Running Gadgets

I’ve been getting into running in a big way over the past couple of years, and completed my first Half Marathon recently, I thought why not write a post about the various gadgets I use when running.

Apple Watch

Anyone who is into running will no doubt own a running watch of some sort. One I don’t see that much at events and running clubs is the Apple Watch. For me, the Series 2 with its built in GPS was a no-brainier. It’s a decent-looking watch that can serve as a daily fitness tracker, while also coming into its own as a way to measure runs. Starting a run is simple, and while on a run you can see your vital stats: current pace, average pace, heart rate, calories and distance are all available and you can add up to 4 stats to the screen at once. It’s actually quite nice that you can customise this screen, and and even remove stats so there are fewer than four, as sometimes it can feel like information overload. I have just my current pace and my heart rate. A handy, if not a little hidden feature is the ability to double-tap the workout screen and set a new ‘section’ – essentially a split. Once the run is finished a map of the route taken is shown, the marker is coloured from red through to yellow and then green, showing your pace from slower, average to fast. The weather forecast at the time alongside times for each kilometre (or miles if you have it set that way). That’s about it really – the Apple Watch isn’t able alert you when you’re drifting off your target pace as some dedicated running watches can, and the battery life will be severely drained if you run for more than about 30 minutes. My biggest complaint however is the reliability of the heart rate sensor. It seems to really struggle once you start to sweat, or if you’re running in cold, rainy or windy conditions (I live in the UK, so that’s basically 8 months of the year). Often I’ll look down at my wrist and see the heart rate greyed out where it can’t get a reading. Placing a finger under the watch to clear the sweat away seems to help, but it may well just be a placebo effect. On the plus side, being a fully fledged smartwatch, there are plenty of 3rd party apps available that could fill in at least some of these gaps. Nike Run Club is one of these apps, I’ve not tried it, but it may well (or at least could) implement features such as pace alerts. Of course as someone who was an iPhone developer a few years ago, I could roll my sleeves up and have a go at filling the gap myself, but that would be a lot of time and effort, but it’s good to know the option is there.
Overall, its a good running watch but probably not as good as a dedicated one, but then you probably wouldn’t want to wear a dedicated running watch all day long. So for me the balance of having a watch that is also my main watch outweighs the fact there are better running watches out there.

Wahoo Tickr – heart rate tracker

To mitigate the Apple Watch’s unreliable heart rate tracking, I invested in a separate Bluetooth heart rate monitor. It was also a good opportunity to get a ‘second opinion’ of my heart rate while running. As a former sufferer of Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) I am fascinated by my heart rate, both when resting and when I’m exercising. The Tickr seemed like an affordable option that promised to work with the Apple Watch, and also with its own app for use without the Apple Watch. It seems to measure my heart rate accurately, at least while at rest. I’ve not been able to measure it manually while I’m exercising to compare, as when I stop to take my pulse my heart rate inevitability comes down. At rest though it’s as good as my manual reading. I also get the feeling it’s more precise than the Apple Watch when running. The Apple Watch seems to always show my heart rate as a familiar set of numbers: 52, 60, 82, 170 etc. while the Tickr will show a wider set of readings, making me think that it’s doing less averaging over time.
My only complaint would be the way it’s worn. It’s a strap you wear around your chest. I’ve found that the system for adjusting it is easy to accidentally change, but not easy to notice that you may have somehow loosened it. At least 5 times I’ve been out running and had to either stop to adjust it, or in some cases take it off because I didn’t want to ruin my time messing about with a heart rate tracker. One time I actually dropped the tracker without realising (it was hold and my hands were numb), thankfully, someone from my running club was behind me and noticed! This is the fatal flaw in the product, it needs a better adjustment mechanism and isn’t susceptible to accidental/gradual loosening over time.

Headphones

I’ve been using the Plantronics Backbeat Fit since summer 2015. They are still going strong, and have survived many hot, sweaty summer runs, as well as cold, wet and windy winter runs. They use Bluetooth, and so the only wire is the one that goes around the back of your head from one ear to the other. This means the phone can be placed in a pocket or pouch, or even cooler, I can leave the phone at home and play music straight from my Apple Watch. Unfortunately Apple doesn’t support Podcasts on the Apple Watch, so I usually end up bringing the phone with me on long runs anyway. Unlike earbuds, the Backbeat Fit’s speakers point upwards into your ear, rather than directly down into your eat canal. This means you can still hear clearly what’s going on around you. This is great when running outside, in fact it is quite literally is a lifesaver when running on roads with no pavement. This design isn’t as good when you’re in a noisy gym that insists on playing awful dance music at maximum volume, but on balance I like the fact they are more open that most headphones. Even after 18 months of regular usage, they still get over 5 hours of battery life. Upon powering them on, a little voice tells you how much time you have remaining which is pretty cool. Like most Bluetooth headphones they do suffer from some Bluetooth quirks. Annoyingly if I leave them on but take them off, they stay connected to my phone, so I often find myself trying to invoke Siri using my phone’s microphone, and getting frustrated because it’s not understanding me, before realising the reason it can’t make out what I’m saying it because it’s trying to use the microphone on the headphones, which are in my gym bag.

And that is ist. I’m not going to go into non-gadgety stuff like trainers and running clothes.. because, well, I don’t really find any of that very interesting. Hope this was useful.  🙂

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