Showing posts with label Sportband. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sportband. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Treadmill depreciation day

It's so cold this morning that people are wearing gloves and winter jackets as we wait for the train to arrive. I wish I could put in a quick three miles on the road to take advantage of this perfect running weather. Hopefully the low temperatures and dry air will continue throughout the afternoon.
I haven't run since Sunday and I miss it. I  did an elliptical workout on Monday and rested yesterday. I took a rest day because I know they're important but part of that decision was based upon my growing dislike for the treadmill. It may be related to the frustrations I've had with measuring my performance and the problems I've encountered with the treadmill display. The data from the treadmill has never really matched my other tracking devices. I could calibrate the Nike+ Sportband and the Garmin 50 foot pod so I knew that I was accurately capturing speed and distance. Recently my Garmin has become inconsistent, tracking under and then over by around 5% on consecutive days. I'm finishing my treadmill runs wondering how I've really performed.

Besides the tracking issues I've found running on the treadmill to be increasingly tedious. The more I run outside the more I dislike running inside. Besides a lack of visual stimulation (television is not a good alternative for me) I'm also finding the noise annoying. I know I should appreciate the treadmill for its convenience and consistency (surface and elevation). I'll try to keep that in mind when I hop back on tomorrow.

Until then I will resume my training today with an afternoon run in the city. I'm hoping to make 20 miles a week until the 8K on June 7 and I do mileage better outdoors. I know I shouldn't be so hard on the treadmill, it's lasted us well over a decade. My wife puts me to shame in terms of the time and distance spent on the machine and she never complains about it. Still, a new quiet and modern unit with a home entertainment center and virtual reality would be nice to have.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Nike Sportband - A farewell to armbands

This afternoon I decided to finally end my experiment with the Nike+ Sportband by returning it for a full refund. This was actually Sportband #3, the previous two had displays that failed and the current display just stopped exchanging data. As frustrated as I was with the Sportband I felt a certain loyalty to the device. After all it was with me throughout most of my return to running and it dutifully recorded over 180 runs with useful and accurate information. I had some initial problems with calibration and I called the Nike help line staffed by very engaged people who understood and solved every problem. In the end it came down to a device that didn't meet my needs. The woman who handled my return offered to do it as an exchange saying she knew nothing about the Nike recall and that they were still selling the units. I told her I couldn't continue the insanity and showed her my Garmin 50 saying I've moved on. She rolled her eyes and said "The credit will go to your Visa, have a nice day, next in line!"

So now I'm using the Garmin and I think I've figured out how to calibrate the distance despite a less than clear manual and less engaged support from Garmin. The Sportband was slick and the Garmin is sort of bulky. The Nike+ site has lots of fun features, challenges and community boards. The Garmin site has little of that but the data it presents is much better. The Garmin tells me many things as I run while the Sportband only told me a few. I'll miss the Sportband's simplicity but I won't miss the inevitable failure of its display or functionality. I still like Nike but I'll stick to their non-electronic gear from now on. Hey, after all I just bought my wife a pair of Air Zoom Vomeros.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Measure twice, cut one

Shortly before I left the office yesterday my wife sent me an email that said "Good News, I think your new watch thingy came today." I got home and was very excited to see that it had, in fact, arrived.

The watch thingy is a Garmin Forerunner 50 with data linking, heart rate monitor and foot pod. Theoretically, this watch has everything I need to capture the metrics from my runs and wirelessly transmit the data to my PC. Compared to my Nike+ Sportband it does quite a lot. That's partially due to the Sportband's tendency to self destruct, usually within two months of receipt. The Sportband's display has become increasingly difficult to read (apparently the design has big problems with corrosion) and it no longer shares well with others. By this I mean that when I try to upload my run data to the Nike+ site it refuses to acknowledge that there is any available data. For that last two weeks I've had to record all my run data manually.

Now that the 50 has arrived I'm anticipating the opportunity to capture my training information in all different ways. The 50 has a stopwatch so, at the very least I can accurately time outdoor running and compare distance from Gmaps for pace. The watch also calculates splits and times intervals. The HRM captures length of workout pulse rate and the foot pod captures speed, pace and distance.

So theoretically I'm set. But what about reality? Experience has shown that running technologies often sound better than they perform. I've had a continuously bad experience with the Sportband but yet I continue to use it because it does one thing very well; capture run distance very accurately. This weekend I plan to perform a faceoff between the Nike+ Sportband and the Garmin 50. I'll wear them both and compare the distance data they report. I'll then compare that data to the benchmark of Google Earth measurement.

