Trekz Aftershokz Titanium Bone Conducting Headphones

Lord Sugar might have been impressed with the Aftershokz bone conduction headphones but the Apprentices didn’t do a good job trying to sell their chosen cycle gadgetry on the show last week. Their one-track, safety-first mantra and lacklustre crowdfunding attempts led them straight back into the board room.

They did manage to tweak my interest though.

While I’m not too fussed about music, I have really missed listening to podcasts and audiobooks since I’ve started cycling into work again. There’s no way I would risk a London cycle commute with my usual in-ear plugs but something that keeps your ears open to the hustle and bustle of city life could offer a significant enhancement to my journey.

I got a pair and set off for my commute with the next audiobook on my list.

The first thing I noticed was that the fit was odd. They sit over your ears but then flip and flop around as you move your head, it’s particularly problematic if you have a hood or a collar.

Trekz Aftershokz Bone Conduction HeadphonesI checked some reviews and there has been a suggestion that the fit can be uncomfortably tight – not mine! I’m either wearing them wrong or I have a tiny head.

The headphones do come with a couple of elastic bands called fitbands that seem to serve zero purpose in improving the fit. I think I’ve put them on as described but will flip them around next week and see if there’s any improvement.

The sound quality is pretty good, you can get a reasonable volume and I could hear the narrator for most of the journey, she was obscured as I crossed Oxford Street with a dustbin truck to my right but the rush hour experience was generally impressive and most importantly I felt totally aware of what was going on a round me.

A review from ibtimes said:

It’s as if somebody is playing music through a speaker nearby, rather than listening to the music in your ears.

That’s exactly what it’s like and I can’t help thinking the bone conducting technology is just a big bluff. If I hold the headphones just slightly off my skin it doesn’t make any difference to the sound I hear or in fact to the sound my neighbour hears. It sounds likes its coming out of a little speaker because it is coming out of a little speaker.

Aftershokz by TrekzWhen the headphones are at full volume I do feel a vibration on my left cheek but it’s quite unpleasant actually, feeling like a static irritant.

I wouldn’t wear these in close proximity to others as there isn’t a great deal of privacy to be had and I prefer it if people next to me can’t tell what I’m listening to. Davina McCall was top of my audible playlist last week and I didn’t particularly want the world to know it.

The Bluetooth connection to my iPhone 6 was faultless, the battery apparently lasts an age and the controls on the headphones themselves are excellent. I love the big button on the left ear piece that does pause, fast forward, answer etc and can be controlled while wearing massive winter gloves. It’s perfect.

Overall I think the headphones are pretty good, the fit is shoddy and I don’t think there’s any sound enhancing bone conduction going on, but as a pair of near ear speakers that have brought the spoken word back into morning commute, I think they are excellent. That is 2 hours a day where I can multi task again – exercise, commute and read. That is something to be grateful for, and perhaps if I grew a ponytail the fit wouldn’t be so bad either.

Sporty Clobber Reviews

I’ve been sent an assortment of sporty clobber to review this spring. Here are the highlights.

Specialized Echelon Helmet

Cycleplan sent me a new Specialized helmet to review this month. I’ve had my original Giro helmet for years and was quite happy with it although I’d been struggling to get a good fit in the last few months. The foam padding must have lost much of its volume and the straps were resisting further tightening with the result being a decidedly loose and wobbly helmet.

Specialized ExchelonAll this added to the contrast when I tried on the new Specialized Echelon helmet. There is a ratchet closure on the back of the helmet which you engage with an easy access dial. This tightens and loosens the plastic cage that rests on your head ensuring a really snug fit. You can amend it while riding if you have an unexpected big hair day and I am already completely sold on this added flexibility.

I’ve used it everyday for the last month and love it. It’s light, feels secure and has managed to keep my head reasonably dry through these horrendous storms we’ve been having. I’m impressed.

JimmyCASE Phone Case

JimmyCASEWhen I was offered this open fronted case I wasn’t sure whether to accept or not. I usually go for a really crusty looking flip top case that protects every corner of my phone and I was worried that I would be adding vulnerability with the JimmyCASE.

I’m really glad I gave it go though, its such a beautiful, well-made case and as I seem to have developed butter fingers in recent weeks, I can also confirm that it is sturdy and protective and has held together for 5 quite dramatic phone drops.

