Great North Run 2008

I love this event, it is a complete pain to get to, it costs a fortune, it’s almost impossible to get out of South Shields before night fall, but it still remains the highlight of my year. Grubby street urchins high fiving you, toddlers squirting bottled puddle water at your feet, spectators cheering and offering out ice pops, pizza and vodka. The folk from South Tyneside really get into the spirit of this event and you can’t help but feel privilidged to be part of it. At times through the race the emotion gets the better of me and I have to fight to stop myself blubbing.

I couldn’t fathom a way of setting myself a target for the 13.1 mile distance on the forerunner 405 so instead I had to set the pace of the virtual trainer and just watch my progress against my shadow. Being a “tad” heavier and not having shown an immense amount of commitment to my training this year I thought the best I could hope for was to aim for a 3:05 hr finish and so set the training buddy to 14min/miles. With the watch stuck on this screen I couldn’t tell what pace I was running at and so effectively ran the race blind. At each mile mark though I seemed to be gaining minutes on my buddy – I was kicking virtual sand in his face.

At mile 7 as was hosed down by a teenager in full firemans garb, it coincided with the end of the first episode the Archers and its replacement by P!nk’s “I’m Not Dead”. The combined effect was so refreshing that I experienced the best 20 seconds running of my life. I overtook walkers and everything!

Unfortunately in a half marathon, there is no escaping mile 10, it arrives like a soggy duvet and throws itself around your legs. At this point I was 9 minutes ahead of my target but with the duvet around my ankles I was losing minutes every few hundred yards. I was cracking up but at this time last year I had to step of the sideline to perform first aid on my thighs, something must have improved despite my preparations.

At 11 miles I had slipped back to only 6 minutes above the 3:05 target but I was smelling the sea air and getting all emotional again. My folks had driven down to catch me cross the finish line and started to feel a pb in my bones. I upped the pace at the 12 mile marker and kept looking down at my watch to see if I could get that the distance between me and my shadow to increase. It started to happen and I felt strength in my legs.

That final mile was exciting for me. It was just like the final leg of the Bushy park run, giving it all for a chance at some glory. At 7 minutes ahead of target I was struggling with my maths again to see how much I had to do to beat last year. The finish was coming upon me so quickly I didn’t think I had enough distance left to make the time but I was willing myself on anyway.

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I crossed the line in 2:57:00 about 50 seconds slower than last year. Not a pb but I was so chuffed that I’d come anywhere near it. Here’s my thank god it’s over shot, I don’t think I look quite as happy as last year but then OGB had gone AWOL. His training had been a bit lacklustre as well but at the start line he’d decided he was going to push it anyway. When he wasn’t sitting at the agreed meeting point with my pint in his hand I assumed he must have been carried off in a helicopter. I was probably wondering what I was going to tell his mum as the photo was taken.

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.

Delicious!

Nike Humanrace and Waterlogged Gadgets

Saturday evening, after entertaining my family with a slightly charred roast lamb joint but a perfectly acceptable bottle of vino (or two), I get an email from Nike. Apparently, if I could resurrect the long dead Nike+ Sportband, and push my sorry arse out of the door, complete with Sunday morning hangover, to complete a 10k of my choosing, I would soon be the proud owner of a freebie Nike Humanrace t-shirt.

Hard to resist a freebie t-shirt, so I left my visitors to rustle up their own breakfast and arranged to meet them in Kew Gardens approx 1hrs 20mins later.

Syon

Lovely day for running, providing you don’t have a pointy head or too much body jewellery.

I have a particularly round head and enjoy running through electrical storms and downpours but I was surprised to see quite so many other water babies running along the river. I searched for signs of commitment to the global humanrace but saw none, it seems that some folk don’t need freebies to run.

3 months on the sub-bench allowed the Nike+ Sportband to dry out sufficiently for me to read the screen again, but I thought it prudent to spin the screen round to the underside of my wrist to provide a little water protection. Pity I didn’t do the same for the garmin forerunner 405!

