By David Melody
Fusion Adventure Races, a leading organizer of adventure trail races in Trinidad and Tobago, saw their business model upended along with so many others as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. They started 2020 with plans to offer races in Tobago and St. Lucia. Those plans changed once the breadth of the pandemic became known. Races rely on large gatherings of people and have therefore come to a halt across the world. We’ve seen many racing companies offer virtual options, and for many this works well as a temporary substitute for in-person races, but it hasn’t fully replaced the live events that runners love.
When it became obvious that the events that Fusion had planned to hold in 2020 would need to be cancelled, the team had to pivot to something new. They developed a new type of virtual event that connects runners to each other. To do so they have partnered with Smart Results, a technology that enables runners to compete while not running at the same time.
This event is called the Fusion Virtual 7 Series. This is a series event in which the Fusion Adventure team organizes a trail challenge every month for seven consecutive months, starting in November of 2020. The courses grow to become longer and harder over the series, culminating in a 13k race over difficult terrain. Holding a series of races over a designated period of time is what makes this series different from other virtual options. Having a defined route, and using complementing technology can foster an environment of healthy competition for the running community. The Fusion team marks the routes and communicates course signage and photos to the participants. Requiring participation on a defined course connects everyone together even if they cannot run the course at the same time.
The Fusion team had no difficulty adapting to a virtual series of events. They scouted new routes, prepared them with the use of brush cutters, cutlasses and air blowers to provide a pristine and safe course for participants. Additionally, they found ways to mark and monitor routes so that they would stay marked for an entire month. They also had to plot out the series of trails and distances to ensure that the missions became more challenging and exciting every month.
This series has brought about several benefits to the area. Participants have found themselves exploring trails that they may not have visited before or even knew existed. Competitors get the opportunity to see flora and fauna in new locations across the country and they can learn about other runners’ favourite routes. Similarly, an unforeseen benefit of the series is that runners participating in some legs of the event have reported being joined by trail hikers or runners that didn’t know about the series event, but wanted to give the route a try when they saw people enjoying themselves. That allows for an expansion of the team aspect of the series and will bring more people into the trail running community.
This expansion of the community also brings more attention to the charitable goals of the Fusion Adventure team, as each mission per month focuses on several causes providing persons with information and increasing awareness. The causes in the series so far are Hospice, Epilepsy, Toys for Tots, Blood Donors, Glaucoma and Cancer Prevention.
Making this happen requires technology that enables competition across the dimension of time. All runners sign up for the series online using RaceRoster.com. Each runner needs to have a device enabled with GPS and the Strava application; this application records the user’s activity which they can post and share with others. Participants are required to join the Fusion Adventure Strava group in which the mapped course for a particular mission month will be posted for members to access. Details of the course are emailed to participants who are required to record and post their efforts on each mission. Strava has the route designated as a segment within the application, so that runners taking on the challenge will have their runs automatically mapped to the course. The series organizers then use a tool called Smart Results to aggregate the runs from Strava and turn them into packaged results. Results are initially communicated via an email to all participants that contains a link to the Smart Results dashboard, with weekly interim results and monthly final results available to everyone. Runners can log in, see where they stand amongst the pack, and decide if they want to give the route another attempt to move up in the rankings before the end of each month.
Smart Results is developed by local company Tabular Analytics, an innovative team of technical creatives who believe that a smart approach to data and visualization could give runners the information they need to gauge performance, optimize training, and improve their results on the next leg of a series.
With Smart Results runners can measure improvements against matched competitors and other runners, track their performance across races and different conditions, visualize runners who they passed or were passed by in the series or just prove to themselves and their virtual spectators that their training is working.
The Smart Results Business Intelligence App is a fascinating tool. The display of data, the visual representation of the field, and the ability to customize the data to look at your specific results as compared to a group or another individual are clear differentiators of the dashboard’s value. The tool brings several new data points to the forefront. The Smart Results technology aggregates not only the results of each stage of the series, but also allows for comparison across all of the stages. This interesting way to look at a series of courses provides insight into the improvements made by each runner. This allows the organizers to create new Winner categories such as “Most Improved” which is calculated by comparing the pace each runner achieved against their pace in previous legs. There is also “The Breakthrough” winner title. This category calculates the shift in rank compared to where a runner had finished in previous legs of the series.
The Smart Results application also lets a runner see who they passed on the route. The site visually plots the entire field of runners on a panel, with a color-coding system that shows everyone they passed, as well as everyone they were passed by. Runners can also select a specific competitor and view their results side by side against their own. This is a huge innovation for virtual races. With the Smart Results package, a runner is able to see that they passed their rival, even though they may have conducted the race days or weeks apart.
The Fusion Virtual 7 Series has seen four stages take place so far: Alpha aka Seahorse in November, Breezy in December, Paragrant aka Stingray in January and Chanolo in February; Covigne is currently underway in March.
Mission Chanolo took competitors on a 13 km loop from the top of Lady Chancellor Hill to the top of Mount Hololo via road and back to Chancellor via forest. A total of 303 people participated in this leg of the challenge over the month of February. The average pace per mile across all participants was 17:24 minutes, which was an improvement of more than four minutes and 48 seconds per mile from the December stage held at Paragrant. The winners of the race were Christopher Mitchell who led the men’s field with a time of 1:12:42 and Patricia Sorias who captured the women’s title at 1:32:22.
Marcia McDonald-Howard was the Most Improved female in February’s Chanolo leg. She finished in 4:48:13 at a pace of 32:13 per mile. At Paragrant, Marcia came in at 4:23:32 at a pace of 51:47. This improvement of over twenty minutes is what set Marcia apart, thanks to the Smart Results dashboard. Shane Mohammed was the Most Improved male in February’s Chanolo leg. He finished in 2:52:19 at a pace of 19:15 per mile. When comparing this to his result at Paragrant, where he came in at 4:09:56 at a pace of 49:07, it is easy to see why he’s the leader in the Most Improved category.
The Breakthrough winner category goes to the person who moved up the most in rank as compared to the previous leg of the series. The male Breakthrough winner is Daron Maynard. His rank at Chanolo was 35th of 175 in the men’s field. Daron’s rank at Paragrant was much further back, he was 187th of 197 for men. Michelle Bissoondial is the Breakthrough women’s athlete by jumping into the 39th ranked spot, from 113th in the previous race Paragrant
The Covigne leg underway is just past the midway point of the race series. After March there are still two more events in the series culminating in its challenging conclusion in May. The technology enabling this series is allowing runners all over the country to connect with each other and foster the spirit of community through competition, motivation, and camaraderie. That is what lies at the heart of every in-person event, and what was missing from so many virtual offerings. The Fusion Virtual 7 Series, together with Smart Results, are helping bring something as beloved as live events back to normal.
Smart Results is available to local race organizers, visit tabularanalytics.com to add Smart Results technology to your event.