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AI and Running: the Future of the Sport

Running is probably one of the last things we expect to be impacted by the development of AI, or artificial intelligence. However, AI and running have already been seen to go hand-in-hand in a number of ways. From using AI to create training plans, provide coaching and performance predictions, it is apparent that AI has the potential to greatly change the sport.

This article is written by Danny Convery, a competitive runner and writer from Scotland. Danny recently interviewed a number of experts to gain insight on the potential impact of AI on running. Here is what he learned.

What does AI mean for the future of Running?

Throughout the history of competitive running, new technology has been at the forefront of faster times and enthralling races.

Every decade or two, something big comes along and changes the landscape of both racing and training. Whether it has been the adoption of GPS watches or even carbon plated shoes, running is a sport that has always thrived on technological advancements.

The current developments of AI have already been changing the world as we know it – but what does AI mean for the future of Running?

I have been asking experts in a variety of fields what AI means for running, and have come to some interesting conclusions.

AI and running have already begun to work together. The development and progression of AI has the potential to change the sport of running.

Understanding AI in Running

AI, or artificial intelligence, is the simulation of human intelligence by machines. This sounds useful, but not something that will change running.

However, when you consider the fact that AI can learn from itself, the possibilities are endless. This means that there is no limit to how smart AI can get and when you think about it in the context of running, that’s when it gets really exciting.

Imagine all the thinking that goes into the perfect training plan. It is a data based process based on how an athlete responds to each piece of training. Humans can do this task to a degree, but it still remains a process of trial and error. This trial and error is not ideal for the athlete’s training.

Imagine if we could get AI to perfectly judge exactly what training is optimal for an athlete, as well as use data collected from wearable trackers to perfectly recommend how much sleep, massage, food and muscle activation an athlete needed.  It could also aid in athletes kit selection and determine the best socks, clothes and even gloves for an athlete to wear for optimal performance. 

For specific recovery techniques like ice baths, AI will be able to instantly analyze real time data and recommend the perfect amount of that technique.

This would be absolutely game changing. It would take the idea of marginal gains and really push it to the limit. This could be more than just a distant fantasy. AI development is moving at an unbelievable rate and this sort of game changing tech could be just around the corner.

The Human Element in Coaching

Having AI in the arsenal for an athlete can be truly game changing – but that’s not to say that human element in coaching is not needed. Having help from a human coach is something that will always be needed. Whether it is the emotional side of training and competing, or the fact that AI can make mistakes, means human coaches are essential.

Furthermore, it is important to think about the human element in coaching not just in relation to training. Coaches are essential for keeping us on track and emotionally sound.

Imagine if your coach at your running club was replaced with a robot possessed with the mission of improving your performance. It wouldn’t work out and would lead to a decline in both enjoyment and performance. That’s why we need AI and coaches to work in tandem to get the best for the athlete.

AI and Running, According to Experts

I recently caught up with 1500m world champion Josh Kerr, and in our interview he told me about how irreplaceable a coach is. Josh explained that a training plan made with a variety of factors like enjoyment as well as performance is what yields the best results.

According to another AI expert, AI is not yet at a point of general intelligence – when AI would be able to think like a human in terms of empathy and athlete enjoyment. General intelligence is right now just a distant ambition, but it is what will be required for the creation of optimal training plans and workouts.

Will AI Turn Running Into a Pay to Win Sport?

In Running right now athletes have the option to spend thousands of dollars on GPS watches, shoes and clothes. However, this is not possible for the vast majority of runners and leads to an unlevel playing field. With the presence of any sort of resources this is inevitable, and AI is likely to make this significantly more impactful and profound.

When AI has these kind of capabilities, it will inevitably come at a cost to the athlete. It will have taken millions to develop and the big tech companies will be eager to capitalize on it. Which leaves us in a situation where athletes can not only improve their training with money, but also improve their own physical fitness and running ability.

The future landscape of AI in Running

The future for AI and running is exciting, as well as being potentially worrying. AI is not yet at a point where it can provide perfect training plans but it will inevitably get to that point. When it does, it’s possible that the record books will be completely rewritten by the select few that will have access to the best form of this revolutionary technology.  If we see AI continue to develop at this rate, the possibilities are truly limitless.

In conclusion, AI is a revolutionary tool with the power to change running in a similar way that carbon plated shoes and GPS watches did in the past. Using the power of AI, athletes and coaches will one day be able to analyze large amounts of data to strike the perfect balance between training and recovery.

Although it is not yet clear if this scenario will become reality, if it does, it will change running as we all know it.

Wednesday 13th of December 2023