A few weeks ago I had a comment on my forerunner 405 review, warning me of short-circuiting type responses when the garmin bezel gets wet. Apparently a few reviewers had commented on the bezel bleeping and flicking through screens randomly when exposed to water or sweat. I was quick to reject that the forerunner 405 had a problem but I should have kept my mouth shut.

Running through this downpour left my watch bleeping like crazy as I tried to stop the timer and move it off the training mode. In the end I had to wait for it to run out of battery life to switch off. Serious design flaw here.

I’ve had the forerunner 405 for a few months now and as it’s pretty much rained non-stop throughout the whole of summer, I find it hard to believe that I didn’t notice the problem earlier. I’m wondering if it could possibly be related to the recent firmware I downloaded – doesn’t really sound like a software issue but I’ve upgraded to the latest update just in case.

Another Commute

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This grotty summer weather is doing wonders for my running. It just needs to threaten drizzle and I’m grabbing my trainers, or at least I’m thinking about grabbing my trainers as I’m the world’s worst procrastinator when comes to running.

I’d scheduled a run for first thing Saturday morning but although I kept putting the garmin into training mode and heading towards the door, I didn’t actually manage to get out until 3pm on Sunday. That is some dithering! At least the delay meant it was chucking down for the best part of my Sunday pootle.

It was grey again today so I seized the opportunity to schedule another running commute and my long run for the week. The unseasonable weather meant traffic chaos this morning and I was kicking myself for leaving the bike at home when I arrived at the tube station to find it closed due to flooding. I wasn’t much happier when 6 o’clock came round and I had to start running.

Turned into a jolly pleasant run though, a bit of salsa popped up on my iPod towards the end and I managed my own personal interpretation of dancing. Things are looking up for my running if I can manage a bit of merengue after 6 miles.

For any Garmin 405 owners, there is a new firmware update. It should improve the pace reading and stop the annoying freezing of the bezel, amongst other things.

Running Over Old Ground

The race packs seem to be dropping thick and fast through the letter box this week, after the painfully slow 5k at the weekend I came home and opened an envelope to discover I was entered in the Great Capital 10k in just 2 weeks time. Goodness knows when I signed up for that, I hadn’t bothered to note it in my diary anyway.

I’m thinking that’s its probably impossible to turn around the worst ever 5k race time within the space of 2 weeks given a backdrop of 5 months of lacklustre training, but I’ve got to do something to ensure I don’t collapse before the finish line. I’ve therefore embarked on a 2 week anti-Stella campaign to be combined with regularish running commutes.

JogBlog is not the only one completing an old new running commute, I’ve shifted jobs yet again and am right back where I started with the very first running commute of 18 months ago. Happily I’ve picked up a bit of local knowledge over the months and can now get from asylum to home with barely any need to run on the grotty streets, it also seems to save me 500 metres which is no good as it ruins my perfect 10 k route.

Garmin Forerunner 405

Running along the edge of assorted waterways provides plenty of opportunity for water related incidents and playing around with the forerunner 405 touch bezel does not reduce the likelihood. I stumbled over some barge docking related paraphenalia but managed to steady myself in a rather sturdy clump of stinging nettles. I’m still itching but I did discover a rather cool new screen on the forerunner.

It the HR graph option and shows your heart rate displayed on a backdrop of HR zones. Quite neat but probably only useful if you are doing intervals, for most of my run it appeared as a flat line between zones 4 and 5. The photo was taken after I stopped.

Distance: 9.58km
Time: 1:22:00

Garmin Forerunner 405 – The Review

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As you all know, I think the Garmin Forerunner 305 is the best thing since sliced bread but I’m so fickle it’s taken barely a thought for me to stick it on ebay and swap it for the new version – the Forerunner 405.

I’d like to say the new and IMPROVED Forerunner 405 but is it?

Reading the spec list it’s hard to see where Garmin made any attempts to improve on what had gone before, they missed out by not making it fully waterproof and therefore tri suitable, for example. Instead they appear to have simply repackaged the existing 305 as a sports watch that can be worn all day with the bonus of a nifty touch sensitive bezel control.

