Running with the Forerunner 620

Boxing Day is a day for soggy running, or at least it has proved to be for the last 2 years running. It is also becoming a traditional day for trying out new running gadgets.

Garmin Forerunner 620 ReviewThis year I was spoiled with the Forerunner 620, the latest and most advanced GPS running watch from Garmin with a built in personal coach.

I love the style of the new forerunner, its the first GPS unit that I could imagine wearing as a regular watch and this one has already supplanted my Seiko. Its only marginally thicker than my old watch and so long as I can remember to charge it on a weekly basis I think I’ll be quite happy with it as a jazzy timepiece.

I had a short Christmas Day run with the FR620 on the treadmill where I was able to test out the in built accelerometer, which means that this version of the Forerunner can monitor treadmill running without the need for a foot pod. The Boxing Day run was an outdoor 10k around Richmond Park for true field testing.

The FR620 is pretty slick on the run but most of the new or improved features show themselves either before you start or as you complete a run. To start you have improved satellite connection as the forerunner caches the location of satellites from previous runs, which dramatically reduces the time to lock on to your location.

Garmin Forerunner 620 Review

During the run, you have the typical selection of screens – all fully customisable, and you switch between them by means of the touch screen. I’m not too sure about touch screens for running gadgets, they tend to be a bit fussy and not very responsive to sweaty finger jabs but I had no complaints on this run. The screen feels a little bit smaller than the 910XT (and 305) so I found myself peering at the watch trying to fathom out what I was looking at. This will become less of a problem when I know what each field represents.

Another new feature, the Recovery Advisor, forms part of the personal coaching suite. I’m not sure how I feel about this one, my forerunner coach appears to have gone to the fluffy school of personal training, where they tell you to take it easy and listen to your body. After a 20 minute treadmill session the watch determined that I would need 36 hours to get over the ordeal. I prefer the more hardcore, military style of coaching, where I am encouraged to push harder and go for the burn.

About 15 mins into today’s run my watched beeped and left the message “recovery good”. It’s a little cryptic but I interpret it as saying:

ok wise guy, I told you it was going to take you 36 hours to get over yesterday’s little run but you chose to ignore my advice. You appear to have got away with it this time but don’t cross me again

It got its own back at the end of today’s run by upping the recovery period to 72hours. I don’t think it would take much for the watch to give me permission to sit on the sofa for a full week.

Forerunner 620 VO2 MaxAt the end of the run I’m alerted to any changes in stats eg. Fastest mile, longest distance so far etc. The watch also gives me an estimate of my VO2 max and based on that my predicted race times. The race times given are little challenging for me but possibly within the realms of possibility with a good wind. I’m not terribly impressed by the visual representation of my VO2 max on the Garmin Connect dashboard, but I suppose it is fairly factual – I am a pants runner.

A first for Garmin is the ability to sync with your phone via the Garmin Connect app. This is a brilliant feature and meant that I could sync my run while walking back to the car and see my route and multiple charts within seconds of finishing the run. I could get maps on my phone previously by using a GPS app such as runmeter but it drained the battery in the process. Now I have the best of both worlds – accurate data, full colour stats on a large screen and a phone with sufficient battery to call for a lift home.

There’s a whole host of new charts available with the 620. The run heart rate monitor includes some sort of gizmo that detects vertical oscillation and acts as a pedometer so I can now view stats such as oscillation, ground contact and running cadence. I haven’t a clue what to do with this information yet bit it’s certainly interesting or pretty at the very least.

[GARD]

Garmin Forerunner 620 Additional Statistics

The Forerunner 620 is a really impressive running companion and there are stacks of other features that I haven’t even mentioned. If you’d like a seriously detailed review of the Garmin Forerunner 620 you should check out DC Rainmaker’s blog.

I strongly recommend this for geeky runners but if you have multisport tendencies or like the routing functionality of the older models you might be better off with the Forerunner 910XT.

The Scosche myTrek Running Gadget Review

Scosche myTrek is a wireless pulse monitor that works in combination with the myTrek app on your iPhone or Android smartphone.