One will win and the other will be returned. I really hope the Garmin's capability is more than theoretical.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Beating expectations

It was much warmer today than yesterday so I had no issues with the cold. The wind from the west was strong and the combination of wind plus hills plus 42 degree heat made for a rigorous run. Yesterday I Gmapped my run only to discover that my Sportband was off by 2% and I had actually run almost 4.5 miles, achieving a 9:13 average pace. I Gmapped today's run and saw that it was off by almost 3% of the actual distance. I'm pleased that I exceeded my weekend goal of 8 miles in two runs. I may go to the track later with my daughter who wants to run again. I have not been to the track since discovering it covered by ice and snow but the warmer weather should have cleared that by now.

After discovering that the Sportband was not only refusing to upload any runs to the Nike+ site and was increasingly off calibration I decided to buy a Garmin 50 with HRM and foot pod. The Garmin 50 does not use GPS, the foot pod works in a similar way that the Nike+ system works using RFID. I've had readers tell me that the Garmin 50 works pretty well and I've read similar observations on websites. The reason I didn't get a GPS enabled watch is that the Garmin 305 is just too bulky and the 405 (which is a great running watch) costs $400 including the HRM and foot pod.

So until I get the 50 I'll use the Sportband to record elapsed time and distance and adjust for the Sportband’s inaccuracy. I hope to have the Garmin by next weekend. The only issue with the Garmin is that the software does not work on a Mac so I'll need to use my wife's laptop that runs Vista (ugh) or our upstairs XP machine. No matter, I'm excited about this decision and I will report on my experience soon enough.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Those are the breaks

The freezing cold temperatures had given way to a much more bearable 32 degrees this morning and I had hoped to resume running with my 9 year old son today. The snow and bone chilling cold had forced him to take a hiatus for the last three weekends and he had mentioned that he really wanted to run. Unfortunately the poor guy had an accident while cleaning up the dishes yesterday when a plate fell on his big toe. This required a trip to the emergency pediatrician's office last night and no activity of any kind prescribed for the next five days. So much for us running together this weekend.

I headed out alone this morning and didn't check the temperature before I left. I quickly regretted all my layers when I realized that it was almost twice as warm as Saturday's 18 degrees. Instead of hating the wind I began wishing for more of it. Today's run was less taxing than Saturday's and I ran about 4 miles. I still felt a bit sluggish and my pace reflected it; 12/sec per mile slower than yesterday.

When I tried to sync my Sportband with the Nike+ site I got the same "No runs to upload" message that I got the day before. Fortunately the device still records events accurately so I can manually capture the data and input it into MapMyRun. There is a way to manually create an XML message with the run data that can be uploaded to the Nike+ site. I'm debating whether I want to take the trouble do something that won't reflect the real time performance of my workout. After all, that's whole the point of the Nike+ system.

I should be frustrated and angry that the Sportband has failed me in so many ways but I'm taking a glass-half-full perspective. Now I'll get to buy and play with a new technology that will give me even more features than my Sportband. Despite the fact that I've had the Sportband (make that three Sportbands) over the last five months and have recorded hundreds of runs, I will get my entire investment back and this will help fund my new purchase. I only wish I could make my son's toe problem go away so easily.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A new Nike+ Sportband problem

I had a particularly good bunch of runs this week and looked forward to downloading my Sportband after this morning's workout. Today is the last day of January and I was curious to see how I did in total mileage compared to December.

I started with 15 minutes of core exercise as a warm up and then ran 3.1 miles outside. It was 18 degrees and windy and I struggled through the whole run. Running is mostly fun but today it was work. There was no debate when I reached the crossroad where I could run another mile or just head for home. I had hoped the core work would have prepared me better but my legs felt heavy throughout the run. My running felt mechanical the whole way through and I was prepared for an abysmal pace. I was surprised to see that I ran 3.1 miles in about 29 minutes.

My frustration came when I attempted to upload the past week's runs to the Nike+ site only to see the dialog box read "No new runs to upload." I tried multiple times but the application just wouldn't recognize my runs. I ended up manually inputting the runs into MapMyRun where I aggregate all my workouts including training done on the elliptical machine. I looked on the Nike+ forums to see if there was a solution posted. There were no solutions but I saw that I wasn't the only one who was experiencing this issue.

I finished January having run almost exactly the same total distance as in December averaging about 15 miles a week. Since I was on vacation for two weeks in December and had more time to run I'm considering January's distance a net gain. With the Sportband failing to upload my runs I'm thinking about bringing it back for a refund and getting a Garmin 50 with foot pod and HRM. I just can't rationalize spending over $400 for a Forerunner 405, Polar or Suunto GPS watch with the additional foot pod and HRM.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Daily discoveries

Although it has been a number of months since I've returned to running I'm still finding about new things every day. I wrote yesterday about what I recently learned about trail shoes and I came across a couple of other things as well. My first discovery was that my normal pace on the road is about 25 seconds/mile faster than what seemed to be an equal effort on the treadmill. I know my street pace is correct because I can quantify it by dividing duration by distance using a stopwatch and Google Earth's path ruler. Both tools are close to 100% accurate so I consider that to be my pace of record. My Sportband, when calibrated, closely correlates to this distance and pace number.

