Monday, August 31, 2009

Technical recovery

I have been operating without any personal information management device since Wednesday when my iPhone shut down and refused to come back up. I had been trying to get a satellite fix so I could track a family hike using one of half a dozen GPS apps that I'd downloaded to the phone. The iPhone flat-lined in the middle of that attempt and despite my IT support team's best efforts it would not come back to life. I still have a Verizon feature phone that I've been using when the iPhone can't get a signal (which is much of the time) so at least I am connected. However, without the iPhone I can't reach my business email any time that I wish and, most importantly, I'm unable to use GPS apps to track my runs.

After almost five days without an iPhone or Blackberry I feel pretty good. Funny that when these devices aren't available you can really focus on other things. My wife surely appreciated that I wasn't constantly staring at a 3" screen all week while on vacation. Now that I'm back in my office I have a legitimate need for mobile connectivity and I just found out that IT has resurrected my iPhone. I'm rather shocked since I tried for hours to get it to restart. They still don't know why it failed and they suggested that wiping it clean and starting over might be the best course of action. I'm unwilling to reload all the apps and content I'd put on it so I'm getting it back as is. I hope it doesn't fail again.

I'll use it tomorrow to track my morning run. Yesterday afternoon my daughter and I covered a couple of neighborhood miles which I tracked using my Garmin 50 that I'd calibrated at the track earlier in the day. I had some frustrations over the weekend when the Garmin Connect website coughed and sputtered and refused to upload one of my runs. The run appeared to upload but then disappeared from the site. I was thrilled when I went onto Connect yesterday and saw that the 'technical difficulties' notification had been removed and I was further amazed to see my 5.25 mile Saturday run magically appear in my log. So despite the clumsy way it happened two running technology issues are resolved. Well at least for now.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

It's not the shoes, it's the runner

A conversation I had this morning at Super Runner's Shop in Huntington, NY and an article in today's New York Times were not connected but similar in subject. My conversation centered around a question I'd asked regarding the performance properties of shoes. I mentioned that I bought a pair of Brooks GTS 9's in April but never felt that they matched the Nike Turbulence 13's they replaced in terms of responsiveness. The person at the store said it was unlikely that a pair of running shoes would make much of a difference unless I'd switched to very lightweight trainers that lack cushioning and are made for competitive runners. The Times article "Wiggling Their Toes at the Shoe Giants" made that point a different way citing the emerging popularity of minimalist shoes that mimic the effect of running barefoot. The article mentions companies like Vibram, Feelmax and Terra Plana who have "barefoot running" style products along with Nike, who have found a growing demand for its trainer, the "Free." The article posits a view that modern running shoes do not prevent injuries or promote performance any better than when modern running shoes were introduced 40 years ago.  Later in the article is a counter argument that only biomechanically efficient runners benefit from minimal or barefoot running.

It's probably true that my Brooks have neither helped nor hindered my performance and a quick review of my pace history has confirmed that fact. Before the Brooks I averaged, overall, about a 9:10 pace and that's not far off from where I am today.  All the same I am intrigued when I read running shoe reviews that mention certain brands and models, like the Mizuno Wave series, that are supposed to be highly responsive and provide a competitive advantage. This morning I decided to attack the real problem - the runner - and headed to the track for some speed work. I started out with a brisk warm-up at 6:46/mile for a quarter mile and then did 8x200's at a little less than 6:00/mile. I finished up with an easy run at 8:54 for 1.25 miles, the pace seemed easy after all that high energy sprinting. I was happy that pushing that hard did not lead to any muscle pulls.

Would I do any better were I running with a pair of Brooks T-6's or Vibram FiveFingers Sprints? Maybe, but I have to guess that they would cause as many problems for me as they would solve.  In the meantime I'll appreciate the comfort of my Brooks  GTS 9's and Asics 1130's, the versatility of my NB 460's, the rugged capability of my Helly Hansen Trail Lizards and the energetic feel of my Adidas Trail Response 15's.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A run most perfect

My plans to run in Stillwell Woods this morning were changed in deference to weather. I had hoped to run the trails with my nephew, a member of the local high school track team who trains there regularly. It had rained a lot overnight and we were concerned about the muddy conditions, especially at Stillwell, where the going is tough even when it's dry. Instead we headed out for a road run where we ducked into neighborhood #2 for a few miles before exiting back into the main roads nearer to home to complete our circuit.
We started off in light drizzle and maintained a steady (if modest) pace of 9:30 per mile over 4.3 miles. With the humidity as high as it was that was a smart decision. My nephew was a good sport about keeping my pace although, like AG, his natural pace is faster than mine. What was nice about this morning was that we were both comfortable running and talking throughout the course and that's what made it such a great experience. He shared a lot of information about the way the track team trains and we talked a lot about my favorite related subjects: running shoes, gear and nutrition. About ten minutes into the run I noticed that my foot pod had not paired with my Garmin so it wasn't capturing pace or distance but at least it was capturing timing and that's how we were able to calculate pace, after mapping our route on Google Earth.
We returned just as my wife and kids were coming back from the local bagel store with plenty of recovery carbs and protein in tow. It was a very satisfying and relaxing run and I'm looking forward to many more runs with my nephew. I think I've convinced him to participate with me in the Bridie Goldstein Run for Children 5K that takes place in November. In the meantime we'll attack the hills at Stillwell and the trails at Bethpage State Park. As much as I enjoy the escape and peace that comes with solo running it's really nice to run with others. The conversation and the sense of mutual purpose is gratifying. While I'm still not convinced that I want to join a running club I certainly look forward to my next runs with AG, DaveADK, my nephew, my kids and a few select others. One of these days I'll get to those intervals to work on my speed. In the meantime I'll enjoy the experience of recreational running.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Speed or comfort - choose one

Due to weather and a fairly tight schedule I skipped my workout today. So far this vacation week (since Saturday) I've logged 22.5 miles with 6.2 coming from last week's Dirty Sock 10K race. I'm supposed to run the trails tomorrow with my nephew who is on the local track track team but they're calling for rain so we'll likely need to postpone that. If that's the case I might work in a run a little later or get on the elliptical for the first time in a couple of weeks.

I was hoping to run some intervals today because my speed has been suffering and I've recently read in Runner's World that speed work can be helpful for building endurance. While I have no problem getting out and running, even during hours that people consider more as night than morning, I have been less than stellar in terms of rigorous conditioning. I suspect that's the reason why I have hit the wall in terms of progress on improving my pace. I know that being a committed runner involves different runs for different reasons. Sometimes it's about speed, sometimes it's about hills and sometimes it's about endurance over long distances. I've defaulted to running at a natural gait which appears to be around 9:30 per mile although I know I am capable of sustaining a sub-9:00 pace over four or five miles.

