collecting data from wearables and other devices to monitor breathing, heart rate, sweat rate and stride length and applying artificial intelligence to simulations. Additive manufacturing or 3D printing can help customize footwear and apparel to exact specifications. The concept of digital twins is growing in a number of areas and has been implemented, with some early success, in the NFL’s health and safety program using a platform developed by AWS and implemented by Biocore.
“Increasingly, we imagine that the nanobots in our bodies will start looking at even data at the biological level or at the molecular level,” says Diana. “As we start to see some of that data flow into evaluating not only performance but our tactics during a race, I just think the possibilities are endless.”
For now, TCS expects to soon start using its research to realize tangible gains from the course. The work is primarily focused on training and performance apparel, but, he points out, could soon include data to drive decision-making during the marathon. (TCS is also the main sponsor of Jaguar’s new entry in Formula E next season.)
“We think what’s coming — and specifically coming in the form of smart glasses, for example — is using that data in the race to help you change your stride, change your pace, hydrate because you have to to hydrate at that particular point in time,” Diana says. “Even evaluating, using digital twins, the course itself and understanding beforehand what that course looks like and helping to actually give you steps and strategies and tactics during the race.
“So today I think it’s a lot more preparation for the race. Tomorrow I think it actually increases the information you have during the race and makes it easier to change strategies and tactics as it actually unfolds.
Following the entrepreneurial axiom that it’s best to solve the hardest problem first, TCS hopes that its work with the marathon can lead to learning with wider application.
“The big win is applying all of these things in the context of health and wellness and how we can start to be very proactive about health care as opposed to reactive and treatment-oriented,” Diana says.