Running Tech Buzz: Motigo In-Race Cheering App

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Struggling during a race? A new app allows for in-race cheering from your family and friends.

You sign up for a marathon, log plenty of high-mileage training weeks and you get to the starting line. But what happens when you start to struggle or hit the wall at mile 20 and need support from a friend, spouse or training partner?

Believe it or not, there’s an app for that.

Wearable technology is all the rage this year in running, and new gadgets, new apps and new forms of web interactivity are popping up all the time. One of the coolest new apps is called Motigo, a new iPhone app that allows your friends, family members, training group partners or a coach to send personalized motivational messages to you at specific points during a race (if you’re running with music or at least wearing ear buds).

How does it work? It’s pretty simple: Download the free app, find your race in the list of thousands of events and simply alert your friends and family that you’re racing and that you need their support. If they’re willing to download the app and record a fun, inspirational or perhaps snarky message or two, you’ll get a bit of motivational vibe piped into your ears during your run. (Anyone who downloads the app get one free “cheer,” but additional cheers can be purchased for $1.99 apiece or five for $7.99.)

“Before a race, you can look at your phone and see that you have cheers, but you won’t know who they’re from or when they’re coming,” says Dan Nagler, a Denver runner who created the app with his wife, Celeste Lo. “The idea is that you get an awesome surprise from someone that gives you a motivational boost.”

During the race, the music volume automatically lowers and a message plays. The app works concurrently with other run-tracking apps like Nike+, Strava and Map My Run. (An Android version of the app is in development and is expected to be ready this spring.)

“Motivation is such a huge part of finishing a race for a lot of people, enduring through mental barriers,” Lo says. “We really feel like we’re offering an emotional fuel for people. Running is hard for a lot of people. It’s hard on the body, it’s hard emotionally, and having this kind of personal support during the race can be a big help.”

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A few other run-tracking apps allow for some sort of cheering function, including Race Joy and Runtastic. However, those are both live-tracking apps that require real-time monitoring of a runner and neither offer an option for personalized messaging. The Nike+ run-tracking app offers pre-recorded, non-personalized cheers from select Nike athletes.

With the Motigo app, messages are scheduled to play during a certain point of the race—for example, mile 20. But if you’re a spectator cheering from the side of the road at mile 20, additional encouraging messages can be sent after your runner passes. (The app can also be customized for a virtual event or even a training run.) The messages played during the race can be archived and listened to later.

The idea for Motigo actually came up during a race. Last January, Nagler was running the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon with a friend in Phoenix when it dawned on him there was a disconnect between the many people were on the side of the road anonymously cheering for runners and the runners, like him, who were struggling in the race.

“I started to look around and thought, ‘Wow, everyone is running with phones, everyone is running with ear buds and there were people lining the streets, which was really cool, even little girls giving high-fives,” Nagler says. “But there was no one cheering for me and no one specifically that I cared about. My friends and family are mostly in New York, San Francisco or Denver and none of them were there to do it with me.

“By mile 18, I would have loved to have heard from Celeste, just encouraging me, motivating me and cheering me on because it was hard,” Nagler says. “I really wish I could have heard from Celeste, but I didn’t want to talk on the phone at that point. My thought was that it would be cool to have something play in my ears automatically while I was listening to music.”

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Last spring, Nagler and Lo did some background work and research, interviewed lots of runners and by July had a working beta version of the app that they tested with runners at four races in the summer and fall. Motigo is currently in the middle of an Indiegogo online fundraising campaign, but version 1.4 was released on Jan. 27.

“The overall response was heartwarming,” Lo says. “We’ve seen people get goosebumps or literally start to tear up when we explain what the app does.

“It’s a huge thing for runners. It taps into your memory and also leaves a lasting impression that you had this huge race that you were so scared to run, but you had your support—your friends and family—right there with you the whole time.”

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