Out of the box, I decided I liked the look and feel of the watch very much. Garmin put a lot of effort into design and the strap closure is ingenious, a big improvement on the 305 which kept coming loose, snagging on my clothing and risked falling off. A minor point maybe, but Garmin are big on the little details.

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The watch charged fully in 3 hours by the use of a strange bulldog style clip that slips snugly into a couple of recesses on the back of the watch. Another neat design but I fear it is just going to prove an inconvenience. With the 305 you uploaded data to the PC by slotting it into a USB docking station and it would charge at the same time as uploading. I’d leave my device in for a few minutes longer and thereby ensure I always hard a fully charged unit. With the 405, uploading data is automatic and will occur while the watch is still on your wrist, which now means I’ll have to remember to charge the unit separately.

In standby mode (ie time display only) the watch will supposedly last 20 days, although I’m down to 89% charged after 1 day so I doubt it will last much longer than a week. When used in active mode the battery life is expected to be in the region of 8 hours. So that’s another charging gizmo to be added to my pile of wires under my bed.

I thought the software was a bit of a faff to install, it didn’t happen automatically and I had to hunt around to see what it was that needed to be loaded up. It comes with Training Centre but after installing it I immediately removed it again because I remembered how pants it is. Instead I’m using the ANT uploader linked to Garmin Connect which is quite a neat online training log.

Setting up the watch is a doddle and it takes you through the process quickly with a mini tutorial that teaches you the basics of the bezel control. Basically:

  1. press and hold on the relevant label to access either time/date, training, menu or GPS functions
  2. slide around the bezel to move through menu options
  3. tap to accept
  4. tap in two separate places to activate the backlight

Forerunner 405 Virtual Partner

All very easy really. I had no problems using the bezel on the run, not that you need to use it much, you can tap to nudge the screen to a different view and in virtual partner mode you can increase/decrease the pace of your partner by sliding the bezel. I’m particularly fond of that feature as it means I can ensure I win every race now.

I’ve heard a few people fearing that accidental touches of the bezel would mess up the data but they shouldn’t worry. The start, stop and lap functions are all controlled by the big side buttons. Pressing the bezel during a run just alters the view – not a big deal. I haven’t tried it with gloves but as long as they aren’t massive affairs it shouldn’t be a problem.

For my first run I decided to set up a simple interval session, run 90 secs, walk 60 secs. I know that’s lame but I’ve got a cold and needed the walk periods to retrieve my hankies and have a good blow! Easy enough to setup, you don’t even need the manual. Features and settings are much more intuitive on the 405 than with its predecessor.

The intervals were well “signposted”, I was given a 5 second warning of loud beeps followed by a clear “chirrup” that marked the start of the next interval. I didn’t miss one and I appreciated the warning. A good feature.

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I personalised the display I wanted to see on the run, you can choose upto 9 features to be displayed on 3 screens. On my main screen I had pace, time and distance and I accepted the defaults for the other screens. It’s well worth playing around though as there appear to be some great features. This is available on the heart rate screen for example and shows progress within your heart rate zones.

I had set the screens to auto scroll but will turn this off for the next run, I think it is more convenient to control the screen I view by tapping the bezel, that way I don’t have to wait for it to get around to the bit I’m interested in.

Back home, I was just unlocking my door, when the watch beeped to say it was uploading data. By the time I’d staggered through the hall to the laptop, my stats were already displayed on the Garmin connect website.

As a simple everyday watch its functioning fine, but I would have preferred the power save mode to be the time and date screen, not just the time display. It’s a fiddle unlocking the bezel so I can access the date feature. Its also quite chunky so if you have a small wrist you are unlikely to find it very comfortable and it will probably overhang a little. I don’t have a small wrist though so I’m alright Jack.

I’m pretty pleased with it so far and think there are clear signs of improvement, I’ll be scrutinizing it further though and am particularly keen to see if there are any improvements with the speed in which it locks on to a GPS signal.

