Christmas Gift Ideas for Runners

I regularly review and recommend high value running gadgets such as GPS watches and the latest release running shoes but I spotted a load of low priced items at the Running Show last weekend and thought I should put together a Christmas gift guide to help you treat the runner in your life without breaking the bank.


Socks may appear to be an unexciting xmas fall back, but a good pair of running socks can make a heck of a difference to the state of your feet when you start building up the distance of your runs. I’ve been through a load of different brands but am now happy that I’ve found the sock that suits my needs.

X-Socks. I’ve built up such a fondness for these socks that I’m almost superstitious and would struggle to run an event without wearing the grey and orange version. These are easily my favourite running sock.

CompresSport Running Socks. I received a free pair of these at the running show and have been extremely happy with them. They are another expensive pair of socks at £15 but are remarkably comfortable and ooze quality.


I’ve been through many pairs of running headphones trying to find the perfect pair – headphones that will stay in place, deliver decent sound quality and preferably allow me to control my iPhone remotely.

Sennheiser PMX680 – These are my current headphones and are near-perfect for running. The neckband style headphones are very stable and never fall off but they can be inconvenient if you wear hats or glasses.

Yurbuds – I tried these out at the Running Show and would love to take them on a proper test.
They twist and lock into your ear so that you can tug on the cables and they stay in place. They have a number of models, one with a tangle free cable option and another with the microphone and remote control option that I’m so fond of. You need to get these sized to ensure they will lock into place so they aren’t the easiest gift option.

Injury Prevention

It won’t be long before the runner in your life starts to make those tell-tale groans that indicate an urgent massage is required. The next best thing to an on-site masseuse is a massage tool:

The Stick – a slightly flexible plastic stick around which a set of plastic spindles can independently rotate. It is these spindles that work on your muscles to ease out knots and release tension.

The Rumble Roller – If you have a cruel streak and a big wallet, you might consider the rumble roller. It’s an implement of torture and an expensive one at that but still remarkably effective at loosening tight knots. Its extremely hard to use without screaming a bit though.

Headbands, Visors and Hats

Halo Visor and Headband – I bought both of these items at the Running Show. I’d practically blinded myself at the gym the night before as the sweat was pouring off my forehead and the guys from Halo had an excellent display model demonstrating the effectiveness of the sweatbands with their unique sweatblock seal.

Jack Rabbit Caps – These are lovely running caps that you can customise with a logo, slogan or name.

Bags and Armbands

Workplay Fleetfoot II – This is great little running pack. The shape is designed to accommodate the curvature of a woman’s hips. I’ve previously written a more comprehensive review of the Workplay Fleetfoot II bumbag.

Y-Fumble – This is a stretch arm pocket that will grow to accomodate most of your carrying needs – keys, cash or phone and at only £6 it makes a great stocking filler or secret Santa gift.


Blood, Sweat and Tears – I downloaded this to my kindle last week and it has rapidly worked its way up to the top of my running books chart. It is easily the most enjoyable running book I’ve read to date. Moire is a fascinating character and I’ve really enjoyed following her exploits across the Wicklow Mountains. If you are ever so slightly inspired by crazy feats, gruelling multi-day mountain adventures and relentless doggedness you are going to enjoy this book. I’m already hoping for a sequel.

Ultramarathon Man – I’ve been recommending this for a long time. It was my first ultrarunning read and has started an obsession and a whole shelf of my bookcase has now been given over to the genre.

Born to Run – This book filled me with excitement and has obviously had the same affect on many others as it’s often cited as having inspired the worlds obsession with barefoot running. In parts it’s a hugely exciting tale of ultrarunning adventure, in others it’s an evangelical barefoot bible.

Running the Rift – it’s unusual to find a novel where running forms the major theme. This book tells the poignant story of Jean Patrick, a young Tutsi who has set himself the target of running for Rwanda in the Olympics.

Winter Gear

IceSpikes – I was quite excited by these. They are bolt like gadgets with sharp screw ends. You just screw them into the sole of your shoe and hey presto, you have an ice friendly outsole. They’re about £20 and come with a few spares and the tool for screwing them in. I’m going to turn one of my old pairs of running shoes into my standby ice runners and can’t wait to try them out.

Let me know if you think I’ve missed the perfect gift and I may be able to add it to Santa’s list.

Top 10 iPhone apps for Runners

I’ve previously written a Top Running App post but times move on and although some of the apps remain, my iPhone sports folder has been refreshed recently.

Here is my list of the Top 10 iPhone apps for runners, in no particular order.

Let me know if I’ve missed any gems.


1. Runmeter GPS Running Stopwatch – Abvio Inc.


There’s a huge array of GPS apps available and I have been guilty of writing them off as pointless battery drainers. I’m not sure if its the software that’s improved or the iPhone itself but I’ve been seriously impressed with Runmeter. In fact I often leave the Garmin Forerunner at home now and choose to run solely with Runmeter.

