Bad Garmin, bad judgment

How far & how fast? Garmin’s not talking

Today’s run (street): 4.4 miles
Yesterday’s run (street): 3.2 miles

My stopwatch would have been a better choice than my FR 60 on today’s run, but I didn’t realize that until I was about three miles in. That’s when I experienced another Garmin meltdown. I naively thought that the Garmin was back to its old self because the timer seemed to be working again. I wasn’t able to pair it with my foot pod, but I didn’t really care. In fact, even if I could, the data would have been flawed because I hadn’t calibrated the foot pod in six years.

It’s finally fall and that means the weather is much more run friendly in the morning. Yesterday I ran my usual Friday circuit a little faster than usual and I was happy about that. I don’t know if I’ve turned a corner in terms of pacing, but I’m generally running 45 seconds to a minute per mile faster than just a few weeks ago. I suspect cooler conditions contributed, but some of it must be due to improved fitness.

This morning I completely ignored what was happening outside and only noted the 59° temperature posted by the local news station. When I stepped outside, I felt a light but steady rain falling. I went back inside to change my running shoes because I didn’t want the Zantes to get soaked. I went into the guest room to get new shoes from my gear cabinet and my wife was running on the treadmill. I told her it was raining and she said, “I told you that twice this morning.” Actually she had mentioned it, but I’d decided the rain would stop before I went out.

A few minutes later I was out the door with different shoes and my ASICS rain jacket. Despite the extra layer, I stayed comfortable because of a steady breeze coming from the north. I wore the hood for the first mile. Although the conditions were cool, the humidity fogged my glasses. Things got better when I removed the hood when the rain lightened to a mist.

At least Gmaps still works

I enjoyed the cool breeze and the cloud-covered sky and I started to wonder how much time had passed since I’d started. I glanced at the Garmin which showed I’d been running about 30 minutes. I calculated in my head that, based on the rest of my planned route, I’d end up running about four and a quarter miles. About a minute after I’d checked the time, I heard the same sound that I heard at the end of last Sunday’s run on the Bethpage trail. Once again, the Garmin’s display said “Scanning” and I knew that I’d lost both the timer and my elapsed time.

I finished the rest of my run without knowing how long or far I’d gone. I hadn’t taken note of the time when I left, so I couldn’t calculate my pace based on post-run mapping and duration. I can estimate it roughly, but the margin of error is wide. I located my stopwatch when I got home and will take that along tomorrow. I’ll get a GPS watch eventually, but for now I’ll track my metrics like they did in the olden days. By that I mean in 2005 when Google launched Gmaps.

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!

Running technology report from the MIT Media Lab

Interior of the new MIT Media Lab building

 Today’s run (street): 4.5 miles at 8:52 per mile

My recent visit to the MIT Media Lab was fascinating (as usual) and I was happy to see friends and faculty again after so many months away. I’ve written a couple of posts about my great runs along the Charles River this week but today I’m going to focus on noteworthy technologies that relate to athletics. Besides hearing from the architect of the beautifully designed new Media Lab building and from visionaries such as Stewart Brand and Nicholas Negroponte (who said the Media Lab’s goal was to create solutions looking for problems) there was the usual “Open House” where students show off their latest research projects. It’s essentially the coolest science fair in the world.

Bio-sensitive stretchable fabric

Above is a picture of a woven sensor that appears to be a piece of stretchable fabric but acts like a sensor that can pick up information such as core temperature, blood pressure/flow, heart rate, pH, etc. Imagine if your HRM or foot pod could be sewn into your running clothes? 

SportSemble performance capture system
Portable variable light illumination device

Another interesting project was the use of the SportSemble (above, top) system to capture the most minute details of movement by major league baseball players. In this project, players from the Boston Red Sox are wired with multiple sensors that capture metrics such as the speed of a pitcher’s waist relative to the speed of the wrist of his throwing hand. The data is captured and correlated and the goal is to determine how certain sympathetic actions, however minute, can result in higher performing athletes. Go Sox!

In a more running related project I was given a demonstration of a lighting system that constantly reads conditions and enables lights based on the users needs. I often run with a headlamp at 4:00 AM and on dark days with no moon I really need the maximum amount of illumination. On other days, with clear skies and a full moon, I really don’t need any extra light. This device can deliver, to the lumen, the exact amount of light needed at every moment. This conserves battery life and ensures that the light you need is delivered exactly where it’s needed. The research assistant pictured above told me I could make this device myself with a simple microprocessor. I may need her help, especially since I’ve proven I can’t change the battery in a Garmin 50 without destroying it.

Hugh Herr talks about devices to augment human running performance

During the Wednesday morning session Dr. Hugh Herr, who runs the Biomechatronics group at the Media Lab, talked about human augmentation. This group has developed the most advanced prosthetic legs in use today with capabilities that allow single and double amputees to walk and run with the same (or better) energy efficiency as able bodied people. Much of the research done in this lab is focused on augmenting athletes, especially runners. Imagine running a five minute mile while expending no more energy than a stroll in the park. I know my Saucony Kinvaras and Grid Tangent 4’s give me a boost but that takes it to whole new level!

I thought about the science of human augmentation and the small differences in form and stride that can make a big difference in running pace. This morning I set out with my Kinvaras for a 4.5 mile run around the neighborhood and finished with an overall pace under nine minutes that just felt too easy. I definitely run faster in these lightweight trainers. Does running a little faster provide a greater training benefit than running slower? Hard to know. I loved the feeling of moving along in 50 degree temperatures on a cool, clear late May morning. Yes, the shoes are great but this morning’s run was about much more than that.

3,877 smoot run, 400 on the bridge

Today’s run: (paths, river, bridges) 4.1 miles at 8:40 per mile

While I’m not a big fan of duplicating my route on consecutive days I think I could run along the Charles River every day of the week. I feel the same way about Central Park. That said, I didn’t exactly duplicate yesterday’s run this morning. Unlike the day before, I started my run outside my hotel and crossed directly over the Longfellow Bridge into Boston. It was a different experience for me because I usually run west on Memorial Drive and over the Mass Ave (AKA Harvard) bridge first. Crossing the Charles, I was pleased to see so much activity on the water with sailboats and rowing sculls of all sizes. Like yesterday, there were plenty of other runners, cyclists and walkers making their way around. I was prepared to run a shorter distance today because it felt much hotter than Tuesday and I basically kept to the circular route between the bridges. Along the way I covered the distance of the Harvard Bridge which has regular markings of “smoots” which is a (nonstandard) unit of measurement that represents the height of Oliver Smoot, a Lamda Chi Alpha pledge at MIT in 1958 who was used as a human ruler as a prank. According to the markings, the bridge is about 400 smoots, give or take an ear.

Upon returning close to the point where Main Street meets the Longfellow Bridge I shifted over to the feeder road and continued east until I reached my hotel. I covered 4.1 miles at a speedy 8:40 mile pace and was very happy with the run. This morning there was some discussion of technologies to increase the speed and efficiency of runners and I saw a demonstration of a leg device that allows a person to run with some speed while expending less energy than walking. Great when viewed as an alternative to city transportation but for recreational running I’d say “What’s the point?” I was fortunate to get to see my brother for dinner on Monday night and do the same last night with some good friends. I’ll report more on the performance and measurement technologies in the coming days.