Showing posts with label technology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label technology. Show all posts

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Running blind to time and distance

One lacks GPS, the other lacks a strap
Today's run (street): 3.75 miles
Yesterday's run (street): 4.5 miles

They ran the Dirty Sock this morning and I cannot imagine how those poor runners managed through 6.2 miles of hot and steamy air. Make that wet air. Air that you can feel without a breeze. The humidity today and yesterday could only be described as brutal. Despite that, I did get out Saturday and today, although there was nothing about my running that could be mistaken for a racing level effort.

Yesterday was the first time I ran without my FR210 on my wrist since I bought it, and it was disconcerting not to be able to monitor time or distance. I put the watch in my SPIbelt and tried to listen for the chirp that indicated mile splits, but I was unable hear them. Without that information, I had to guess my mileage based on the route I was running. I was surprised at the end to see that I'd covered 4.5 miles in sweltering conditions. I got home and jumped in the pool wearing my running clothes. Learning from past errors, I carefully removed my phone, Garmin and Fitbit before diving in.

This morning I'd planned to get out before the direct sun added to the already hot day. Unfortunately, I didn't actually start until 7:40 AM. By then, the air felt like a steam bath. After yesterday's experience  running without either distance or time indicators, I decided to put a new battery in my old FR60. At least I'd have a stopwatch to reference.

Equipped with phone, Fitbit and two Garmins, I set off into the heat and humidity. I still couldn't monitor my distance progress unless I pulled my GPS watch from my SPIbelt, not an easy thing to do while running. I felt like I ran more than 3.75 miles, but in this weather, that was more than enough.

Running with 1 1/2 watches is going to get old real fast. My FR210 wristband has further disassembled past the point where I could repair it with this cool hack. I should probably buy another GPS watch, but that seems wasteful because both the watch and GPS part of my FR210 still works. I'm open to suggestions.

In term of this weekend's running, my paces today and yesterday were glacial. Still, I enjoyed the fact that I'm getting through every run without worrying when fatigue will kick in. Even though conditions were suboptimal, I never once wished these runs would end. If I had run the Dirty Sock today in this weather I would have gotten through it. But not very quickly.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Fitbit fits and multicolored running

These colors do run
Today's run (street): 3.6 miles
Yesterday's run (treadmill): 3.1 miles

I really liked my Fitbit yesterday, because it showed that I had reached 6,500 steps after my morning run. I really despised my Fitbit this morning when I checked post-run and saw that it didn't record a single step. What a waste of exercise. The saving grace is that my Garmin captured my run and, using the SPM metric and elapsed running time, I estimated that I ran about 6,400 steps. My Fitbit will never know this. Adding insult to injury, I expect the Fitbit to put a message on the display tonight shaming me for moving so little today.

After eight straight runs over my vacation break, I had a long layoff. My return to the office resulted in no running until yesterday. I was able to determine that my average step count during a work day is about 5,500 and I've been adding about 5,000 more when I got home. If I can't fit in runs Monday through Thursday, I need to generate more steps at work. I've been using a stand up desk in my office for the last year and that's better than sitting, but it's impolite to stand during meetings and worse to pace around the conference table.

The weather this week has been cold and rainy. Yesterday I stayed inside and used the treadmill. As I ran, I thought about how much I dislike the treadmill experience. I tried to think about the positives - the softer surface, no wind resistance (except for the fan), no broken pavement, no cars, and no hills. I had the TV to distract me and I could just set my pace and zone out. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work that way for me. I usually turn off the TV after a few minutes because it starts to annoy me. The lack of true forward progress feels futile. My only thought is that every step gets me incrementally closer to finishing.

This morning started with rain, but I had to bring my son to the high school and wouldn't have been able to run before then anyway. By 9:00 AM the skies had cleared, and I got outside for a neighborhood run. There was a lot going on for us, so I wasn't able to cover that much distance. I appreciated the cool air and the cloudy skies. My run almost felt automatic. It was as if I was riding along, rather than doing any work.

While my son was getting through his SAT and I was running through my neighborhood, my wife and daughter were at Citi Field participating in the Color Run. This is a non-competitive run where participants get sprayed with colored corn starch along the way. The "race" starts in the corridors under the ball park and winds through the playing field and then around the stadium area. It was a fun pre-Mother's Day activity and definitely more fun than taking the SATs.