Some of the reason for this default is likely due to a change from running with AG on a weekly basis to primarily running alone. AG is a stronger and faster runner and though she's never chastised me for my pace I was more inclined to push myself when we ran together than I do when running alone. Another factor is the temperature and humidity. Heat has always affected my performance and, combined with the glaring sun, it can be debilitating. As the summer wanes and the cooler temperatures return I suspect my pace will return closer to 9:00 and below. In the meantime I am committed to working harder to push my pace regardless if I'm running alone or not.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Post 302

I let an important milestone slip past me on Tuesday by not acknowledging it as the 300th post on since I started the blog on November 18, 2008. At the point I began to write about my running experiences I was about three months into a return to daily activity and about a month into my transition from primarily walking to primarily running. In my first post I said "Actually I'm not much of a runner at this point but I want to be much better." I'm not really sure what that meant but at that time I was running 11 minute paces and covering distances between one and three miles. I have definitely improved on both pace and distance but over the months my progress has become asymptotic with little difference in average pace from month to month. Distance has continued to grow largely due to a greater focus on outdoor runs including a switch from early morning treadmill workouts to headlamp lit 4:00 AM neighborhood excursions.Also contributing to this has been more frequent trips to the local trails. I've found that trail running enables longer distances for me, probably because the landscape is ever changing and keeps me from benchmarking distance as easily as on the street.
This morning's run was a perfect vacation workout, about 5.25 miles under overcast skies with relatively low humidity around the neighborhoods. I'm stuck in rut in terms of pace - mid 9:00 today - and I'm thinking of going over to the track tomorrow to do some speed work. I had thought about going for a personal distance record, my next goal is 7+ miles, and I could probably have reached that today had I felt like running another 15 minutes. I was conscious of being back home in time for our morning vacation schedule but I was pleased that I felt more energized today compared with yesterday's sluggish trail experience. I plan to look back at some early posts to see what my challenges were back then and whether any of them still remain. I've pretty much figured out through conversations with long time runners, and now through my own experiences, that emerging as a runner is a lifelong aspiration.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sluggish Barracuda

The first thing I'll say about my tough time on today's run at Stillwell is that it's not the fault of my shoes. Yesterday I bought a pair of Adidas Response 15's at the Adidas outlet store for a mere $33, thanks both to a discounted price and an additional 20% discount coupon we had. I tried some other Adidas shoes while I was there and was very impressed with the AdiStar Ride which I would have scooped up for $71 with discounts were I looking to replace my Brooks at this time. I was very unimpressed with the Mega Bounce which may have been the worst feeling high end shoe I've tried in a long time. The Response 15's fit me very well. I love my NB 460 trail shoes but they are 1/2 size too small which only becomes a problem on runs longer than 5 miles (Like Sunday's 10K) when they encroached too far onto the tops of my toes. I was excited to try the Response's today and they felt good the entire run.

I began my run with an experiment - my goody bag from Sunday's race contained a sample of Max Muscle Barracuda energy drink whose website describes it as a "uniquely formulated energy supplement designed for an extreme energy rush."

I'm not sure if that's true, I guess I felt some heightened energy at the beginning of my run but I'll attribute that as much to having new trail shoes as anything else. I made my way into the woods and followed the trails northeast, cutting over to a very narrow path with plant growth that barely provided room for a single runner. It was here, about eight minutes into the run, that I noticed that I was already feeling tired and I hadn't even taken on the toughest parts of the trail. When I did reach the first abrupt incline I looked for an alternate path that was less steep because I didn't feel I had the energy to take on a 10% grade. Left with no choice I made my way up and determined that the Adidas's were no match for the Helly Hansen Trail Lizards that would have (and in fact had) dispatched this hill without a problem. The Response 15's did fine but I could sense a lack of support on the tougher climbs.
Overall I thought the Response 15's felt great and very comfortable. I think they would have been perfect for the Dirty Sock race course that was primarily flat.

I headed back after completing 3.4 miles at a 9:51 pace. It wasn't the best run I've done at Stillwell but it was a workout. I'll continue to run with the new Adidas shoes on trails but I'll probably switch off with the Helly's at Stillwell from time to time. I'm thinking of keeping the NB's in my office for occasional runs on the bridle trail in Central Park. I guess I've already assembled a fairly large collection of running shoes but for $33 how could I resist buying something that Runner's World called a "best buy"?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Cow Harbor 10K - great event, bad timing

I did my first run since Sunday's trail race this morning covering 3.7 miles at about a 9:20 pace. I'm not surprised that my pace was as slow as it was since I covered the first two miles at a moderate pace and sped up as I went. According to my Garmin I was tracking below 9:00/mile for the last mile or so. I was more tired than I'd expected to be after a day off from running but I did do a hike yesterday that involved some steep hills. Today was definitely a maintenance run, nothing remarkable to report.

I'll admit that I do miss my iPhone and although I still haven't had more than a couple experiences with the GPS tracking apps that reported within the range of acceptable accuracy. I did like the maps they create and the built in compass and iPod functionality on one of them. My desktop support person from work promised me that I'd see a replacement for my failed iPod from FEDEX either today or tomorrow so I'll live with limited tools until then.

I've identified my next race: a 4 mile run that's part of the Long Island Road Runner's Club (LIRRC) that will take place in Eisenhower Park on September 13. The LIRRC holds these informal races often and registration is day of race only. The cost is less than $10 and it seems like a good basic event. A 9:00 AM start makes it easier in terms of travel but it could be hot. I'll need to miss the Great Cow Harbor 10K because of a schedule conflict. I've heard more from Brian, who reads this blog, about the Cow Harbor 10K. He told me that The Northport Running Club holds a number of practice runs every Wed. night at 6:00 PM and those who are interested should check the website for information. Brian also sent the Training Assistance Program Weekly Progression Table (above). Clicking on the picture will produce a larger view. 
I'm glad to have a new upcoming run to help me focus my training. More to come in October and November.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Et tu iPhone?

What my iPhone looked like when it was alive

My frustrations with the iPhone as a tool for tracking activities using GPS were further aggravated yesterday when I finished my run but could not shut off my tracking app. The process of unlocking the iPhone was difficult enough with the glare of the sun obscuring my view but when I finally got to the application it appeared to have stopped on its own. It turned out that it didn't stop and later, when I went to relaunch the app, I saw that it had continued to run and so any hopes of getting an accurate accounting of my race speed and distance were gone forever. Happily the race used timing chips because my backup, the Garmin 50, was over counting distance by about 5%.

We're on vacation this week and we decided to go for a hike at Cold Spring Harbor. It's a great trail, very rugged with lots of elevation. I turned on my iPhone, switched to AllSport GPS and selected "Hike" but the GPS would not acquire. I pushed the power button on the iPhone and did a soft shut down hoping that after rebooting it would do a better job with GPS. When I hit the power button to restart nothing happened. I tried holding it down for different lengths of time but that resulted in nothing but the same blank screen. No power. We headed home after the hike (which was fun) but I had my mind a little too much on my iPhone problem. I went online to see if this was a known problem (it is) but the remedy they suggested, holding down both the Power and Home buttons, did not restore the unit. I plugged it into wall power, connected it to my iMac, tried to restart in every combination, but nothing is bringing this iPhone back to life.

A call into my company's IT service desk has started an investigation but I don't hold out too much hope that I'll have a working device this week while on vacation. My wife will probably be happy because I tend to check business email two or three hundred times a day (an exaggeration but just barely). If that was my only use I could easily work around it but I've come to depend on my iPhone for so much more now. I'll recalibrate the Garmin for my runs this week and table the GPS apps until this is resolved. We are thinking about looking for trail shoes for my wife a little later today and although I love my NB 460's, yesterday's experience is making me think I also need a new, higher end pair for long runs. While we're out I may take a look at pricing on the Garmin 405's although everything I'm reading about them makes me worry that I won't get much more accuracy than on the iPhone. Maybe I should take a break from technology for a day. It certainly hasn't helped much lately.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Dirty Sock 10K is done - we sure had fun

( L-R) DaveADK, AG, Emerging Runner, Firefreak

Dirty Sock 10K Trail Run: 59:22 overall, 9:35 pace

It was touch and go with the weather this weekend and we were concerned that we'd be hit with thunderstorms that would render Belmont Lake Park a giant mud puddle. Adventure Girl came out on Saturday and, since the rain had held, we did a few miles at Stillwell to end our tapers. After a light dinner we ran some with my daughter and then we turned our attention to the race: the Babylon Village Classic Dirty Sock 10K. By evening we saw that the 40% chance of precipitation had been downgraded to 5% and went to sleep with high hopes of a dry course.