It was offered to me as the ideal phone case for sporty types due to its ingenious elastic wallet on the rear of the case. This enables you to stash the essentials like credit card, parkrun token and emergency money without the need to carry a wallet or purse. I’ve got my oyster card and swim membership snuggly attached to my iPhone case and now can almost guarantee that I will never be without them.

It’s quite a pricey case $39 USD (with free international postage currently on offer) but it really feels worth it. The rear of the case is made from a lovely grained mahogany, you can choose the colour of the elastic wallet and the front of the case has a protective lip of rubber.

I’ll be sticking with JimmyCASE from now on and will be buying my own replacement when the next iPhone comes out.

TomboyX Pants

These were sent to me to review under the guise of sports underwear. I don’t really think they have features that make them suitable for sports. They have seams for instance so you wouldn’t want to cycle long distances in them and there is rather too much pant for running in my opinion.

While they may not pass as active sportswear I do really love the style of TomboyX pants. I realise I probably don’t look great in them (I will save you that visual trauma), but I do feel great in them and am always very happy to use them apres sport. They are particularly cosy after a cold outdoor swim.

TomboyX

Wild by Nature – by Sarah Marquis

If you like Wild – A Journey from lost to found, I think you’ll love Wild by Nature.

The author is true explorer, made in the mould of latter day brave folk like Scott and Amundsen. Sarah Marquis won my admiration through the course of this book but I wouldn’t like to follow in her footsteps. This particular journey was 10000 miles from Mongolia to Australia and crossed some entirely inhospitable regions. Mongolia in particular stands out as entirely unpleasant place to go for a walk.

I can’t imagine knowingly making myself so vulnerable. In Mongolia she enters an illegal vodka yurt, desperate for water but finds only vodka and no friendly faces. By nightfall the unfriendly faces are following her on horseback, intending to intimidate and rob her. She’s entirely capable of handling herself against drunken buffoons but it seems every night is to be like this, with camps chosen for their obscurity from an ever-present threat.

My abiding thought while reading this was why? Why would you do that to yourself. I absolutely wouldn’t that’s for sure but Marquis still inspired me. I haven’t booked a flight to Outer Mongolia yet but I did turn my back on the treadmill this morning so I could run round the common. Squelching in the mud, observing the trees and the moss. Just being, for a while.

Lance Armstrong and The Program

Ben Foster joins his own program, taking performance enhancing drugs to convincingly portray Lance Armstrong in The Program. He develops an uncanny resemblance to the fallen cyclist and at times I can’t tell them apart as the film switches between archive footage and acting.

The Program

I’d guess that most people with a sporting inclination would know the nuts and bolts of the Lance Armstrong story, from cancer hero to lying and scheming drug cheat.

At the time I was so convinced by Lance’s story that I defended him against the naysayers like journalist David Walsh, right up to the point he sat down with Oprah and finally came clean about his betrayal. I felt naive and foolish.

The ProgramMy passions have run very high over this story, and The Program had the potential to throw my emotions all over the place. Unfortunately it missed the mark and was actually a strangely flat film, just a simple retelling of a journalistic investigation. Very low on emotion but an interesting story nevertheless.

There was a moment when Lance as a young, ambitious and successful American rider, was told by a fellow racer that he’d stand no chance in Europe where he was riding against cheats and lots of them. It was a terrible situation and I came close to forgiving him for his weakness, but that was swept away fairly quickly as we watched Lance bring his team onboard The Program, bullying and cajoling. Introducing them to the team Doctor, Michele Ferrari, who would administrate the drugs and teach them how to cheat the system.

I thought the doctor was one of the more interesting characters, he seemed to be driven by scientific enthusiasm and a drive to exploit human endurance potential, rather than money and power and I could imagine being convinced by him as either a young scientist or gifted athlete.

 

The Program

A smashrun for the last day of Juneathon

I’ve dabbled with the “gamification” of sports but the joy of a new badge and an animated high five rapidly slips into the arena of vaguely irritating notifications.

I was therefore quite surprised at just how quickly I become absorbed in smashrun, the latest app for accumulating, rewarding and hacking running statistics. I’ve even been encouraged to go on an afternoon run, in a heatwave, just so I can get my first badge.