It is such an accomplished piece of software. It does the standard route recording as expected but has so many other intuitive extras.

  • Compare times against previous runs on the same route
  • Audible Pace or Interval reminders
  • Route following – download gpx from web, open via email and then follow the trail
  • Detailed analysis charts

2. VIA – Firebird Creative
20121002-100113.jpgThis is a fairly new contender and I have recently reviewed VIA.

It is best described as an audible sat nav for runners (or walkers). It’s quite a novel app and with the latest update it has proved to be a really useful route planner. It was initially launched as a tool to get from A to C via B but now you can add so many via points that you can plot A to A circular routes via no end of twists and turns (well 15 at the moment).

Via App review.

3. Athlete’s Diary – Stevens Creek Software
20121002-095009.jpgAthlete’s Diary was on my original list and I think it’s one of those apps that rewards loyalty as it builds up a huge database of my sporting history.

On the face of it, Athlete’s Diary is a very simple training log. It’s not a GPS unit or step counter its just a training log. Some people will download this and feel a bit cheated, especially as its expensive but I’m a big fan. It rewards a little effort in set up and is incredibly customisable.

I’ve set up a number of keywords such as MaxHR, Weight, Shoe type etc so that I can filter by sport, event and then keyword. To me it has the feel of paper based training log with the benefits of a neat database so I can rapidly select all the entries for the Great North Run and see how my weight fluctuated for each or see all my times for the Bushy Park run.

It’s import and export features have meant I’ve been able to keep track of every run since I started in 2005 by selective imports from each and every system I’ve used to record runs in over the years.

4. Zombies, Run! – Six to Start
20121002-095115.jpgThis is brilliant! If you run, you must get this.

I’m a huge a scaredy cat but there is nothing like the breath of a pack of half-deads to make you run faster.

Absolutely ace fun.

I posted a Zombies, Run! review in more eloquent detail earlier in the year.



5. LogMyTraining – F.M. Industries, Inc.
20121002-100344.jpgThis used to be called HRM Log FM.

I use this for one reason only and that is to access detailed run stats from Garmin Connect. It syncs effortlessly and then I can view the garmin map, the lap by lap stats such HR and pace and display them all on custom charts.




20121002-100426.jpgThis is another simple app but it does its job better than most.

It’s a straight forward pace convertor and race time predictor.

You enter your time for a race or a custom distance and the app returns a screen with pace and speed conversions in metric and imperial and then on another screen it displays projected race times on the basis of your entry. It also provides a series of recommended training paces.


7. Mirror’s Edge™ – Electronic Arts
20121002-095956.jpgThis is a bit of fun for rest days.

Probably the best running game I’ve come across and translates beautifully to the iPad or iPhone screen. For those who fancy themselves as urban runners.

8. AudioFuel Running Music + GPS Run Tracker – AudioFuel
20121002-100507.jpgThe Audiofuel Running App offers something different to the standard GPS offerings. Audiofuel prepare running tracks that are perfectly suited to your running needs, providing a range of beats that target a specific cadence range.

Within the app you can select your skill range – beginner, intermediate and advanced which loosely equate to jogging, running and fast running and from there you can select either timed, interval or marathon sessions.

I’ve downloaded a selection of the shorter programs which are ideally suited to my mid week runs and my particular favourite so far is the Pyramid 180 interval training session which includes coaching – it’s a killer program but the beat and voice over is so inspiring that you can’t help picking up the intensity.

9. miCoach – adidas AG
This is one of the few apps that focuses on training plans. It’s a GPS recorder again but it’s selling point is it’s integration with the miCoach website that enables you to draw up detailed pace or heart rate specific training plans.

10. Nike+ Running – Nike, Inc.
20121002-100543.jpgNike+ doesn’t need much of an introduction. This to me is all about social interaction and Nike just get it.

It’s simple, records you run, plays your music, keeps you motivated and lets you brag online.

I rarely use it but if you’ve invested in your social network you’ll probably love it.


The Great North Run and the ABC Plan

It’s always good to have a plan B but why stop there?

The A plan would have seen romping home at the Bupa Great North Run in a new personal best of somewhere shy of 2:56:14 but when I failed to lose the 2 stone accumulated since the last PB I knew it was unlikely.

Plan B was somewhat of a compromise and had the 3 hour mark as the line in the South Shields sand. Plan C was a must and would see me finishing ahead of Gladys, the unsuspecting 80-year-old I have been stalking since the 2010 Great North Run. It may be considered unsporting to race against someone who is completely unaware of the wager but I need every legal advantage.