Happily that was the case for the most part and we arrived at the race location under clear skies. It was humid, to be sure, but the temperature was a reasonable 74 degrees. As we waited for the race to begin we noticed bagpipers playing near the entrance to the trails and lots of very fit runners stretching and preparing for the run. After picking up our race shirts and numbers my wife, kids, AG and I made our way up the trail to scope out the starting line. AG and I did a light run up the path to warm up and we found DaveADK, a Runner's World Loop friend who I ran with a couple of weeks ago. We found our place at the starting line and happily noted that the race organizers set things up to track the participant's actual start from the line. Every other race I've run has had a common start with the only measurement being total elapsed time. With a small field of runners it's not that critical to capture exact start because it's usually no more than ten seconds after the gun but this race had 555 finishers so it took almost a minute to cross the starting line.

AG, Dave and I started together and Dave was the first to break off ahead of us. AG stuck with me for the first mile and then took off to run her race. I probably cost her 30 to 50 seconds in overall race time but she graciously said that starting a little slower had helped her down the line. The course is relatively flat and the trail was mostly dry but there were a few wide puddles that required some maneuvering. I really started feeling the humidity as we made our way past mile 2 but I was determined to maintain a mid 9:00 pace for as much of the run as I could. I felt like I was doing pretty well until I saw the eventual winners pass us in the other direction about 20 minutes into the race. The guy next to me said, "well there goes my first place finish!" By the time I reached the north lake I felt fine about doing the remaining 3.2 miles but when I saw the path around the lake we needed to follow for the turnaround it made me think the worst was yet to come. The pack had thinned by that point and I found myself being passed and passing the same group of people. Miles three through five went by reasonably quickly but the last 1.2 miles seemed endless.

Once I heard the announcer calling the names of the runners as they crossed the finish line I knew I was close to the end and I put as much effort into my finish as I could. I saw AG standing near the trail exit and she cheered me as I passed. I crossed the line and saw my wife and kids right there and I felt great, tired, dizzy and hot as I walked off the remaining energy. I was feeling very light headed and cooled down with water and watermelon. I then met Firefreak, another Runner's World Loop friend. He was there with his girlfriend and had finished well ahead of me. I was happy to see him and Dave at the race, it made me feel great about the community of runners and the fact that there are some really good people in the runner blog community. I also like that they both encouraged me to finally buy a Garmin 405. My iPhone tracking application failed miserably today.

My family and AG went out (after some very needed showers) to a great lunch place in Bay Shore and we spent the afternoon in Port Jefferson before putting AG on the ferry and heading home. I was pleased to have maintained a 9:35 pace on what we heard was a tougher run than last year. It was my first 10K, first trail race and my first race with AG. My wife was an incredible race team manager and my kids were up at 5:30 AM with no complaints then or throughout the day. I completed one of my 2009 goals: complete at least four races this year. I'm on vacation this week and I feel great. I think I'll sleep well tonight.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Looking for some racing strategy

An reader sent me a note asking if anyone had blogged about strategies for the Dirty Sock 10K race (this Sunday, August 23) or the Great Cow 10K (Saturday, September 26). I'm running on Sunday and though I'm familiar with the course, having run it once already, it would be helpful to hear from others who have actually raced it. Similarly, the Great Cow Harbor 10K, in Northport, NY, is monster of a race and will include many elite runners.

If anyone has already run these races and wants to share perspective about the course please send some comments to this blog.

Good running apps can be worth the money

I'll give it to the folks at Trimble Outdoors (creator of AllSport GPS) in terms of helping users understand their product. I'd mentioned to them that the accuracy and rest detection with the AllSport GPS app were off the mark and they gave me some good feedback (rest detection can be turned off) and told me that are working to improve some other features. I know it's funny to say this but, even with some of the issues I've encountered, but I'm glad they charge $10 for the app. These utilities are valuable to runners and to other athletes who wish to track their performance. These are applications that should be differentiated from lesser apps that cost far less or are free. Software companies will only invest in optimizing applications if there's a real opportunity to monetize the result. In a world of free or $0.99 iPhone apps there exists great choice but little practical value. I like MotionX a lot, it's priced low for what it offers (but it's not $0.99 either) and it does as good a job as it can with the limits of the iPhone and GPS.

There's a lot more functionality that can be added to these applications to benefit the runner. The accelerometer within the iPhone can be better leveraged to help gauge effort. The GPS can sync with a database of prior runs to provide comparisons to past performance. I have not used Running Gypsy but I noticed it has a feature for automatically capturing 1 mile splits. Why don't they all do that? There are many things I'd like to know when I'm running like temperature, humidity and real time elevation. I have a terrible time reading the display while I'm running due to factors like sun reflections, screen locking and angle of the unit. I'd like to have the option of listening to my metrics in real-time and on demand. As the iPhone and other mobile devices add more capabilities related to user needs and actions it can get very interesting. In the meantime I struggle a bit with the fact that the best apps are still limited by the technologies they need to leverage. I still think about the Garmin GPS watches and wonder why, with the same GPS tracking signal, they would be more accurate than an iPhone.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

AllSport GPS thinks I'm a slacker

I'm in taper mode as I move closer to Sunday's race and I'm also experiencing some discomfort with the outside toes on both feet. I decided that I would get a run in today but take it easier than I normally would. I brought along my iPhone and selected the AllSport GPS app to track my run and took the Garmin 50 along as well. I now have five GPS apps on the iPhone: Allsport and MotionX (paid apps) plus iMapMyRun, Run Keeper Free and RunGypsy (free apps) and they all capture data about run speed and distance. What separates these apps is what else they track and how they report data. The free apps generally give you pace and distance information and some rudimentary resources to store that data. The paid apps have lots of features, MotionX really provides a lot of utilities for the running experience including compass, mapping and music integration. AllSport generates an excellent report that shows many metrics including elevation (as does MotionX) and both paid apps export KMZ and GPX files that overlay on Google Earth.

The thing that these apps all have in common (though I have not yet tried RunGypsy) is a dependence on the iPhone's GPS service which has proven lacking. Each time I have captured a run with one of these apps I've seen differences between what's reported and what was actually run. My baseline is Google Earth where I can trace my route to the inch and compare it to the route created by the GPS apps. This morning I verified on Google that I covered 2.15 miles and the Garmin confirmed that. The AllSport app reported that I ran 1.98 miles and I can understand why after reviewing the route it displayed. There seemed to be some weak links from the signal (that were shown as yellow lines on the map) and the lines veered off the road enough to explain the shorter distance. What puzzles me is AllSport's insistence that I rested for 7:17 of my run.