*UPDATE 22 July*

If you are in the market for a GPS running watch, this is the leader in my opinion but as for pros and cons of the 405 vs 305 here goes:

Pros:

  1. Faster GPS pick up, I’ve seen responses within seconds even when I’m moving but it is still not perfect. In heavily built up areas of London the reception is slow.
  2. Louder volume on the beep/alarm so you can actually use it for interval training.
  3. You can wear it as a watch all day – should last about 2 weeks before charging.
  4. There are a lot of new screens available and it is very easy to adjust – more intuitive than the 305.
  5. You can adjust the speed of the virtual training partner while you are on the run.
  6. Easy wireless upload.
  7. Smaller, lighter and more inconspicuous.

Cons:

  1. Sometimes the bezel seems to be a little unresponsive, so if I tap the edge to get to a different screen it may not respond, so I tap again and eventually it goes crazy and skips thru multiple screens.
  2. Because I don’t want the useless training centre on my computer I have to be quick if I want to upload the run to Sportstracks, as it doesn’t seem to save the file on my pc.
  3. When the watch gets wet – say from splashing at a water fountain – the bezel goes nuts and the forerunner generally doesn’t respond. Wipe it dry and its back to normal again. See comments 22-25 and here’s a link to one bloggers frustrating although amusing communication with garmin about the issue.

Not many cons really but maybe I’ll to them later.

The Garmin Forerunner 405 currently retails at Amazon for just under £210: Garmin Forerunner 405 with Heart Rate Monitor and USB ANT stick – Black

**There is a link to my other product reviews on sidebar. Please contact me at angela@warriorwomen.co.uk if you have a product you would like me to review.

Do I Need This?

What a question – of course I do!
Just check out the ring of light, how have I managed to live so long without it?

It’s not too clear how the new Garmin Forerunner 405 compares to our trusty friend the 305. Sure there are the beauty enhancements and some wizadry that enables wireless upload to the PC as you stagger in from the streets, but I want to know if the satellite reception is going to be improved. It is going to be hard to improve on the Forerunner 305 but speedy satellite lock on is the way to go.

I’m still having one though – just tell me when. I might even consider entering a good ole US event if it means I could get it earlier.

*UPDATE*
Here’s a link to an important FAQ on the new forerunner 405, I’m a little disappointed that Garmin didn’t take the opportunity to make some obvious improvements to the forerunner series. It’s waterproof rating is still only sufficient for coping with sweat and possibly splashing in a particularly shallow puddle. Why didn’t they fully waterproof this beast so that it could become the clear option for triathletes? As it is, swimmers are going to go elsewhere for their gadget fix or continue to shove the unit under their swimming caps.

I can’t pick out any functional improvements at all, it’s just in a different box – quite a pretty one though.

Gadgets & Gear

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I’m a self-confessed gadget freak and another close shave with eBay and a ridiculously expensive but absolutely essential running watch has triggered the creation of this page – my homage to sports gadgets (mostly running gadgets), gear and utilities that you can almost not afford to live without.

There is a link to most of my gadget reviews on the side bar but here are my top picks for essential running, swimming and strength equipment, software, books and resources.

Some of the product links are affiliate links, if you use these and then buy a product it will help towards the upkeep of my blog and make me grateful. A lot of the products have been sent to me to review but I also spend a lot of my hard-earned cash on gadgets, I try to indicate the source of the product in my gadget reviews but rest assured I will tell you the truth about product regardless of the source.

Activity Sports Watches

The sports watch seems to be my running gadget of choice and to date I have tried and reviewed many from the likes of Garmin, Polar and Timex, ultimately settling on the Garmin Forerunner series as the de-facto runners watch.

Forerunner Evolution

I’ve been through all of the above (and more) but as a stat loving but frankly useless runner, I’ve recently decided that the latest breed of activity trackers with GPS suit my needs very well. They blur the boundaries between lifestyle and athletic watch in my favour.

