My iPad moment

Today’s run (street): 2.5 miles at 9:19/mile

I have not been one of those people in the media technology world who view the iPad as the Thing That Will Save Publishing. My iPhone experience has been occasionally frustrating and inconsistent but I still wouldn’t go back to the Blackberry. Unlike others I know (e.g., Sedentary Man), I refused to buy an iPad because I didn’t understand it from either a value or utility perspective. Imagine my surprise yesterday when my IT person stopped by with a white box containing a shiny new iPad, courtesy of the CIO. The first thing I did was boot it up and look at The Emerging Runner on the browser (no Flash – argh!). The second thing I did was go to iTunes to see if they had any interesting running apps. Not much there. AG kidded me that I really shouldn’t run with it (besides there’s no GPS!). I was going to use the iPad to write today’s post but I found it difficult to position the tablet and type within the confined space of an LIRR train seat. I’m hoping that this tablet will find its place in my technology portfolio. More to come on the iPad/running intersection as things develop.

Although I bought a new armband to carry my iPhone on my runs to record time and distance, I still haven’t used it. The Garmin FR60 is proving to be a great purchase, capturing everything but a a route map and elevation. It’s a much better running watch than the 50 that it replaced. I went out this morning with temperatures reported to be in the middle 30’s so I wore an additional layer over my long sleeve tech shirt and was glad I did. I forgot to wear gloves and my hands froze the entire time I was running. I have to believe it was closer to freezing than the posted 36 degrees. The run felt fine, energy level was good and I tried to push it a little near the end. That didn’t translate into a fast pace overall but the handy run report on the Garmin confirmed that I did negative splits after mile one. I’m planning to return to the treadmill tomorrow since the weather may be iffy and I haven’t used the new machine since it’s been fixed. I have plans to run in the city on Friday, weather permitting.

My 500th post!

Today’s workout: 2 mile tempo at 8:41 per mile

It’s hard to believe but today’s post is the 500th since I started The Emerging Runner in 2008. I like having a bit of history to look back upon. My original goal for this blog was for it to be a journal of my experience returning to running. I do use it for that and I find it helpful to occasionally look back on what I was doing a year ago to see if I’ve made any progress or if I’m looking at running differently. I’d say there’s been progress and my view of running hasn’t changed a bit. Both good things.

With all my hill work and trail running over the last week I felt that I needed to do a more speed-focused workout today. Last night I mapped a run that measured exactly 2 miles that I planned to cover at 5K race pace. One reason I kept the distance down to two miles was to motivate myself to run faster than I normally would at 4 AM. Another reason for the exact two mile route was to quickly compare the distance MotionX was mapping compared to my actual, known distance.

The run went well. I didn’t expect to hit a record breaking pace because I generally run about 15 seconds per mile slower at this early hour. The run felt fast and I knew I’d do better than normal (and I did) but I was still disappointed with my 8:41 pace. MotionX, the GPS app I’ve been using on my iPhone, was again way off. It measured the run at 1.86 miles. It’s easy to see why it does that. Looking at the map trace from the GPS signal shows a number of vectored corners and shortened paths that add up to less total distance. This confirmed that the GPS always under-counts distance and today’s margin of inaccuracy told me that it was off by 7%. That’s disappointing and it’s the primary reason that I didn’t buy a GPS watch to replace my Garmin 50. I’ve been told that the Garmin GPS watches are far more accurate than the iPhone but I’ll stick to the foot pod for now.

Involuntary Garmin-slaughter

Today’s workouts: Stillwell field trail loop – 3.55 miles plus speed and hill drills

My Garmin 50 display was showing “LoBattery” so I decided to change it myself. Big mistake. I had the right battery (CR2032) on hand so I thought “How hard could this be?” Replacing the battery in the heart rate monitor and the foot pod was simple but when I opened the 50 I knew it was going to be a lot more complicated. I should have stopped there and taken it to a jeweler but I was too impatient and it cost me the watch. I first had to separate the housing from the main board that held the display in order to get to the battery and when I did some tiny brackets and and a tiny spring went flying. Before I knew it the whole thing became a cruel puzzle. When I put it together in the most logical way that I could, the display failed to work. I looked up how to change the battery on this watch online but there is little documentation. In fairness to Gamin they do recommend professional battery installation.

I went through all the stages of grief: Denial (it worked before, it will work again!), Anger (stupid Garmin engineering!), Bargaining (what are Forerunner 50’s going for on Amazon these days?), Depression (I have nothing to capture tomorrow’s run so it will be meaningless!), Acceptance (this sucks but maybe it’s a good excuse to buy a 405). Then I went online and priced out the 405, the new F60 and even saw that Garmin has a new “entry level” GPS watch called the 110. Since the 110 doesn’t also work with a foot pod I’m down to deciding between the 405 and the F60.