Now I know I wasn't pushing too hard today (my actual pace was 9:39) but I don't recall resting during the run. It's not clear if that was a result of a weak signal or if AllSport was judging me for not picking up the pace (yes, I'm kidding). I sent them a note asking about it and I expect that I'll hear back. To their credit they've been good about responding to my questions. I like this app a lot but I want to rely on it and at this point I don't think I can. I'll try to use it on Sunday so I can capture the route but I'll have my Garmin 50 along to keep things honest.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dirty Sock 10K - progress and firsts

As I consider my race this Sunday I'm thinking about my running progress over the last year. It was just about a year ago when I saw the results from my annual physical and realized that I needed to make a fundamental change in my diet and activity. I am fortunate that changing my eating habits was a fairly easy effort. I had always eaten well but my meals were too large and I had too much sugar in my diet. I simply changed expectations about portion sizes and planned everything I would eat during and after a meal. The activity part was the bigger challenge because, with the exception of playing Wii with my kids on occasion, I rarely did anything close to exercise. I had always been an active person but in the past few years I'd become fairly sedentary. Rather than lace up a pair of running shoes and hit the pavement I understood that I needed to manage expectations for activity as well. My prior foray into running a decade earlier taught me to take a careful approach to fitness.

Looking back at my pace times last September I can see where I began to transition from primarily walking to primarily running. I can also see how my weight declined through September from its August high and I know that less weight led to a better experiences on the road and treadmill. I'll consider October 1st as the start of my return as a runner and I'm reflecting upon how, eleven months later, I'll be running in a 10K race. This race will be the fourth competition I've entered in the past five months. Eleven months ago it would have seemed unlikely that I would be able to do this run. I was considering distances over a mile a great success and when I started The Emerging Runner in November my best continuous distance was only 2.6 miles. So Sunday's race has a few firsts: My first 10K race, my first trail race and my first race with my running partner, Adventure Girl. My wife and kids are excited to be going there although an 8:00 AM start will mean a very early morning for everyone.

I don't really know how I'll do in this race. I ran the course at a modest pace a couple of weekends ago and was fairly spent after that. Races do supply a lot of energy and I won't be doing as much talking so I think I'll do better than I did that day. At least I hope I do. 6.2 miles is still an intimidating distance but its a length I've run before. I love the trails and I'll appreciate the shelter from the sun. I hope the weather is clear of rain leading up to the race because a muddy trail would add a lot to the effort. It really doesn't matter though, progress has been made.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Zoot suited - a shopping story

I was out after lunch yesterday in the mid-town heat so I stopped into City Sports to cool off a bit. Okay, it was very hot outside but I don't really need an excuse to stop into that store. What I like about City Sports is that, while they stock plenty of gear for other sports, they have a big running section that greets you right as you walk in. Since most of my athletic wear shopping takes place in the suburbs at Sports Authority, Dick's and Target (their Champion running stuff is a very good value for the price) or in private running stores that have less selection and (understandably) higher markups I appreciate the expanse and brand diversity at City. The only other place I've seen such choice is Paragon in Union Square but City Sports is just two blocks away!

My intention was not to buy anything during that visit. I really like looking at running gear and it's interesting to see brands like Sugoi and Craft displayed along with apparel from Mizuno, Brooks, Pearl Izumi plus the more common suppliers. One brand that caught my eye a few months ago is Zoot, a company that makes performance apparel primarily for triathletes. Hanging seductively in their section has been an Ultra Tech Tee that is so sheer that it almost doesn't exist. I imagined that this would be the perfect running shirt - light as a feather but with venting, sun protection and wicking capabilities. The only reason I never bought it was its sizable cost that I felt was just too high a price to pay for an item that is likely to be outweighed by a honey bee. As I looked at the racks I noticed signs indicating that a clearance sale was going on and I gravitated to the Zoot section only to see that this shirt was marked down quite a bit. Even so I hesitated to buy it, I probably have six or seven running shirts already and two, my Nike Sphere and Adidas adiZero shirts, are excellent for competition. I then thought about what my wife would say if she was standing there: "Go ahead, you've been looking for an excuse to get it. If it was me you'd say to buy it." So I did.

I'm glad I did. I remember reading a comment on my Runner's World blog from someone who said he buys a new shirt for every race. That sounds about right but I think I'm done for now. I invested in some good cold weather gear last year and now I'm fully equipped. Of course my Brooks running shoes are almost five months old so maybe its time to start thinking about their replacement...

Monday, August 17, 2009

My BH Fitness problem child

Although we have both an elliptical machine and a treadmill I very rarely use either. Since I've started running outdoors before work I have completely stopped using the treadmill and I've been using the elliptical sparingly, perhaps once a week, as a low impact alternative to a daily run. I love the idea of the elliptical, especially the fact that, unlike the treadmill, I can completely control the experience. The treadmill is loud and cacophonous and though I use the safety tether I'm always conscious of the possibility that a slight misstep will turn into a serious injury. I've been unbelievably fortunate to have had such a long string of early mornings without rain that would force me indoors.

The elliptical is self powered and far less dangerous and it theoretically helps build upper arm strength with a motion similar to cross country skiing. I'm not sure if that's true or not but I'd like to believe it. The biggest problem I have with my elliptical is the quality of the unit itself. We spent some time selecting a machine. I did my due diligence and really liked a Schwinn model we'd tried at Dick's but a visit to Fitness Showrooms seduced me into purchasing the "high end" BH Fitness X1 that was on sale for about the same price. From the beginning the X1 proved problematic. I wrote about the fact that the HRM just didn't work and after three attempts to replace it I just gave up. The display itself was replaced three times and is still off center. The machine makes a loud banging-clicking sound that the Showroom Fitness tech could not fix. Not a surprise since the last time the display was replaced my wife needed to point out to him that the upper assembly was installed backwards. Now the machine is beginning to make different noises as though some key connection points are becoming loose. Rather than call the unqualified tech who will likely make it worse and then charge me because it's no longer under warranty, I'll see if I can resolve it myself.

In the meantime my wife uses the elliptical every other day and doesn't complain. I used it this morning and did a few miles that felt like a decent workout. If I had to do it over I would have bought that Schwinn. But I'll live with the BH Fitness, at least until it falls apart under me.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Road runner

I wracked up some decent mileage over the last three days averaging about 4.5 miles per run. Two of these runs were a bit harder because of the heat, humidity and hill challenges. Today I decided to be kind to myself and go out early through the neighborhood and enjoy the mostly flat topography without thinking too much about pace. I started out feeling energetic and wondered how long it would be until the first feelings of fatigue would set in. After almost a year I still hit the wall around 3-4 miles but I always manage to keep going. Most of my weekend runs range between 3.1 and 6 miles although I have run longer than that on occasion. Of course 4.5 miles on a soft trail surface with tricky switchbacks and sharp elevations is not the same as running a flat road course of the same distance. I felt good about all three runs I've competed since Friday.

Today was about putting some additional distance in and I planned to follow a straightforward course that took me around neighborhood #2 and looped around my main neighborhood along the outside roads. For the most part this was a simple flat run but at the 33 minute mark I faced the big hill on Jericho Turnpike that increases elevation by about 25 feet over a tenth of a mile or so. For some reason this hill never seems as bad when running it as it does when viewed from the road and I managed to get up and over without a problem. I used the AllSport GPS app on my iPhone today and it worked well but, like MotionX, iMapMyRun and Runkeeper, it suffers from the lack of precision with GPS. The Allsport did come within 1% of my actual distance of 4.64 miles (the Garmin did slightly better than Allsport) when compared to a hand mapped route on Google Earth. The Allsport interface is quite nice though and their website provides some nice mapping and metrics of your activities. Almost everything you'd want for $10 except accuracy! One feature it lacks is the capability to play the iPod app while tracking your run. MotionX, at $2.99, is a better choice in that case.