Garmin Vivoactive HR vs Fitbit SurgeIt was a close battle between the Fitbit Surge and the Garmin Vivoactive HR but if running and activity logging are your main requirements, you can’t go far wrong with the Fitbit Surge. It’s not as flash as its younger Garmin challenger but it does the job perfectly and Fitbit is undoubtedly the most socially connected platform around.

If you are a more serious runner, you are likely to be more tempted by the high end forerunner series. Whether you opt for Forerunner 630 or 735XT will depend on how seriously you take other sports such as swimming and cycling (and your bank balance). It’s well worth checking in with DC Rainmaker to read his extremely in-depth reviews on the latest available gadgetry before making your final choice.

And if you are and outdoor rugged type who hikes or climbs as well as everything else you may consider splashing out on the hugely expensive Fenix 3 HR. That’s where my gaze is cast at the moment.

Running Shoes

I’ve trialled a good many shoes over the years and ridden the waves as fads come and go. I started out with the traditional Asics Kayano but then moved through barefoot, to minimal to maxi-minimal, to plain weird and I am now stuck somewhere towards the middle of that journey, wearing a pair from each genre depending on the conditions.

Maxi-minimal running shoes

On the treadmill I wear Cloudflyer from On Running, the soles have strange rubber ‘clouds’ and they seem to offer the perfect level of spring. For serious mud running and OCR events I wear Inov8. In hot weather and holidays I tend to pull out the super-minimal barefoot shoes, such Vibram fivefingers and my goto daily wear are Hoka One Ones.

Hoka One One

In the photo above you have two pairs of Altras followed by three pairs of Hokas. Between them the two companies have owned maximal running technology. The first pair of Hokas I owned were Hoka Mafates and I loved them with a passion. Huge, heavy and deeply, joyously comfortable. They are not for everyone, they have relatively tight toe boxes and don’t last very long but I still love for the protection they offer my quads on downhill runs.

Hoka have expanded their range and no offer much lighter weight versions but I think they lose the essence of Hoka-ness and I avoid them. If you prefer a much more roomy toe-box, try the Altra. The shoe on the left is the Altra Torin 2 and is a shoe I literally live in. I walk everywhere in these and I’m sure the flat soled comfort has improved the strength of my feet.

Inov8

For trail running you can’t go far wrong by sticking to inov-8.

These are sturdy shoes designed for the British countryside and all it has to offer in the form of mud, wet and tears. I particularly like the inov-8 roclite 315 (wiggle) which is a unisex model designed for all terrain types (except road).

I’ve also tried the inov-8 mudclaw but I found the shoe a little too narrow. The Roclite 295 (wiggle) is another great trail running shoe and has a softer upper and wider fit for a greater level of comfort with no need to break the shoe in.

Vibram FiveFinger

I’ve caught the barefoot running bug and have now built up an armoury of minimalist shoes.

I don’t recommend that the inexperienced barefoot runner throws away the standard running shoe in favour of either skin on tarmac or minimalist shoe running but there is a place for barefoot running in most peoples training routine. Just take it slowly to avoid injury and you should reap the benefits of increased foot mobility, strength and better running form.

The defacto standard barefoot running shoe is the Vibram Five Finger and my particular favourite is the Vibram Five Finger Speed (wiggle) with its cool laces – perfect for attaching a foot pod.

Softstar Run Amoc

Barefoot or minimal running can become almost a spiritual experience where you begin to feel part of the landscape and the track you are running along. It’s a much more involved and gentle way to interact with the trail.

To me, these RunAmoc moccassins (Sofstar link) from SoftStar are the perfect “at one with nature” style of barefoot running shoe. They are hand-made in America and can be customised to your preferred colour scheme. I opted for the plain black version but asked for a slightly thicker sole (still only 5mm though) so that I could use it for trail running.

I really do enjoy running in these shoes, I may look a little bit crusty in them but I feel free.

 

Running Headphones

I’ve worked my way through a fair number of headphones in my running career, I’ve tried in-ear, over-ear, banded, wireless bluetooth and mp3 earpieces. For the last few years though I’ve always returned to the same manufacturer and have now settled on a specific model which I can happily declare to be the best running headphone ever!

