Run tracking in cold weather

When I first started getting serious about running again last spring, I used the RunKeeper app on my iPhone and, coupled with the app running on my Pebble smartwatch, was really liking it.  The Pebble app allowed for basic start/stop functionality and stat display.  Then, two things happened.  First, I discovered Strava, a really cool running site that also offered their own iPhone app.  More importantly though…it got cold!  Living in Colorado, ‘nice’ weather for running this time of year is temperatures in the teens and sunshine.  My limit is about 5 degrees…though that’s pushing it, it’s harder to breathe at that temperature.  Most importantly, I’ve found that my iPhone’s battery just doesn’t last when it’s cold and also having to keep the GPS active…it wasn’t able to track my long runs (>5 miles).

garmin forerunner 110Fortunately, the solution is pretty great!  I picked up an inexpensive Garmin Forerunner 110 GPS-enabled sport watch (pictured here; $120 at Amazon).  As far as sport watches go, it’s really basic, a true entry level model.  However, I’ve found it perfect for my needs.  The battery life is great (more on that later), it does a good job of tracking my runs and providing realtime stats.  Synchronizing with the Strava website is easy after my runs via a USB cable.  The only catch has been that battery life…it should last a long time in standby mode (3 weeks per Garmin), but I’ve found that if I don’t leave it plugged in to my computer to keep the battery top off, the actual battery level is a bit unpredictable when I head out for a run (it was out of juice one time after sitting less than a week).  Minor inconvenience really but something to watch out for if you get one of these…just keep it plugged in to your computer when not in use and you’ll be fine.  Battery life is supposed to be around 8 hours in active use, but my longest runs so far have been around 2.5 hours so I haven’t really pushed it.  The best part is, since this is in constant contact with my skin, I expect the air temperature won’t have nearly as much impact on battery life as it did with my iPhone.

Smart socks (no, really!)

smart sockThe emerging wearable technology craze has spread…to socks.  Crazy idea?  Well, not really, when you dig deeper.  Sure, they act as an ultra-precise step tracker.  However, with multiple sensors in the sock communicating to your smartphone via an anklet, they can help warn people who are excessively heal-striking.  This might even be of some use to barefoot runners (few of which run truly barefoot, so they’d be used to wearing socks already), though barefoot runners instinctively avoid heal striking already.  It can also monitor your cadence and notify you of changes needed to meet goals there.

You can read more about them at SenSoria’s website or preorder here.  Check out the video below.

Sensoria Fitness Smart Sock Tracker from Heapsylon on Vimeo.

Review: Withings Pulse activity tracker

withings_pulseThe Withings Pulse activity tracker is one of many similar products in an emerging market of lifestyle technologies, and one that I’ve been using for many months now.  The Pulse can track how many steps you take, and how much sleep you get, but what I feel sets it apart from other products is its built in heart rate sensor located on the back.  More on that later.

The Pulse is very well designed.  Its compact size is covered in soft-touch paint, and the easy to read display blends in with the enclosure to result in no visible bezel.  Charging is via the included USB cable, and I find the Pulse needs to be charged so infrequently I really don’t know how long a charge lasts (Withings claims a two week battery life, which I see no reason to doubt).  I love the compact size that fits easily into my jeans pockets, though I’m less happy about the included wristband that you use at night.  It closes with velcro and there are times at night when I wake up and notice it’s loose or coming detached, requiring a bit of fumbling in the dark to resecure it.  I find it’s best to start out with a pretty snug closure of that wrist strap, it’s less likely to work loose that way.  The Pulse syncs automatically with my iPhone, and while it occasionally prompts me to restart the iPhone app, I find the overall sync experience to be seamless and effortless.  The display acts as a simple touch screen, with the sole physical button being used to cycle between display modes.  For example, to activate sleep mode, you cycle to the appropriate screen, then swipe to activate.  It’s all very easy to use and intuitive.

Step tracking is one of the big reasons people buy this, trying to hit a 10,000 daily step goal which is loosely based on the Surgeon General’s recommendation of 30 minutes of activity per day.  It seems to work well at this, though I find the mileage calculation to be inaccurate and overly optimistic.  When you use the free iPhone app, you can view your step activity on a daily or weekly basis.  The weekly view just shows number of steps, while the daily view color-codes the activity to represent the level of exertion – in the screenshots below, red was a nine mile jog I enjoyed yesterday (yes, enjoyed!).

 

activity - weekactivity - day

Sleep tracking is the other cool feature of the Pulse.  The other activity trackers I’ve seen will tell you the amount of time you spend in bed, but to me that’s not nearly as useful as the quality of sleep you get during that time.  The Pulse tracks light and deep sleep, which I assume it’s using the heart rate sensor to help detect (the wrist band has a window to provide a clear sight between the heart rate sensor and your skin).  It also detects time spent awake, though I find that’s not very precise.  As with activity tracking, sleep tracking data is displayed as either weekly summary, or daily view, as you can see in the screenshots below.  What I find really interesting is how sometimes the amount of deep sleep I get is not very dependent on how much time I spent in bed.

 sleep - weeksleep - day
The sleep tracking is really cool to review, especially when you start looking for correlations between how much deep sleep you get, and how you feel the next day.  It’s probably my favorite feature of the Pulse, and what really sets it apart from the other fitness trackers I’ve seen.

 

The iPhone app will also show data for heart rate measurements, though that isn’t of as much interest to me.  But hey, if that’s your cup of tea, this product also works great for that!  You place your finger on the rear of the Pulse and select the heart rate option on the screen to perform a quick measurement.

The Pulse can be purchased for $100 from Amazon and is well worth the money, provided you pair it with the iPhone or Android App to get the most out of the data.  I have concerns about the longevity of that velcro wrist strap (I worry the velcro will not hold as tightly over time), but this is such a fast-evolving technology that I expect I’ll be replacing my Pulse with a next generation product before that becomes a real issue.

Minimalist snowshoes

tslsymbiozI’ve become a big proponent on barefoot or minimalist running, due largely to the blog Barefoot Inclined.  The snow of winter though has sapped much of my motivation and my Xero Shoes have sat mostly unused.  Which explains why these minimalist snowshoes really caught my eye!  They’re slim and flexible, quite unlike traditional showshoes.  I can see how these might be nice in hard packed snow or ice, but am really skeptical about their performance in light Colorado powder.  They’re not for sale yet, and probably won’t be until next winter, from TSL Outdoor.

(via gizmag)