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Tool helps runners to choose from numerous apps


by: Leo Aquina | 3 February 2022

Almost all people who start out to run use an app. But what’s the use? That question led to the post-graduate research carried out by Human Movement Scientist Mark Janssen. Last week he successfully defended his dissertation ‘Understanding recreational runners’ motives and behaviour to support the design of running-related technology’. “There is a gap between what current technology offers, and the wishes and needs of runners’, the young PhD recipient explained. His research produced a tool that helps runners to select from the numerous apps on offer the app that matches their needs, and an e-coach app that offers support based on personalised training sessions.

‘Originally I am a PE teacher’, Mark Janssen explains his passion for sport. ‘After graduating from Fontys Sporthogeschool I did a master’s in human movement sciences in Amsterdam. I then returned to Fontys, initially as a teacher, and as from 2013 as a teacher-researcher within Move to Be. This lectorate is the bridge between the knowledge of sport and movement, and the practical applications.’ The study of runners started at the Eindhoven marathon. Janssen: ‘The scope was very broad. We did surveys, asking people why they had started running, what type of clothing and shoes they used, how they prepared for the event, and also what technological aids they used.’
Apps cannot do yet what is possible
The research into technological aids in particular triggered Janssen: ‘We saw that the apps could not and did not do as much as we thought was possible. At the time most apps could monitor and the really good ones offered a standard training plan. That went against the principles I taught my students when talking about training theories. Training plans must be personalised, and the apps could not provide that.’

Janssen applied for a NWO post-graduate grant for teachers, and started his research at Eindhoven Technical University in cooperation with Fontys Sporthogeschool. With his research he wanted to bridge the gap between this technology and practical applications. He focused on beginning runners, also because that is when most people quit. ‘If the apps would match their needs better, they could contribute to more sustained and responsible training, especially for that group of runners’, Janssen says.

‘In designing running technology you have to consider different types of recreational runners’

His dissertation focused on two questions: 1. What are the motives and behaviour of recreational runners in relation to the use of running-related technology? And 2. How to design running-related technology that ties in with the motives and behaviour of recreational runners? In reply to the first question he demonstrated that recreational runners are a heterogeneous and diverse group when it comes to background, behaviour and motivation. Janssen: ‘That diversity also makes a difference in how they use technology, how they use the information gained by that technology, how likely they are to quit running and how they experience their surroundings. That’s why in designing running technology you have to consider different types of recreational runners.’


In search of an answer to the first question, Janssen and his colleagues of the practice-oriented lectorate Move to Be developed the first design within his thesis: a tool for beginning runners. ‘In the App store you can find thousands of apps for runners. How do you know which one is right for you? Our research showed that people usually pick the one ranked highest without checking its strengths. That is why we developed a screening tool that awards scores to the different apps for different qualities. What can be monitored? Can you enter goals in the app? Does the app allow sharing on social media? We incorporated everything into a decision tool. Beginning runners can ask a few simple questions and the tool helps them pick the right app. It makes it much easier to find the app that suits their specific needs.’

‘it would be great if every beginning runner had a personal trainer but that is a utopian dream. That is why we developed the Inspirun e-coach’


Personal trainer
Injuries and loss of motivation are the main reasons why so many beginning runners give up. This was the precise reason why Janssen made his second design. ‘It would be great if every beginning runner had a personal trainer, but that is a utopian dream. That is why we developed the Inspirun e-coach. The app personalises the training based on the input provided by running speed, heart rate and the runner’s intensity feeling. The beginning runners score the intensity of their training, and in combination with the other variables the app then designs the next personal training. The first training sessions are used to monitor someone’s possibilities, and the algorithms then create an ever-improving personalized follow-up training.’

‘A major provider like Runkeeper has millions of users, we cannot simply rival that’

Product for the market
Janssen and his team have not yet developed the Inspirun e-coach into a consumer product. ‘I work for a knowledge and education institution. To really take this to the market you need a commercial party. A major provider like Runkeeper has millions of users, we cannot simply rival that. We show first of all the possibilities. At this point major providers of running apps are still ahead with the personalisation of training plans, but we believe there is much more possible. The technology we have developed is freely available, so they are welcome to use it.’

For more information: download here Mark Janssen’s dissertation. Click here for Mark Janssen’s LinkedIn’s profile

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