Smashrun was billed as a geeky dashboard for the runner and self-quantifier. Just my cup tea, so I headed over to the homepage and lost myself in the fascinating array of charts. Within minutes I had signed up, connected my account to Garmin and then watched as it sucked 8 years of running history and 3295 km of running goodness into my dashboard.

This is my favourite chart so far, it shows that I was totally rocking in 2007, possibly asleep from 2008/2009 and could do to pick up my running shoes a little more often for the rest of 2015.

smashrun dashboard

I also found out that Sunday’s 5km pootle around Mitcham Common was the longest run in 3 months and that’s just a little bit embarrassing.

On the smashrun website they explain their reason for being with this snippet:

It’s cold. It’s raining. You drag your butt out of bed, pull on your sweats and a windbreaker. You feel like phoning it in after the first three miles, but instead you lock it down and dig deep for that last mile. You get home, shower quickly and rush to work only to show up 5 minutes late. Your boss peers over his coffee. Nice to see, you managed to make it in.

Now, it wasn’t easy to make that run happen. And at the end of the day, it can be hard to say what it accomplished. Maybe you’re in a little better shape? Maybe it’s helped you maintain your internal discipline? Maybe you feel more balanced?

What Smashrun is designed to do is to give you a context for your run. Finishing that run today meant that you’ve run 280 miles this year. That puts you in the top 20% of the runners on Smashrun. It’s more than 50 miles farther than you’d run last year at this time. And it was the 3rd fastest 4 mile run you’ve ever run. You’re running twice as many miles a week as your friend Joe, and when it comes to sheer discipline — showing up day in and day out — you have few peers.

That resonates with me, data and statistics can be mighty powerful if they are displayed in the right way and incredibly motivational. I’ve recorded just about every single run of my adult life and smashrun looks like the tool to bring those runs to life again.

Come and join me, I could do with some friends.

Running with Light

I’ve had a few weekends away in the sticks and at this time of year I always wonder how I could keep up my running habit if I moved to the countryside where pavements tend to be optional, as does the street lighting, and where running either side of work means running in pitch darkness.

Nathan Zephyr 100Running through London, my requirements are more about being seen than lighting up my way. Street lighting is sufficient in most areas to prevent me from running blindly into a wall or fellow runner but I do feel more comfortable knowing that drivers have spotted me and are less likely to turn up side streets without indication and so on.

I was sent the Nathan Zephyr 100 running torch to review and was immediately impressed. It has an ingenious strap design that makes it so easy to hold without gripping. I’d use this on my next overnight walk as it would be such a relief not to have to focus on holding a torch for hours on end. It’s ideal for running too, you can set it to a bright solid beam or switch to flash mode which I think is the best option for being seen. This video clip demonstrates the flash mode – sorry it wasn’t really dark enough to warrant torchlight.

Nathan Zephyr Fire 100

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Panasonic Action Camera meets The Wolf Run

The Wolf Run is becoming a bit of habit. We skipped summer but by the end of the year will have dragged our way across Woods, Obstacles, Lakes and Fields in 3 out the 4 seasons on offer.

Last weekend was The Autumn Wolf and it didn’t disappoint – muddy hilarity for the whole 10k.

Despite being held in the same location as The Spring Wolf the organisers had managed to shake things up a bit. The obstacles were tweaked, with some new additions and the sunny weather turned the trail sections into runnable tracks rather than the quagmires of Spring. It felt like a totally different event.

Panasonic HX-A500 Action CamI was sent the latest wearable action camera, the Panasonic HX-A500 to try out on the day and it held up to one heck of a battering and still managed to produce some fairly impressive footage from the day. I had considered buying the GoPro but I didn’t like the idea of having it attached to a chest harness. The Panasonic action camera, comes in two parts with lens attached to a light headband which is then attached by a cable, to the camera sitting in an armband. I found this to be the perfect setup. It felt really comfortable to wear and the camera was easily accessible so I could switch the recording on and off for every obstacle.

The Panasonic has a load of different settings of ever increasing quality, culminating in the headline 4k. I don’t really know what that means other than its a lot of pixels and I’d need some special viewing device to take advantage of the ultra HD-ness. I shot my footage of The Wolf Run at Full HD instead, so I didn’t risk filling my memory card before the event was over. The camera is waterproof to 3m but I didn’t really imagine it would stand up to the battering of this sort of event. It’s repeatedly submerged in muddy water and gets bashed, a lot.