The full package enables you to set training plans and receive verbal motivation based on target heart rate zones, record your route using the phone’s in-built GPS and then seamlessly publish your efforts on assorted social media sites.

At the moment I keep a manual record of runs and rowing sessions on one of my iPhone tracking logs but the actual data is scattered across an assortment of sites such as garmin connect, nike+ and concept2. I am attracted to the notion of linking my fitness gadgets to my iPhone, I like the idea of all my data and stats being held in one place and therefore easily accessible but unfortunately I don’t think the smartphone is ready for this level of integration yet.

The Scosche myTREK armband is a comfortable contraption that straps around your forearm and doesn’t require any additional wires or chest bands, the pulse is picked up from the sensor on your arm. Linking the Scosche myTrek to my iPhone via the bluetooth connection was easy and so was the set up of the myTrek app. The pulse picked up immediately and the beat and pattern appeared convincing while still at rest. When I moved around the pulse trace became quite erratic but the displayed pulse rate matched that recorded by my Garmin Forerunner.

My first exercise session was not very successful. I had the band attached and confirmed that the pulse was being picked up ok, then pressed the start workout button, wrapped the iPhone in the armband and strapped it out of sight under my t-shirt sleeve. At this point I’d wasted a good couple of minutes with pre-run faffing but the myTrek app was recording it all, or at least I thought it was.

Eventually the exercise got under way but I didn’t get any feedback and I couldn’t see anything as the iPhone was wrapped up and rather inconveniently placed on my upper arm.

When I stopped the run and checked the output I discovered that neither the GPS or pulse monitor had recorded anything – it was just a glorified stopwatch.

I really don’t know what happened but it does highlight a flaw in the design – it’s quite tricky to use a sports tracker without easily being able to view any of the stats while exercising.

I had more success on my second attempt and the voice over gave me enough indication to assure me that it was working – it beeped at me quite regularly to inform me that my heart rate was too high!

Overall I would have to say that I was not terribly impressed. If I wanted the option of verbal feedback on motivation to complete a specific training program then I would prefer to use the Adidas miCoach pacer option which is a beautifully executed device with an excellent website. If I was more interested in the data recording and GPS mapping functionality then I would go for the Garmin every time. Phone based GPS devices are too flawed, the GPS quality is rarely as good as you’ll find in a GPS specific watch and the phone battery is drained at an unacceptable rate. My current Garmin is the Forerunner 310XT but for the same price of the Scosche myTrek you could invest in the highly regarded Garmin Forerunner 110 GPS sports watch.

Where the Scosche myTrek scores highly is the social network aspect. It does make it extremely easy to share workouts to facebook and twitter and that is the joy of a networked device. The Nike+ sportband has social networking down to a fine art but you still have to connect the gadget to your computer first with the myTrek app you can complete your workout and tell the world within seconds.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with the Scosche myTrek – let me know if you’ve tried it out.

Trail Runner and RaceBunny – A Perfect Complement for the GPS & Mac Enabled Runner

I think I’ve arrived late to the party but I’ve just stumbled upon a brilliant piece of software that can actually give Sporttracks a run for it’s money. TrailRunner is a superb piece of kit that acts as a standard GPS enabled training log but with added mapping and routing wizardry. I haven’t had enough time with it yet to provide a comprehensive review of all its features but I do still want to alert you to its routing functionality.

I’ve been looking ahead to the 16 and 20 mile long runs that form part of my marathon schedule and wondering how to find an inspiring route, possibly with some remote off roading and still ensure that I can get safely home at the end of it. The London Loop offers up some fairly secluded long distance trails but although it is signposted in parts, I know I would still get horrendously lost and throw my teddy out of the pram at mile 19.

I’ve therefore been looking for some way to carry the route with me. I’d just started looking round for yet another GPS gadget when I discovered that my trusty Garmin Forerunner 310XT will do the job for me (as would the 305). For some reason I had got it into my head that the 310XT didn’t support routes. In actual fact it doesn’t support routes but does support courses – I don’t know the difference but I do know that courses are just what I need.

