Category Archives: Gear

Piling on the Miles and First Snow

An early start today as my son forced us awake. The first snow of the New Year fell overnight and so I had to get myself together to get out there.

Winter tights (as there was a wind and it always feels colder with snow on the ground), gloves and ear warmers while not essential, really help on days like this. It took about six miles of running until I found a section of trail that no one or nothing else had run or driven on, which was a surprise because this area isn’t exactly populous AND it was early on a Sunday morning!

Finally, some trail with no footsteps in it.

The trail pictured above felt *alive* because the snow was causing the overhead cables to crackle and buzz as I was running below. Quite a mysterious and alien sound but relaxing in a white-noise kind of way.

This weekend I increased my distance from 12 miles to 14 miles. I put some water in my belt and some shot-blocks, but didn’t eat any of them on the run. At one point around mile 8 my chin froze and I had to cover my face and blow warm air onto it to defrost a little.

From my house it is about four miles into Evansburg Park’s main area. From there it is possible to join onto the Perkiomen Creek And Skippack Trails. Seven miles out and back in the cold was more than enough today. Once home I had to scrape the drive and sidewalk to get the snow off; one of the problems of having a steep driveway.

During the week I managed to get out several times and one of the runs was a guided run from Nike+; featuring a long interview with Paula Radcliffe it was an insight into her career and how she drives herself to get results. An interesting short form interview with some quiet spaces for just running with your thoughts. I quite like that.

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Running with Nike+ on Apple Watch

Time to answer some questions about using the watch on its own.

The Nike+ Running Club app has been deeply integrated into the Apple Watch now since they introduced the GPS version. But I feel it is only now that it is all starting to come together and work as a holistic system.

Do you still need the phone with you?

No, you can now just run with the watch. I have the Apple Watch 4 with both the GPS and a paid cell line connected to the watch. This, in theory, means that I have everything I need to make this work. You don’t really need to have the cell service connected to track your run, but I like the security of being able to call for help (for me or anyone else that has problems) or to pull up a map if I get lost.

There are some features that you can only setup by using the companion app on the iPhone, including: shoe tracking, route details (trail, road, etc.), and note taking. But the core items for running now work independent of the phone. You also have to use the phone app to configure the screen layout options for the Nike+ displays on the watch. Very odd, but I guess they do this to keep the watch interface as simple as possible.

Some other observations with this: if you want to use the watch during the run and have your phone with you, you’ll probably still need to start it from your watch. Occasionally, when I start it from my phone it will appear on my watch, but mostly it doesn’t.

Can I Run with Podcasts?

When I run I tend to listen to podcasts which now have an app on the Apple Watch, since iOS 12. You’ll need to pair you Bluetooth headphones to the watch to make this work. However, it doesn’t support playlists, so this means that after each episode ends, you have to switch over to the podcast app and select another to listen to. This works well and I haven’t yet had that screw up the run tracking.

To achieve this while running and using the Nike+ run club app, single press the button on the Apple Watch (not the scroll wheel) and select the podcast app. Not the ‘now playing’ app as that won’t help you. Once in the podcast app, select the option in the top left corner to go back to the list and select another episode. Once you have it, press the play button.

I’ve noticed that the watch will switch back to the run automatically if you wait long enough, but I generally just take care of this myself by double-clicking the scroll wheel to switch to the last app used. In this case, that will take you back to the Nike+ app.

What About the Guided Runs?

The iPhone app offers a large selection of guided runs where a coach or celeb will talk o through various different run types. This is now available on the watch. You have to make sure to download the in you want to your watch before you set out, it once it is there I found that the integration works really well.

These runs are typically very high quality, with good banter between the coaches and any celeb guests. They will help you understand differently paces and keep the weekly grind more interesting.

This week, for instance, I did a speed run hosted by a British coach (Coach MacRae, Sally?) that did a six minute warm up, a pause for a stretch, then followed up with a minute at mile pace (9/10), three minutes at 5k pace, a few more minutes at 10k pace, then a few more minutes at recovery pace. It was unusual to do a speed run that got slower through the progression, but it was quite a refreshing approach.

Recorded on Apple Watch. Tweeted from iPhone in NRC app.

These guided runs are well implemented and work really well. If have Apple Music, they will integrate with a sound track, but I don’t pay for that!

Completing the Run.

At the end of the run, you can simply stop and wait for the watch to detect this, or slide the screen to find the pause button. Once paused, you are presented with the options to ‘resume’ the run or to ‘stop’ it.

It the gives you a results summary screen and may announce some congratulatory commentary from a famous runner/celeb.

If you scroll to the bottom of the results you’ll see the ‘done’ button. Press this to finish it all up.

Updating the Stats.

Once you are back with your phone, you’ll be able to update the stats and other info in the companion app on the iPhone.

