Long Walks and Gadget Melt Down

I’m still struggling with the temporary transition from running to walking and yesterdays outing with multiple gadget failure just hammered another nail in the coffin. Today’s gadget doesn’t support the long drawn out monotony of a distance walk and if I can’t play with technology I’m just not that bothered.

Walking is too pure for my liking, it’s designed for the rugged “at one with nature” types who aren’t scared by the hours of silence and EMF solitude.

Yesterday’s program started with a slow yet painful parkrun at Bushy Park, followed by a planned hike along the Thames Path from Hampton Court to the Embankment. I was gadget free for the parkrun due to a late arrival at an extremely packed venue which meant I was bundled out of the car without the usual accoutrements of hydration packs, Garmin, jelly babies and iPhone.

I survived.

Leaving the park after a short interlude for champagne and the collection of gadgetry, I realised I had become disorientated and needed to engage the google maps app. The iPhone was at 97% and all was well. I spun in circles trying to orientate myself before following a bus heading in the direction of Kingston. I engaged the Runmeter app to record my GPS and submit my whereabouts and pace to my standby rescue vehicle (Lynn) and pressed play on the latest Audio book (The Art of Fielding).

Thames Path ice cream2 hours later I paused for an ice-cream and noticed that the battery life had shrunk to 27%. That’s pretty drastic when you are miles from home and feeling weary. At that rate I’d have barely managed 10 miles before being cast into a telecommunication black hole.

I sent out a single text with my last known location (Richmond) and my intended direction (East along the Thames), then switched the phone off.

That’s it, radio silence.

Just me and the rowers and the occasional kamikaze cyclist. It wasn’t long before I started my own entertainment, humming along to the pulsing in my throbbing toenails. My spirits were flagging as fast as the crappy iPhone battery.

I made it as far as Hammersmith before joining the prostrate sun seekers in a riverside park. I’d completed a total of 17 miles including the preliminary parkrun. I’d learnt a lot, not least that this 100k London2Brighton walk is going to be a killer. As we currently stand, I think I’ll be ready to quit at 50k and ready to be airlifted out at 75k. I need an endurance boost over the next 5 weeks and I also need to find a solution to the technical blackouts.

I have a kit bag that PC World would be proud of, including iPhone 5, iPod Nano (2nd Gen from the bottom of a very old drawer), an ancient Nokia N82, assorted car chargers and a plan to switch my iPhone with Lynns every 25k. The fact that the phone died before 15k is a bit of shock. I’m terrified of hitting the wooded areas of the South Downs sometime post midnight and losing all contact with my hope of escape.

Power Monkey ExtremeTwitter has been extremely useful on the subject of expedition style battery sources. The ideal power replacement for the hike would be these impact driven piezoelectric boots which would give my iPhone a boost with every step but unfortunately they don’t seem to have hit the manufacturing stage yet and besides I have just bought a new pair of boots for the occasion.

I am now coveting this expedition ready solar charger from powertraveller. The power monkey extreme holds enough juice to charge an iPhone 6 times over which ought to do the trick. At £120 its probably a bit too much gadget for one single day and I may have to sign up for another crazy challenge just to get my money’s worth.

www.rvops.co.uk has become my latest go to website for gadget ideas to help me cross the downs. It is a military themed site but has stacks of top notch kit that I might be able to find a little more space in my kit bag for. They have everything I need including lighting, map cases, solar iphone chargers, protein snacks, rain gear and a Bergen to squeeze it all in to.


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

How Many Armbands does a Girl Need?

I’m a big fan of running gadgets and every now and again I’m fortunate enough to be sent free stuff to try out and review. The marketing craze of the moment seems to be for iphone armbands and I am now the proud owner of one for each arm.

I was very happy with my existing armband and given that my requirements were simple and met, it’s hard to see how the design could be improved upon.

Design requirements for larger ladies iPhone running armband:

  1. Large enough for larger ladies ample armage
  2. Sufficiently waterproof to protect iPhone during hardcore British training sessions
  3. Cable gizmo to prevent irritating entanglements with headphone cable

So when the new action sports iPhone armband arrived in the post I was very pleased that it met and surpassed the existing model on points 1 and 3. Not yet sure about number 2 as I haven’t been very hardcore recently and neither has the British weather.

It’s extra comfortable and I have to admit that the simple velcro flap is an excellent, if low-tech, way to handle the excess cable from the headphones.

Yet again I have been won over by the new and shiny stuff.

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!

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.

iPhone Sports Band

Since I’ve shifted to the iPhone I’ve always struggled for places to secrete it while out on my run. It has a tendency to yank my shorts down if I put it in my pocket and so I’ve resorted to wearing a huge Salomon bum bag – tres trendy!

I was sent an iPhone sports band around the same time as I found myself kitted out with the Adidas miCoach which proved to be perfect timing. The miCoach pacer needs to be held within about 2 inches of your mp3 player and it clips perfectly to the sports band.

iPhone accessories vary widely in their quality but I was really pleased this item. The strap was big enough to fit even my substantial arm (not pictured), the iPod touch screen worked beneath the plastic screen protector and the strap includes a perfect cable tidy to stop the headphone wrapping itself around my elbow. It’s very good quality and I’ve been out in the April showers and so far no harm has befallen my beloved phone.

I do have some concerns about the new iPhone carrier though, the other evening while running past the local “Enterprise” college, the strap came loose and I was left gasping and clutching at my heart. I was readying myself to scream pathetically until I realised there had been a temporary velcro failure and I wasn’t being mugged by a gang of iPhone coveters. It’s a serious concern though, I read in the paper last week that a local guy was killed for his Blackberry, which makes me think it’s probably not the best neighbourhood for running around with £400 of swanky gadgetry strapped provocatively to your arm.

I suppose I could wear baggier t-shirts to cover it up or go back to the bumbag style.

**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.