Saturday, January 21, 2012

My running gadgets

I'm headed into the second week of my knee issue. It's too painful to run and I don't want to make it worse by pushing it. I have an appointment to check it out next week. Fingers crossed. If I need to take a little time off, this wouldn't be the worst time to do that. The weather is pretty extreme right now. I don't mind resting but the one thing I hate about not running is that my immune system seems to crash. When I was taking lots of steroids for asthma, my immune system was in really poor shape. I was sick all the time and I had at least one hospital visit to look forward to every year. The only time I get sick these days is when I can't run. Another reason to keep doing it I guess :) Sorry, I'm rambling. Onto the post I intended to write...

Frozen cars along Lake Michigan in Chicago yesterday

I have been asked about running technologies I use or still use. It's funny that people have started to ask me questions. I'm not an expert on anything related to running. This isn't a really detailed review, it's just what I used and why. Take from it what you will. So, with that waiver signed, I just want to cover off on one more bit of back story before I dig in. I have always had a close affinity with the Adidas brand. Close your ears New Balance! You can't take away a childhood of the classic wood finish airline bag, Kicks signed by Kevin Keegan or the giant gym bag that I started comprehensive school with (similar to high school). That bag was so huge that an older teen could put a small 11 year–old into it (with their head sticking out) and slide them down the school corridor. Not that I ever did that :) When I started running, I turned to Adidas for help.

I signed up for Adidas miCoach online and started running with a Pacer bundle. Initially, I used it with my iPhone. The Pacer bundle came with a heart rate monitor, a coaching device (Pacer), an ear bud and a clip-on stride sensor. The heart rate and stride sensor talked wirelessly with the Pacer unit and the iPhone plugged directly into the Pacer unit to bring additional features from the miCoach iPhone app including GPS mapping and the integration of music, etc. You can read about the details here.

The Pros in the begging...
  • It helped me run by heart rate instead of pace which was very important to me. I didn't want to push myself so hard that I was putting myself at risk. A smart move for 40–something year old.
  • It taught me basic training strategies on the website and it gave me tools to plan running routes. I found it to have more substance than the Nike+ site at the time.
  • A voice prompted my training through the ear bud as I ran. I chose a famous rugby player's voice. The Pacer turned down my iPhone music when instructions were given.
  • It tracked GPS thorough the iPhone which really helped me start judging distance and tracking pace.
  • It helped me improve my stride turn–over rate. I could not believe how slow it was when I started.
  • The clip–on Adidas stride sensor allowed me to choose any shoe I wanted to use—not just an Adidas shoe.
  • Data was uploaded to the Adidas miCoach site, so that you could track progress.
The Cons as I evolved as a runner...
  • I had to stop using the iPhone because it was bulky and wasn't weather–proof. This lost me my GPS and I had to map manually which was a real pain.
  • I hated having to find the right workout on the Pacer. When I run, I don't want technology slowing me down.
  • I stopped using music because I felt like it took away from my ability to connect with the run. The spirit of that is captured in this post. I wanted to learn to dictate my own pace.
  • Without the iPhone, the Pacer didn't give me real–time feedback, so when I synched with the site, I found that I had been outside of my heart rate zones too long. This was frustrating.
  • I started to read more about training plans, so I became less reliant on the miCoach website.
So, having got what I needed from Pacer, I evolved to the miCoach Zone. It is basically a small watch–like device that speaks to the heart rate monitor and shows you colored lights to give you real–time feedback on the heart rate zone you are in. You could hit the button for the actual heart rate and it it had a stopwatch to time your run. Find out more about it here. It may be discontinued in the US.

The Pros in the beginning...
  • I got to wear less equipment. Much less bulk.
  • I got real–time heart rate feedback although it took a long time to calibrate it and get it to operate the way I wanted it to.
  • I got really tuned into my heart rate and learned how to tell what heart rate zone I was running in just from the way I felt. A really valuable skill.
The Cons as I evolved as a runner...
  • I lost the ability to capture stride rate information.
  • I still didn't have any GPS data and monitoring pace was a pain.
  • I didn't enjoy having a heart monitor strap on. I wanted to run with even less.
  • I felt like I had learned the ability to run in safe heart rate zones and wanted to focus more on distance and pace.

So, having taught myself to understand my body a little better, I decided that I'd let go of heart rate and get a watch for GPS mapping, so that I could capture distance and pace effortlessly. I was tracking all my miles on, so it was important to choose a watch that could synch with that site. After some research, I went with the Nike SportWatch GPS powered by TomTom. I didn't need all the bells and whistles of many of the GPS watches.

The Pros...
  • It is a lot less bulky than other GPS watches.
  • Navigation through the menus is unbelievably simple.
  • The number are huge and you can control what is showing. I don't wear contacts and I run without glasses, so this is huge for me. Sometimes I have distance be the dominant visual—sometimes pace. 
  • You hit the watch to turn on the back light. A very easy interaction while running in the dark.
  • The USB is right in the strap. You don't have to use other cables.
  • I have found the GPS to be pretty reliable. I have a reasonable amount of confidence in the data.
  • It can connect to heart rate and stride sensor. I'd like to start using a stride sensor again.
  • It has other features like auto laps, stopwatch and all sorts of things I use occasionally.
  • It uploads everything to Nike+ website.
  • It shows messages begging you to run with it when you take time off. Just a bit of fun.
The Cons...
  • It relies on the application on the computer too much although some of the latest updates moved functions to the watch too.
  • It was a little slow connecting to satellites in the beginning but a software update made it better.
  • I do not like that the data is so controlled by Nike. So typical of them. I use DailyMile and wish that I didn't have to upload to Nike+ site before synching with DailyMile. I don't like the Nike+ site and don't want to use it.
  • I do not like Nike forcing people to buy their Nike+ ready shoes in order to use a stride sensor. So pathetic. It's this type of thing that makes me avoid products by this brand.

So, that's about it. I used technology to help me learn some things about running and my body and once I felt more confident, I downsized to one piece of equipment. If I run on a treadmill or I run a familiar route just for the joy of it, I don't even bring the watch. I'd love to get down to a pair of shoes and shorts Anton style but that's a bit obnoxious when you are running in a major city. As far as websites are concerned, I am forced to deal with Nike+ but I spend most of my time on DailyMile. It's a nice, simple and social site. Feel free to become a friend.

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