The footage from the turbo charged water slide makes me flinch every time I watch it but its a good example of the battering the camera had to endure (and me and the poor woman I hit).

The video capture from the entire event was fantastic with realistic colours, crisp images and a relatively steady shot. See what you think of both the camera and the event by viewing our footage from the day. Video was edited by Rubysmileslikeanerd.

Panasonic HX-A500 Action Camera
Pros

  • Excellent quality footage
  • Eye level lens so you shoot what you see
  • Hands free design so it doesn’t interfere with obstacles
  • waterproof and mudproof
  • battery survived for longer than the 2.5 hour event
  • incredibly easy to use while on the run

Cons

  • Quite hard to clean – need to ensure all the grit is clear before closing or the seal may be damaged
  • At £379.99 it’s expensive

Bluefingers Labs Wearable Audio

Bluefingers Labs BeanieBluefingers Labs got in touch a while back and offered me a seriously cool beanie hat with integral headphones. Unfortunately I do not ooze the right level of urban cool to pass it off and so opted for the far more sedate baseball cap.

Bluefingers Labs produce a small bluetooth gizmo that they have stitched into assorted head garments. This enables you to have a fairly discrete and hands free audio experience.

Bluefingers Labs Baseball Cap

I’ve tried out a number successful ways to carry my iPhone securely while running but I still suffer with the flappy cable annoyance. This cap enabled me to run, cable free, while listening to my favourite tunes and allowed me to take calls while still on the move. I didn’t spot the integral microphone but it seemed to work well enough and apparently picked up my huffing and puffing very well.

I run hot and therefore struggle with hats. I like them to keep off the rain and the worst of the suns rays but I also like to avoid heat stroke. I therefore choose very lightweight breathable caps and this is not one of them.

The Bluefingers Labs baseball cap is a standard baseball cap and it isn’t really designed for the rigours of sport. The genius of the design is in the Bluetooth audio attachment and I’d love to see them build one into a running specific cap.

In the meantime I’ll be using mine for the daily walk into work but I’ll probably take the cap off before my work colleagues spot me, I don’t want them to think I’m down with the kids.

Benefits

  • Handsfree bluetooth
  • No irritating cables
  • Secure earbuds
  • Receive telephone calls
  • 60 remarkable hours of standby time

Disadvantages

  • Not running specific so quickly feels hot and damp

Check @BluefingersLabs out on Twitter and you might be able to pick up a discount code.

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Revealing AutoImmunity

I love collecting data, in fact if running didn’t lend itself so well to data collection and analysis I may well have made a different choice back in 2005 and taken up watching baseball instead.

I’ve jumped onto every method of self quantification since taking up the sport – gps, pace, heart rate, weight, body fat, blood pressure, pulse oximetry, almost all of which have required the purchase of some whizzy new gadgetry. So when I was offered the chance of looking a little deeper to understand my performance, or lack of it, I jumped at the chance.

Curoseven seem to be one of the few practices in the UK that offer functional blood testing for performance and recreational athletes. They have a fairly flexible approach and can provide a number of packages with a range of blood markers. I opted for the weight management package, just in case it revealed any top secret clues that could help me shift a few stone.

A standard performance screen would differ slightly but you would expect to see a variety of biochemistry and hormonal values reported against functional ranges (different to the disease ranges used by your GP) alongside a report that indicates any areas of concern along with recommendations that may include dietary, supplement and/or exercise advice. The tests are quite expensive, ranging from £299 – £599 but as yet I haven’t found a cheaper way to access my blood results.

Dr Tamsin Lewis (@sportiedoc) is one of the founders of Curoseven and as the Ironman UK Champion and medical doctor, she is appropriately qualified to advise on performance.

I was keen to set this first test up as a benchmark from which I could monitor changes in any future test, so I nipped into London to have my blood samples taken at an extremely efficient Harley Street clinic and was out again in about 15 mins.

Hashimoto's blood resultsThe results took about week but when they arrived I was rather surprised to discover that I’d acquired a disease. Apparently my immunology results revealed that I have an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. My body is slowly attacking it’s own thyroid and not surprisingly this doesn’t help my performance.

I wasn’t really expecting that sort of news, although in retrospect I have been able to remember all sorts of symptoms and ailments that I can now pin on my new disease. The fact is, if I had not been fascinated by the thought of collecting my own blood data, I would not have found out about this for a long time.

