A Hong Kong resident has invented a new technology for tracking trail races, called Trailme, that could displace traditional tracking, opening trail racing to more engagement and making it safer. It can reliably track all the participants, no matter how many there are, every 250 metres with no need for runners to wear GPS trackers. And it has just won a bronze award in the Smart Mobility/Smart Tourism category at the Information Communication Technology awards, run by the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer of the Innovation and Technology Bureau of the Government of Hong Kong. “In a nutshell, it’s an outdoor, trail running disrupter,” Rainer Duespohl, Trailme’s inventor, said. Following trail races is usually done with GPS trackers, which can be hard to give to all the runners. In races that do use them, it tends to be just the top runners they are provided to, with other entrants paying extra for a device. Sometimes there is a lag with GPS, and the dots jump around making it hard to have more than a rough indication of the live leaders. Alternatively, tracking can be done as runners come in and out of checkpoints leaving blind spots potentially for hours in between. Trailme is a series of Bluetooth devices along the trail, placed similarly to trail markers. As the runner passes a device, their phone’s Bluetooth connects and updates their location. The devices are small, about the size of a credit card and the battery lasts for years. UTMB comes to Hong Kong as TransLantau added to World Series Trailme only requires the runner have a phone and uses minimal phone battery. It is already used for a number of races in Hong Kong, and currently you can track the Oxfam Trailwalker’s virtual event down to every 250 metres. There are about 400 Trailme devices along the course. Trailme, a product of Duespohl’s company uHey, also served Raleigh Challenge along the Wilson Trail and will be used during the Lantau Trail 70 next month. If the phone loses signal, the tracker works offline and updates retrospectively when it has signal so the leader board is still correct for each marker. The devices are small and hidden, so can be left out for the duration of a virtual race. No one would notice them, and none have been lost or tampered with on any of the races so far despite being in place for weeks. They might even replace trail markers, as Duespohl plans to introduce a sat-nav style “turn left here” function in the future. Runners just need to click a button if they want to drop out of the race and it will update on the app. The organiser is then sent an email so they know who has dropped out and where. Currently, there is no reliable way to know if a runner has not finished save for them telling a volunteer who can relay that message to the race organiser, or via phone call if they race organisers have provided their number to runners. If a runner has not moved in more than an hour, the organiser will get an alert on Trailme too. Duespohl has been chief information officer for the likes of Adidas, and consulted large brands such as The North Face. So he can see the potential for his technology to improve the customer experience beyond simple tracking. The app already allows organisers to easily build into their front end website and will soon allow comparison’s with data and performance, and other engagement tools for the consumers. “Race organisers have not learned to be entertainers, just race organisers,” he said. “If it’s just the weekend, it’s just 24 hours. But when it’s a virtual race, it’s weeks and they need to do much more to entertain and engage. “We can now use the data and the leader board updating every day. We are helping them to become much more professional.” Duespohl believes the simple improvement of accurate tracking and available data holds massive potential for the sport. Lesser known hikes to explore since you’re stuck in Hong Kong “The challenge for people to watch trail running, you go up to Tai Mo Shan to see Wong Ho-chung [Hong Kong’s top male runner] for two minutes. Then he’s gone. The fan engagement is pretty low,” Duespohl said. “The brands are not wiling to sponsor so much. Why should they sponsor for 200, 300 or 500 people watching? It’s not like other mass-participation sports like tennis. But with this, we can create more engagement.” A core of Duespohl’s idea is its scalability. Hong Kong is his testing ground but he aims to expand to races in other countries or to get involved with races that have a large following. It can be used for other sports too, like mountain biking. Another plan of his is for Hong Kong to adopt the technology and permanently digitise the main trails. Along the 100km MacLehose, 78km Wilson Trail, 65km Lantau Trail and 44km Hong Kong Trail there are already markers every 500m. He hopes the government will attach his devices to the markers so hikers can track their location for fun and for safety. The devices can be solar powered to last even longer. Hikers’ friends and family will know where they are. As Duespohl continues to develop the app, hikers will be able to search for water stations, their nearest exit point from the trail or alert people if they are in need of help. In Hong Kong, hiking has exploded in popularity since the coronavirus pandemic began and the amount of rescue call outs increased by 181 per cent between 2019 and 2020 . Duespohl says his technology can make the most popular trails safer. Winning the ICT award is just the first step, but it is a nice mile stone along Duespohl’s journey. It is vindication for quitting his executive job at a large company. “It feels pretty good. I do this with very minimum resources, I have one hire from about 10 months ago. The ICT award is a great honour,” Duespohl said.