Screenshot from RioRun
Credit: Screenshot from RioRun.

How far will people go to get access to an interesting story online? They might click a few links asking them to like a page on Facebook, register on a website, and even pay for it.

But the interactives team at the Guardian is making people run or walk 26.2 miles for its RioRun interactive podcast.

The immersive podcast allows people to experience the Olympic marathon route in Rio de Janeiro, listening to the sounds of the host city of the 2016 Olympics in the process, and unlocking new audio segments about Rio as they make their way to the finish line.

"There's been this trend in recent years towards trying to make journalism as digestible as possible, as easy to share as you can make it. And we wanted to do something that explicitly went against that trend," Rich Harris, interactive editor, Guardian US, told in a recent podcast.

"We wanted to do something that required a higher level of commitment from people, but gave them an accordingly much greater reward."

To start the experience, users need to go to on their phones and follow the instructions from there.

There's a treadmill mode available for those who prefer to run indoors. RioRun saves your progress, so there is no need to complete the marathon course in one go. The first person to finish the marathon, who crossed the finish line on 10 August, did so in eight sessions.

We've got a wealth of possibilities with the sensors that exist on people's smartphones... you don't feel like those have been fully exploited yetKenan Davis, Guardian US

Throughout the run, users can listen to Jonathan Watts, the Guardian's Latin America correspondent, Valierie Lapinski, head of video at Guardian US, who acts as the tour host, and track and field coach Bob Larsen, who gives insights into the science of running a marathon.

In between the audio segments, runners can listen to the hustle and bustle of Rio, recorded on location by a freelance journalist.

The team did not set out with the goal of producing a podcast, and they adopted the label 'interactive podcast' after RioRun officially launched, because they were struggling to explain what it was to others.

Kenan Davis, head of interactive, Guardian US, called RioRun the Guardian's first foray into GPS journalism.

Instead, the team wanted to create something that would stand out from the rest of the media coverage of the Olympic Games.

"We didn't want to just do data visualisations, because everyone's got that stuff pretty well covered and everyone's got a long time to prepare," explained Harris.

"We were quite drawn to the idea of putting the interactive back into interactive journalism, because a lot of interactive journalism isn't all that interactive.

"And that's a bit of a shame, because we've got a wealth of possibilities with the sensors that exist on people's smartphones and the kinds of experiences that new web technologies allow us to create – and you don't feel like those have been fully exploited yet."

Their initial thought was to get people to run a short distance with their mobile phones and compare their times to famous athletes. But this idea wasn't feasible as the measurements wouldn't work with the consumer grade accelerometers on people's phones.

They settled on running as a theme, both because it's one of the most popular Olympic sports and because it's a favourite of the Guardian team, who often run together.

The aims of the project are "personal to the team," Davis told

The first aim is to experiment with technology the team has not quite delved into yet.

"The other part is to experiment with the storytelling and figure out new kinds of experiences to create for readers.

"And this was an experiment to see what kind of immersive experience we can create in terms of storytelling, that is driven by the users' physical action," said Davis.

***Listen to the podcast to find out more about RioRun and the technology that powers it. ***

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).