Tomorrow is officially Mother's Day so I'll need to get out early. I hope the rain will stay away long enough for me to get a few miles in.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Measure for measure, I don't like this change

New and improved?
Today's run (street): 5 miles

In business, many people subscribe to the idea that, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." I made my career challenging that notion and I firmly believe (at least in technology) that complacency is the enemy of success. Okay, no more clich├ęs, but I do believe that open source technologies further the cause of progress. So am I a hypocrite to condemn the new Gmaps version that just went up, using OpenLayers in place of the Google Maps API?

I've relied on Gmaps for years as a tool to precisely measure my routes. Foot pods and GPS watches/apps both fall short due to calibration, route angles or weather. I always use mapping, combined with time, to calculate my exact pace. This morning I was surprised to see a new interface for Gmaps. I also discovered that Gmaps is now an open source supported framework, and will now be called Milermeter. It wasn't until I tried mapping this morning's run that I started to grumble.

I won't go into the specific issues that I had, but I will say that the interface can use some refinement. I'm not sure of the reason, but items flicker on screen and the tools behaved inconsistently. I'm also unsure about the accuracy. I mapped my route using "Milermeter" with both Chrome and Firefox and saw a 1.5% difference in distance between them. Both measurements fell short of what my Garmin captured, surprising because that usually under-counts distance.

Forgetting the technology issues for a moment, this morning's run turned out to be a really good workout. I ran over to the business park to run the loop a few times. This route offers either a steady uphill for almost a mile, or a shorter but steeper section if you run it in the opposite direction. I took the steeper option and made three circuits before heading home.

I used my metronome app and set it to 87 SPM. Although I felt I was coordinating my steps with metronome, I didn't end up with a particularly fast pace. To be fair, except for the hill, I didn't push that hard, although I kept a steady stride throughout the run. Right now, I care more about managing up my cadence than speed. If I understand how this all works, better paces should follow

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Running, thinking, creating, implementing

This week's obsession
Today's run (street): 3.4 miles

I've always been interested in media and technology. In fact, my whole career has been focused on those two things. Among the benefits of being "retired when convenient" is that I can focus on things that really interest me. I recently created a Drupal CMS that I'm developing as an XML publishing system. In the past, I would have had to do this late at night or on weekends, but now I can work on it whenever I feel like taking a break from other things.

One of the reasons I enjoy working with technology is that it combines creativity with functionality. The creative process can be based on design, problem solving or building something cool. I had reached the point on a Drupal technical challenge that was monopolizing my focus. I needed to take a break, so I went for a mid-morning run.

The temperature was around 70 degrees when I went outside, but the sun was harsh and the humidity was high. I wasn't concerned about going fast today and that helped me deal with the hot weather. I found a pace that allowed me to move along without thinking. I was thinking, but just not about running. As I moved along, I thought about different options for addressing my technical challenge. By the time I reached home, I had my answer.

It wasn't a particularly impressive workout in terms of metrics, but the heat kept my efforts in check. I liked that I was able to combine running, technology, creativity and business in a way that resulted in a win, win win, win situation.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Garmin FR210 behaving badly

Get back to work!
Today's run (treadmill): 25 minutes

After two years of stellar service, my Garmin FR210 has started to exhibit some bad behavior. I bought this watch because it provided basic GPS metrics, elevation data and wireless syncing with my heart rate monitor. Like all GPS systems, the distance accuracy wasn't 100%, but after a while I understood the margin of error and mentally corrected for it. There are things I still don't like about the watch, such as the weird way it connects to a PC for data uploads, but overall it has been a great resource and a good value.

The bad behavior started on January 1st, with my first run of the year. I was a couple of miles into the Hangover Fun Run at Eisenhower Park, when I looked at the watch only to see that it wasn't recording time or distance. I decided to let it go and just use the event clock to record my time. I figured that I must have neglected to fully push the start button and was paying the price for that inattention.

Since then, I've run five more times. On three of those runs I've noticed that the timer stopped recording after I'd initially started it. It doesn't happen every time, but it forces me to pay careful attention to the watch on every run. I don't know why this would suddenly happen. I checked the FR210 forum on Garmin Connect but haven't seen anyone else with the same complaint.