This morning I pulled out my iPhone arm band and did my run at Stillwell using MotionX which has been improved since the last time I used it. The day was sunny and I acquired a signal quickly. I set off to run the field loop trail making four circuits with a total distance of 3.55 miles. As usual the GPS accuracy was a little off so I used Google Earth to verify the true length. It was a better experience with the iPhone than I had on previous runs. I uploaded the GPX file from MotionX to Garmin Connect and it worked great.  My online running history didn’t skip a beat despite last night’s Garmin problem. I may take the broken watch over to a local jeweler to see if they can make it work. If not I’ll probably get the new F60 that should work with the 50’s HRM and foot pod.  I did see a 405 online for $299 with a $50 rebate so maybe…

Later in the day the Emerging Runner family headed to a local park to enjoy the beautiful weather. After playing some hoops we made our way to the ball fields and had a running competition. First we ran from home plate straight out to center field (which rises to a 60+% incline over the last 30 or 40 feet) and back again. All four of us did that run, my son did it several times, and we recorded our times using my iPhone’s stopwatch app. After that we all took turns on a circuit that required the runner to touch the six light poles that ringed the diamond and outfield. The total length of that circuit is .15 miles. Based on that, I calculated our paces. I ran it at 5:33, my wife at 7:40 and my son and daughter (10 & 11) at 8:20. We weren’t dressed at all for running (although I did have my NB trail shoes) so this was a good benchmark for the next time we come, better prepared. It was a very active day for the family. How could we stay inside with this weather?

Pace perception, pace reality

I think I may have a distorted idea about what constitutes my “normal” running pace. In my mind I consider myself a 9:00 miler but in truth I’m not. Garmin Connect provides reporting tools that allow you to analyze your history and this helps me compare where I am today against previous periods. Sifting through the data and applying the appropriate filters allows me to see what paces I was doing last year on the treadmill, the road, the track and the trails. My overall pace, current or historical, means very little because it’s a blend of those running types. Comparing or just reviewing anecdotal data, I see that my normal road pace is about 9:15. There is a margin of error because this data comes from my Garmin which has an over/under tolerance of about 3%, depending on its state of calibration. I often move the footpod from pair to pair depending on the type of running that I’m doing. When calibrate accuracy to .01 mile on my Adrenalines and then move the footpod to my New Balance trail shoes I’ll get a different result. It’s an inexact method but it’s good for measuring trends over time.

Prior to last Sunday’s race I had focused primarily on building up my running legs with less concern about pace. In the first two post-race runs this week I kept the speed dialed down in consideration of recovery. Today I decided to start faster and maintain a pace that was on the edge of discomfort. About halfway through I increased the speed a bit more and at the end I expected to see that I’d run the type of pace I do for road races (8:19-8:40). I was surprised to see the Garmin readout say I’d covered my distance at 9:00 per mile. It sure seemed faster than that. It’s possible that the Garmin under-counted because of calibration variance and I was on the treadmill and not on the road. Next week we’ll have our new treadmill that will provide a readout that I can compare to the Garmin’s. It was nice to run my “normal” pace today, despite my delusions of grandeur.

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.

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.

Sublimating my competitive nature

I was pleased to see that the Emerging Runner captured the #5 spot for the top 100 blogs on Runner’s World for April, May and June. My competitive side wants me to rank higher but I’m in good company and the top four blogs deserve their positions. I let my competitive nature get the better of me earlier in the week when I took off ahead of everyone in Wednesday’s Fun Run. I had given clear direction that the event was about fun not competition yet I could not resist the combination of short distance, low humidity and a downhill stretch. This morning I thought about competition and how running is mostly about competing with one’s self. After a race I do check the results but I never think twice about who finished before me. I monitor my pace and distance when I train because it’s fun to know what you accomplish when you work so hard.

In terms of monitoring performance, I’ve wanted a Garmin 405 GPS watch for a long time. I do have the Garmin 50 with foot pod and HRM and it works great so why change? For one thing it would be great to track speed and distance with maximum accuracy. It would also allow me to capture elevation through the run. It has a built-in compass which would help with trails. The 405 also has export capabilities for overlaying runs on mapping applications. I thought that I might challenge myself and hold off buying the Garmin 405 a little longer until I’ve met certain goals. When a goal is met I’ll put a certain amount of money into a fund. When I reach the amount it will cost to buy the watch I will. A goal could be reaching 25 miles on a non-vacation week, maintaining a specific pace or reaching a distance goal. No matter what, by the time I’m done I’ll feel that I have justified buying it.