This weekend has been fun with friends and lots of good meals that led to some over indulgence. I'll take today as a reset to get back to my rational eating habits. My son and I are going to see the G.I. Joe movie today so my discipline will be tested by the bucket of popcorn he will invariably request. Well I guess when you're training there is no such thing as bad carbs.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Trail trial

Despite feeling a bit fatigued from yesterday's bridle trail run in Central Park I ventured over to Stillwell Woods Preserve for a little more training for next week's race. When I arrived there were tents set up at the trail head and I saw lots of mountain bikes and trailers. I walked over and asked if there was a bike race today but they said the event was a demo by our local bike place, Bicycle Planet. They were going to show some riding techniques and then provide people a chance to take bikes out on the trail. I said I was relieved because I didn't want to deal with 100 mountain bikers racing through the paths as I ran. One of the guys suggested that I try biking today instead of running but I really needed to train. As I stood at the beginning of the trail another runner came by and asked me what was going on and I told him what I knew. He smiled and said we'd best get on the trail before we get mowed down by test drivers.

Every time I've run Stillwell I've intended to cover the wide northeastern set of trails but the trail diversity is confusing when you're running and it's often hard to know just exactly where you are. I used the compass function on MotionX and followed the trails that led east and north. Some of it looked familiar and some was definitely new discovery. There are some formidably treacherous segments within these trails and some seem to go up forever (see above photo that I took after reaching the top of one). Others go down a long way but it's easier when gravity helps you along. I wore the Helly Hansen Trail Lizards and they worked great on those steep challenges. It was extremely exhausting going from one steep climb to another. I eventually reached the end of a trail that led to a road and I thought I had reached the northern part of Stillwell. After looking at the route I ran via Google Earth I saw that there's more to run if I cross that road but I turned around at that point looking to go southwest and cover other parts yet unexplored.

After a few more steep inclines, carve-outs that were typically the width of one runner or biker, I found myself in the back yard of a large house. I was totally confused because there was nowhere to go except to turn back. I ran a little in the woods behind the house hoping to pick up a trail but I feared I would only pick up Poison Ivy so I made my way back the way I came. In the course of the run a made a couple of stops, each about three minutes. I was very tired from the hills and wilting from the humidity. I re-pointed my direction based on the compass and took off west to complete the circle I thought I was making. I was listening to another Podrunner Podcast (160 BPM) that was usefully innocuous until, at the 40 minute point, there was another repeated phrase that JUST WOULD NOT STOP. I pulled the headphones out of my ears and listened blissfully to the sound of my footfalls for a while.

I eventually came back having navigated around the edge of the open area of the Preserve for a while and when I was done I noted that I'd covered 3.76 miles. The MotionX was way off and from the GPS path view I saw that the signal was lost a few times. So the Garmin 50 wins again. That was a rough 45 minutes and possibly the toughest run I'd ever done in terms of physical exertion. Next week's race course is fairly flat and I'm hoping that this weekend's training on tougher terrain will help condition me to be competitive. AG is running the race as well and this will be the first time we'll compete together. I have no illusions of matching her pace but I'm hoping to achieve a credible time.

Ring around the reservoir

It's a rare day when I completely miss the chance to post. The summer is growing to a close so I only have a few more chances to take off early on "Summer Fridays." That said I'm taking full advantage when I can but it often means a jam-packed morning, a NYC run and then a return to LI. We had lots to do when I arrived home and before I knew it the clock said 10:30 PM and I realized I'd just need to post in the morning.

Yesterday I decided to try the Central Park bridle path on my own. I had never run it alone and although I have a decent sense of direction I still get very confused in Central Park. Running with AG had been my safety net because she knows the park so well and can navigate much better than me. I found the start of the trail and took off. The bridal trail is mostly dirt with some mud and some rough sandy parts. While it's fine to run with regular running shoes it's probably a better surface for trail runners. The mid-day sun was hot and the air was very humid and by the first mile I was feeling a little spent.

The bridle trail affords more shade than the paved routes in the park but the tree cover is intermittent and when the sun is overhead it's brutal. I recognized most of the route from previous runs and felt good about that. When I reached the reservoir I took the east path thinking I would cut south and then head back to my starting point. I didn't realize that the path was actually going north and I was actually rounding the reservoir. Tried to get a bearing on my compass on my iPhone but the glare of the sun made that hard. I finally saw that I had reached the point where I came up to the reservoir and realized I had run around the whole thing. Despite my struggles I was still moving along pretty well and had passed two or three runners and a couple of slower moving cyclists. I followed the west side bridle path back to approximately where I'd started and noted that I'd run a total of 4.4 miles. The MotionX was off, as usual, and by looking at the GPX file on Google Earth (above) you can see how the GPS cuts corners which translates to less distance.

Considering the heat and the mid day timing I was okay with a 9:20/mile average pace. I was extremely sweat-soaked at the end and remained that way all the way to my office despite walking close to ten blocks from the park (through some highly air conditioned buildings no less). The run took a lot out of me and I was fairly tired for the rest of the day. I have a busy day today and I'm trying to figure out when and where I'll run. I should go for long distance as training for next week's 10K trail race but I don't know if my energy level is high enough. It couldn't hurt to try. I still want to explore the northern part of Stillwell that I have not yet run. Maybe that's a good choice for today because the canopy will provide some needed protection from the sun. My experience on the bridle trail gave me some hope that I can navigate through the previously uncharted parts of Stillwell. At least I run there with a compass now. When it comes to the topography of Stillwell Woods, I need all the help I can get.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Letting go of data obsession (a little)

As a coda to yesterday's post I managed to delete this week's run history from my Garmin before I had a chance to upload it to Garmin Connect. I'm disappointed by that but I'm also okay because running has finally become more about the experience than the measurement. A year ago I began to log my activities, first when walking and then when I switched over to running. The act of capturing the data, monitoring improvement and summarizing my monthly mileage became my primary motivation. When my Nike+ Sportband stopped uploading to the Nike+ website I practically panicked because I felt if the run wasn't captured it didn't count. Like it didn't even happen.

I switched from Nike+ to MapMyRun after that and I meticulously transferred information captured on Sportband to this website for a while, until the Nike+ technology failed altogether. Every month I would look at the summary and compare my miles per day/week/month against previous periods. I'd key in my cross training to capture elliptical miles from a paper log I kept next to the machine. I think my focus on the data rather than on the event began to switch when I started running trails more often. Mixing pace times from rugged, hilly runs with flat road runs made monthly pace averages less relevant. I'm still interested in the metrics of each run but I'm satisfied to know that I ran about 20 miles in a week, not that I ran 20.65.