20120917-184210.jpgIt was a grim start to the day. We took rather too long in the hotel room considering whether to join in Dan’s impromptu warm up session and that meant a rather tardy arrival at the start. I had secured a place in the green pen (one up from the end) and although Dan and Michael were supposed to start in super speedy orange zone, they hung back with me. I know they regretted that when we were refused entry at every opening due to overcrowding. We had to join the back – behind the sweep van.

The race started some kilometres ahead of us and the clouds opened in celebration. 45 minutes later we shuffled our soggy bodies over the start line and so began the relentless weaving.

I’m sure this year’s event must have been bigger than ever. I just couldn’t get into a zone that enabled me to run free. I was surrounded by walkers 3 or 4 abreast and veered this way and that trying to find space to put one foot in front of the other.

I’m afraid to say I didn’t really feel the joy of GNR for much of this year’s race. I don’t know if it was the weather dampening spirits all round or the overcrowding on the course. I overheard some spectators in the bar at the end of the day saying they thought the runners were a bit flat this year and weren’t so appreciative of the support. That’s a shame as we all feed off each other and I was genuinely grateful for everyone who gave me a cheer down that last gruelling mile of coast.

I might not have looked so jolly from miles 8-11 though. From mile 8 onward, my Garmin’s virtual partner overtook me and started kicking sand in my face. I was sure I’d programmed him to pace me to the 3hr mark and I felt miserable to be failing on my plan B. I pushed on but my heart wasn’t really in it.

The steel bands and the Bupa Boost Zone complete with Jelly Babies, raised a hint of a smile but that was a tough section.

At some way past 11 miles I looked at my watch and noticed I was at 2hrs 40mins and decided that I surely had a chance to rattle off less than 2 miles in 20 mins and just then the sea appeared – that wondrous apparition that appears like a beacon and melts away the gloom of sodden pounding along dreary dual carriageways.

That sight has brought me to tears on each of the last 4 runs. It figuratively marks the end of the pain – we’ve reached lands end and can surely go no further. Although it seems we can as it actually marks the start of an extremely steep descent on to an extraordinarily cruel mile-long stretch up to the finish line.

I had a target to beat though so couldn’t weep and philosophise for long. I took full advantage of my Hoka One One’s superhuman descending properties and fair sprinted down the slope. I had to call out for a path to be cleared as I was a little wayward and my arms might have been wind-milling.

Then I pushed on and on up that coast. I felt I was going to come a cropper some way short of the finish line but I was prepared for the worst and pushed on. Here the supporters helped me along and each calling of my name sprung me forward at least a centimetre.

20120917-181834.jpgI gave one of those sprint finishes that remains imperceptible to the human eye but it was there and I stopped to read the Garmin at ………. 3:01:25.

Thank god for Plan Cs.

I didn’t actually see Gladys but I’m reading her stats now and I’m glad to say she was there and a good few minutes behind me. Ah the joy of beating 80-year-old speed walkers.

I don’t think I can rest on my laurels though, Gladys was 5 minutes faster than her 2010 time and at that rate will be breaking my PB next year. Bring it on.

Alternative Wisdom for the Great North Run – 9 Insider Tips

As I prepare to head up north for my fourth running of the Bupa Great North Run, I feel it is time to assemble a top tips post, illustrated with snippets from earlier race reports.

Treat the Great North Run as 4 individual stages – XLMan from the runnersworld forum let me re-post his race strategy back in 2007. I’m still using it to visualise the race 5 years later.

Run 1 – 5 miles (8 km). (DON’T think about anything further) Huge crowds, great atmosphere, bands. Take it steady, not too fast, you’ve run five miles or further loads of times. Enjoy the spectacle, and remember you are part of it. Those inspirational pictures of thousands running across the Tyne Bridge? You’re in them this year. Yes, you’re in the Great North Run, the world’s biggest half marathon. Enjoy!

Run 2 – 3 miles (5 km). Forget the 5 behind you, they’re done. Think only of the next three. Three miles? Piece of cake, you’ve done 9, 10, 11 .. much more in training. These three are all downhill, wheeeeeee !! Great news for those of you after PBs for the event, or even if it’s your first time and you have a target. Go for it here, within reason. Unfortunately, the road narrows, so you may notice it feeling a little more congested. Be careful.