It would be a shame to have to replace this watch because I've come to rely on it to capture all my metrics, including a map of where I'd run. I still have my FR60 that works fine, but it lacks GPS so I'd need to return to using the foot pad. If I did that, I'd lose the mapping but would gain cadence, something I miss since switching from the 60 to the 210. I could always use an app on my smartphone to do the mapping since I carry the phone on every run. It's worth thinking about. But I'd rather have the FR210 working as it should.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Techno-vandalism brings down Emerging Runner

Today's run (street): 2.5 miles

Today is the 11th anniversary of 9/11 and it's hard to believe that so much time has passed since that Tuesday in 2001. Last year I posted an essay about my experience and I thought this morning about how my children, so young at the time, are now in middle and high school. They'll never remember a time when 9/11 was just another day in September. I hardly do now.

Yesterday afternoon hackers brought down GoDaddy, the web hosting company that provides DNS services for the Emerging Runner. Consequently, my site was unreachable for a few hours. It's troubling when people selfishly disrupt technologies that provide services to so many who rely on their websites for income. Emerging Runner isn't a commercial site so, for me, it was just annoyance. But for those with the "Occupy Wall Street" mentality, I'll point out that this type of techno-vandalism mostly hurts the people they claim to represent.

I'm glad to have my site back and very happy to experience chilly, fall-like temperatures on my 4:00 AM run this morning. I ran my usual route and finished about 30 seconds faster than I normally do. It's hard to know how I'll feel on Saturday (race day) but my last two runs have gone well. One more run before I rest.

Finally, as I feared, BH Fitness sent us the wrong parts for our elliptical machine, so after waiting 6+ months, we still don't have a working unit. Here's some advice: If you are considering buying a piece of BH Fitness equipment, I recommend that you consider something else.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Emerging Runner meets emerging technology at MIT

Fascinating group at the Media Lab this week
Tuesday's run (treadmill): 3.1 miles
Thursday's run (street): 2.5 miles

I'm back to NYC after three days in Cambridge. Normally I'd have run my favorite loop along the Charles River and over to Boston and back, but my schedule at the Media Lab was just too tight. That, plus the early morning weather was chilly and raw and I only packed running shorts and short sleeve jerseys. The events at MIT were great, and I got to rub shoulders with people like Peter Gabriel and Reid Hoffman, among other high profile artists and techno-geeks. But I did miss the experience of crossing the Longfellow Bridge at sunrise.

Virtual meets physical
There wasn't much new stuff that related to running, but I did see a couple of interesting projects that connected physiology to technology. One demo showed a way to train or do physical therapy using an animated virtual trainer. The subject performs tasks like kicking a ball towards a target. The closer the ball comes to the designated spot, the better they have performed the movement.

Much more than a fashion statement
Another technology that caught my eye came out of the Affective Computing Lab. It's called the WristQue, a sensing device that goes far beyond the capabilities of wrist-based devices like the Nike Sports band and the MOTO wristband. It captures the usual metrics as well as bio-indicators like galvanic response. It can even respond to your environment, changing ambient lighting as you move through an area. Cool!

I was pleased with my treadmill run on Tuesday morning. I seem to be able to sustain much better paces on Life Fitness treadmills than on my home unit. I covered 3.1 miles under 9:00/mile and felt strong throughout the session.

Wednesday morning was a washout, I didn't have the time to run (plus I had a pounding headache) in the morning. Today I got outside and covered my route in around my usual time. I was careful to notice my form and how I felt. I'm hoping that I can maintain a credible pace over 12 miles this weekend, my last long run prior to the LI Half. I'm still undecided on which running shoes to use for the upcoming race.

It's been a very busy week and it's only Thursday! Tomorrow morning I'll go out again and finish my training program this weekend, as I start my taper.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Massachusetts Institute of (Running) Technology

Today's workout (elliptical): 23 minutes

I'm back in NY so last night I thought I'd do a morning run in my neighborhood. When I got up I considered my mild cold and decided to do an indoor workout instead. It had been over a week since I'd cross trained so I did a shorter than normal elliptical session that generated a good sweat. If the weather is clear this weekend I'll try for a long base run as I train for the half marathon that's happening in three Sundays from now.

My visit to the Media Lab was enlightening as usual and I came upon a couple of interesting activity related projects. The Cardio Cam, from the Affective Computing Lab, is a mirror with a webcam mounted at the top. You position yourself so that your face is centered in a frame that's superimposed on the mirror. After a couple of seconds, large numbers appear on the lower right that show your heart rate. It's as simple as that. The webcam images your face and the algorithm calculates your heart rate based on a spectral analysis of your image samples -- or as they put it "Non-contact, automated cardiac pulse measurements using video imaging and blind source separation." The display showed my pulse just a bit under 60, which would be right for me under normal conditions.

