Step In Time
Tired of running apps yelling at you to “stop” and “start”? These SCU Engineering majors have a solution—and a song—for that.
Sam Song ’19, M.S. ’20 wants to run more but doesn’t want it to feel like a chore. “A lot of the running training apps on the market right now are pretty invasive or super coachy. They talk you through it, which isn’t really motivating to get you to start running,” she says. “We thought that using music to guide the runner instead would be more persuasive.”
So Song joined friends Sam Lee ’19, M.S. ’20 and Arshi Jujara ’19 to create something that would get them moving through more melodic means for their senior design project for Santa Clara’s School of Engineering.
The result was Solemate, a mobile app that enhances the running experience through music.
“It integrates Spotify to curate a running experience mainly targeted at beginner runners,” says Song, who’s pursuing a five-year, combined B.S./M.S. Program with a bachelor’s in computer engineering and web design, and master’s in engineering management and leadership.
Similar to the popular Couch-to-5K (C25K) app, Solemate helps people learn to run better/for longer distances by instructing users when to walk and when to jog. But unlike C25K’s voice commands—a robotic shout of “Run!” then “Walk!”—Solemate sets the pace through music. In basic terms: you run to fast songs, you walk to slow(er) songs.
Running to music might not seem groundbreaking but its benefits have only recently been measured. According to a 2016 study out of Brunel University in London, listening to music while running can increase performance by 15 percent. The study’s author, Costas Karageorghis, calls listening to upbeat music while exercising “legal doping” in his book Applying Music in Exercise and Sport because it increases brain activity and focus which leads to faster and longer effort with less perceived exertion.
Solemate doubles down on the distraction tactic by subconsciously challenging runners to match the pace of individual songs beat for beat. The goal is for every step to fall in time with the notes.
Jujara, who recently began working as an associate software engineer at Moody’s Analytics in San Francisco, handled the music generation by programming through Spotify’s backend. She specifically looked for songs to mimic the pacing of walking and running. “As a beginner, you would be around 120 beats-per-minute as a swift walking pace, and 150 BPM as a running pace,” she says. “The idea is that the BPM would increase for both as you got better and progressed in the app.”
Lee’s job was to access the iPhone’s internal pedometer to compare the number of steps taken with the song notes to produce a unique graph for each run. The chart shows how close the runner’s BPM matched with the BPM of each song segment. So, a user can see if they ran fast enough to Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” at 158 BPM and caught their breath in time to “I Don’t Care” by Ed Sheeran with Justin Bieber at 102 BPM.
Lee, who’s also in the five-year B.S./M.S. program, says their hope is that being focused on the music will not only help the user run farther but also avoid injury. “Stepping in time to the beat prevents you from over-exerting yourself or running too hard all at once,” she says.
During her first trial run across campus, Song says using Solemate “was almost distracting from the actual run, which is good. I was only thinking about trying to match the pace of the song,” instead of dreading how much longer until she was allowed to walk again. “It made it less painful because sometimes running can be a really big pain.”
Sep 3, 2019
Solemate is a coaching app that teaches beginner runners to pace properly through music. Photo by Andrea Yun.