How Nike Plus is helping me train for a marathon

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I love sports, but I've always had a love-hate relationship with running just for running's sake. Toss me a ball, and I'll chase it all day--but if you asked me two weeks ago how long it would take me to run 5 miles, I wouldn't have been able to tell you. But now, with the help of a simple gadget, I'm on my way to training for a marathon.

What irked me about the idea of running was that I had nothing to measure my progress against. "It feels good" and "it improves heart health" were too amorphous and unquantifiable for me. I needed something that would keep count the way we keep score in basketball or volleyball, the I know I just climbed a 5-10d at the climbing gym or rocked a double black diamond skiing.

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Enter Nike Plus. It was first introduced in 2006 as a team effort between Nike and Apple--a $30 kit includes a small sensor that fits in your shoe and a receiver that hooks up to your iPod Nano. The sensor in the shoe tracks distance, pace, and time, and measures those up against your weight and gender to estimate how many calories you burned. It prides itself in being the largest running community in the world, and people everywhere from Tokyo to Doha have been seen running with it.

Setting up Nike Plus was easy--I went to NikePlus.com, signed up for an account, put in some personal info included height and weight, and even made an avatar that kind of looks like me. A video tutorial taught me how to sync my iPod Nano to my Nike LunarGlide+. This part was easy--the only real challenge in the whole process is the running. I set a goal online to do 10 runs at an average pace of 7'59" in one month. Good luck to me!

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The first run I did with Nike Plus was with last Tuesday at the weekly Sports Basement Fun Run. Tough debut. There were over a dozen runners, and some are serious marathoners. Lucky for me, my friend Jenny offered to run with me--she's no joke, either, but at least I can tell her when I feel like I'm dying and she won't leave me in the dust. I've eschewed my earphones for casual conversation, but Jenny has Nike Plus, too, and every mile or so she said stuff like: "Lisa you're doing an 8.2 minute mile!" and "Great job!" and it made me a little bit more motivated than I was a second earlier.

Mid-run, the run club coach joined Jenny and me and we started grilling him on how to train for a marathon. He was a friendly triathlete named Bryan and answered all our questions. Here were his five best tips:

1. Do three days on, one day off, two days on, one day off, and so on. Running every day is not good for your knees.
2. Don't worry about how fast you're going. It's more important that you finish than how quickly you did it.
3. Every day that you run, add five minutes to whatever time you did the day before.
4. Don't be afraid to walk. A good brisk walking break when you're about to crack could lengthen your stamina enough to finish the race.
5. Don't use too many gadgets.

It happened to be on an unusually hot day (ninety-two degrees!) in San Francisco, but I manage to keep up with the group and do 3.82 miles in 31 minutes and 50 seconds.

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A couple days later, I ran for almost 45 minutes with Steven. We didn't walk much, but boy did we talk! Who knew running was such a social thing?

When I got home, I plugged my Nano into my MacBook and iTunes automatically updated NikePlus with my most recent run data--I made a quick visit to NikePlus.com and emailed the data to Jenny and Steven.

It's been a week since my first Fun Run, and to my surprise, running is actually fun. I think I can keep this up and do at least a half marathon by the end of summer.

About Lisa Katayama

I'm a contributing editor here at Boing Boing. I also have a blog (TokyoMango), a book (Urawaza), and I freelance for Wired, Make, the NY Times Magazine, PRI's Studio360, etc. I'm @tokyomango on Twitter.
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