Like the workplace, the New York City Marathon has gone hybrid. For this first time this year, spectators will be able to track both virtual and in-person runners through an app developed by race sponsor
The race has welcomed virtual participants since 2018, and last year, when the in-person race was canceled due to Covid-19, spectators were able to track virtual participants.
With the in-person event returning Sunday morning, app users can follow runners physically on the course on a live map as they slog through the city’s five boroughs. Virtual runners, who can complete the 26.2 miles anywhere in the world during a two-week span leading up to the marathon, appear on the same map at progress points equivalent to the NYC event. For example, virtual runners who are between miles 16 and 18 of their race, will appear on the marathon map running up First Avenue in Manhattan. Virtual runners also can give two users access to track their actual physical locations for safety purposes.
The new app comes as the marathon looks to make a comeback after the pandemic shut down live events around the world in 2020.
“As a technology company, we are very much concerned about the experience that the runners get,” said
chairman of North America for TCS.
Mr. Kant, a runner for the past 10 years, 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 the race on Sunday.
Ongoing Covid-19 concerns limit in-person participation for Sunday’s event to some 30,000 runners. In 2019, 54,205 participated. Ten thousand virtual runners also are expected for this year’s event.
“This year, the big problem was how do we unite both the virtual experience and the in-person racing experience under one hybrid platform,” said Haley Price, the head of sports sponsorships in North America for TCS.
Mumbai-based TCS Interactive developed the app, including the proprietary algorithm designed to track the in-person runners. Live data is fed to the app from radio-frequency identification, or RFID, chips in runners’ bibs as they pass sensors embedded along the course. The algorithm also predicts runners’ finish times.
Virtual runners are tracked via the Global Positioning System, or GPS, in their phones.
The app’s other new features 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 the start village on Staten Island.
For the actual participants, on New York City’s streets or elsewhere, the technology likely won’t lessen the pain. Although virtual participants have access to several new bells and whistles.
Ms. Price said a favorite feature from last year used augmented reality to allow finishers to take a selfie with a virtual medal. That feature remains this year along with a host of new AR elements, including audio cues at different points during the race.
“If someone’s starting in their hometown, they can hear the sounds of cheering and the start cannon from Staten Island,” she says. As runners reach various mile markers, they can hear words of encouragement and insights from the race’s organizers.
Nearly 500,000 people downloaded the TCS marathon app in 2019.
TCS, part of Indian multinational conglomerate Tata Group, has been the marathon’s title sponsor since 2014. It recently renewed its partnership with New York Road Runners, the nonprofit group that organizes the New York City Marathon, until 2029.
Write to Isabelle Bousquette at [email protected]
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