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

TrailRunner

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

athlete diary

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.

Garmin Forerunner 310XT – The Review

Screen shot 2011-10-24 at 23.04.28

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.

Comparing Commutes with Ascent for Mac

Ascent Activity Comp

I did the cycle commute twice last week, first on the painfully slow Brompton and then on the super speedy Specialised Sirrus Pro. I was expecting to shave at least 10 minutes off my time on the road bike.

Here’s what actually happened:

I presume my current fitness level is the rate limiter and not my bike choice, so I may as well stick to the Brompton, with its handy frame mounted bag and potential for shoving on the train when I can’t be bothered to go any further.

The activity comparison movie was taken from Ascent the activity tracker or sports log for mac. Since I’ve started using GPS again I’ve been really impressed with this software, I’m even beginning to get over the loss of Sporttracks when I moved away from the PC.

The activity comparison window is one of the best I’ve ever seen on a sports log.

Garmin Forerunner FR60 – The Review

I can get over the treadmill boredom frontier by sticking a gruesome thriller on the iPod but the absence of a reliable data capture device (or sports watch) could call the end to a beautiful gym relationship membership.

I’ve worked my way through a number of fancy running watches over the years but my latest, the Forerunner 405 (reviewed May 2008) was just not designed to be a gym bunny buddy. Fortunately the Garmin Forerunner FR60 was released earlier in the year and appeared to be just what I required.

In summary, it’s a footpod/HR monitor which is ANT enabled meaning you can wirelessly upload data and connect to other ANT enabled equipment such as gym machines and the fancy new BC1000 Tanita weighing scales.
Unlike most of the others in the forerunner series, this watch does not have GPS, it is waterproof though.

I’ve had a few footpod watches before, including the Nike+, Polar 725 and Polar RS200SD and I’ve been impressed with all of them. In most cases they have proved to be accurate out of the box without the need for calibration and are ready for action from the moment you put the watch into training mode so there is no need to hang around stretching out your hamstrings while you wait for a the GPS unit to lock onto a satellite signal.

The footpod speed and distance monitors also have a huge advantage over GPS when it comes to monitoring pace. Pace readings on GPS units have a tendency to fluctuate all over the place while the footpod units prove to be more stable and therefore more reliable in any given instance.

What the footpods lack when compared to their bigger GPS brothers, is the ability to create lovely map trails of where you’ve been. GPS makes you feel like an adventurer, an explorer of uncharted tracks, but let’s face it, GPS isn’t for everyone.

If you run the same few routes over and over again the joy of the GPS map soon begins to wane and if like me, you spend a good proportion of your time on the treadmill, the GPS output would result in a terribly unsatisfying mess centred above your gym coordinates.

Garmin Forerunner FR60 in Action – Screenshots

Here’s a few shots of the Garmin FR60 as I move through the history screens for one workout. The final image shows the virtual partner screen which is one of the view options while training.

Garmin Forerunner FR60

Garmin FR60 Compared to Nike+ and Polar

Nike+

The Nike+ wrist unit offers an accurate footpod with a minimal design. It’s ideal for social networking as it makes it so easy to upload stats via twitter, facebook and assorted other widgets. It’s the cheapest option as well but I can’t help finding it a bit disappointing, I just can’t stand the cartoon style display of the stats.

Polar

I really loved the RS200SD, the display was brilliant and the history data lent itself perfectly for being transferred to a training log. It has now been superseded by the Polar RS300X and I was momentarily tempted by it until I started pricing up the extras. The really annoying feature of Polar is that they require you to buy all the necessary attachments separately. The ridiculous “flowlink” is required for uploading data to the web but costs £49.99 whereas Garmin include their usb ANT connectivity stick in the box along with the watch.

Garmin

Garmin has the edge over the competition, everything is supplied in the box and the connection is relatively straightforward.
Having uploaded the data it is easy to import the data files into sporttracks or other training logs.

**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.

London to Brighton – Geeky Stuff

As promised earlier, here’s the route map for the London to Brighton 2009 Bike Ride, courtesy of RunSaturday.

I’ve also added the speed splits from Sporttracks just to illustrate how painfully slow the process was. I’ve currently got my log set up to show running and jogging paces but its quite interesting to see that I was walking for at least 7 miles of the ride and barely jogging for another 4 miles.

Go early is my recommendation!

L2B Pace Chart Sml

And here’s the GPS elevation, its bound to be slightly inaccurate but it gives you a feel for the route.
You can click on both images to enlarge.

Cycling London to Brighton 21-06-2009, Elevation - Distance Sml

While Not Running

RunSaturday Facebook

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t run an awful lot of late, in fact if you want to be reasonably precise, I have run only once in the last month, which also happens to equate to once this year. How neat.

If we want to be 100% precise it could be argued that I’ve run a few more times than I’ve let on, for example, I may have attempted the occassional dash to the bus away from work and I sprinted to the train station last night after my blood doning session but all in all the consequences were ugly and should remain hidden from public conciousness.

I feel like I’m taking confession and will have to start with the hail Mary’s soon but in my defence, I do have some excuses.

For one thing, as the last two months of my fairly sparse blog writing will attest, I am far too happy for running. Running appeals to the miserable side of me, it’s the perfect alternative to a pack of Benson and Hedges and bottle of JD. Mind you it also appeals to the exceptionally jolly side of me as well, so maybe that’s not such a good excuse after all.