Run 3 – 3 miles (5 km). SLOW DOWN. This is where you need your mental toughness and/or your MP3 player. It’s a bit of a slog up the John Reid Road etc and there’s not much to enjoy, but hey, if it was easy, the medal wouldn’t be as important to you would it? If you’re a run/walk person this is where you may want to be taking extra walks, and psych yourself up, but don’t start thinking about the finish yet. Just get to 11 miles

Run 4 – 2.1 miles (3 km) That’s nowt! Of course you’re tired but you’re nearly there. Now, start to tell yourself that you’ve done it (almost) the goody bag is waiting for you, go and get it. The last mile and a bit up the sea front is fantastic. Huge crowds yelling at you, the end is nigh. Let your spirits fly, even if you’re knackered. You can stop soon. If you’re after a time, push, you know you are fit, you have prepared well, and as knackered as you will feel when you cross the line, the elation will speed your recovery. Well done, you’ve finished the GREAT NORTH RUN 2012

Go Low for Ritual Chanting – just past the start line the road divides and you get to choose whether to go under or over the bridge. The low road offers the full echoing experience of thousands of runners shouting oggy oggy oggy. It also carries the risk of a non too refreshing shower.

Take the high road for a shower free experience – at least a hundred men with bladder issues choose to take the high road and then proceed to shower the oggy oggy oggy runners beneath them.

I also came close to having an unwelcome shower from the guys caught short and relieving themselves on the overpass above me. GNR N0 1

Never underestimate the old and frail – This is one for Gladys who looked delightfully doddery at the start of the 2010 GNR but who had a second wind and was caught on camera at the finish line – a good 4 minutes ahead of me.

It’s all in the pacing – every seasoned racer seeks the holy grail of the negative split where you complete the second half of the race faster than the first. That only happens if you take the first half slower than the last and therefore requires you to proceed with caution and not get caught up in the excitement of the day. Breaking your 5k pb during a half marathon does not usually bode well for the finish line.

Remember to smile at mile 10 – For 2012 Bupa have installed a mile of smiles section at the toughest part of the run and you don’t want to be immortalised with a sweaty grimace.#happiestrun

Ride the emotional rollercoaster – it’s hard to run while gasping for air and choking on painful emotions

At 10 miles I was broken emotionally, I was on a rollercoaster of weeping triggers. The first was a picture of young man on the back of t-shirt, a dad, dead of prostate cancer already. So many people run with powerful messages it’s too hard not to choke up. The second was the red arrows swooping over the Jarrow Rd and third, that actually did see me sobbing was the sight of the sea on the slope down to South Shields. There is still more than a mile to go but it’s the best indication, short of the finish line, that marks the end of the pain. GNR No 3

Embrace the motivation from the crowd

She was barely more than four years old and I’d only gone about a kilometre before she yelled out from the sidelines, “Keep running fat girl!” GNR No 3

Run with faster friends – That way they can deal with the carnage at the baggage vans and deliver your assembled kit to the finish line.

We found him eventually in an emotional heap after spending about 45 mins battling in the baggage bus for our clobber. Shoes and bags and shirts had been strewn all over and it sounded a bit like a blood fest. Luckily I got to avoid all that – that’s the benefit of running with fast friends, thay get to collect the bags while all you have to do is struggle over the finish and stumble into the nearest fish and chip restaurant. GNR No 2

If you find any of my tips useful, perhaps you would consider showing appreciation by donating to my Virginmoney charity site – raising money for the Samaritans

Convict Conditioning

I’ve long held the fantasy that the only thing between me and a perfectly honed physique was a long stint in solitary confinement.

I was obviously inspired by prison movies in my youth and still have images in my head of physical transformations behind bars.

I’ve been tempted to buy Bronson’s Solitary Fitness book before but having skim read it I found it a bit too brutal and couldn’t bring myself to support him. Paul “Coach” Wade’s book, Convict Conditioning, is different, I haven’t a clue what he was incarcerated for as he doesn’t mention it. Given his long spells in high security establishments and his focus on survival strength, the author is clearly no stranger to violence but it’s refreshing to see that this book is about exercise only.

The point about Convict Conditioning is that it’s old school. Trapped within the four walls of worldwide penitentiaries is an underground body of experts passing on the skills of progressive calisthenics. It’s an arena that remains isolated from the fads coming out of the swanky gyms in LA and where money hasn’t been lavished on high-tech equipment. It is a place where physical fitness and strength matters and where a commitment to progressive body weight exercising can either save your life or at the very least, your dignity.

It’s a simple book based on 6 key exercises that are all you need to achieve phenomenal functional strength: pushups, squats, pull ups, leg raises, bridges and handstand pushups.

20120730-093710.jpgI’m far too weedy for pull ups, cripple myself with attempts at a full squat and lord knows what would happen if I attempted a handstand, however the book is all about progression. Each exercise set has ten progressions leading to the ultimate body weight exercise:

One Arm Pushups
One Leg Squats
One Arm Pullups
Hanging Leg Raises
Stand-to-Stand Bridges
One Arm Handstand Pushups

So for one arm pushups I get to start with incline pushups against a wall.
I can do those.
I’m not yet at the 3 sets of 50 required to progress to the next stage but that’s all part of the program – slow progressions give my strength chance to build so that maybe, one day, I can wow the world with a one arm press up.

