Pick up the pace with a podcast

Fitness and sports are a growing segment of Internet audio

December 29, 2005|By JEANNINE STEIN | JEANNINE STEIN,LOS ANGELES TIMES

When runners want sage advice on their sport, they can turn to a slick newsstand magazine -- or to a 31-year-old computer tech-support rep from San Antonio named Richard McCue.

Although he's completed four marathons, McCue has never graced the cover of a runners magazine, but he does host "Runcast Weekly," a podcast about running in which he shares his experiences and dispenses advice and information.

"I'm an amateur runner," he admits. "I don't approach subjects from a professional point of view; I'm learning just like everyone else and sharing what I've learned with others."

McCue, who debuted his show from his home last April, does have the distinction of being one of the earlier fitness birds using podcast technology. A podcast, the product of fusing "iPod" and "broadcast," is an Internet audio program that can be downloaded onto an iPod and an MP3 player, or listened to on a computer. It's one of the hottest new uses of the Internet, and as sales of portable players grow, so will podcasting.

In the past year, the number of fitness and sports podcasts has climbed steadily, yielding eclectic offerings. A scroll through podcast directories turns up recreational enthusiasts such as McCue, personal trainers doling out strength-training advice, physical therapists talking about sports injuries, interviews with top athletes, motivational messages -- and audio workouts to up-tempo music.

Even Runner's World magazine entered the podcast sphere this year with several broadcasts leading to November's New York marathon. Those went over so well (an estimated 23,000 downloads) that more are planned.

Podcasts offer exercise-minded listeners a few nuances that most magazines, Web sites and books do not: a human voice, a sense of environment (some podcasts are taped during a race or training session) and immediacy (most are taped and aired quickly).

The largely unscripted broadcasts have a roughness absent from slick media. They're sort of the audio equivalent of blogs, which are unapologetic about poor spelling, clumsy grammar and opinionated tone. It's not unusual to hear a barking dog or someone's toddler in the background of a podcast, and hosts have varying broadcast abilities. Some are unrepentant monotonic speakers, "ummmm"-ers or awkward pausers.

But podcasts are convenient. With MP3 players and iPods, people can listen in their cars, on public transportation -- or while exercising.

Like other Internet offerings, podcasting comes with a hefty caveat emptor factor. Some hosts giving advice have little or no education, training or certifications to back them up, leaving listeners to decide what is valid.

The best use of podcasts, says Gregory Florez, spokesman for the American Council on Exercise, may be as "a way to connect with people for motivational purposes if you can't afford a personal trainer and you keep falling off the wagon. You can play it when you're feeling bad -- it's almost like therapy in an iPod."

McCue began podcasting to reach other runners, especially beginners. "I thought the podcast would be a good avenue to discuss that," he says, "to pass along knowledge and reassurances to others who want to start running, to show them you can definitely do it."

One of McCue's recent segments described his decision to drop out of a marathon halfway through due to dehydration, illness and other factors. "I debated for a long time whether I wanted to talk about it," he says, "and ultimately I thought it was important, so that people can understand that everyone does have a bad day from time to time." He has also discussed breathing techniques and hill running.

Chris Dunagan started listening to McCue's podcast about six months ago, about the same time he started running. "The written word is great, but when it comes straight from a person's mouth, it gives it that personal connection," he says.

Dunagan, a 30-year-old graphics designer from South Carolina, says that before he acts on McCue's advice, he filters it through his own experience, talks to veteran runners and sometimes cross-checks it with an established running magazine. But he says he values experience over credentials. "I would rather trust somebody who has been running for years and is active than someone who knows about physiology but is overweight and sedentary."

EnduranceRadio's popular podcasts center on endurance and adventure sports -- triathlons, ultramarathons -- and feature interviews with well-known and obscure pro and amateur athletes. Guests have included former Olympian Bruce Jenner and running coach Jeff Galloway.

Founder Tim Bourquin, who heads a trade-show production company in Laguna Niguel, south of Los Angeles, says the appeal of listening to a marathoner who's also a mom of three, or a former 300-pound runner, is that "People relate to them. This person is like me, they're the everyday people who just love the sport."

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