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At Apple's WWDC18, Beats and Nike Run Club shared the love of running

At WWDC, Apple and Nike celebrated 12 years of collaboration since the original Nike+ iPod by hosting an early morning run Wednesday. For attendees who came to run, Apple gifted Beats powerbeats3 wireless earbuds and Nike brought in professional trainers to share their infectious love for running.

Jay Blahnik and Julz Arney from Apple's health and fitness tech team introduced the run

I've never been a big runner. Even in high school I felt like my knees and heart were conspiring against me whenever I tried to run for any distance. And more recently, I have rarely even tried, apart from the occasions where I desperately needed to catch a flight on the other side of the airport. When I see other people running, the look on their face makes me think of torture.

However, when I saw Apple had scheduled a WWDC run the day after hosting an early morning SWEAT workout with Kayla Itsines, it felt like a challenge. Plus I was feeling guilty for eating a couple Hershey bars during the last snack break yesterday. So I signed up, fearing that it would be a half hour of miserable torture but one that I sort of deserved.

These attendees all came to run on their own volition!

Three Surprises

The WWDC schedule recommended bringing the Nike Run Club app, either on your iPhone or Apple Watch, and headphones. Prior to the run, the first trainer on the stage, Jared (below), worked up the crowd and admonished everyone to actually wear their headphones to get the most out of Nike's app. He also told a terrible joke about French Fries.

The first surprise: Apple made sure everyone had headphones by handing attendees a gift box of a pair of Beats' wireless powerbeats3 over-the-ear earbuds. I'd been talking to two student scholarship winners at the run, John and Michael (below), and we were all pretty stoked about getting some fresh Beats.

The next surprise: Nike actually had some interesting comments on running, the sport that so many people do but which I knew next to nothing about. I was about to get an inside track on somebody else's thing, and I love that.

The third surprise: Nike Run Club is a pretty cool app. I realized I had downloaded it before but never really gave it a shot. Here, I was being required to figure it out and take it for a literal spin around San Jose. It provides a variety of guided runs from short and entry level to serious long term stuff. Here we were just doing one of three 15-25 minute runs, which I figured I could handle.

In the app, you can pick a run and get coaching feedback with a music track (or pick your own songs to play). The coaching actually felt like a meditation session, another thing some friends have been trying to turn me on to. Runners could pick from three coaching sessions, called Guided Runs: "First Run," which I picked; "Comeback Run" for more experienced runners, and "Don't Wanna Run Run," the option for people who don't think running is for them.

First Run offered me some fresh ideas on running: don't start out too hard, listen to your body and pace yourself to enjoy what you're doing. The feedback was surprisingly reassuring and kept me feeling good about 20 minutes of real running for the first time in a while. You're not running to make numbers, the trainer whispered into my Beats. You're running to feel good.

Runners waiting for a streelight in downtown San Jose

Running for the love of money

The cynic in me is quick to say Nike loves running for the same reason Apple loves music: because it makes money selling you the related gear to enjoy it. Obviously. Who doesn't love making money?

However, the craft that went into creating Nike Run Club tipped off that there was more at play here. When people really love what they do, they make things that share that same feeling with others. Clearly, there are lots of people at Nike who really do love to run, and they want to share that with others. Not the mere motions of running, but the emotion of running, and the devotion of doing something that makes you feel great afterward--something so good you want to share it.

Using Nike Run Club actually gave me a new insight (the kind of thing I call an "epiphany of the obvious") into app software in general at WWDC. I've talked to every developer I can, and I keep getting this idea refreshed that building apps is a way to share a personal, original solution.

All of these software ideas spring from solving a problem or facilitating a task--making things better in some way for everyone who uses the app. All of these developers have ideas and expertise that are original--tied to their own personal insight and experiences.

That's valuable. That's why the iOS App Store can claim distributing $100 billion in payments to app developers, and why Apple's Services segment is growing rapidly and generating mountains of cash. It's a big business because it's a viable, valuable business. People want apps and are pretty willing to pay for them, at least in the ecosystem Apple has curated.

Love in the shape of an app

Not all apps are all about money--earlier, when I was talking to John, one of the student developers in line next to me at the run, he described his app for diagnosing sport-related head concussions and recommending medical attention--a solvable issue he was personally familiar with and had found a way to offer help in the form of an app.

Here in the world of running, Nike doesn't make money every time I use their app, just as Apple doesn't make money from music every time I listen to a song. But in sharing its love for running with an app designed to make running fun and accessible to more people, Nike is creating the same kind of "user satisfaction" ecosystem for the runners for whom it also designs shoes and other equipment to get the most out of their activity and efforts.

It certainly wasn't effortless to run this morning. Afterward, I also had to ride my bike back to my room to clean up and change clothes and ride all the way back to attend more sessions at WWDC. But I also felt something that I've never previously associated with running: I felt energized and alive, and I felt an easy smile taking over my face. Maybe I'm falling in love with running, too.