Here are the 6 starting exercises:

I can just about to make it to the bottom rung of each but the shoulder stand requires a lot of refining and I may have to find a fat person’s intro to the head stand as I’m too scared for that but who knows where I may be after a few months of Convict Conditioning.

Online Convict Conditioning resources and links

Blogs: Al Kavadlo – to see an expert in action. A Convict Conditioning Journey by Nell Bednar.
Video technique: YouTube channel dedicated to convict conditioning.
The book: Not easily available in the UK – try Amazon for used copies or go direct to Dragon Door publishing
The kindle version: Convict Conditioning: How to Bust Free of All Weakness-Using the Lost Secrets of Supreme Survival Strength
Kindle version of Convict Conditioning 2: Convict Conditioning 2: Advanced Prison Training Tactics for Muscle Gain, Fat Loss and Bulletproof Joints: Advanced Prison Training Tactics for Muscle Gain, Fat Loss, and Bulletproof Joints

**UPDATE** The sequel is now available and I have posted my in depth Convict Conditioning 2 review.

Zombies, Run! The iPhone app

20120329-130933.jpgI’m Runner 5 and I’ve just been dropped into a zombie filled wasteland. It’s 11pm and I am, to put it politely, shitting myself.

I’m the sort of girl who curls into a ball at the mere suggestion of being chased. I may even scream a little.

So, I was a little surprised that I had been tempted to part with £5.49 in order to try out the latest GPS running app – Zombie, Run! Which seems to be a cross between Runkeeper and Resident Evil.

I was on a hill and to be honest I was quite tempted to walk, but the voice over had just kicked in to inform me that zombies had been spotted. It turned out to be the previous Runner 5. Unlike me she was a pretty good runner, only she’d been got by the undead and now she was trying to get me.

Steep hills are not the best place to try and outrun professional running zombies, not unless you turn round and sprint downhill. I will turn round next time. As it is she got me, just yards from the summit, there was a flurry of fast beeping and heavy deathly breathing. I dropped half the items I’d collected enroute, presumably as a distraction and then just continued running until the next chase kicked in.

Given that you don’t have to do anything on screen during a mission, the game play is remarkably engaging. You select a mission, slide to run and then you do just run and listen. The story unfolds and the commentary seems to fit perfectly between gaps in your playlist.

As you run along you hear that you’ve picked up items. My first was a snazzy pair of Y-fronts. You don’t actually have to bend and pick them up, and neither do you have to “run to the tower” or “head east out of the forest”. This is make believe, no need for screaming like a girl when the Zombies swarm but you do need to pick up the pace if you want to escape them.

The first mission lasted about 30 mins and I managed to make it to a place of safety with a few items left intact. Back home I was able to “play” with the app, dragging my items onto areas of the compound – increasing their rating as I did. Not really sure what the point of that is at the moment, I believe it opens up new missions but all that will unfold as I play it a bit more.

It’s an expensive app but it’s pretty accomplished and looks to have an active development crew. The accelerometer mode is already available to try out which means Zombie, Run! will work on a treadmill without the need for GPS engagement.

20120329-131023.jpgThe app keeps a record of your missions so you can review your typical running stats as well as reviewing the number of times the Zombies got you! You can’t as yet review the GPS route, so there is no mapping functionality and I don’t think they’ve built in any social interaction so you can link up with other terrified runners or upload the GPS data to web logs.

This review by Doug is the best I’ve found so far.

iTunes link to : Zombies, Run! – Six to Start

In Search of Convenience

20120324-195027.jpgWhile runners were flocking to Hastings to take part in probably the worlds hilliest half marathon course, I was using my well honed flat pancake radar to scout out one of the few level routes in the vicinity. We settled upon the Rye Harbour Nature reserve, only a few miles away from our lovely Hotel in Hastings.

It had been a leisurely start to the day, with a late and extensive breakfast followed by a gentle stroll along the seafront.

I’m afraid my breakfast was still with me when we started the run. It jiggled inside me until the 2.5k point when terrible things began to happen.

It was sudden onset runners tum.

20120324-195118.jpgWe were probably in the worse place to have runners tum. A barren landscape of marsh and shingle with no emergency cover points. I was in the middle of nowhere, cramping and coming quite close to panic.

I thought we were half way round the shortest route option so chose to plough on. 6 k later we were still out there, trying out one dead end after another. This is the place that hikers go to die, they wander out with a spring in their step and hours later the mist has descended and they succumb to exposure.

20120324-195225.jpgThere was no mist in sight today, in fact there was glorious sunshine, but it’s hard to look on the bright side of life when your entire internal gubbings are threatening to erupt. This run/walk was a complete struggle for me, I had to beg Lynn to let me walk and had to resort to distraction techniques such as pointing out interesting-ish birds just so she’d stop and look.