Sennheiser PMX 680i Rugged Neckband Headset with Integrated Remote and Mic

I first came across the PMX680i when I was at an Adidas miCoach launch event. Adidas have paired up with Sennheiser to produce a branded product that offers significant improvements over the earlier Sennheiser models. Note that there are two Sennheiser PMX 680 models, the PMX 680 and the PMX 680i, the addition of the i does add nearly £14 to the product but with the addition of a microphone in the volume control it adds so much versatility. I use mine to take calls while out on a run, I can press the yellow button and chat away without breaking stride (admittedly I can be hard to understand while puffing away). I can press the yellow button for a little bit longer and trigger the voice control feature of the iPhone which then enables me to control the gadget remotely – “Play Amy MacDonald” and it usually does, “call Lynn cos I’m tired and need a lift home” usually results in the iPhone lady telling me “calling Charing Cross A&E Department”, which is sometimes more appropriate.

I was really upset last week when my first set of PMX680i headphones failed on me, it was hardly a product flaw though, I tend to leave them dangling from the treadmill and the cats can’t resist chewing on the cable. With visible gnaw marks and loose cabling the sound quality was somewhat impaired and it was time to buy another pair. There was no question of me buying a different set, these are the best I’ve ever come across, they fit extremely well, they don’t cause any discomfort, sound quality is excellent (so long as you keep them away from the cats) and they are waterproof. The volume control and mic unit is very light as well which means you don’t suffer too much with an irritating  unit that bounces on your chest as you run.

The only downside that I can see about these headphones is that headband style does restrict your headwear options, so they aren’t any use under helmets or headbands.

Running Books

I’m always on the look out for running inspiration and I devour running books at a blistering pace. Here’s a selection of my favourites but if you need more I usually have an Amazon recommends list on the sidebar where I add other books I’ve enjoyed.

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 world’s obsession with barefoot running.

In parts it’s a hugely exciting tale of ultrarunning adventure, in others it’s an evangelical barefoot bible.

Here’s the link to my review for a full synopsis of Born to Run.

Running on Empty

I’m drawn to ultrarunners, I find their pain so intoxicating and it certainly helps me put my 5km woes into perspective.

Running on Empty (amazon) is hot off the press and covers Marshall Ulrich – the 57 year old guy who surgically removed his toenails as they were getting in the way of his running – as he runs across America. 3063 miles in 53 days. Nuts!

It’s a fascinating story though and there’s a bonus at the end as its polished off with details from Ullrich’s training and nutrition diary. I love that sort of thing.

Run Less Run Faster

This isn’t my usual inspiring read but anything training plan that suggests I can run less is going to attract my attention and this particular book is a nerdy runners dream.

The Furman Institutes (FIRST) method is based on a 3+2 schedule called Run Less, Run faster(amazon), not to be mistaken with “Train Less, Run Faster” because although you only run 3 times a week you are supposed to take part in some fairly energetic cross training on 2 other days in the week.

The key to the success of the FIRST plan seems to be related to the nature of the 3 runs. Each one is very specific and targeted at improving a key element of your running fitness. Key Run 1 is a track repeat session, ideally suited to treadmill workouts, Key run 2 is a tempo workout and Key run 3 is the Long Run a familiar staple of any marathon plan.

I’ve put together a whizzy spreadsheet that will spit out personalised FIRST trainings schedules for full and half marathon distances and is based on 5km paces from 15 to 40 minutes, so even the slow runners are catered for here.

Running Software – PC, MAC and iPhone

SportsTracks (PC)

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If you’ve got a gps unit then you need SportTracks, don’t worry, this one is free so you definitely can afford it. Even it you don’t have a gps I reckon its still worthwhile having as your dedicated training log – it just won’t look so pretty without the route maps.

This screen shot just shows the basic activity screen but there is stacks more hidden away – weekly, monthly and yearly reports; splits; athlete stats including weight and injury/illness status. Again the blog is littered with examples.

Unfortunately it is not mac compatible so I’ve had to move away from the best training log available *weeps*.