Craig Alexander won the Ironman World Championship in Kona three times — in 2008, 2009 and 2011 — and still holds the course record (8:03:56). Now at 43, the Aussie triathlete hasn’t competed in the Hawaiian race for several years, yet he remains deeply involved in the sport. At the 2016 event, on October 8, Alexander showed off the recently launched Oakley Radar Pace, a pair of Bluetooth-enabled pair of sport sunglasses that he (along with several other high-level coaches and athletes), Oakley and Intel created.
The Radar Pace sunglasses, with their removable earbuds and companion app, work as a voice-activated coaching system. Each pair tracks runners’ and cyclists’ workouts and gives them immediate coaching advice, like “Your cadence is too low, try switching to a lower gear,” to help them achieve fitness goals. It can also be paired with, and pull data from, any Bluetooth-connected fitness tracker, whether that’s your Garmin heart-rate monitor strap ($60), PowerTap power meter pedals or Apple Watch. Alexander said there’s nothing else like it.
Q: When did you get involved with Oakley Radar Pace?
It was about 12 months ago. I think it was in Kona last year when they told me. At that point it wasn’t ideal; they had done some work on it. What were my thoughts? I thought it was valuable. There’s a lot of instruments and things that can collect data, but there’s nothing in that space of actually interpreting it and coaching — it’s empty. Nothing is interpreting and giving you feedback.
Q: What kind of feedback did you give them?
I think the main thing that I was trying to impress on [the Oakley and Intel guys] who wanted feedback was: It’s not a one-size-fits-all with training. You can read the theory of physiology and you can have two males of the same age and weight, but their metabolisms and their physiologies are going to be different — so [the Radar Pace] had to be that flexible and dynamic for all those different parameters. And people within a training program adapt differently. Some people respond to more volume, some to more intensity, rates of adaptation and fitness progression are different. It is really that individualized.
That’s where the genius of [the Oakley Radar Pace] is. The fact that it’s so fluid; it not only assesses what your goals are — it’s very goal orientated — but it’s factoring in your progression and changing those zones along the way. I mean, that is the essence of coaching. It’s adapting every day to the program, the environment and the athlete.
Q: How is it different from other wearables? Other than being sunglasses.
The massive point of differentiation is it gives you real-time feedback in a dynamic way. There’s lots of wearable tech that gives you data. But normally you’d have to go home and upload it and interpret yourself or send it off to a coach. This works in a dynamic way, so you’re getting the feedback during the session. With the athletes you coach, if you’re at the track you’re giving them feedback on technique, pacing, what the KPIs are of the session — that’s what this does in real time. It’s the only thing that does that.
Q: What problems does this solve, in terms of coaching?
With coaching there is a multitude of problems. If somebody gets sick, what then happens to the program? Do you stop it dead? What if somebody has to take a day off because of work? This is the first thing that really factors in your own physiological parameters, and the basic ones to start with (height, weight, age), it then collects your data and dynamically readjusts the program in your training zones as your fitness changes, and then gives you real-time voice-activated feedback.
Q: Talk about the role of technology in your sport?
It’s been really in the last three or four years that you’ve seen technology — useful technology — that we’ve learned how to use. I think technology is always ahead of the game. These ideas and new gadgets come in, and it takes the early adopters and people at the forefront of the sport a while to work out, “How is this useful?”
According to Craig Alexander, the key to the Radar Pace is “getting feedback in real time during a session so you can change something and actually make a difference.” Photo by Oakley.
I remember when I started training with power on the bike, maybe 10 years ago, people were still formulating training protocols and working out the best way to use power in your training program. And now we’re a decade in, and I think it’s pretty well defined and streamlined. Running with power is now the big thing, or one of the big things coming in. Where this is different is, it makes use of all those other technologies, works in with them and gathers their data and interprets. You can pair this with a run-powered foot pod, heart-rate monitor or your bike.
Q: How has the Radar Pace improved your training?
Massively. I was self-coached, so I learned to do it a lot on feel. It wasn’t really until I stepped up and started doing the longer-distance races that I actually started training with power, and I used a little bit of heart rate as well. But I think when you’re training for a long race — where it really would have helped me was making each session more accountable and more specific. It would have streamlined my whole training program. There would have been no wasted sessions, and I think I could have structured things a lot better. Each session would’ve had a specific purpose, specific KPIs.
The best athletes at any level, whether they’re world champions or beginners, they learn to read the cues from their own bodies. And you need to learn to use that in conjunction with all these technologies. You don’t want to be so reliant on the technology, but there is no question that technology will save you time and will make you much more specific. Just being able to write a session where you can account for every second — I didn’t have much of that early in the career, and there was probably a lot of wasted time. In this day and age, time is a big issue: being able to get the bang for your buck.
Q: Going forward, how can the Radar Pace improve?
We’re at a point now with Radar Pace where I think, from the tech aspect, it’s functioning and it’s totally useful. But speaking to the [Oakley and Intel] guys yesterday, there are so many different uses [it could have]. It’s a platform that could really add value in a lot of different areas. One thing I was always mindful of was — particularly coming here to train and race — weather conditions, and how they impacted performance. There’s potential here to import real-time weather, three minutes before. I used to structure my training out here around the weather, knowing which way the wind was coming and what the heat and humidity were. That would add huge value.
There’s scope here to do a lot of things, not only with building fitness but with technique. As you can imagine, a marathon is not about speeding up, it’s about not slowing down. It’s about holding form and efficiency, and a lot of those things are mental cues or changing technique, and giving the athlete something to think about. And that sort of feedback is important. With running, your body can go anywhere you let it, and it’s not as easy to hold your technique. And I think that is where this can help: Getting feedback in real time during a session so you can change something and actually make a difference.
Up Next: An Overview of the Oakley Radar Pace
Highly advanced fitness tracking, all in a streamlined ecosystem of hardware and software. Read the Story