When we finally traced our steps back to the car park we arrived just in time to see the caretaker locking the public toilets and the only pub the neighbourhood was shut til 7pm.

Treadmill running seems an awful lot more attractive at the moment. You never have to go too far from a public convenience.

Ten Perfect Xmas Gifts for the Runner in Your Life

If you have a runner in your life you have to class yourself as one of the lucky few when it comes to Christmas present choices – they are so easy to buy for. If they are gadget loving runners then life is even easier.

I imagine there will be thousands of people who have identified themselves as runners within the last month, as whimsical ballot entries have resulted in unexpected entrances into the London marathon. These people will be overjoyed to open stockings packed with running related gizmos.

Here’s my selection of the best gift ideas for runners with prices ranging from about £8 to £400 for the very lucky runners.

Garmin Forerunner 910XT (approx £100 – £400 depending on forerunner version)

The 910XT is the latest offering from the Garmin Forerunner series and is the ultimate watch for runners and triathletes alike. It now combines a swim specific distance monitor that will track your swim efficiency in open water or a pool. It combines this with all the usual features of the high end Forerunner series (specifically Forerunner 305 and Forerunner 310XT).

To be fair, if the recipient is a runner and never dons swimming gear it is probably an unnecessary expense and you should opt for the super cheap Garmin Forerunner 305 which has not been bettered yet as a run specific GPS watch.

(Garmin Forerunner 305 reviewed here)
(Garmin Forerunner 310XT reviewed here)

Adidas miCoach pacer (approx £120)

This is a great little device for those who like a little motivation and feedback on a run. It comprises an armband that attaches to your iPhone (or other audio device), a heart rate monitor and a footpod for measuring distance and pace.

The website enables you to select your goals which result in personalised training plan. Your sessions are prescribed and when you run you get a voice over that tells you how you are doing and whether you need to increase the pace or ease off a bit. The interval sessions a really intense and its hard to slack off when you have a virtual trainer in your head.

(Adidas miCoach reviewed here)

The Stick (£28 – £42)

Its hard to avoid run related injuries but The Stick and others like it are fabulous at both injury avoidance tools and recovery massagers. It’s a simple device consisting of a flexible pole with plastic washers and a couple of handles. Hard to explain but it enables you to apply controlled pressure to the trouble zone – calves, quads, ITB, hamstrings etc. I’ve experienced quite a speedy recovery from a painful muscle injury after using The Stick and now use it semi-religiously to relax my calves before and after a run.

(The Stick reviewed here)

Sennheiser headphones (approx £27)

I’ve always run with Sennheiser headphones as they do a fantastic range of sport specific headphones that stay in place as you run. I currently use the PMX680 model which was a Sennheiser/Adidas partnership that was released along with the Adidas miCoach system. I chose this particular model as it has a volume and microphone gizmo on the cable. I think this is a great feature as it means I can answer calls (hopefully motivational ones) when I’m out a run and can also invoke the voice control system to change the music.

North Face Enduro Boa (approx £77)

This is quite simply the best running rucksac available, it is also probably the most expensive. But hey ho, as they say, you get what you pay for. They currently do a men’s and women’s version and you absolutely cannot switch genders because of the yolk design. I read last month that they will not be continuing with the women’s model so use this as an opportunity to snaffle the last remaining stocked items before they are lost for good.

(Wiggle link to Men’s version of the Enduro Boa)
(Wiggle link to North Face Enduro Boa – Ladies version)

Marathon Training books (approx £8)

There are an assortment of running books available, I’ve linked to a load of the ones that I’ve enjoyed on my side bar so I will restrict myself to a couple of choices for new marathon runners.

The Non-Runners Marathon Training Plan – you need to be careful with this one, as it would be easy to insult a more accomplished runner. I’ve been running for years but I’m still useless and find no end of motivation from this tome. I’d recommend to anyone struggling to believe in their ability to run the full 26.2 miles.

A safer choice is Marathon by Hal Higdon, Hal Higdon has written the training plans followed by many of the successful marathon runners that have gone before me – he offers a tried and tested formula that can’t be refuted.

iPhone armband (£4 and upwards)

I find it hard to believe that the runner (and iPhone owner) in your life won’t already have one of these but I have seen people running with phones tucked in the waist band of their shorts and flapping around in trouser pockets. These folk need an armband!

I’ve reviewed a couple here and here and have been happy with both.
Link to: Armbands on Amazon

TRX Suspension Trainer (approx £120)

This isn’t entirely run specific but it has sneaked it’s way onto my Christmas gift list as it also appears on my Dear Santa wish list. It’s another injury avoidance gadget and quite popular at the moment with functional trainers and personal trainers. You may see people in parks suspended from straps of elastic as their instructors shout out guidance for improving their core strength.