The big question is whether the Sportband works as accurately with treadmill running as it does on the street. My guess is that it does because the only variable is whether the treadmill motor throws off enough EMI to interfere with the transmission between the Nike+ chip and the Sportband. If that were the case then the Sportband readings would be inconsistent as the level of EMI interference varies due to positioning changes between the Sportband and chip during a run. My conclusion is that the difference in pace has to do with stride length. My stride is probably shorter on the treadmill because I'm conscious of the possibility of over-running the speed of the tread,

My second discovery was that the Core workout, despite its low impact, seems to generate an impressive amount of energy. This makes it a great warm up for a run and a nightmare when you do it shortly before you go to bed. Forget sleeping for a while. I learned this Sunday night as I stared at the clock for two hours waiting to drop off.

Finally, I read yesterday that replenishing glycogen within 15 minutes after exercise significantly helps recovery and benefits your next day's workout. There seems to be no end of new things to discover about a seemingly simple sport.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The persistance of treadmill memory

My apologies for writing such a bad Dali pun as a headline but I have discovered something interesting about treadmill data. The cold weather and snow that we have experienced this past week has forced me to spend a lot of time running indoors. The treadmill is clearly a subject for discussion as most people view it either as an enabler or a necessary evil but you can't argue with its convenience. After using it as my third choice after street and track for months I realized that my basic assumption of its measurement accuracy is flawed. I've always assumed that maintaining a constant speed on the treadmill will accomplish the same for the runner. In other words, assuming the reading is accurate, when the treadmill says 7 MPH you're running 7 MPH.

The treadmill forces you to run (as long as the tread is moving you'd better be running) but there can be a measurable variance in treadmill speed and runner speed. I noticed this on Saturday when I had a strong start and after a mile my Sportband showed my distance about .05 miles ahead of the treadmill's. Throughout the run I saw that gap begin to close and at 2.7 miles the treadmill distance began to exceed the Sportband distance. This intrigued me and also annoyed me because I knew I'd need to run a little extra at the end to achieve my planned distance. After thinking about it I realized it makes sense. You don't have to run the same pace of the treadmill as you run on it as long as your feet are moving. There is a minimum speed you'll need to maintain lest you get swept off the tread but there's some latitude there. My experience showed me where I peak in terms of pace and where I begin to lose speed over time. Knowing this will help me better tune my performance by pushing my crossover time further and further into my run.

I was hoping to run on the track today but, like yesterday, we've received another few inches of snow. I ran about 3.5 miles yesterday on top of Saturday's 3.6. I may shoot for longer distance today or go the other way and cross train with the elliptical and the shovel.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Rage against the machines

I got a note from a reader who asked me about my experience with the Brookstone Heart Rate Ring. She had a similar issue and wanted to understand my specific problems with the unit. My experience with this device was similar to my experience with the HRM on my elliptical machine: inaccurate and inconsistent readings. It makes me wonder if any HRMs on the market are capable of performing their simple but important task of accurately reporting a pulse rate in real time. I have been frustrated lately by an astonishing number of technology failures running the gamut of high and low tech. A few examples are shade pulls so over engineered that breaking the cord requires a home visit by a company service rep. Other technology frustrations include my long term search for a programmable switch for my outside house lights that doesn't fail within eight months of installation and flush mounted clothing hooks that require the use of specialized Allen wrenches when a simple screw would do.

Bringing this back to running, I've found that my frustration with the technologies that quantify performance comes as a result of a need to measure progress. I've had the experience where I failed to trigger the start of a run on my Sportband (it requires about 1,000 lbs. of pressure to activate the button) only to discover the problem ten minutes into my run. My irrational response to this is that I wasted my time. If that part of my run wasn't recorded then it didn't happen. So the key issue is I subconsciously value the metrics of running more than the workout itself. When the technology fails to capture the experience or records it incorrectly, irrational or not, it diminishes the way I value the effort.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Nike+ Sportband, the definition of insanity

Albert Einstein supposedly said "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If that's true then I am truly insane because I continue to use my Nike+ Sportband hoping that its display, like its two predecessors, won't corrode and fade away. I realize that I have been complaining a lot lately in my posts - runners with bad safety judgment, elliptical machine issues and again the Sportband - but I question why so many fitness technologies just don't work.