The usual progression in Hashimoto’s is for the thyroid to be increasingly damaged by the bodies own immune system. It responds initially by working harder to produce thyroid hormones until eventually it can’t keep up and you go hypothyroid. I currently have very low level symptoms but my level of inertia would have meant my thyroid would have been pretty much eradicated before I decided to see the GP. Then I would have had to factor in further delays while they fathomed out what was up with me.

Thanks to this blood testing I now have the opportunity to research the condition and take action to hopefully prevent the decline in my function and possibly arrest the autoimmune response. As it happens, conventional medicine isn’t in any great rush to treat Hashimoto’s. They tend to ignore the autoimmune element and wait until the disease has wrecked your thyroid so they can top you up with replacement hormones.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been given the heads up on this. I must have been given months (possibly years) of a head start and I’m making the most of it by adjusting my diet to reduce the inflammatory response and I’m just about to go and get a second blood test to see if a month of going gluten free will have had any impact on my antibody levels.

Here starts a whole new world of n=1 experiments (aka self experimentation). I’ll document most of these on one of my other blogs: coolmoxie.com

Infinitely Hard Eggs

Soft Boiled EggI am a big fan of eggs. They are nutritional power houses and are one my staple foods at the moment. I’m in the middle of a paleo-style detox (Whole 30) and so my current diet consists pretty much of eggs, meat, fish and vegetables.

In order to keep up with my voracious egg consumption I’ve been trying out the Severin Titanium Electronic Egg Boiler. I am not particularly adept at the perfect egg boil, so I thought an electronic gizmo might save the day. I was a little concerned when I read the instructions, which had been translated into an impressive array of languages, and informed me that I could achieve an infinite level of hardness with my egg, just by turning a dial.

I have problems with infinite hardness, not least because I want a dippy egg but mainly because I am sure the egg would self-combust before it approached anything near infinite hardness. After trying the gadget on umpteen occasions and having failed to soft boil more than 24 eggs I would now concede that this is a device that is focussed on it’s goal of achieving at least brick-like hardness.

This morning, in a bit of a strop, I turned the device down to its lower setting and tried again with a rather special Organic Burford Brown Hen egg, complete with the Red Lion stamp of quality and Britishness. The gadget beeped after a mere 30 seconds (or so), the water had not boiled and the egg had not even warmed through. I picked it up, shook it to reveal a fluid centre and then cracked it on the side of my frying pan and went back to the good old fashioned way of cooking a breakfast egg.

The British Lion Eggs website is a really useful resource for eggy related info and detail on egg nutrition. This page on eggs and cholesterol, although voluntarily restricted to health professionals provides some research backed evidence to explain how the cholesterol raising misconception arose.

Canvas Prints of Event Photos

If you follow me on twitter or facebook you would have been seriously tempted to unfriend me last week. Having just completed in the “best obstacle race ever”, I proceeded to jabber on about it. Incessantly.

Canvas photo from The Wolf RunI’ve been wearing the finishers bracelet at work and the big Wolf Run hoody at all available social events and it’s safe to say that the family, my work colleagues and quite possibly the world, are bored by my tales of mud and glory.

This weekend I think the hoody will need to pay a trip to the wash basket but fortunately I will continue to be reminded of the day’s enjoyment due to the arrival of this wondrous canvas.

Canvas Design contacted me last week to see if I would like to try out their service.

The folk at Canvas Design are keen sports folk and regularly partake in triathlons themselves. They’ve started to create framed canvas montages for triathlon and running events and I was very happy to receive my canvas from the Wolf Run.

Canvas Triathlon Photo

The process is extremely simple. Just requiring you to upload a photo or photos of choice and then select the canvas size you want. They can do custom sizes and the construction and delivery is extremely speedy.

The finished article is really impressive. The canvas print is stretched over a sturdy pine frame and all the required fixings are included in the pack.

I love the 3D effect you get from the canvas prints wrapping around the frame. As you walk into the room you get the effect of the picture coming out from the wall and in this case it means seeing Lynn bursting through the finish line of her first event.

It strikes me as the perfect way to capture the pride and glory of finishing an event.

If you’ve got any photos from your latest sporting event and would like to convert them to a canvas print, you can use the voucher code BLOG15 to get 15% discount on your order at canvasdesign.co.uk.