This is where TrailRunner comes into the picture. TrailRunner is a 3 in 1 application: an activity journal, a mapping application and a route planning app.

Trailrunner stores all my routes, whether imported from GPS or created using it’s routing functionality, into my own personal network of tracks. I can also access the GPSies community to import nearby tracks and thereby beef up my own personal network.

I get the impression that network building could become quite a techy task. I’ve been reading the instructions and you have to get to grips with a glossary of GPS and mapping terms and occasionally help the program out by splitting and merging tracks.

Having done this though, the program unleashes functionality number 3 – the route planning function. Trailrunner can create a workout of a set distance based on my network, and if I rate the tracks in advance it will do it’s best to choose a loop taking in my favourite segments. Wizardry!

I’m importing my old workouts as we speak and mapping out the London Loop into 10 mile segments.

I can export any route held with TrailRunner to a number of different formats. If I choose TCX I can import the file to Garmin Training Centre and then send the course to my device. From here I can access it through the training menu. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me.

This isn’t a feature restricted to TrailRunner by any means. MapMyRun enables you to create routes and then export as a TCX file as does Google (I think), but TrailRunner is such an accomplished piece of kit that I can’t resist investing some time and effort into it.

DCRainmaker has prepared a useful illustrated walkthrough of how to create courses for the Forerunner 310XT (or 305/500/705) using MapMyRun as the route maker and Garmin Training Centre to upload to the device.

You don’t even need to have a Garmin sports watch to take advantage of these features either. RaceBunny is an iPhone app also by Berbie software that works seamlessly with TrailRunner. You can record GPS trails from the phone and import to the desktop software as well as downloading pre-recorded routes into the iPhone.

I’ve got quite a lot of dabbling and learning to do before I become adept at using TrailRunner, as you can see from my mapping example above I’ve got it riddled with waypoints. This isn’t necessary at all as you can link your trails to the map background. So in this case I am using the OpenStreetMap background which has all the legal trails already mapped, all I need to do is click to start my trail and the software miraculously follows the twists and turns to spit out a track.

When I’ve got a little more familiar with TrailRunner I’ll be back to give it a full review but if you love maps and gadgets and have a mac I’d really recommend you give this a go – it’s free and fantastic!

Garmin Forerunner 310XT – The Review

Having abandoned treadmill running in favour of the great outdoors it wasn’t long before I began to bemoan the loss of my preferred running watch the Garmin Forerunner 305. I long for pretty maps to illustrate my outdoor running routes and spur me on to explore my surroundings and for that you need GPS.

Fortunately for me I am spoilt, and my good lady wife didn’t listen to my moans for long before coming home with a beautiful orange gift – the Garmin Forerunner 310XT.

The Forerunner 310XT has been the long awaited upgrade to the Forerunner 305. The Forerunner 405 (reviewed here) let us down with it’s silly bevel features that went haywire at the first hint of moisture, so the Forerunner 310XT marks a back to basics approach, stick with the tried, tested and much loved functionality of the 305 but add the long called for water resistance that should mark this as the triathletes choice.

Not of course that I can call myself a triathlete having done only one sprint event about 3 whole years ago. I am occasionally known to dabble in open water swimming though, or at least I have done twice, but I don’t think one should limit oneself, who knows when I may decide to pull on the wetsuit and explore the local waterways.

So the biggest change between the Forerunner 305 and the Forerunner 310XT is that Garmin have made the 310XT waterproof and therefore suitable for the swim. Having looked into the watches swim capabilities though I think I understand why Garmin took their time to introduce the feature and make a truly triathlon oriented GPS watch.

If you wear the watch on your wrist, as most people do, the watch will be plunged under water with each stroke reducing and possibly even removing its connection with the satellites and the stroke action will have the wrist unit moving forwards and back and effectively mapping out a greater distance than the rest of your body. The result is a very messy GPS trail and a wildly overestimated swim distance. A firmware release has added open-swim functionality to the Forerunner 310XT which averages out the missed points and gives a smoother GPS and distance closer to the truth but still not what you could call accurate.

