Gretchen Fishman is on a serious mission to run a marathon in all 50 states, so she bought some serious technology: A $250 Garmin Forerunner 205 wristwatch, which uses a global positioning system to help her stay on pace during races.
But she soon discovered that GPS satellites couldn’t always pinpoint her exact location.
“Anyone who has run a marathon with a Garmin knows that even though the GPS says you’re at 26.2 miles, you may not really be at the finish line,” said Fishman, who has checked 12 states off her list.
So the 41-year-old mother from Middleton founded a company called Pacebands that makes a GPS alternative using no technology at all: a $9 silicone bracelet embossed with the split times runners need to hit in order to cross the finish line when they want. A runner trying to complete a marathon in 3 hours 45 minutes, for instance, can get a bracelet bearing a pace chart for that exact time: 8 minutes 35 seconds after 1 mile, 17:10 after 2, and so on.
The bracelet is a simple complement to any stopwatch and is actually more foolproof than GPS, Fishman said, because runners need only glance at their wrists at each mile marker. Neither buttons nor cloud cover can interfere. And now her company is about to launch a campaign on Kickstarter to raise funds to expand.
Fishman’s no-tech innovation stands out on a Massachusetts start-up scene that is a hotbed for health and fitness companies that rely heavily on technology. The best-known example might be Boston-based Runkeeper, which makes a mobile application that helps users plan and log their workouts, and share their results on social media. The app is free, though the company offers a paid service called Runkeeper Elite that tracks calories burned, improvement over time, and other metrics for $20 per year. The Runkeeper app has been downloaded more than 20 million times since it debuted in 2008.
Another Boston company, Lose It!, makes a free weight-loss app for counting calories and last year released a premium version that costs $40 per year and monitors more specific goals, like how much protein users consume and how well they stick to exercise regimens. Lose It! is frequently rated among the best weight-loss apps available and reports that users have lost more than 24 million pounds in five years.
Other local fitness start-ups include TrainingPal, which helps personal trainers pick up extra work by offering online instruction, and Vitogo, maker of a strength and conditioning app that creates personalized exercise plans based on a user’s current fitness level and goals. Both companies are based in Cambridge.
More appear likely to pop up soon. Next weekend, Microsoft’s New England Research and Development Center in Cambridge and the Brooklyn Boulders climbing gym and co-working space in Somerville are cohosting a three-day start-up challenge called HackFit. About 150 entrepreneurs with interests in fitness and technology will attempt to launch businesses that merge the two.
“Boston is such a great innovation-based community, and a lot of the innovators in the area care about their health,” said HackFit cofounder Justin Mendelson. “I want to create an ecosystem for people to build out fitness technologies and make the world a more active, healthy place.”
Fishman agrees that digital fitness tools can be helpful — she still loves many of her Garmin watch’s functions — but sometimes the best solution is a simple one. After unveiling her Pacebands at the Boston Marathon Expo in April, she’s finding many runners agree — including two-time Olympian Ryan Hall, the American record holder in the half-marathon, who signed an endorsement deal with the company in July and plans to wear its bracelets during races this fall.
Hall stars in a promotional video for Pacebands’ upcoming Kickstarter campaign, launching with a goal to raise $20,000 on the crowdfunding website. In the video, which Pacebands shared with the Globe, Hall said the bracelets are useful not only on race day — like any other pacing aid — but also while training.
“It’s an extremely motivational thing to remind myself why I’m killing myself in training, why I’m out here,” said Hall, who is training in Kenya and was unavailable for an interview. “I see the splits I want to run for a 59-minute half-marathon and I remember, ‘OK, that’s what I’m going after, that’s my big goal.’ ”
So far, Pacebands has sold about 4,000 bracelets, mostly through direct orders on its website. The company is working to forge retail partnerships with running shops, and Pacebands already are available at Marx Running in Acton and Rhode Runner Sports in Providence.
Pacebands makes bracelets in 5-minute increments for marathoners looking for finish times between 2 hours 30 minutes and 6 hours. Pacebands also are available for half-marathons in increments of 2 minutes 30 seconds, and the company plans to offer bracelets for 10-kilometer and 5-kilometer races with money raised through the Kickstarter campaign.
For Fishman, the business is another way to carry on her love of track and field sports. A competitive racewalker in her 20s, she finished ninth at the US Olympic Trials in 2000.
In retirement, Fishman has worked as a physical therapist and, more recently, been a stay-at-home mom to three children — running all the while.
“Track has been part of my life forever,” she said. “Now, Pacebands allows me to have a business in something I love. This is my fourth baby.”