Insuring your future: how technology’s helping keep runners safe [Sponsored]


Insuring your future‘ is a four part series exploring how technology is working to keep you safe as you make your way through the world. In this, the third article in the series, we look at how a variety of technologies are coming together to make running safer.

Distance running is one of the largest mass participation sports on the planet. You only have to look at how many people flock to road races across the globe, or the massive number of running technologies to see how big an impact this most instinctive of activities has.

The thing is, a large number of those technologies are aimed at helping the people who buy them run better and faster. But what technologies are being developed to ensure that runners can keep running for years to come and that they can do so safely?

After all, even if you’re comprehensively insured by a provider like Santam, anything that forces you off your feet is going to be annoying.

As it turns out, those technologies are being built and from the ground up, as it were.

Data, data everywhere

At the centre of most technologies aimed at keeping runners healthy is data. Altra’s Halo smart running shoes for instance have inbuilt sensors which measure aspects of your gait and send them to your smartphone or iFit GPS Watch. The idea is that rather than using data to figure out what adjustments you should be making once you’ve finished your run, you’ll be able to make adjustments while you’re on the road (or trail) before it’s too late. While the technology is still in its very earliest stages and there are still issues that need to be resolved, its obvious that it has serious potential given the number of people who are working on it.

Another startup called Mino is trying to quantify when you should replace your shoes– a major factor in preventing running injuries. It does so with an insert that slips under the sole of your shoes.

It’s not just shoes either. People are developing smart socks, shorts, shirts, and caps too. All of them are aimed at providing runners with more data about their activities.

Osteoid Smart hat

Life-Beam has launched a smart hat and visor

In the quest for accurate data, one US company’s even come up with a wearable device that can measure a runner’s blood-oxygen levels on the fly. Far more than heart-rate and cadence, blood-oxygen levels provide a great indicator of an athlete’s fitness levels. Throughout most of history though, the only way to gauge this metric was with blood samples taken during exercise. The SXInsight instead uses optical technology to get its reading.

When it comes to health and exercise data though, one of the most promising new technologies comes from Stellenbosch-based startup HealthQ.

At this year’s Consumers Electronics Show in Las Vegas it announced the launch of LifeQ, the follow-up to its revolutionary open source metabolic chamber.

LifeQ uses Computational Systems Biology and continuous body monitoring, which allows it to generate a huge range of information and convert it into insights about your own personal health that you can use to make better choices around lifestyle, food, exercise, medication and almost anything that impacts your health.

Heal faster, run faster

Of course for all the good work technology is doing when it comes to running form and training, we’re far from being at the stage where it’s possible to avoid injuries entirely.

As of 2010, statistics suggested that 65% of runners will experience at least one injury a year and that for every 100 hours of training, the average runner will sustain one injury.

Thankfully we’ve moved beyond heat balms, ice and rest when it comes to repetitive stress injuries (although prevention remains the best form of cure). You’ve probably seen athletes of all kinds wearing bandages like those made by SpiderTech. The elasticized tape, which claims to provide relief from aches and pains, is a few years old now, but is still a massive step forward from what was available before.

Now imagine combining the capabilities of SpiderTech with some of the other advances being made in bandages such as the ability to monitor how well a wound is healing.

If you’re a trail runner meanwhile, falling and breaking a limb is an ever-present danger. Even on that front, we could soon move past the plaster-of-paris casts that have protected people’s limbs while their bones knit back together.

One of the coolest glimpses of this future comes from the Osteoid, a 3D-printed nylon cast that’s not only more practical than more traditional casts, but also looks totally awesome.


The Osteoid looks cool and heals bones faster

Another benefit of the Osteoid is that it could actually help bones heal faster. It does this by deploying low-intensity pulsated ultrasound (LIPUS) over the fractured bone during 20 minute intervals each day.

The loneliness of the long distance runner

Now that we’ve looked at how technology is helping runners avoid and heal (often self-inflicted) injuries, it’s worth examining how it’s helping them stay safe when sharing the road with cars and motorbikes. Previous articles in this series have already discussed how much better cars are becoming when it comes to detecting and avoiding pedestrians, so we won’t go into that in this one. Suffice to say, that the roads of the future have the potential to be a heck of a lot safer for everyone.

Until then though, one of the best ways to combat runners getting hit by vehicles is to make them more visible. This is especially true in the early morning and evening hours, when most runners are out on the road and most difficult to see.


Lightweight headlamps have become vital for anyone running at night.(Image: Petzl)

Not so long ago the only options available to runners in this regard were high visibility clothing and a headlamp. Nowadays there are plenty of LED lighting options for everything from your shoes to your wrist. Headlamps have been given an upgrade too with many now catering to even the most competitive of runners.

As smart clothing becomes more ubiquitous however, there’s the potential for lights, or even screens, to be woven into running gear. That in turn means your T-Shirt could warn a car that you’re running close to its path without you having to think about it.

Be Safe

Santam App

Some of that tech is a little way off but if you want peace of mind, you could always use the new Santam App with Be Safe. Using the app, you can set a different “guardian” whenever you go for a run. Once you’ve started your trip, they will securely be sent the relevant details, including your start and end points and how long you expect to get from one to the other. You can nominate Guardians from your phone’s contacts and they don’t even need a smartphone to follow you, as SMS alerts are sent out. The app is available for download on iOS and Android.



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