Secondly, and this one has to be foolproof, I’m working on a ridiculous placement that means I have to travel between 4 and 5 hours every day.
Not a chance that I feel like running after all that nonsense.

Still, there is light at the end of the tunnel. I have secured myself a proper job, midway between happiness and home and I forsee many exciting new routes ahead of me, incorporating the best of London’s seedy commons and the highly rated Wandle trail. Expect updates of the running variety in March.

In the mean time, what better way to spend one’s non-running time, than by analysing data from runs gone by?

RunSaturday is new website stacked full of new and intriguing ways to analyse data held across multiple sites and generated by multiple gadgets. I’ve been able to bring together runs from my Garmin Forerunner 405, Nike+, Nokia Sportstracker along with all my historical runs stored on SportsTracks. I can also bring in runs manually entered onto Fetcheveryone and analyse my stats from the Saturday morning 5k park runs.

All this makes RunSaturday the most comprehensive database of my running shame prowess, which is quite a lot of fun because the site provides loads of ways to share the data across social websites such as facebook and personal blogs.

Here’s a particularly ancient route showing the mammoth run/walk I did along the Capital Ring. If you click on the heart symbol you’ll see a colour coded route indicating the specific heart rate zones during the run. You can see similar images for speed but as I’m a one speed wonder you’ll have to upload your own interval workouts to see rainbows in this feature.

There seem to be loads of new features coming along, so I’d recommend checking it out for yourself. I’ll add more images from the site just as soon I manage another run but don’t hold your breath til March.

**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.

It’s Christmas!

You should see the floor of my flat – tis littered with no end of exciting possibilities. I could of course take a snap and show you but then you’d see the truth, which involves an awful lot of boxes, wrapping and all those other things that I haven’t quite got round to putting away yet.

There are about 5 more months to go before I get thrown back into exam anxiety so in the meantime I’m needing a new project, that’s in addition to the running project and the allotment project which have ceased to be a new and have now slipped into the realms of “norm”. In times like these my fall back project always seems to be “teach yourself programming”, so here I am with a floor full of teaching manuals. The trouble with programming is the plethora of different languages out there, and then there are different variations of the same language like C, C+, C++ and C#, what is the novice supposed to make of it? As I can’t be bothered to research this too much I’ve opted to dabble with two languages at the same time: Python and VB.Net.

I’ve got python cos its free and sits nicely with computer that I just broke and accidentally forced into being a linux machine and VB.Net because that goes with my windows laptop and because Sporttracks, the best program ever (that I should have written) was developed in dotnet.

I’m sure no one is interested in all that but the other thing fighting for space on my floor is a little package that I’ve been asked to trial. Inside is a running rucsac the Salomon Raid Revo 20 and the latest Nokia N-carnation, the N82. What joy eh? I can see that I’ll have to go out and do a bit of running over the hols to try both of these gadgets out. Is it possible that the N82 could beat the N95 as running gadget par excellence?

The Raid Revo 20 is particularly welcome, I ordered the Inov8 Race Pro 18 ages ago but it seems to have been lost by the Royal Mail. I’ll try the salomon substitute tomorrow on my running commute and report back.

World Naked Sprint-like-crazy-athon

I’ve just got back in from my run – it was a tough one. I’d meant to go out for a run with Shakti this morning but certain events, like the title of this blog post and then a rather large steak conspired to thwart me.

I’ve been going stir crazy most of the day and so despite having just eaten a large plate of chilli prawns and drunk most of a half bottle of ruby cabernet, I decided to push myself out for a run before bed. I don’t like running at dusk, its always light enough when I set off for me to think the river route would be a good plan but when I get to the other side it gets all dark and spooky. I kept feeling the presence of someone behind me, pushing me to a panic fuelled sprint towards the safety of the bridge. I had a stitch and was nearly sick by the time I got there. I felt sure that I must be on for a record time for the course but sporttracks doesn’t seem to be playing fair today, I was apparently a whole 2 minutes slower than yesterdays time. Mind you, no one ever claimed large volumes of red wine to be a performance enhancer.

So back to this morning….

I was in the middle of a dream when I was stirred by the sound of my door buzzer ringing repeatedly. I dragged myself out of bed keeping both eyes firmly shut. T’was Shakti so I released the door and went straight back to bed while she made her way up. It was 7.30 and I couldn’t fathom out why she’d decided to come round for our run quite so early. I hoped she’d just settle down quietly and let me finish off my dream in peace.

When she got in she was puffing like crazy so I rolled over and gave her one eyeball, my interest was stirred and I opened both eyes, then I sat bolt upright – all memories of my dream wiped out – don’t you hate it when that happens? Anyway, the vision in front of me is a woman in a skimpy t-shirt (no undergarment) and a pair of pants, thats pants in the knicker sense and not the trouser sense – there were no trousers! There were also no socks and no shoes. What the …?

Apparently Shakti had taken it upon herself to sweep her front garden and she decided it was perfectly acceptable to do this in a pair of high waisted pants. Of course, this is only going to end one way – the front door decides to slam shut and she found herself outside, completely exposed without phone, keys or clothes.

At this point I would have dug a waist high hole in my front garden and waited for a friendly visitor. Shakti decided she would sprint for a set of spare keys, thats a barefoot, bra-less 1 mile run through suburbia passing a busy bus route and the bus terminus. Good thing is, she decided she rather likes running, but only if she can do it barefoot and reckons she could even manage a marathon if someone swipd her trousers first.

Gadgets & Gear

sennheiser pmx680i

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)

sporttracks.jpg

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*.