A project that came out of the Speech & Mobility group used location tracking on a smartphone that feeds a narrative that plays while a person runs. In the demo, a runner plays an adventure game by listening to instructions that tell him where to run and turn to perform steps in the game. The app was written by a grad student who was bored running the same old streets of his neighborhood. Sounds familiar. I wanted to try it but it's Android only. Another reason to dump the iPhone!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Will geek appeal get me to the race?

Today's workout (elliptical): 25 minutes

I forgot to set my alarm this morning and slept about 15 minutes later than I usually do. Feeling tired and knowing this late start would cut into my workout, I briefly considered skipping exercise altogether. Thankfully guilt prevailed and I ended up spending about 25 minutes on the elliptical. It was sufficient to raise my heart rate and make me sweat. Other than that I can't remember a thing about it.

Tracking tag that's built into the bib
My racing plans have been on my mind lately. I'm still on the fence about whether I will do the RXR LI Marathon 10K the first weekend in May. I enjoy racing and I do believe it helps push me to higher levels of conditioning than I would reach were I solely a recreational runner. The thing is, I just raced a couple of weeks ago and I really just want to take a few weekends to get out and have fun on the roads and trails. It's different when preparing for a race where every run is about preparing to meet performance goals. On the other hand I've only competed in one 10K, a trail race, and I'm curious to see how I'd do in a road race at that distance. I did the LI Marathon 5K last year so the 10K would represent progress, or at least a new experience. I should be able to run 6.2 miles competitively right now without a lot of race-specific training. I have until Sunday to decide. That's when registration closes. They have a new system where your race number is also your tracking tag. The geek in me is really intrigued by that. It may be enough to get me to the starting line.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Running technology rant plus a little about running


As a technologist I am usually willing to accept inconsistent results from the technologies I use. I understand that consumer electronics are designed and built to meet the often contradictory requirements of
functionality and low cost. Some technologies have established themselves as chronically unreliable and yet we accept this. I no longer get surprised when my office computer spontaneously reboots because it reaches some threshold of memory and needs to stop RIGHT NOW. That usually happens when I'm deeply focused on a presentation or spreadsheet and therefore have not consciously saved it every few minutes. I accept that but I don't like it. I have discovered that Apple, even with all its cool designs, marketing and innovation, really makes bad stuff. My iMac shuts down so often that I'm surprised when it doesn't. The funny thing about it is that I love it before that happens and I love it afterward. But when it happens I really hate it. I'm starting to feel that way about my iPhone. I'm on my 3rd 3GS in as many months and I like almost everything about it but it except for:

1. When it dies and then comes back to life a week later.
2. When it runs slower on WiFi than on 3G.
3. When, despite its showing five bars for connectivity along with 3G or WiFi, I can't connect to the web or make an outgoing call.
4. When I set up a GPS app like MotionX, see the signal is acquired, hit the button to start my run, and finish the run only to find that it stopped recording after six minutes.
5. When I try to do a post using the Blogger app and the keyboard decides to change the default to caps and provides no obvious way to change it back.

So I'm really hating my iPhone this morning. I so want to count on it to capture my runs but it fails far more often than it succeeds. One technology that works pretty well is the Garmin 50 and I'm grateful to have had that as backup for the many runs I've recorded (or tried to record) using my iPhone.

Okay, now I'll talk about running. Since I've returned from Rehoboth Beach I've had two early morning runs that felt great, largely due to the cool temperatures and low humidity. Over the past couple of days I've covered about 5 miles and maintained close to 9:00 per mile for pace. I'm thinking a lot about the upcoming marathon relay and I'm concerned about how I'll handle over 9 miles. Although it's broken into segments of 3 and 6 miles I'm not sure a couple of hours rest in between will help or hurt. The best I can do is try. And if I don't do as well as I'd like I'll have only myself, not technology, to blame.

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.

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.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The great experiment

One reason I enjoy running is that the sport allows me to indulge my interest in technology. From my first few months using the Nike+ Sportsband to my switch to the Garmin 50 I have tracked my performance and progress and studied the results. Technology isn't limited to sports watches, I started a site within emergingrunner.com called Runner's Tech Review to provide feedback on every type of fitness technology I use. To be sure, some of this technology is battery powered but much of it isn't. Sports drinks, running shoes and energy bars are all technologies in their own right.