DC Rainmaker has written an excellent review of the Forerunner 310XT as it performs in open water and compared the results with that of the Forerunner 305 worn underneath the swim cap.
I recommend you check out his analysis if you intend to use the watch for swimming or triathlon. The point I’ve taken away is that the 310XT really needs to be worn under your swim cap if you want to be able to trust the data and get a pretty map. It doesn’t show any improvements over the Forerunner 305 which you can shove in a sandwich bag and also pop under your swim cap but I suppose it does offer some peace of mind in case you drop it and it gets waterlogged.

Another major change is related to battery life. You can now run or swim or bike for around 20 hours vs the 10 hrs quoted for the 305. This is great news for endurance athletes or indeed anyone who can’t be bothered to charge the unit after each use. I have noticed a reduction in the data recording options though and wonder if this has gone someway to improving the battery life. With the 305 you could select the data recording option to every second or every 4 seconds with the “Smart Recording” option. With the 310XT the option has gone and now you only have smart recording. This isn’t really a problem for me although I do notice the charted data is a little less granular than it was in the 305 and it’s always nice to have the choice.

As with the Forerunner 405, the 310Xt is ANT enabled which means you get the automatic upload of workout data using the ANT stick and it means that the watch is compatible with assorted ANT devices such as cycle power meters. I don’t have one of these but I’m sure if you did, you’d be very happy with the enhancement. If you want to use the watch as your main cycle computer it is worth investing in the optional quick release kit, which is relatively cheap.

I’ve paired my unit with the ANT footpod that came with my Garmin FR60 but you could also pair it with the Adidas footpod that comes with the miCoach if you happen to have one. You can set the 310XT to use the footpod for distance measurements if you are running inside or on a treadmill or leave it set on GPS in which case the footpod will be used to measure cadence only.

I’ve been using mine mostly on the run and have noticed a few other improvements:

Physically the wrist unit is smaller and sleeker and is of course orange. It picks up GPS signals very quickly and seems to hold onto them, so despite running in wooded areas I haven’t noticed any spurious results on my map output. The unit is easier to use with less delving into menu systems required. For example if I want to switch from bike to run I just press and hold the mode button for about 3 seconds and it pops up the option to select the sport.

The multisport function has been improved as well. You can set up in advance the different stages of your race eg. Swim, T1, Bike 1, T2, Run and then when you press the lap button it automatically moves you into the next sport mode.

As with the 405 you can change the pace of your Virtual Partner on the fly. Press the up or down for a second and then you can slow the little stick man down long enough for you to be able to overtake him. Perfect, but perhaps shouldn’t be used too often.

A number of features are common to both the 305 and 310XT but I’ve noticed improvements to the “Back to Start” and the alert features.

If you want alerts you can choose to have sound or vibration or both. The vibration is particularly strong and sends ripples up your arm to ensure you don’t miss your lap times or interval notifications.

The Back to Start feature is very useful if you run on unfamiliar routes. It effectively lays out a bread crumb trail for you to retrace your steps with. When I used it the other weekend, I was trying to get back to my car which was who knows where. I’d gone a little bit around the houses and didn’t want to literally retrace my steps so I ignored the first turn off and headed back to an earlier point in the route. I was impressed to note that the watch forgave me and soon started picking up its directional instructions, buzzing at me when it was time to left or right. I don’t remember this being a feature of the 305.

So here’s my assessment.

Pro’s and Con’s

Pros
1. Small, pretty and new
2. Waterproof
3. Longer battery life – 20 hrs vs 10 hrs
4. Better GPS reception
5. ANT enabled which allows for wireless syncing, footpod pairing and power sensor compatibility
6. Back to start routing available – Included with 305 but not 405

Cons
1. Not really a swim watch – it still needs to sit in the swim cap
2. A lot more expensive than the 305 which currently retails at amazon for less than £140: Garmin Forerunner 305 with Heart Rate Monitor

I’ve got a lot of pro’s there but then I like shiny new things and I didn’t have to pay for it. I have to say though that I am a bit disappointed about the swim functionality, I can see that it’s a tricky concept to engineer but I’m paying a lot for it over and above the price of the 305.