Tracking the mileage on each pair of shoes is very useful if you are putting in a lot of miles, although you’ll know when your shoes are done by the way your legs and feet feel at the end of a run. For my running style and shoe combination I can get around 400 miles per pair. That may be significantly more for some people, or less for others. The only way to find out is to track the shoes.

Awards

The Nike+ app does like to award achievements as you progress through the various programs. You may get a trophy for running 3x per week, for example. For taking part in the Sunday 10k.

Will You Miss Anything Running Without The Phone?

The camera. As a blogger it is helpful to have the camera with you to snap a shot for the page, or to memorialize a glorious sunrise. But at this time of year it is fine as it is mainly pitch dark when I run in the mornings.

The playlists. If you are going on a long run and want to string a number of podcasts together, this can be a pain. You’ll have to manually select and start each one on the watch. You also need to make sure that they downloaded to the watch. It is worth noting, however, that you can use Apple Music playlists just fine.

Social Media integration. Possibly. You cannot do any of this from the watch. You have to do it when you sync back up with the Nike+ app on the phone.

Summary

I’m loving having the freedom to run without my phone. It is quite liberating but still allows me to collect the stats I’m interested in and listen to music or podcasts. Today I ran 12 miles with just the watch and my Bluetooth headphones, and everything worked perfectly (again).

I’ve been up since 6:30 am, I ran 12 miles while listening to podcasts with just the watch, I took my son trampolining and tracked my exercise there with the watch and paid from some stuff using Apple Pay. It is now 9pm and the watch still has 22% power left. Pretty. Darned. Good. 🙂

Nice work, Nike!

Apple Watch 4 and Nike+ Running Club; the Perfect Running Partners?

It has been a long time since I have updated this blog. I took some time off writing after a candidate I interviewed at work started talking about stuff he’d read on my blog. That weirded me out a bit, but I think I’m over it now.

So, time to catch up on all the stuff I’ve been doing!

I’ve kept my running at close to marathon distance for most of this year, with my long runs clocking in around 18-24 miles. I’ve recently relaxed a bit for the holidays, but plan to start cranking up the miles again in January.

Gear-wise I’ve upgraded a few bits and pieces: I now use the Apple Watch 4 with cellular service for all but my longest runs (15+ miles). I could probably use it for those really long runs, but sometimes find myself in unfamiliar places where I need to access a map so that I can get home. In those cases, having the phone screen is vital.

However, the rest of the time the latest iteration of Apple’s watch works really well. The latest version of iOS (12) introduced the podcast app to the watch and that is the main content I consume from my devices. This has meant that I have been able to purely use the watch on its own far more.

The Bluetooth connection to my steadfast Plantronics BB Fit headphones has been rock solid the whole time. Gone are the days of flaky Bluetooth connections and having to constantly reconnect the devices. What a relief! It is very rare that I experience any technical issues at all.

I also have some Apple AirPod headphones which I use occasionally while running. They stay in well but are not waterproof. Given how much I sweat, how often I’m out in the rain and how expensive they are, I tend not to take the risk of using them.

The version of the Apple Watch that I have also has the Nike+ integration. I don’t know how this differs from other apple watches as I’ve never had the other models, but for this version, the Nike+ app is handily integrated into many of the watch faces. This makes it a breeze to start up an open run and also to take advantage of some of their other features.

My favorite features include the many different flavors of coached training runs, often with various famous runners. These will take you on speed runs, recovery runs and even some long runs. The structure tends to be a running program with light interviewing of the ‘star’ runners built into the script. It feels good to hear from the athletes themselves; their motivations, problems, and methods all make interesting listening. The coaches are also pretty good and will make your harder training sessions fly by.

Nike have done a lot of work on the Nike+ running club app and it is a very solid platform now. Most of the niggles I had with earlier versions have been addressed at this point, although it still doesn’t allow you to setup interval training programs, but you can’t have everything.

Their shoe tracking tool has also become better allowing you to more easily track the wear you put on each run, along with other details of each run like where you run, how you feel and any other things you’d like to note down. The phone app even has integration for tweeting photos of your run and adding various frames or data to decorate the images.

Me at the finish of a personal marathon earlier this year @ Valley Forge.

All-in-all, the integration of these platforms seems to have come a long way since I started using it about two years ago (gosh, is it really that long ago? How time flies!).

As I start to build up my training again, I’ll be sure to update this site with things that I find.

The Perkiomen River Trail, mid-run.

Nike+ Niggles Resolved

Mostly.

Last week Nike released an update for their Apple Watch and iPhone app. 

One of the major things that it fixed is something I had commented on in these pages before: when you start the run from your phone it doesn’t put any info on your watch! 

Thankfully, they seem to have resolved this along with putting some additional thought into the solution. 

For one thing, once you start the run on the phone and then get going , if the watch loses contact with the phone it will politely ask you if you wish to continue the run from your watch. Nicely done, Nike. 

