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Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011
Ganbaru gadgets: one man, four iPhones and a lot of fun
By MIO YAMADA
In 2009, Joseph Tame, then a 31-year-old new media producer, decided to share his quarter Tokyo Marathon run with friends by strapping an iPhone to his head and Ustreaming his every step. A funny idea; especially considering that he wasn't a particularly experienced runner, and that after only 5 km, he was ready to quit. But by then, he had amassed more than 1,000 online supporters, and Tame knew he couldn't disappoint. To the delight of his viewers, he kept on going and finished the 10 km in just under an hour.
"It was entertaining for the people who tuned in," he says, explaining how he felt during that run, "and it was motivation for me."
During a recent interview on Skype, Tame, an avid tweeter and blogger, sends images and links over chat to illustrate his points. He appears keen to showcase the many possibilities of emerging technology and promotes innovations such as Ustream, GPS tracking and iPhone apps, all of which he says can make running more fun.
When he upped the ante in 2010 by going for the full marathon, he stuck an iPhone between a pair of sparkly bunny ears and live broadcasted his whereabouts using the phone's GPS tracker. He filmed and tweeted as he ran and listened to others' tweets read out to him by an iPhone app. A support group of friends recorded his progress on other iPhones and the footage was rebroadcast from a makeshift studio in a tiny hotel room near the finish line.
His head gear fell apart after the first 5 km, but he kept on running, bunny ears still in place and iPhone in hand — and the reaction to his live stream was remarkable.
"Thanks to Twitter and a few influential tweeters, it kind of went viral," he says. "By the end of the race, we had 13,000 people tune in. It was totally unexpected because we had no publicity."
The question is, now that he's been lucky enough to get a place in the 2011 Tokyo Marathon: How will Tame top that?
"There's been lots of changes," Tame says. Now there are four iPhones, all attached to a Dr. Who-like contraption consisting of two camera holders that are strapped together and wrapped around his chest, circled by blue and red tubing. On his head sits a small, blue dome pointed at the sky.
"Of course, it's a live-streaming gig, so you need a satellite dish," he says before pausing a beat. "Actually, it's a bird-feed bowl from a DIY store in the U.K."
Bird dishes aside, his getup is primed to offer a virtual marathon for everyone. Two of the iPhones will be filming, the others will track his GPS route and pace, receive a feed from a heart monitor and keep him updated on his progress — all the information will be visible online. He will also be "a mobile weather station," sending live data picked up by several environmental sensors. Plus, he adds, "There might be an iPad, too."
And who's footing the bill?
"I've got no financial sponsors but I do have lots of 'in kind' sponsors," Tame says. "Focal Point, an import company specializing in Apple parts, is supplying the Ustream studio; Nike Japan have provided all my clothing, and Wahoo Fitness, the heart monitor."
His quirky idea has intrigued others, too, including Runkeeper, whose iPhone app he used for his marathon-training "Art of Running" project, which involves drawing images onto Google maps using the app's integration with GPS tracking. As expected, these "artworks" reveal a sense of humor. His latest drawing, a slightly wonky version of Hello Kitty, is a 45-km GPS-tracked run, overlaid on a map of Shinjuku.
"I estimated she would be around 35 km," he says. "But when I did this run two days ago, she turned out to be 45!"
It took him more than three hours to plan, and the run, which entailed him persuading construction workers into letting him pass a blocked road "to complete the right eye," took five hours. "I never thought I would say this about her," jokes Tame, "but that Hello Kitty was a bitch."
Running, for Tame, is clearly about having fun and engaging others. He only started running because a friend suggested it might be a good way to meet up once a week to catch up, and he's not ashamed to admit that it can be a struggle. "But Japanese love the idea of struggle, of ganbaru," he says. So inviting everyone to watch him run, pant or keel over in exhaustion, could be better than watching the marathon on TV. "When I collapse on the ground, you'll actually be able to see my heart stop . . . live," he says laughing. "Which I am sure will be great drama."
To watch, tweet, track and sponsor Joseph Tame during the 2011 marathon, visit tm2011.com.