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He never thought of it himself, but Ed Albers is project manager innovation for Marathon Eindhoven and he does so as a volunteer. The first thing he did was to structure the activities surrounding innovation. “To be honest, it was incoherent, now we have a long-term vision.” In the long run, Albers wants to move towards a self-management system for runners, with which they get a signal when, for example, they should drink and how much they should drink. In the Stip, the grand café of the SX building, he talks about the long-term vision and the upcoming edition.

Albers worked as a physiotherapist for twenty-four years, two of which in Norway and one in America. When he returned, he started working for the rehabilitation centre Blixembosch. There he became head of the physiotherapy department in 1981. A knowledge centre for research, innovation, and quality came. And Albers was given the innovation portfolio and he focused mainly on sports for people with disabilities. From there he founded the sports centre Sporticipate; sports medical advice for people with disabilities. He raised 1.2 million euros from the Province and the municipality. Together with the technical manager of Blixembosch, he built the Otten Field Lab. “At my peak, I stopped.” When the research lab was officially opened, Albers retired, which was in 2015.

Previously he worked as a volunteer for the marathon; he was the coordinator of the medical organization. He stopped as a volunteer in 2015. He went cycling for a year, with his wife, to Delphi. Once back, he wanted to do something for the Eindhoven Marathon again. It became innovation, something he himself had not thought of at all, he says. “But yes, it’s logical again. The network is not new to me. I sat at the table with the province and the municipality even then. I’m now working with them again. And I already knew companies like Philips. It was all familiar to me.”

The Eindhoven Marathon is a testing ground for researchers for several years now, Edgar de Veer, director of Golazo, organizer of the Eindhoven Marathon, says. Steven Vos, a professor at the TU/e and lecturer at Fontys Sporthogescholen, mapped out the different types of runners: why does someone run, what are their goals, motives and which needs do runners have? The research is an integral part of the marathon. An app was also developed with which spectators could follow the runners live and in 2008 the very first version of Arion, the smart running sole, was tested, among others by the then mayor. It is De Veers ambition to become the most innovative marathon in the world.

“In the past, anyone who had an innovation was welcomed with open arms. But that’s the last thing you should do, then it becomes so ad hoc and incoherent.” Albers thinks that as a marathon you have to decide what you bring in and what you don’t bring in. “You want to deliver quality with your marathon and with those who bring the innovation into the marathon; they use the runners.” Together with De Veer, Albers developed a long-term vision. The basis for this comes from his first experience as medical coordinator of the marathon. During that edition, he never saw so many runners go flat out because they didn’t drink enough. “I was on the front page of the newspaper that Monday, I had an infusion in my hand. It was that edition very warm and a lot of runners became unwell. There were some runners with a spastic paralysis, a weak paralysis, I saw a lot of things from the side. It was terrible.”

In the future, Albers wants to give runners information about, for example, the fluid balance: “I want to grow to a self-management system. Only when people use it themselves, it works.” During the marathon, researchers and companies can develop or test tools that contribute to this. Research institute imec Nederland, based in Nano4Sport, tests its motion sensors and measures the heart rhythm of participants during the ten-kilometre competition on Saturday evening. With these sensors, they see if and how the way of running changes and if someone gets tired.

This edition investigates Thijs Eijsvogels, assistant professor Radboudumc Nijmegen, what happens to the core temperature of a runner. The core temperature determines your fluid imbalance, Eijsvogels explains. If the core temperature is not right, you restore it with your fluid balance. About ten marathon runners, who are aiming for a top performance, will swallow a heat pill this Sunday. With a waist belt, it is monitored how the core temperature changes during running. Does the temperature rise during the first 10 or 20 kilometres and will there then be a plateau phase in which there is no more change? Or has the temperature continued to rise throughout the marathon? And is it true that the longer you walk the higher your temperature becomes? Questions that also have a preventive value. Eijsvogels: “This information is also useful when setting up the medical posts: do you have to set them up at the finish line or do we also have to do this at other points?”

Six-time Dutch champion of the whole triathlon, Frank Heldoorn, examines the fluid balance of participants during the marathon. As a triathlete, he performed so well at the time because he kept a close eye on his fluid balance. “I knew exactly how much to drink. During training, I kept track of that in a notebook. If I had to drink six liters, I would take care of that. If a bottle fell while I was cycling, I would stop, because I needed it. It brought me a lot.” He notices since he is a coach, that people don’t take drinking very seriously. He wants to change that and during the marathon, he wants to investigate the fluid balance of about two to three hundred participants.

The fact that there is a long-term vision does not mean that during the marathon no ‘ad hoc’ innovations may be tested or research can be done that falls outside the framework. “There is still room for other innovations. But we are becoming stricter. This year, for the first time, there was a deadline. Companies and researchers had to have made their proposal before 7 September. Philips and Usono succeeded: they will be testing the Lumify and ProbeFix Dynamic this weekend.

Albers already sees a lot of possibilities. “An algorithm you hear in your ear that tells you should start drinking and when you have enough. Even if something should be thought of that drinking during the marathon, something easier than the cups they use nowadays.” And not only drinking itself, but Albers also sees possibilities in the clothing. “That you put on exothermic clothing that releases your heat very easily so that your body temperature doesn’t rise that much at all. Or if it is very cold, have endothermic clothing that retains heat.”

The Marathon Eindhoven is on 13 and 14 October


Credits main picture: Marathon Eindhoven

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