I've just replaced my Blackberry with an iPhone and I'm learning to deal with it. In many ways it's a step down from its replacement but it offers some capabilities to runners that the Blackberry cannot match. For one thing I can finally look at comments posted on my Runner's World Loop blog without being tethered to a PC. I thought I would have better tools for mobile posting using Safari but Blogger doesn't really work right. There may be issues with Flash or Java. I can post simply by sending an email to a special address so I've found a good solution for that. The big exciting technology opportunity is leveraging the GPS capability of the iPhone. I mentioned MotionX yesterday and put it to the test walking a few places in the city. The system had a difficult time acquiring a signal but that could be related to the many tall buildings in mid town NYC. Today I will try a run with the iPhone using MotionX to track my speed, distance, elevation and route. I'm hoping that it works better than the Qstarz Sports Recorder.

To hedge my bets, I'll have my trusty Garmin as backup and it will be interesting to compare results between the two. The only concern I have is the weather. Storms are expected and I don't want to soak the iPhone.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Quirks of the Garmin

I'm back to the work week routine and despite the residual fatigue that comes from rising at 4:00 AM I've settled back in to my running program. Although I am pleased with the Garmin 50 I've experienced some frustration with its operation, mostly due to its complex interface and its too simple instruction manual.

There are four buttons on the watch that do different things based upon the mode: time, training, intervals, etc. It is not obvious to the user which sequence of buttons need to be pushed to start an action, check a performance metric or calibrate the unit. The manual doesn't cover much of what the watch can do so I'm left frustrated knowing I'm not getting everything I can from the watch. In some cases the frustration comes from inconsistancies with the interface. For example, when in training mode, the usual default screen displays 0000:00:00 meaning "hit start and run." It then records distance, speed, cadence and pulse rate and will display any of those metrics by toggling with one button. That's great except when that display doesn't show up when you switch to training mode.

This morning I got going on the treadmill, brought the speed to my normal starting pace, switched the Garmin to "Train" and was annoyed to see that it did not give me my expected start display. So as I'm running at about a 6.5 mi/hr pace I'm jabbing at the watch in hopes of correcting this so I can record my run. Eventually I noticed a different display that seemed to be capturing distance so I left it alone and in the end it allowed me to save the run. The aggrevating part was that I ran at least .3 miles while this all played out and consequently none of that data was captured.

I'll see exactly what it did capture once the run is uploaded to Garmin Connect. I'm sure I'll eventually learn every aspect of the watch through trial and error but I'm puzzled by the lack of operational documentation. I wonder how many Garmin users give up on the features simply because the thing's so darn complicated.

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.

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.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

In defense of the treadmill




















The temperature this morning was in the low teens with winds making it far colder. It was also snowing which surprised me a little since I've always thought it couldn't snow when the temperature dropped much below freezing. Adding to this was the 4:00 AM darkness creating the most inhospitable running environment that can be found in suburban NY. There was no question that I would run on the treadmill as the darkness alone is enough to keep me inside on weekday mornings. Also, I like the treadmill for reasons I'll address further into this post.

As a re-engaged runner I am interested in what more experienced runners think and what they do. I'm always curious to hear real runner's opinions about treadmills because I've found them to be a divisive subject. There are those who just hate them and won't use them unless every alternative is exhausted. I know a person who runs in every kind of weather and who won't even wear a hat or long pants unless the temperature drops below 10 degrees. A couple of friends that are well established runners avoid the treadmill because they think the motion of the tread throws off their technique. I respect them very much and I've learned greatly from them both but I don't agree with that perspective.

The treadmill makes great sense to me because it's a practical and enabling technology. It lets me run when nature doesn't cooperate. Perhaps more importantly, the treadmill gives me full control of my environment in terms of conditions, speed and effort. I often think about the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" where Keir Dullea runs within a space station as it revolves. This morning I realized that I would run out of time before hitting my minimum distance for my weekday run. I had about five minutes left and saw that I was about 3/10ths of a mile short of my goal. With reckless abandon I pushed the speed control to 7.8 mph which is close to a 7:30/mi pace. I ended up covering much more distance than originally planned. I know it's not the same as the street or track but that doesn't mean it's worse. One established runner I know tells me she finds the treadmill workout harder than the street. I know it's not ideal and will always prefer the view of the neighborhood, the athletic field or (I'm guessing) the trail to the static view of my backyard viewed through the guestroom window. But at 4:00 AM with snow and a freezing wind-chill I'm still running.

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.
 

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