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‘I like to run to feel’: embodiment and wearable mobile tracking devices in distance running

Toner, John; Allen-Collinson, Jacquelyn; Jackman, Patricia C.; Jones, Luke; Addrison, Joe


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Dr John Toner
Lecturer in Sports Coaching and Performance

Jacquelyn Allen-Collinson

Patricia C. Jackman

Luke Jones

Joe Addrison


Many experienced runners consider the use of wearable devices an important element of the training process. A key techno-utopic promise of wearables lies in the use of proprietary algorithms to identify training load errors in real-time and alert users to risks of running-related injuries. Such real-time ‘knowing’ is claimed to obviate the need for athletes’ subjective judgements by telling runners how they have deviated from a desired or optimal training load or intensity. This realist-contoured perspective is, however, at odds with sociological research indicating that users of wearables engage in active ‘data sense-making’ that is highly contextualised. To investigate how athletes use (or not) algorithmic analysis to understand, make sense of, and improve their performance in real-time, we undertook qualitative interviews with distance runners to explore lived experiences of running with wearables. The runners described how they actively interpreted data from wearables, drawing on their own experience, ‘somatic knowledge’, and embodied ways of knowing. This allowed them to assess the relevance and usefulness of data in relation to their own goals, intentions, and feelings. Our findings challenge the techno-utopic promises of real-time and predictive analytics.


Toner, J., Allen-Collinson, J., Jackman, P. C., Jones, L., & Addrison, J. (2023). ‘I like to run to feel’: embodiment and wearable mobile tracking devices in distance running. Qualitative research in sport, exercise and health,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 12, 2023
Online Publication Date Jun 29, 2023
Publication Date Jan 1, 2023
Deposit Date Jun 30, 2023
Publicly Available Date Jun 30, 2023
Journal Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
Print ISSN 2159-676X
Electronic ISSN 2159-6778
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords Wearables; Self-tracking; Running; Embodiment; Phenomenology of the body
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Copyright Statement
© 2023 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (http://, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way. The terms on which this article has been published allow the posting of the Accepted Manuscript in a repository by the author(s) or with their consent.

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