KiFit and subscription (£150 – £200)

As seen on biggest loser. It’s the armband that monitors your calorie expenditure, workload and sleep levels. You combine this with accurate meal logging and the plans available on the website in order to shed weight steadily. This will be a great motivator for anyone determined to kick off the new year with a healthy and energetic New Year.

(KiFit Body Monitor reviewed here)

Petzl Head Torch (approx £30)

With the winter nights setting in, a head torch is great way to extend the running season and maintain safety while running along the streets. It is essential for country runners and those brave enough to venture into the park after sunset.

I love it and pull it out at almost every opportunity – camping, firework lighting, late night gardening but as yet I haven’t dared to run around the streets in mine.

If you are still looking for gear and gadget ideas for runners, check out my list of running gadgets and a list of all the running gear reviews available on this site.

Natural Navigation in Ever Decreasing Circles

I’ve been watching Sue Perkins, Alison Steadman and that other fella trying to cross the UK without recourse to a nifty Garmin navigator or even an oldey worldy compass thing.

They got on to their hands and knees to examine the differential drying of poo sides, scanned the horizon for the tell-tale sweep of exposed trees but mostly they’ve spun round in circles saying “is that East, North, South or West?”.

I was in Mitcham Common yesterday – my personal Bermuda triangle. For some reason I step into the gorse and become immediately disoriented. Still, I am an adventurer, so I ignore my personal wrist link to at least 3 satellites and ask for directions from the trees.

The natural navigation wisdom informs me that the prevailing wind direction in the UK is South Westerly (wind comes from the SW), so the sweep over of the trees foliage is in the opposite direction, ie NE. Had I stuck to this piece of evidence and run on I would have been fine but I always look for corroboration where there is only contradiction. Moss grows on the north side of trees but if the sweep over was accurate the Mitcham Common mosses prefer a southerly aspect, and the destination Croydon buses appeared to be headed East. I started spinning in circles and despite being less than 5 mins from my car I was best described as lost.

I was particularly keen to define the run by the cardinal points as I was trying to do a recce of London’s next official parkrun and was building up the race description in my head. I keep meaning to try a parkrun in my new locale but it occurred to me this weekend that it would be far better if parkrun came to me, so I set about trying to define the perfect 5km route around Mitcham Common.

I think I’ve found one – a lovely cross-country route hugging the wooded edge of the common for a loop and a half before cutting across the scrub and past the Seven Islands pond to finish. Just don’t ask me for directions.

I need to find a race organiser now and a way to appease the Mitcham Common conservators who may not be too keen on the idea of hordes of Saturday morning joggers.

It would be mighty convenient though.

9 Top iPhone Apps for Runners

I’ve been running with my iPhone for a couple of years and I think I have now got a fairly stable armory of running or health related apps that I would be prepared to recommend. I’ll split them into 4 sections and go from there.

The Running Logs

The iPhone is my ever present mobile computer. It bothers me that my training logs are locked away on the laptop at home, or worse, spread across a few online logs like Garmin Connect, Adidas miCoach and Fetcheveryone. Surely when someone asks me how my training has been going for GNR or VLM, I ought to be able to pull out my phone and demonstrate with a pretty chart or a weekly distance log. It’s taken a bit of effort but I can now do that. Of course no one has asked how my training has been going for a while.

Athlete Diary (web link) (iTunes Link)

So for example I have set up a few keywords such as wt, Avg HR, Shoe 1 etc. Each keyword can be defined as total, avg or non-numeric which determines how it is shown on the charts and summaries. As far as I know there aren’t any limits to the number of keywords you can have but it does pay to think about it at the start so you can build up a consistent data set as you go along.

Having set up the keywords I can head back to the search facility and select the date period covering the last year, select running as my sport and perhaps select the training type as race. If I now look at the log it will show me all the running races in the last year. Moving to the summary sheets the same applies – running races in the last year. If I now choose the chart option I can select the keyword of interest so for example max HR to show the variation across the selected events. If I selected a specific keyword in the search facility such as Shoe 1 my log and summaries would show all the runs where I wore shoe 1.

It is such a customisable application that is very nearly worth £11.99

The feature that makes me so particularly happy about my purchase is the import/export functionality. The designers have gone to huge effort to enable you to get all your data into the log. It’s a bit of a faff and I had to wipe the database clean and start afresh a few times before I got the hang of it but I do now have every single run from the last 4 years loaded up. I pulled data out of Sporttracks, Garmin connect, Fetch and others, faffed around with it in excel to get the right format, converted to a text file, emailed it to my phone and the copy and pasted it directly into the import screen of Athlete Diary – Genius!

It’s hard to believe how happy that makes me. All my data inside my little phone. The Athlete’s Diary – Stevens Creek Software is well worth the initial investment in time and money.