Does this mean that I have transcended the beginner phase of running by focusing metaphorically on the game rather than on the score? Many experienced runners chuckle when I tell them how I capture run data with foot pods and GPS apps. They say they've been doing it so long that they know the distances they run and can pretty much assess their pace as they go. I'm not willing to give up my measurement tools quite yet but I'm willing to live with a few missing sessions on Garmin Connect.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Luddite technologist rant

I am feeling very grumpy about technology today and I felt I needed to do something so I deactivated a Facebook account I'd created some months back. Nothing personal about Facebook, as a technology it's been fine and if I'm ever reincarnated as a 19 year old female, alcoholic, exhibitionist, college student I'll reconsider joining. But like I said, I'm grumpy. I never check the site or contribute to it. At least once a week I received invites from people (many of whom I actually like) but finally decided that accepting them was disingenuous because I'll never check the site. I have an Emerging Runner Fan page that (ironically) I can no longer access. I wonder what will happen with that. Thanks to everyone who fanned it. Sorry to disappoint!

The reason I'm grumpy about technology is that it often doesn't work like it should. I'm not talking about technology that we depend upon daily like elevators and traffic lights, I'm talking about running technologies. Especially those that run on my iPhone. I love my iPhone. It's much more fun than my Blackberry that I gave up with some real misgivings. But when compared to the Blackberry as a business tool it's not very fun at all. Okay, I'll accept that as long as it still does the job. It's annoying to switch from Verizon to AT&T, I liken it to taking a step back in time to the mid 1990's when getting a usable signal on your phone was an unexpected surprise. I've put some GPS apps on the iPhone to help track my running metrics and so far I am not impressed. MotionX GPS, that I paid for ($2.99), has great features (lots of data elements captured: photo utility, interactive maps, iPod integration, etc.) but I'm at about 50% in terms of successful outcome when using it. The other apps I've tried, iMapMyRun and RunKeeper Free, have less capabilities (they're both free) but clever enough. I just bought AllSportsGPS (the company gave me a promo code for a comp version but I managed to screw that up (technology!). I'll see how it works. For $10 I'm expecting a lot.

The performance of these GPS utilities is often undermined by the inherent inaccuracy of public GPS. Despite its potential for getting to an inch of your location it misses greatly and often. If you have to remap on Google Earth every time you use these apps what's the point? I'll try the AllSport app on Friday and see how it performs. So many other running technologies have disappointed. AG tried to use the Qstarz on a 6 mile run recently and it failed to capture any data. What's annoying about that is there's no way to tell with that unit if it's working or not. The original running technology that I used, the Nike+ Sportband, failed so often that I needed to replace it three times before I returned it and bought my Garmin 50.

In truth the Garmin 50 has been a great technology and I won't disparage it although it does consume batteries and each time they are replaced calibration gets out of whack. Running technologies don't all run on batteries either and I'll give due credit to Nike, Adidas and other clothing makers who have perfected the art of sweat wicking technology. But for today I'm just a bit grumpy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

At the edge of 9:00

9:00 per mile has always been a psychological barrier for me. I've broken it many times and even broken 8:00 on a 1.5 mile run but in terms of regular running 9:00 is probably my mode pace. This past weekend, with the hilly trails at Stillwood and the relatively long distance on the Belmont Lake Park trail, I was fine with pace times that edged around 10:00 per mile. But on the street my expectations change and I really want to see an '8' before the colon on my Garmin when I finish a run. I had no real expectations for this morning's run. I wanted to cover about 2.5 miles and with yesterday as a rest day I thought I'd have a chance at a decent pace. I was delighted to see my iPhone acquire a PS signal with MotionX fairly quickly and I took off knowing the belt-and-suspenders combination of my Garmin 50 and the MotionX GPS app would capture my metrics fairly well.

The run was nice but unremarkable. I took advantage of the early morning, barely awake mode and floated through the course thinking about many things. I checked my Garmin for time elapsed, saw 6:55 and again thought I had run further than that. I have become somewhat impatient on these early runs. I noticed that the MotionX interface was continuing to show it had a signal and I was glad of that since I sort of lost track of exactly which streets I'd run. I knew the mapping file would tell me all that later. I turned east to finish the last loop and reached home having run 2.63 miles in 23:40 for an overall pace of 00:8:59:92, 8/100ths short of 9 minutes. I accidently switched to a different screen on the iPhone when I tried to hit the stop button (the touch screen is vey sensitive) but I saw the elapsed time as I did that. Later I mapped the run on Google Earth and saw that I'd covered .15 miles more than the GPS reported due to its margin of error.

I'll admit that knowing I broke 9:00 this morning made me happy. I'm thinking about pace times for the Dirty Sock 10K and I'm hoping to maintain a 9:30 pace or better. But you never know with races, how great would it be to have an 8-something time on that? If that's the case I'm throwing an additional $20 into the Garmin 405 fund.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sunday fun running

After a fairly challenging trail run on Sunday morning I thought I was finished with running for the day. The skies were gray and growing darker. I considered taking out my bike for a quick ride before the rain came but my daughter asked me if we could go for a run. She just got a new pair of Saucony running shoes and wanted to try them out. Despite the possibilty of rain we decided to head out and see how it went. My son said that he wanted to join us. Once eveyone had put on the proper gear we headed into the neighborhood starting at a comfortable pace. I'm trying to get my kids to understand the idea of conserving energy. Children tend to go out fast and then run out of energy sooner than they expect. We didn't get too far before my son had to stop to adjust his shoe. He had a nasty toe injury some months back and it's still a problem. The podiatrist put him on antibiotics this week to help deal with the swelling from an infection. It soon became clear that my son would not be able to continue so we ran him back home and resumed our course.

When it comes to running my daughter is very goal oriented. She was determined to cover at least .75 miles before taking a breather and we did that without a problem. She wanted to cover some real distance and we took a long loop around the western part of the neighborhood and made our way back after running close to two miles. It is a joy to run with my daughter. She has no problem running and talking and the conversation is fun and funny. She's 11 and I really hope she continues her interest in running. The weather held out for us and we even had enough sun to justify a post-run dip in the pool. I'm hoping my son is back to form soon as well so the three of us can explore the neighborhood together, going further and further each time.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A trail marked "UH OH"

I returned to the trails this morning to continue my training for the 8/23 race. I now know that the Dirty Sock 10K course is fairly flat compared with Stillwell Woods so I figured that the more rugged terrain at Stillwood would be helpful in terms of developing leg strength. I decided to bring my iPhone along and I listened to the Tiesto Club Life podcast (per a suggestion from a commenter on my blog - thanks anonymous!) using the AKG K321 in-ear headphones. They work great and I kept the sound low enough to detect the sound of the many mountain bikers that I encountered during my run. I liked the mix a lot more than the Podrunner podcasts and I took some different routes than ever before. There are so many twists and turns and ups and downs through Stillwell that I believe you could run it 50 times and not cover every trail. At one point I encountered a particularly scary descent that was marked with a sign that said "UH OH" (see above). I took the bait and with my trusty NB 460's I had little trouble with that long sharp decline. The path wound around and took me through a short paved area that led to a trail marked "No Trespassing" so I doubled back and found a different route that led me through some sandy trails that led further to a large construction site.

I turned back and switched the MotionX to compass mode and redirected north. I was hoping that after looking at the KMZ files from the run that I would get a good idea where I traveled but the files didn't work on Google Earth although they do show the course on the iPhone itself. Some of the trails I navigated were so steep that I had to slow to a walk a few times. I was very pleased with myself at one point when I encountered a couple of guys also running the trails who reached a sharp incline and proceeded to walk it while I breezed by running. They may have already covered a lot of distance and had hit the wall but all the same it was better to be the passer than the passed. I ended up running about 4.25 miles and my pace wasn't too impressive but the workout was daunting. After my cool-down I stayed and watched a few minutes of an adult league flag football game that was being played where I'd parked my car. It looked like fun but I'll leave that for the very fit 20-somethings I saw on the field.

