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Wearable sensors in extreme environments: From the desert to the icefields

Shane Benzie is not like you and me. The first clues are the stamps on his passport and the contents of his carry-on.

“dorsaVi sensors, kits for sampling blood and saliva, and freeze dried food.” said Benzie.

The journeyman Brit, dorsaVi evangelist and the founder of Running Reborn, has spent the last six years travelling the globe researching and advancing the science of running and human movement. Our dorsaVi sensors have been foundational in Shane’s evolving understanding of how we move. He works with clients coaching a running form that concentrates on energy efficiency and reducing the effects of impact on the runner’s body.

“dorsaVi sensors enable me to view movement and efficiency in a whole new dimension,” said Benzie

The week we chat, he’s on top of the world…literally.  Shane is working in the Swedish Lapland helping monitor runners in the icy leg of the “Beyond the Ultimate” grand slam running series. The race challenges ultra-runners to compete on four continents: in the jungles of Peru, the mountains of Nepal, the desert of Namibia and in the ice in Sweden.

“My research with sensors is on movement in extreme environments,” said Benzie. “The data from dorsaVi sensors is invaluable. For example, adjusting a runner’s cadence will have an effect on their ground reaction force and ground contact time. We all have a ‘sweet spot’ when it comes to cadence, and using this data allows us to drill down to the individual’s movement and take away the guess work. “


His journeys with our dorsaVi sensors have seen him running, trekking, and climbing in the spectacularly rugged Karakoram and Himalaya mountain ranges at altitudes of up to 6000 meters and in temperatures that can plunge to-30° degrees Celsius (-22°F). He’s monitored ultra-runners in the steaming Arizona deserts, the jungles in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Mozambique, and in the swampy 100% humidity of the Amazon.

“Due to negative nurture, we have largely forgotten how to move dynamically with efficiency. We now tend to move in a ‘manufactured’ way based loosely on what we hear and read. This makes for confused and inefficient


movement,” said Benzie. “When people move in extreme environments, they tend to reta in their original instincts and data on cadence and ground reaction force is nearer to what we expect from our


When Shane is home in Great Britain, he works with a wide range of runners—from beginners who just want to get fit and avoid injuries,  to Olympic and professional athletes who are competing in triathlon, cyclocross, ultra-running, and trail running. Shane uses dorsaVi sensors to help people better understand how they move and how they can improve significantly while avoiding getting hurt.

“My coaching and research is all about understanding and teaching natural movement. We are basically very elastic in our movement. We have the potential to create elastic recoil and we move and create elastic energy as we make contact with the ground. This is created by the fascial system and more specifically, the 12 lines of fascia that aid and influence our movement. Using dorsaVi sensors, I can better understand how to maximize this and then create coaching protocols to teach my clients. It will help the guy on the street run faster with less injuries.”

In Sweden, Shane’s day starts at 4:30 am, and it ends around midnight. Being on top of the world apparently does not guarantee a good cup of coffee. “I can’t even get a bad cup of coffee,” he jokes. His work begins each day with fitting sensors to runners taking part in the research for that day.

“I’m also conducting research on the immune system in extreme environments. This includes taking blood and saliva of ten of the competitors. This must be done at the start and end of each day as well as paperwork done on perceived exertions rates and wellness.” Said Benzie. A snowmobile gets Benzie from stage to stage in the race where he will receive the runners, remove the sensors, take samples, and then download the dorsaVi data from the RFDs.

“The sensors have now worked in 40 ° heat (104° Fahrenheit) in 100% humidity, and in temperatures down to -25° (-13° Fahrenheit) with only one failure, which is fantastic.”

As the guy ultimately responsible for how our dorsaVi products perform, I love to hear that, and I have to imagine that it gives trainers and clinicians in every day practice some comfort knowing that our sensors have been through some extremely rugged real world testing and validation.

Shane has a busy year planned for putting our dorsaVi sensors to the test to advance his research. Next, he will be doing gait fatigue analysis on Mimi Anderson.

conducting research on Robbie Britton in the ski resort town of Chamonix, France where Britton is training for the world 24 hour championship.

“This will be a really good test of how to use the sensors to create marginal gains on an elite athlete.” Said Benzie.

While Shane’s adventures may be extreme (and humbling to us mere mortals struggling to get to the gym every other day), the feedback and lessons that we’re learning along the way are absolutely critical to helping us build the best possible product.  We can’t wait to hear your stories about how dorsaVi sensors are helping you change how the world moves. If you’ve got a good one, share it with me here and we’ll get the word out.



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