sports & fitness
Albara Alohali combined self-collected data and storytelling to help himself meet a personal challenge: running a marathon every month.
Nike app | Periscope
Learning to Run a Marathon a MonthI’m from Saudi Arabia and I’ve lived most of my life there. I studied there, and part of the character of who I am today is from what a lot I’ve input throughout that environment. But one of them was running you know, from my surprising as well. Because the culture there is not too much of a running culture. It’s hot, really hot outside.
Also, it’s conveniently designed, the urban design is all for people who would drive. If you want to go from A to Be, there’s pretty much not public transportation because gas is cheap. Air-conditioned cars are everywhere. So yeah, running was not that much.
So I’ll get to that. This is part of the challenge, a marathon a month thing we’ll get to it later. But more of what I’m going to be talking about today is the story of how I got hooked into running, because this is me six years ago and definitely not in the shape of a runner.
During that time, I was experimenting with a lot of things that I want to collect as data but running was not one of them. And definitely being in a better shape was not motivation at the beginning. It was just the curiosity that I want to try this app.
I felt that there’s an app that can quantify how much running I can do, or walking a that time using the wristband, the Fuel band at that time. And this is the first log run that I had. It’s not the 20th of April 2012, two days before my birthday before turning 25, but yeah, it was really difficult. And I was putting all of my effort in just to see you know, to prove to myself how much I can do, and this is it. I couldn’t go more than that.
And yeah, I was about to believe the app that this is hard, running is not for me definitely and so yeah. A few days later this notification came in like, are you running today or not, and I tried again, and I saw the number increasing like, ‘Wow’, so there’s definitely an improvement and this was the first thing that I start to get it. When you have the data that gives you an indication of improvement that’s when you get the motivation to ‘let me try one more time and see where it can go’ or see what I can improve or what can I change.
But this is all what most of us were talking about today is watching data, watching improvement and then go on. And again, this is not what I’m going to be talking about today. Mostly, it’s about the second part that really got me into running and made it a habit that I’m doing the challenge that I’m doing this year which is storytelling.
Storytelling was the synergic partner with data that helped me to get hooked to what I’m doing right now. And this is one of the first stories that not the first story. But the form of the early stories that I started to do is, every time I go out for a run, I’ll just take what I call a ‘shelfie’, which is a shoe selfie down. And it will capture all the story into one picture that shows what day it was, and you can tell qualitatively there’s no data like what the microsecond of the day was. But you can say, this is daytime in New York City, 13 kilometers and this is the path that I took that day.
And since I like to travel a lot and every time I travel my best and favorite vehicle to explore the town or city or neighborhood is just to go out and run and take that story and share it.
So these are the early ones and they go for like a hundred and something posts of these on Instagram. My early Instagram posts were all like these and that’s what got me excited. As a storyteller, as a human who likes to tell stories and as humans, we all like to tell and consume stories as well, that was my hook to pair with why I want to go out and run.
And then of course, all the byproducts of you know, getting in shape, improving your performance and all the dopamine and all of these things, you know, we can go on and on and talk about. But that was a major thing that got me hooked at the beginning.
I tried to experiment with other apps that tells stories. The gyroscope app, it was working well but again it works well for once or twice and then the variety that I had before was not there, so I need to think about different ways to tell stories that also got me motivated.
So afterward, Snapchat got a little bit bigger into my logging and blogging and storytelling in practice. These were the form of stories I used to do. Every morning I’d go for a run. I would take my phone with me just to capture a few shots of me running out there.
In 2016, I was doing my masters in Japan at Keio University, and part of the study I was doing media design and I decided to do something about what I’m doing every day. And with a lot of brainstorming, I convinced in a way my professors to focus on design experiences. And I really wanted to solve a problem that I have is how can I be a better storyteller/runner at the same time.
And the tools definitely are limiting. I mean having just a phone to film all this you know, you’ve seen these. They’re not super pleasant to watch. I mean I could be engaged for a few seconds but again these are designed for a quick Snapchat and you just skip them on. But how can I design really better engaging. Like I wouldn’t be sitting for half an hour or an hour just to watch that athlete or that runner, or that hiker or that cyclist doing what they’re doing.
So just simple PVC pipes and trying to mount that camera on my back. I use two cameras, two different cameras. I use the Ricoh Theta 360 360 to capture 360 spherical shots. And I also use the Go Pro with a gimble to reduce that shot because that was really, really challenging to have stable shots when you’re running or cycling or even walking.
These are a few prototypes and a quick you know, idea to just get how the stories were conveyed during the experiment. And it’s a long discussion and the paper as well that I wrote about it.
But I learned from that, that if you engage people, if you’re able to engage people into whatever activity you’re doing, and it can be about doing running and cycling, people will definitely want to try what you’re doing. So many of the feedbacks that I got, the surveys that I was handing out. People were really excited that we want to try to run that at a place we’re running or we want to try to cycle that path you’re doing and so on and so forth.
I also experimented with live broadcasting, the runs and cycling that I was doing, and that was the feedback. Most of the flowers were in Saudi and excited like, we don’t know what you’re doing, but we definitely want to try that.
And yeah, finally just to conclude that’s the extreme that I went to, and still it’s not convenient and I’m still trying to think about ways because this is what makes me engaged in the thing I’m doing and turn it into a habit. I’m trying to think about how to turn storytelling into different mediums as well and the things that I track.
Now all of my running is back to basics in a way, and this is something that I kept shifting. With many things that I’m tracking is go extreme and then go back to the other extreme sometimes and try to find that nice middle thing.
So right now, I track these on Strava. But I also use my journal wherever I go to write with a pen and paper, how do I fell about the run, and how much do I run and what’s my pace, and all this data. That just try to write them to get more mindfulness and also to get these qualitative data out. This is my story with storytelling and running and open if you have any questions.