After yesterday's run with Dave and today's rigorous run at Stillwell I'm feeling good about the upcoming race. I'm thinking of getting the Garmin 405 beforehand so I'll have a reliable GPS device to help capture the run. Either way I can't wait to hit the trails again.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Great talk, dirty socks

In preparation for the Babylon Dirty Sock 10K race later this summer I ran the course with a friend from the Runner's World Loop community, DaveADK (picture below), who lives close to the location of the race. Dave is an interesting guy with a really interesting background. He's been running about 18 months and knows the Dirty Sock course very well.

Before we started, Dave explained the way the race was organized, where registration is held, the location of the starting line (and finish) and also where to park. Having run a few races I appreciated knowing all that beforehand. We walked about a quarter of a mile into the park which served as a light warm up. Dave thought we should begin the training run at the stating point of the race so we proceeded to that area and took off at a moderate pace. The trails were mostly packed dirt, often wide enough across for three or four runners. There were many people out running, walking and biking, the temperature was comfortable and the tree cover prevented the sun from baking down. We encountered sections of sandy trail, some singletrack paths and a few that were paved. There were elevation changes but nothing too pronounced. I was grateful for that because the 6+ mile distance would have been a far greater challenge for me if it had the roller coaster terrain I encounter at Stillwell Preserve.

The time went by quickly, Dave is good runner and he graciously ceded to my pace that was probably 20-30 seconds/mile slower than he would normally run. He pointed out some important things about the course that will be good to know on race day. My runs with Adventure Girl have prepared me to chat while running and I did well considering the distance. At one point, when running underneath one of the highway trestles, we encountered a flutist and joked that the improvisational jazz background made it seem like we were characters in an independent film. We were about 1/4 mile near the end and Dave said this is the time to pour it on as practice for the race. Unfortunately my groin pull that always surfaces around the 4 or 5 mile mark prevented me from pressing my luck.

When we got to the end, Dave's Garmin 305 showed that we covered a little more 6 miles. My Garmin 50 was way off, perhaps because I recently replaced the battery. I'll calibrate it tomorrow when I run. The big disappointment was with my iPhone and MotionX GPS. Around the 3 mile mark I noticed the application was confused and had lost the signal. I'm not sure what actually happened after that but I ended up accidentally resetting the unit and losing the run history. As much as I'd hoped the iPhone would be a convenient alternative to a Garmin 405 I'm realizing that I still need the GPS watch. So back to the fund - $160 to go.

Friday, August 7, 2009

On my own in the city

For the first time in many weeks I won't be partaking in my Friday afternoon city run. My son and junior emerging runner has joined me in my office for the day and my trusty running partner, Adventure Girl, is preparing for her three week orientation at Yale that starts on Sunday. I'm going to miss our runs and there's much to be said for running with others in terms of performance and distraction from the effort. I've read some recent articles that support the idea that running with groups helps improve pace. Although the bulk of my running is solo I have run enough with others to know that I generally do better with another person helping to set the pace. It takes commitment to run during the workday because we don't have shower facilities and few people are willing to go at lunch and come back to the office soaking with sweat. I had hoped that our division Fun Run would surface some running partners but no one has taken the bait yet.

Tomorrow I'll be running in Belmont Lake State Park as training for the Babylon Dirty Sock 10K that will be help there later in the month. I'll be joined by someone who trains there regularly and knows the course. I'm slightly concerned about the length of the 6.2 mile run because I have averaged closer to 4.5 miles per weekend run over the last few months. According to what I have read, these trails are moderately flat and that, combined with the shade from the trees should help me deal with the effort. I'm looking forward to being back on the trails again. As for city running, even as AG leaves for New Haven I plan to do a run at least once a week. I hope to find someone to join me on the lower loop in Central Park or down the West Side bike trails every once in a while. Adventure Girl will be back for a couple of days every week starting in September and we'll run if she can squeeze it in. It's been a great summer for running and there are still some weeks to go!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cool running

Unlike the last couple of days, the temperature outside at 4:00 AM this morning was cool and the humidity was minimal. I almost decided to take today as a rest day but I'm planning a long trail run on Saturday and wanted to use Friday for rest instead. I decided to go simple this morning and leave the iPhone behind. My experiences with the GPS apps have been disappointing and while I'll continue to use them I didn't see a need today.

Equipped solely with my Garmin 50, I made my way out to the neighborhood. Over the past few months I've become impatient with my progress while running, feeling like I'd covered some real distance only to see elapsed time of 7:55 on my watch. You'd think it would indicate that I was running a fast pace but you'd be wrong. I think the issue is simply that I'm outgrowing my neighborhood and the familiarity of the route distorts my sense of distance. Or something like that. I returned home wishing I had another 15 minutes to run so I could extend the enjoyment of the experience. I was feeling fine, the air was still cool and there was a nice tang of ocean breeze in the air. Unfortunately I had run out of time and needed to make my way back upstairs to prepare for the work day. This was the first time I'd ever strung together three consecutive 4:00 AM runs during the week and I was pleased to have done that. I can only hope that I do as well on the trails this weekend.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

iMapMyRun Mobile is free and worth every penny

The great GPS experiment continues with addition of two running apps on my iPhone: iMapMyRun and RunKeeper Free. Both of these apps are free and have fewer capabilities and features than MotionX GPS that cost $1.99. I plan to download a few more of these apps and later do a comparison on Runner's Tech Review. For now I'll talk about my experience with iMapMyRun yesterday and today.
One difficulty I've encountered with MotionX is GPS signal acquistion. This problem is more pronounced in the city than on suburban Long Island but even there it can take a few minutes to get an accurate read. I was able to get a green indicator very quickly with iMapMyRun but that might be related to threshold. iMapMyRun considered the GPS signal viable at an accuracy of 162 ft. where MotionX prefers to get closer before it glows green. Or in the case of MotionX, blue. I went out this morning and selected "Start recording" on the iMapMyRun interface. It was still white when I was ready to start my run but within ten seconds after I left my driveway it turned green. I liked that it had large numbers that showed distance covered along with average and current pace and I thought, hmm, maybe this will work. The darkness helped me see the display as I ran, unlike during the day when the sun reflects off the plastic armband cover. About a mile into my run I looked at the display and everything said 00:00 despite the fact that I'd hit the start button as I left my house. I fumbled with it as I ran and succeeded in getting it working but I knew I'd only recorded half my run at best.

I ended up running 2.25 miles at a 9:06 pace according to my Garmin and the iPhone recorded just 1.1 mile of that. The route map it created showed a similar margin of error to the MotionX routes, again making it look like I cut lots of corners and ran through homes. A Runner's World Loop blogger told me that the Garmin GPS watches are much more accurate than the iPhone location apps. If that's the case I'm back to considering the Garmin 405 because I suspect Run Keeper will perform in a similar way. I did have a little fun with iMapMyRun last night. I set it up to record a run as I drove home from the train station. I covered a little over 2 miles at a 3:15/mile pace. The amazing thing is that many elite runners would have given me a run for my money despite my 300 HP advantage.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Motion(X) sickness

I promise that I'll eventually stop complaining about the GPS functionality of the iPhone but this morning's experience made me wonder if the whole concept needs a few more years to develop into a viable technology. I got off to a good start today in terms of timing, I was dressed and ready to make it out the door by 4:00 AM. This was important because that extra ten minutes would give me more time to run and I really wanted to work on distance as I train for my August 23rd race. If I'd ignored the iPhone on my way out I would have been much better off since it added to my setup time and - therefore - took away from my run time. That would have been forgiven if the result was even remotely accurate but the GPS app did not come through. More on that later.