If you are a cyclist and want to use the power meter features then I think you would be happy with the 310XT, if you are a regular swimmer you may settle for the safety aspect of having a waterproof item even if you do have to wear it in your swim cap.

If you are a runner and don’t have need to record workouts in excess of 10 hours, I think you may want to take advantage of the reduction in price of the Forerunner 305 and spend the money you save on a swanky pair of Vibram Five Fingers or some such.

The Garmin Forerunner 310XT with Heart Rate Monitor currently retails at Amazon for just under £265.

Foot Pods at Dawn

It was closer to dusk but the effect was similar – one large, brightly coloured woman trogging down the street with three foot pods attached to her shoes, two watch-like gadgets on her wrists and an iPhone and miCoach pacer bound to her upper arm. I probably looked like a heavily wired suicide bomber, good job I kept clear of the tube stations.

The miCoach pacer has given my running a whole new lease of life, I’ve been out 5 times this week and I’ve even canceled my gym membership as I seem happy enough to run outside now that I have some audible support. If I keep up this level of enthusiasm for two months it would have paid for itself already.

So my feelings are strong for this new gadget but I can’t help feeling a little disgruntled with its accuracy. Hence the head to head foot pod test, pitting the Nike+ Footpod against the Garmin Forerunner FR60 and the Adidas miCoach Pacer.

Here’s the Adidas miCoach output, which is very pleasing to the eye. This particular chart is showing my heart rate against time with the scheduled HR zones overlaid. I was supposed to stay in blue zone for the first and last 5 minutes with a 30 minute stint in green zone. Blue is such a hard zone to stick to, it’s a tiny bit too high for walking but too low for running so I end up running for a minute then walking – hence the zig zags. Green is a lot more comfortable.

The middle dip in the chart occurs because the pacer declared it had temporarily lost contact with the footpod. Although she encouraged me to carry on while she re-scanned I decided to dither on the spot, I was in the middle of a controlled experiment afterall.

The final results from Adidas suggest I completed 5.38 km in 42 mins which is extraordinarily unlikely given that it included 10 mins walking time. The pace image at the top of the chart says 05:36 min/km which must also be tosh. I never run at that pace and it also doesn’t equate to 5.38 km over 42 mins. So something wrong here. Still, I don’t know why I’m complaining, the doobury wotsit tells me to slow down with every step and then declares that I’ve set a blistering pb pace – result!

The Nike+ Sportand is a no-nonsense beast. It consistently performs, it’s cheap and I can’t help thinking its pretty accurate as well. Shame the stats are so painfully naff. How awful is that chart? The axes aren’t labeled, its been smoothed beyond recognition and its ugly.

The Nike+ recorded a distance of 4.76 km over the 42 min run.

Here’s the pace output from the Garminn Forerunner FR60. You would normally also have heart rate info overlaid but I thought it would be a bit overkill to have two heart rate straps on.

The Garmin footpod recorded the shortest distance of the bunch at 4.41 km.

So there was a huge variation in distance recorded:

Garmin FR60 – 4.41 km
Nike+ Sportband – 4.76 km
Adidas miCoach – 5.38 km

Without testing this on a defined route I can’t be sure which is the most accurate but my suspicions based on the fact that I am at my heaviest in ages and also my unfittest is that it won’t be the miCoach. I did map my route on google maps and it came out at 5.22 km which I also don’t believe.

If I needed any more evidence that the miCoach pacer was a little unreliable, here’s the pacer chart from the same run. It looks like a bar code and bears no resemblance to how the run felt to me. It should be directly comparable to the Garmin offering above but obviously isn’t. Perhaps its just teething problems or perhaps I have a dodgy footpod. The miCoach offering is still in its early days and I would expect their to be software enhancements that may improve this sort of output, perhaps it requires a tiny bit more smoothing?

There’s nothing else left to do so I’ve gone and signed myself up for a 5 km race in Regents Park. I’ll take all 3 gadgets out on another outing and calibrate them properly.