When Tim Peake blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in December 2015, he became the first official British astronaut. On 24 April 2016, as 38,000 people lined up on the streets of London, Peake was aiming for another first — becoming the first man to participate in the London Marathon in space.
Wearing a replica of the Russian Sokol space suit, Tim Peake ran the famous 26-mile (42 kilometre) race while circling the Earth at 17,900 miles per hour (28,800 km/h), 250 miles up aboard the International Space Station. He set a new world record (or should that be ‘off world record’?) in the process.
“Guinness World Records can confirm that ESA Astronaut Tim Peake has achieved a brand new Guinness World Records title for the Fastest marathon in orbit,” announced guinnessworldrecords.com, “running the Digital Virgin Money London Marathon 400km above earth on-board the International Space Station in 3:35.21.”
To make his participation possible, Peake was tethered to a treadmill and followed a high-definition, virtual reality route through the streets of London, courtesy of technology developed by London Marathon Events and RunSocial.
A special avatar showed Peake running the route in his Sokol flight suit, and many of the 240,000 plus people who registered to enter the race joined him via the Digital Virgin Money London Marathon feature on the RunSocial app.
RunSocial says: “The course was filmed in HD video during the 2013 and 2014 Virgin Money London Marathons and has been converted into an interactive ‘mixed reality’ video, which runners watch as they run on a treadmill. The video playback matches the running speed and runners can also see, and run with, virtual reality avatars of runners from around the world who are also using the download.”
According to his official Principia blog, Peake’s run went “went better than expected.”
“I was able to compare my progress to the live event since I had the RunSocial app giving me an excellent view of streets of London as I would see them if I were running the real marathon,” he said.
The rise of the digital marathon
While long distance running is in itself a basic, non-tech intensive task that focuses on stamina and mental strength, technology has significantly changed the way spectators experience the event as well as how athletes train and participate.
Out on the streets of London there was a sea of technology — from music players through to GPS trackers. The elite field, meanwhile, utilised some of the most advanced sporting tools currently available.
These included compression tights with state-of-the-art temperature management and engineered gradient systems to enhance the blood flow and reduce lactic acid build-up.
Some athletes wore ultra-lightweight running shoes developed by sporting giants such as adidas and Nike. Made from materials such as thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), these have been engineered to provide flexibility and comfort by incorporating full-length ventilation systems, welded overlays and torsion control.
Wearables (like the Basis Peak) and mobile were also widely used, monitoring everything from steps taken, to heart-rates and calories burnt in real-time. This information not only helps to aid preparation but elite athletes can use the data to tweak their strategies during the race.
Going forward, the Intel Curie module is expected to play a critical role in sports, as the tiny module will allow manufacturers to create smart clothing and will enhance the viewing experience by providing broadcasters with access to never-before-seen information.
How technology connects spectators
Over 800,000 spectators were expected to take to the streets of London and many millions more watched the race around the world. It was imperative that the race organisers provided them with a connected experience.
So during the 2016 event, spectators were able to follow their favourite runners though the official London Marathon App. This automatically tracked participants as they crossed the start line and updated their position at every subsequent 5km interval. This was enabled via IPICO RFID sports tags placed on an athlete’s trainers, allowing the organisers to time each runner individually with ease.
The integration of this system with a mobile app not only provided spectators with the opportunity to track a runner’s time, but it could also predict where they were on the course based on their pace.
Ultimately, the 2016 London Marathon ended with Kenya’s Eluid Kipchoge winning the men’s race, missing the world record by only eight seconds. Kipchoge’s compatriot Jemima Sumgong took first place in the women’s race, despite falling and hitting her head on the road.
But it’s surely Peake’s new world record that will take some beating.