New York City Marathon App Embraces Hybrid

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For the first time this year, spectators can track virtual participants and runners pounding the NYC sidewalk

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With the in-person event returning on Sunday morning, app users can physically follow runners on the course on a live map as they slog through the city’s five boroughs. Virtual runners, who can complete 26.2 miles anywhere in the world during the two-week period leading up to the marathon, appear on the same map as progress points equivalent to the NYC event. For example, virtual runners who are between miles 16 and 18 of their run will show up on a marathon map running up First Avenue in Manhattan. Virtual runners can also let two users track their actual physical locations for security purposes.

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The new app comes as Marathon looks to make a comeback in 2020 after the pandemic shut down live events around the world.

“As a technology company, we are very concerned about the experience runners get,” said Surya Kant, president of North America for TCS.

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Sprinter for the past 10 years, Shri Kant will be participating in the New York City Marathon for the first time this weekend. He took part in the virtual version last year. He says he is feeling “really great” about Sunday’s race.

Ongoing Covid-19 concerns limited individual participation for Sunday’s event to some 30,000 runners. In 2019, 54,205 participated. Ten thousand virtual runners are also expected for this year’s event.

“This year, the big problem was how we combined both the virtual experience and the in-person racing experience under one hybrid platform,” said Haley Price, head of sports sponsorship in North America for TCS.

Mumbai-based TCS Interactive developed the app, which includes a proprietary algorithm designed to track individual runners. Live data is fed to the app by radio-frequency identification, or RFID, chips in the runner’s bibs as they pass embedded sensors along the course. The algorithm also predicts the time the runners will finish.

Virtual runners are tracked via the Global Positioning System, or GPS, in their phones.

Other new features of the app include a 3-D interactive map of the course that shows elevation changes, points of interest along the way, and an in-depth look around Start Village on Staten Island.

For actual participants, on the streets of New York City or elsewhere, technology will not reduce pain. However virtual participants have many new bells and whistles.

Ms. Price said a favorite feature from last year was the use of augmented reality so that finishers could take selfies with a virtual medal. The feature remains in place this year with several new AR elements, including audio cues at various points during the race.

“If someone is starting out in their hometown, they may hear cheers and the sound of a start cannon coming from Staten Island,” she says. As runners reach various mile markers, they can hear words of encouragement and insight from race organizers.

Nearly 500,000 people downloaded the TCS Marathon app in 2019.

TCS, part of the Indian multinational conglomerate Tata Group, has been the title sponsor of the marathon since 2014. It recently renewed its partnership with the New York Road Runners, the non-profit group that organizes the New York City Marathon by 2029.

Isabelle Bousquette [email protected] . Feather

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