Yesterday, instead of doing my usual elliptical workout, I decided to work on my upper body that I've sorely neglected over the last month. I started with 20 minutes of arms-only elliptical and followed with 15 minutes of free weights. I didn't want to overdo it so I stopped there. I worked up quite a sweat in the process, something I'll attribute in equal parts to hard work and oppressive humidity. Today I was anxious to get back out on the road and after having a carb-rich lunch and small but well balanced dinner I woke up feeling ready. As I mentioned above I started a few minutes early and even with the extra work stuffing the iPhone into the armband I was outside stretching by 4:09 AM. I turned on the MotionX application and was disappointed, but not surprised, to see that the GPS wasn't acquired by the time I was ready to leave. I started off anyway and switched on the app knowing it would start tracking eventually.

I got a little confused along my course because so many of the streets look the same, especially in the pitch dark and saw that I was on a different street than I'd expected. I figured that the MotionX map would show me where I went wrong when I reviewed it post-run. I felt great and could have easily gone on well past my time imposed limit. I ended up covering 2.6 miles at a 9:09 pace. This was good considering that I wasn't really thinking about speed as I ran. The MotionX was completely off with the path showing me running through people's homes and across lawns and through back yards. I thought in the early morning there would be far fewer things that would interfere with the signal. While the Garmin (accurately) showed 2.6 miles traveled, the MotionX showed 2.09 miles. It did show me where I veered off onto a different street so at least it keeps a true, if sloppy, record of my course.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Expectations for my 10K trail race

I'm three weeks away from my first 10K and I'm having some anxiety about how well I'll perform. I've run 6.2 miles and longer in recent months but that isn't a regular distance for me. Lately my runs have been shorter owing to weather (hot, sunny, humid), available time and tough trail conditions. My Friday city run was exhausting and not quite five miles. I'll admit that I sabotaged myself by running on an empty stomach and ran out of energy near the end. Perhaps with more nourishment I would have been able to go all the way to South Ferry as originally planned but I'll never know. Saturday was a relatively fast run over 3.8 miles so I understand I traded distance for pace. Yesterday's four mile run in the heat and humidity had similar conditions to Friday's, the difference being I had a carb-rich breakfast an hour before I ran so I couldn't blame a lack of food on my performance.

The heat seems to affect me more than any other factor and the Dirty Sock 10K is due to start at 8:00 AM rain or shine. The combination of a a fairly early morning start, trail conditions that promise to be easier than Stillwell Woods ands the shade provided by the trees may just give me the boost I need to get through this race. In the meantime I'm going to concentrate on distance, perhaps running double my morning distance tomorrow and repeating that later in the week. I'm planning to meet another 10K participant on Saturday morning to run the 10K course. That will give me some familiarity and hopefully some confidence that I can perform credibly on race day.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Who says GPS is more accurate than a foot pod?

My running this weekend has been firmly focused on the tech side. Friday's, Saturday's and today's runs were documented with both my Garmin 50 and with the iPhone using MotionX GPS software. I also used the iPod feature within MotionX to listen to music while I ran. As an experiment I downloaded two Podrunner Podcasts to accompany my runs. These Podcasts, that are available from iTunes for free, are mixed by DJ Steve Boyett to match specific heart rates. On Saturday I chose the 147 BPM Serendipity mix that was highly repetitive House music with a driving beat. At about a mile into my run a female singer began repeating a single sentence that grew old very quickly. Unfortunately that sentence was repeated in various forms for the next ten minutes causing me to want to rip the iPhone off my armband and into the gutter. I didn't want to stop and figure out how to turn off or fast-forward the podcast so I endured it and the mix mercifully switched back to an instrumental after a few more minutes. As aggravating as that experience was, I'll admit that the driving beat contributed to a quicker pace than I would have normally achieved.

The GPS software measured my run at 3.73 miles and the Garmin measured it at 3.8. After observing the course from the exported KMZ file I noticed that the accuracy of the line was far enough off to explain that difference. This morning, after our weekend guests departed, I went out for a run with a goal of covering at least 4 miles. It was due to storm by mid-day so I was anxious to get out and finish quickly. I played the 150 BPM Square One Podrunner mix that was vocal free (which I liked) but a bit soulless and electronic (which I liked less). I'll admit that it did help me focus but I'm thinking about loading some more tuneful music on it to see how that will work. I wanted to broaden my range so I ran west on Jericho Turnpike far enough to enter neighborhood #3 from the north. I had never actually run in this neighborhood so I was excited to experience some new roads. It was growing very hot and humid ahead of the impending storm. I was (and still am) concerned that I haven't done a 5+ mile run in a while and I'll be participating in a 6.2 mile trail race later this month. I had hoped to complete 5 miles today but the humidity had sapped my energy and it was all I could do to make it home. Very soon after my run the storm came through and I snapped a picture (see above) of where I had just run in the scorching heat.

When I finished the run I saw that my Garmin reported 4.07 miles at a pace of 9:18. The MotionX software said I'd covered 3.92 miles at 9:40. I pulled the GPX file onto Google Earth and used the path tool to trace my actual route that almost exactly matched the Garmin with foot pod. The path from the GPS had its margin of error with the GPS vectoring sharply around corners and even on straighter paths. It was easy to see why it under counted the actual distance. I don't know if the Garmin 405 somehow accounts for this and provides a more accurate report. I think the accuracy of GPS is the limiting factor so MotionX is probably as good as it gets. I'll continue using the Garmin 50 because it's easy and superior in terms of accuracy to GPS measurement. However, I'll also use MotionX to document my route so I can view it and share it with others.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

City bookend run

Yesterday afternoon AG and I completed our last city run before she heads back to school. The weather predictions were for storms through the afternoon so we switched our plans to run the trails in Van Cortland park in favor of the West Side bike path. Instead of rain the weather turned extremely hot and humid as we made our way west from the office. I wore my iPhone with MotionX GPS to track our route and also used the Garmin 50 for comparison.

Before we started our run we had some honey energy chews, but nothing for lunch. About 15 minutes into the run I began to feel tired which I'm sure related to hunger. It reminded us of how I struggled the first time AG and I ran together. It was on the bridal path in Central Park where the heat, hills and mud made it a rough time. In between these tough ones were a bunch of great runs. That's not to say that yesterdays run wasn't great. We moved along well and ducked into Chelsea Piers where we could run some blocks free of the sun. The run along the water was beautiful and the breeze was welcomed but the heat forced a quick hydration stop after 3.8 miles. We ran another mile before calling it a run. Despite the conditions we averaged 9:13/mile. I'm going to miss these summer city runs.

We have some guests this weekend so I got out early before they were up and ready. I used the iPhone again and the GPS application did much better outside of the city. In the interest of time I kept it under 50 minutes covering 3.8 miles at 8:53. That's another $20 to the Garmin fund but with MotionX I'm re-thinking whether to even make that purchase.

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