I am a technologist and those who know me will agree that I am passionate about the ways technology can benefit society. I say this to demonstrate that I am neither a Luddite nor "purist" when it comes to workout science. However, between my Sportband troubles, continuing problems with our elliptical machine's HRM and an earlier disappointing experience with Brookstone's Heart Rate Ring I am zero for 3 in terms of consumer satisfaction. Why bring a product to market that just doesn't work?

I applaud Nike for having developed a very affordable system that accurately tracks running metrics using an RFID sensor along with a lightweight watch that captures the information in real time. What bothers me is that Nike, an $18 billion company founded on the development of an innovative running shoe, seems to have given up on this idea because their original design was poorly engineered. If the problem is that the water seal of the display is flawed why not fix that and reintroduce the product? While there is an iPod based solution it's an irrelevant choice for those who don't have or want an iPod.

Yet, through this, as my current Sportband continues to degrade and fade, I hold out hope that the next one I get when I swap it out at Dick's will work better. That is if they still have them. Otherwise I will ask for a refund and consider my next technology decision: Should I apply my refund to the purchase of a Garmin Forerunner 50 with Heart Rate Monitor and Foot Pod or go all out and get the Garmin Forerunner 405 Black GPS Enabled Sports Watch/ HRM for three times the price but with everything a running techno-geek would ever want?

It all comes down to my earlier point. What if I bought the 405 and it doesn't work? Then I'll have nothing to aspire to. Maybe that will be the time to buy a stopwatch.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A pretty good (but freezing) run

This morning was pretty cold but I decided that I would brave the weather and run outside. Instead of my usual weekend neighborhood run I decided to go to the track. I tried to anticipate how cold it would be and wore three long sleeve running jerseys under a lightweight running jacket and lined running pants. I also brought my fleece hat and gloves.

As I drove toward the school I had to move into the center of the road to avoid hitting two runners who decided to run side by side up a very busy street in the same direction as the traffic. I couldn't believe those guys and I hope they didn't get hit.

When I got to the track I saw a couple of people running. They were bundled up much more than me, both were wearing hoods and hats that covered most of their faces. The other runners seemed miserable and I figured that they overdressed and were paying for it or they were just pushing too hard. I began my run feeling really good. The sun had come up and it didn't feel cold at all. As I came around the second curve the wind hit me straight on. It was painfully cold and difficult to maintain speed. I realized then why those other runners dressed that way. Note to self: Buy a running balaclava.

I toughed it out and ran 13 laps, the equivalent of 3.25 miles. My Nike+ Sportband was off by quite a bit (32%) and reported that I ran 4.84 miles (see above) which calculated to a pace of 6:58/mile. Not quite. With the wind I was pleased with my true pace, calculated by MapMyRun at 10:24. I felt I could have pushed it another mile but the wind was picking up and I really didn't like how my face was feeling. I may return with my son later, hopefully it will warm up by early afternoon. In the meantime I will try to recalibrate the Sportband. It's been very accurate against the treadmill speed and distance but on an actual track, not so much. Maybe I do need a GPS watch.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Improving my 5K pace

Instead of merely getting through my morning run today I concentrated on maintaining a faster pace. As I gear up for my first 5K (144 days from now) my focus has been on increasing my distance and duration rather than speed. I think we all have a natural pace where we run without thinking about running. I'm guessing this is why most people run, to reach a state where exercise and enjoyment come together. This morning was not one of those times. I started out at a 9:55/min pace as a warm up and brought up my speed to the point where I finished with an average pace of about 9:15. I have run faster than that – in fact I once did a mile in about 7:50 but I haven't come close to that time again. This leads me to think that I never really attained that pace in the first place, perhaps my Nike+ Sportband was not properly calibrated. By the way, it appears as though Nike is no longer listing the Sportsband on their online store. I hope they decide to fix the problems with this unit rather than give up on it. There's nothing else out there that provides the same utility for anything close to its $59 price. The alternative is to use the Nike+ sensor with an iPod but since many (including myself) don't own an iPod or like to listen to music while running it's an unsatisfactory solution. Besides that, an iPod costs a lot more than the Sportband.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Nike+ Sportband recall

I am currently on my third Nike+ Sportband. My first two became unusable after the display failed. My current Sportband is beginning to corrode the same way. Yesterday I saw an article online that said Nike was doing a voluntary recall of the Sportbands due to display failure. It's really too bad that they introduced a product with such a bad flaw. I rely on the Sportband because it tracks distance whether I run indoors or out. I may end up getting a Garmin Forerunner 405 or Polar RS800 watch with GPS if my Sportband fails again. These are good watches but they are much more expensive than the Nike+ Sportband. Also, unless you invest in the footpod option (on the Garmin) you can only track outdoor runs.

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