Earmuffs make awful headphones on the treadmill

Today’s run (treadmill): 4 miles

Hot tunes

I got an early start on my workout this morning due to the day’s agenda. With the narrower roads and obstructed views of traffic in the neighborhood (all due to the huge snow banks) I thought it best to run indoors. Knowing that this would be a longer treadmill run than my usual weekday morning workout, I took my iPhone and some ear buds to keep me company. I’m not a fan of running with music for outdoor runs because the ambient noise on the trail or street is a far better sound track. That, along with safety concerns, prevents me from doing it. Indoors is a different story and I thought it might be a way to distract me from the tedium of the treadmill experience.

I can’t wear Apple’s white ear buds because they don’t fit my ears so I jury-rigged headphones using a pair of 180’s earmuffs. I loaded Pandora, started my music and then started my run. That worked well for about 20 minutes but the heat of the guest room plus the additional warmth from the earmuffs made it untenable. I removed my “headphones” and played the iPhone using its external speakers but between the sound of the treadmill, the fan and the music I found it too distracting. I spent the balance of my run without music and by the fourth mile I was really ready to stop. Treadmill runs are hard for me and I’d played with elevation and speed which made the challenge even greater.

I’m not confident that today’s above freezing temperatures will melt enough snow to make it safe for a street run on Sunday so it’s back to the treadmill for me tomorrow. I picked up a set of behind-the-ear headphones today so I’ll give them a try if an indoor run is my only option.

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.

People plus and Nike minus

One of the greatest things about my work life is that I work with some cool and interesting people. A lot of that has to do with the company itself, it takes a lot to get hired here so those that do get in tend to be the leaders in their field. It’s great to spend your days with people that you respect and also like. Not surprisingly, I met my wife here. Readers know about the amazing Adventure Girl and the Sedentary Man also has many fans. Another colleague who personifies this profile is KWL, a man with more sources of interest than J.P. Morgan Chase. I won’t go into his professional bona fides but I will say that he is my inspiration when it comes to blending activity and technology. KWL made me aware of how applications can leverage the GPS capabilities of the iPhone and it was during our division Fun Run when I first saw MotionX in action. He’s an avid cyclist and uses MotionX to record and map rides that can go 50 miles or even longer.

Now that I’m back on a – theoretically – stable iPhone (my third 3GS in two months) I’m looking to resume using the many GPS apps I have that record and map running data. Last week KWL brought me a Nike+ chip and receiver that he’d just picked up for his new iPod Nano. He went for a run with it and was impressed. I was impressed that, as a non-runner, he is capable of spontaneously pulling off 2+ mile runs whenever he feels like it. KWL suggested that I try the Nike+ app on my iPod as I ran this morning. It seemed pretty cool and when I plugged the receiver into my 3GS this morning my iPhone showed a message saying I didn’t need it, that the phone would communicate with the chip automatically.

Before long I had established a communication link with the chip that I’d attached above the laces on my right foot making it a twin with the Garmin foot pod on my left. I assigned some music to the workout, hit start and hit the street. I didn’t select a distance so the built in training didn’t encourage me to speed up or affirm my pace but the app seemed to run okay. When I got to the end I stopped the Garmin and the Nike+ app. I then hit “End Workout” on the iPhone and that seemed to delete my run because I haven’t been able to find the data ever since. That’s too bad because I never got a chance to review the Nike+ data against my Garmin that showed I ran about 5K at 8:58.

I’ll go back and read the instruction to see what I did wrong and try the Nike+ again tomorrow. I’m curious to see if it’s accurate but my hopes aren’t high for the technology. After my Nike+ wristband experience my expectations for it are very low. But if KWL likes it it’s certainly worth another try.

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.

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.

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.

MotionX looks cool but I’m going to miss my Blackberry

I received my iPhone 3GS a couple of days ago and it was DOA. I got a 3G loaner unit in the meantime and installed MotionX, an application that uses the location aware capability of the iPhone to capture data via GPS. I have not been able to use it yet but perhaps at lunch I’ll test it out. This app creates a KMZ file like the Qstarz 1300S that can be overlayed on Google Earth to show path, speed and elevation data.

I’ll admit to some frustrations with the iPhone. The text input is a few steps down from my Blackberry. There are many things that are simple on the Blackberry (like posting to my blogs) that are going to be difficult with the Apple. I’m actually using my Blackberry to do this post because, despite the iPhone’s full browser capability with Safari, the Blogger interface doesn’t work.

I know I’ll eventually get it sorted out and I’m really excited to have a resource that can use GPS to capture running data and display it in real time (sorry Qstarz). I’ll need to get a sleeve holder at City Sports for the iPhone so that I can run with it. Perhaps I’ll use MotionX today to track my way and back to the store..