3 technology lessons from the Boston Marathon

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Monday, April 18, marked the 120th anniversary of the Boston Marathon and the 50th anniversary of female participation in the iconic race. More than 30,000 runners covered 26.2 miles in one of the world’s most renowned and coveted races.

I was fortunate to spend the day and the weekend immersed in marathon activities: A Champion’s Breakfast, a pre-race Shakeout Run with Runkeeper (an IBM customer) and Team with a Vision (supporting IBM runner Erich Manser and Simon Wheatcroft). I also had a prime viewing spot from the finish-line grandstands. As an IBMer, runner, triathlete and tech marketing geek, it was exciting to see work and life collide on Marathon Monday (an actual holiday in Massachusetts, officially known as Patriot’s Day).

Each time you finish a race, just like each time you deploy new code—or in my world of marketing, launch a new campaign—you learn a little something new. Let me share with you three lessons I gathered from this year’s marathon:

1. Inclusive design is fundamental.

Whether it was Simon Wheatcroft, an ultrarunner with vision impairment, speaking to a group of designers and developers at Runkeeper before the marathon, Mayor Marty Walsh addressing the community of volunteers, donors, and families at the Team with a Vision pre-marathon brunch, hearing from Bobbi Gibb, the first woman to finish the marathon in 1966, or seeing the wheelchair division crossing the finish line, the theme of this marathon weekend was clear for me: Inclusiveness.



Inclusiveness is about collaboration and participation, regardless of where you are in the journey. As Simon Wheatcroft would say, “Inclusive design is about usability for everyone.”

How do you make things as diverse as the finish line of a marathon, city transportation and housing, and a running app inclusive? Here are a few of the tips:

  • Keep it simple. Specifically for mobile apps, remember: Contrast is important (ahem, the oh-so-popular grey text on a white background is not so helpful). Minimize gestures. Employ dynamic text.
  • Be clear and use standards. Label your buttons. Keep icons standard. Consider the impact customizing UI elements might have on usability.
  • Make it better for everyone. It’s about usability, not compliance. A cutout in a city curb not only helps a person in a wheelchair, but also the mom pushing a stroller or a businessperson rushing along with a suitcase. How will your app design impact the work of your data scientists? Will they know what “Button 182” is and what recommendations to make about it?

2. Build for any user, regardless of where he is on the journey.

I stood in the grandstand at the marathon and watched the finish line from the moment the first wheelchair crossed to the top female and male athletes to almost 6 hours later when runners of all backgrounds completed their days. The marathon provides a consistent experience no matter who the runner is. Each person has access to aid stations and follows the same blue line down the center of Boylston street across the finish line.

Jason Jacobs of Runkeeper said at IBM InterConnect that he wants to get the whole world running. Runkeeper invites users to “join the running community that helps people get out the door and stick with running forever.” You can just start a run, or connect with music, share your training with friends, or find a route or training plan.

Looking for ideas on how to build your app better? Collaborate with others? Contribute code to GitHub. Share what you’re building in Swift.



3. Focus on what you’re passionate about and challenge yourself.

Simon never stops asking, “If I could run 10 miles, could I run ten times that?” “Where could I run a race completely on my own?” (Answer: at Four Deserts, which is 160 miles through the desert.) “If I make it on my own in the middle of nowhere, could I make it on my own in a sea of competitors?” (Yes, I’m thinking you’ll be hearing from us again at Boston 2017.) Read more about Simon’s story on

You don’t have to be a seasoned runner to complete a marathon, and you don’t have to be an expert Java developer or know containers inside out to start using Bluemix. You do have to be curious and committed. You have to be willing to dive in and try. You have to use the resources at your fingertips (check out our new Bluemix Library). You have to ask for help when you can no longer go it alone.

That passion and curiosity, coupled with a focus on inclusiveness, will help you cross your finish line.

This post was originally published on the IBM developerWorks blog.

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