Running marathons can be a lonely business. Sure, there are stretches where the road is lined with cheering spectators, but there are also rural sections where the athlete is alone and perhaps less motivated. That's why scientists from Britain's Lancaster University have developed a digital baton that allows remotely-located people to electronically cheer the runner on.

Developed by a team led by Dr. Franco Curmi, the baton incorporates sensors that track the athlete's location, running speed and distance travelled. This information is displayed on a webpage, which can also include a live map that indicates upcoming hill-climbs or other challenges.

Should viewers of that page wish to offer some encouragement, they just click on an onscreen "cheer" button. This will cause the baton to vibrate and call out the name of the person doing the cheering, so that the runner will feel and hear it.

The device was recently tested by Lancaster University's Running Club, on a 170-mile (274-km) run in which 13 athletes took turns running 5-mile (8-km) legs – part of which were on isolated moors. A total of 261 spectators submitted 3,153 cheers, although limitations in mobile network coverage resulted in 12 live data drops.

In any case, the runners did reportedly find the cheers to be motivating.

The researchers are now looking at further miniaturizing the technology (so it could take the form of something other than a handheld baton), and possibly even adding features such as live video broadcasting.

"We clearly observe that the awareness of remote crowd-following is most relevant when the athlete is feeling lonely, rather than in contexts where the athlete has a crowd of cheering spectators along the course," says Curmi. "This promises most relevance in sporting contexts such as fell (hill) running, long-distance cycling or ultra-marathons."

Source: Lancaster University