HRM Log FM (web link) (iTunes Link)
Before I came across the Athlete Diary I was convinced that the answer to my problems was an app that synced with Garmin Connect. Admittedly I don’t have all my runs on there, I had a life pre-GPS and sometimes I run on the treadmill but in recent times it is fair to say that most have been uploaded to Garmin Connect. Garmin Connect is a terrible website though and it doesn’t help me get the stats and data on my phone.

After a lot of searching I came across HRM Log FM. As an app it doesn’t do a lot, you can’t add runs or modify data in any way but it is a perfect way to view data stored on Garmin Connect. The sync is fairly painless and new runs are added to a calendar view, clicking through enables you to view the details – summary, lap details and a pace and heart rate chart. The route map isn’t shown unfortunately but it’s still very useful.

The GPS Apps

I am not a big fan of the GPS apps but then I have a Garmin Forerunner so why would I bother?

The GPS reception is not as good as the purpose built watches and the effort drains the battery far too quickly for my liking. The last time I used it I nearly found myself stranded at the end of the Wandle Trail with no juice left to call for my pick up vehicle.

Having said that I have tried a good few and have been impressed with two: Adidas miCoach and Nike+ GPS. I’ve previously reviewed the Adidas mobile miCoach app and you can read that here.

Technical Running Stuff

PaceCalc (web link) (iTunes Link)

A very simple little app. There are many websites around that will perform the same function but it’s handy to have it wrapped up in a stand alone program.

You enter your time for a race or a custom distance and Runner’s PaceCalc FM returns a screen with pace and speed conversions in metric and imperial and then on another screen it displays projected race times on the basis of your entry. It also provides a series of recommended training paces.

Cadence (web link)

This is perhaps a bit gimmicky but I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about efficient running styles at the moment. I don’t have one but would like one and apparently one of the ways to get there is to shorten your stride length and increase your step rate or cadence. 180 steps per minute is the holy grail apparently. Seems unattainable to me but I’m happy to give it go.

This app is just a running styled metronome, I set the rate to 180 (or some other number) and the little feet beat out the pace for me to follow.

That’s all there is to it.

Diet and Weight

Some runners and particularly this one, need to keep on top of their weight, or more accurately chase after it like a hurtling runaway train.

I’ve got two favourites weight logs, True Weight and FatWatch.

True Weight (web link) (iTunes Link)
I’ve used True Weight for a long time, it’s very simple and uses the Hackers Diet principles to show the “true weight” after all the fluctuations have been smoothed. The display is clear and you can view the actual weight recorded as well as the trend line.

I have to admit that unfortunately, these figures are not mine.

FatWatch (web link) (iTunes Link)
I recently moved over to FatWatch as I wanted to record both my weight and my fat %.

It uses a very similar method for plotting the trend and allows you to set a goal and show your progression (or lack of) against it.

Both applications enable you to export your data via email so you need never lose data to a locked in app again.

As you can see I have an unfavourable divergence between the green (target) and red (trend) line so it’s time to take remedial action and start the calorie controlled approach for a while. This is where the last app comes into it’s own.

Tap&Track (web link) (iTunes Link)

This app gets reviewed all over and has proved to be incredibly popular because its so intuitive and smooth to use.

You start by entering your height and weight details and after setting your weight loss goals it determines your daily calorie allowance. By the grace of god or perhaps metabolism, you can increase your daily allowance by logging some exercise. I’ve just this minute bagged 30 mins on the treadmill so that I can polish off half a bottle of bubbly without having scale anxiety tomorrow morning.

Tap & Track -Calorie Counter is a typical food, exercise and weight log and works on the principal that if you diligently record everything that you eat, you might just think twice about putting it in your mouth. I find it quite effective but you have to be strict and record everything.

Like most of these logs it has the American bias but it does still seem to have a lot of foods available locally (including Sainsburys and Pret a Manger) and besides its an absolute doddle to enter your own items which you can then save to your favourites list. I don’t mind doing this, when I go on a diet I tend to eat a rotation of very similar foods so after a fortnight I’ll have just about all the options covered.

I read reviews where people doubt the accuracy of some of the nutritional entries, I’ve found a few problems as well so its advisable to sense check new items or enter them yourself from the label.

It doesn’t seem to handle alcohol particularly well. I’ve entered the details for Stella manually but it doesn’t have a section for alcohol content and so the nutrition chart doesn’t include a piece of pie for the proportion of calories that comes from alcohol. That’s a bit of a shame for me but maybe something they could easily add as an update.

Despite a few niggles, this app is a joy to use, very well designed and so far it seems to be helping me towards my goal.

So there you have it, 9 top iPhone apps for runners, have I missed any must have apps? Let me know.