This afternoon AG and I are doing our end-of-the-work week run with one of my two running advisors, CK. CK is a master runner who’s competed in marathons and many distance races. He’s a few years older than me but much faster. CK runs in the low sevens and regularly beats the neighborhood 20-somethings in his town’s annual Turkey Trot. It will be humid and near 90 degrees when we go out to Central Park. Today my competitive nature will have to take a back seat to just keeping up with two fast and experienced runners.

So close and yet so far

When I finished my run this morning I was excited for the fact that I’d set a personal distance record. I was even more excited by the distance that my Garmin had recorded: 6.17 miles. Prior to this I had only managed to cover about 5.5 miles so getting past 6 was a big psychological barrier to cross. I took it slowly and didn’t care about my pace. I felt very good throughout the run and my last mile felt about the same as my first. I only stopped because it was getting to be close to an hour and I didn’t want them worrying about me at home. As I often do after a run, I mapped my course using Google Gmaps and was stunned to see that my actual distance was 5.95 miles. Not even 6! I studied the course I’d mapped hoping I’d left a street or two out but it was accurate. Due to the weather I ran with my New Balance trail shoes (that performed great, best $49 I’ve ever spent) and I’m guessing that the way I positioned the foot pod on my shoe threw off its accuracy.

So that’s a disappointment but the fact remains that I covered more ground than ever before. Better yet, the LSD approach (pace was mid-9’s) allowed me to maintain a steady pace and enjoy the ride. I did increase my speed over the last half mile but with a run of that length it didn’t materially change my overall pace. The good news is that I could have run another two miles without much effort. I just wish I’d run another 230 feet.

Trail shoe, meet treadmill

This morning, before my run, I realized that the foot pod for my Garmin 50 was still attached to one of my new NB 460 trail shoes. The effort to remove and then attach it to my regular shoes is minimal but just time consuming enough for me to think twice about it. As I’ve mentioned before, every minute counts in my early morning routine.

In the interest of time I decided to run with the 460s on the treadmill. I figured they performed well on the street so it wouldn’t matter too much if they weren’t made for running on a treadmill surface. Starting up was a little tough which I attributed to both the tread of the shoes and to some residual stiffness I have in my right leg. I’m planning to visit my orthopedist after my May race to get to the root of that problem which, at the moment, involves some slight pain and restricted mobility when starting a walk or run.

I got up to speed fairly quickly and the 460s, though not especially heavy, felt like I was running with comfortable work boots. As usual, my treadmill display shut down after about five minutes (as a technologist I am horrified by the failings of most running technologies I’ve used. But to be fair the treadmill is over a decade old) so I pushed the speed control blindly until the Garmin registered 7 MPH.

I ended up running 1.81 miles at an 8:50 pace. Although the use of these shoes on the treadmill was not ideal they’re proving themselves to be a great buy. Tomorrow I’ll aim for the same distance with the Nike’s to compare experiences. I’m betting that under the same conditions, with the right shoes, I should be able to improve on that pace.

Training to train

This morning I did a 5 mile neighborhood run, including about 1.25 miles running around neighborhood #2. Considering the length of the run I am happy with my 9:17 overall pace although my target was to average under 9:10/mile and my goal was to stay under 9:00. I guess you could call that a stretch goal. Maybe if I did more stretching I’d have made it.

The Garmin 50 pulled a new trick, about 3 minutes into my run I noticed that while it was happily reporting time, speed, cadence and heart rate the distance stopped incrementing after .08 miles. I couldn’t figure that out so my only recourse was to stop the timing and restart. Somehow it took that action as starting a new split but at least the Garmin was recording distance again. I felt really good throughout the run (gee maybe there is something to taking rest days) but in the final minute I experienced a reaction where I suddenly had difficulty breathing. This was hyperventilating and not related to being out of breath from the run. I had a similar experience the last time I ran over 5 miles. I recovered by forcing slow breaths and holding my breath until it re-regulated. I’m sure it’s psychological. I just hope it doesn’t continue to happen.

The reason I’m training hard this weekend is that I’m participating in a group run next week that’s been organized by Adventure Girl to start her team’s training for the Ragnar relay race in May. This relay is a 175 mile race from Woodstock to the Bronx with 12 members who each run three legs. I’m not participating in that race but I’m excited about this training run because it will be the first time I’ve run with people in over a decade. I have to admit I’m a little concerned about carrying a conversation while running but I’ll do my best. My other concern is that I’m going directly to the office afterward without a shower. The run, which takes place in Central Park, is only 4K so if I under dress I might be abe to minimize the amount that I sweat.

I’m going to try some trail running tomorrow to take advantage of the weather and to exercise some different muscles.