Runners have long been able to fit themselves with digital apparatus that will not only measure GPS location, distance run and time taken but also provide a whole host of body function statistics – heart rate, stride rate (known as cadence), calories expended etc. Although you may be running in a different town or indeed continent, on a different day or in a different time zone, all these measurements can be collated and compared – not only to determine who ran fastest but also as checks to ensure that the outcome reports are honest. Your GPS co-ordinates alone may not reveal whether you used the assistance of a bicycle on part of the course – but your subterfuge would be given away by the tell-tale increase in speed contrasting with reduced heart rate and non-existent cadence.

Choice of route is important. You need a smooth and flat surface without curves or undulations to achieve best times. But there must be no significant loss of elevation (which your GPS will reveal) over the length of the course, otherwise a time penalty will be imposed.

One element that the sophisticated technology doesn’t measure, however, is wind-speed. Which, as any Hastings runner could tell you, is fundamental to timed performance even on a circular track, let alone a route where you can select to have an air current at your back from start to finish. With a 20-plus mph breeze blowing along the coast from the south-west over the weekend of 4th/5th July, all the lowest times were recorded by both HAC and Lewes representatives on routes along seafronts from west to east, whether at Brighton, Seaford, Bexhill or St Leonards.

The wind is clearly a performance enhancer. On the other hand there’s a psychological downside to virtual racing – the lack of immediate physical competition. Both hunting cheetahs and their prey can be seen to streak faster when the chase is full on. Record books show that human beings at close quarters will push themselves in the same way.  In running as in other forms of human interaction, social proximity has its advantages.  

The illustration below shows one leading competitor’s digital return for his one mile run from Warrior Square to Pelham Place on 4th July. 

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