Also, if you are running this way and you pass a distance milestone (each half-mile in my setup) it will announce the distance through your headphones that are connected to the phone, but also do a little chime on the watch so that you know you are progressing. 

All-in-all this was a nice update from Nike and I haven’t seen any new problems from it. 

On Friday morning I followed along with my running plan and completed a sixteen mile run. 

To do this on a Friday morning met hitting the streets right around five AM so I could complete it and still get into work on time. The picture above shows the view from my front window. 

It was very cold at 8F (that’s including the windchill; 20F actual) but it was beautiful out. The full moon illuminated the streets perfectly and was enhanced by the snow fall from the previous day; so, while it wasn’t quite full daylight, it was very easy to see without a flashlight. 

To get to sixteen miles I had to make up a new route as all my usual runs of that distance would take in State Parks or Trails and they were all covered in five inches of snow. 

So I concocted a route on the roads of Trooper and Skippack that gave me the necessary distance. An out and back route that wound through some pleasant neighbourhoods and skirted along the side of the Evansburg State Park. 

I wasn’t fast but a steady 8:35 pace was pretty good for that early in the morning and being so  dry thoroughly wrapped up (this makes it harder to run). The route had quite a lot of rolling hills, hence the elevation number above. Notice that t also has my heart rate recorded! 

The rest of Friday was a struggle as I was tired and very hungry(rungry). I didn’t help myself as I was in such a rush to get the run started that I didn’t eat beforehand and I only took half a Clif bar with me; oops. I managed not to eat too much junk though. Honestly. 

More on the Nike+ Running Club Experiment

As I progress through the marathon training programme concocted by the Nike+ app, I am enjoying the challenging runs that it is assigning me. 

After last week’s benchmark run it has started to add pace requirements to the runs that I do. Currently, they are all well below the pace that I generally run at which seems a little strange. Perhaps this will adjust as the programme continues?

On Sunday I decided that I didn’t want to do the suggested exercise which was to tryout the Nike+ Fitness Club application. Instead, I opted to run 12 miles. 

The run went well and was an enjoyable run on the Perkiomen Trail from Schwencksville. 

On completing the run, I chose to categorise it as an ‘Other’ event as I had already competed all the runs for that week. 

Come Monday morning and a new training week and guess what? The app tells me I need to do an 11.5 mile run. On a Monday morning. After doing 12 miles the day before. Bugger off!

I tried to reclassify the previous day’s run so that it would count as this one, but to no avail. There’s no way to edit the assignment of previous runs; even the website doesn’t offer a way to do this. Boo. 

Because of this, the app thinks I bailed on the long run for the week. :-(. 

I did actually go out and do a four miler but that isn’t twelve miles!

Roll on to Wednesday morning and the prescribed run was a speed run with 8x800m intervals and 2:45 recovery (strangely specific). 

I wasn’t too happy about this as that’s a lot of intervals but opted to hit the streets. Running track intervals on the road is tough as you have to allow for traffic and the ground is not flat; hills in fast intervals. Yuck. 

For the recovery periods I simply jogged a little and ended up running a total of around 7.5 miles. 

Did you notice how vague that was?

Why? Well, the speed test only counts the distance you run during the speed intervals and not what you cover in the recovery. 

Four miles is all that counted from the 7.5 I covered. Grrr. Not best pleased. 

Any way, one useful thing you can do with these 800s is use them to calculate your estimated marathon time using the “Yasso 800” approach. I know this is a correlation prediction rather than a causation, but it is fun to play with numbers. 

After some finagling of the numbers I worked out that my marathon time would be 3 hours 43 minutes. That’s pretty close to my current expectations of my performance. 

Back to the Nike+ stuff: I’m not best pleased that I have to run the speed tests with the phone in my hands. As I got sweaty I was worried I’d drop my phone. I think I’m going to stick some strong magnets inside my gloves so that they will grip the metal plate in my phone case and take some of my worry away… I’ll let you know how that works out. 

Have a fun week running. 🙂

Nike+ Run Club Experiment

I have been an avid user of mapmyrun for many, many years, but with my purchase of the Apple Watch Nike+, I’m trying out that app for a while.

My trial with Nike+ continues with the third week of my plan and some variations on the types of run it is having me do.

Firstly, it had me run a speed test this week. This wasn’t a great experience. The speed test is laid out as running 400 meters five times, with a two minute rest break in between. If you try to start this from your Apple Watch Nike+ it will tell you to use the phone. When you use the phone you will quickly realize that you’ll have to keep your phone in your hand while you do the run! 

After you start the run, you need to watch the screen to see when you pass the 400 meter mark, then you have to press a button. This starts the two minute rest timer. Once it passes two minutes you need to press the button again to start the next 400 meter section… there are no audio prompts, no guidelines and no feedback. 

Again there is no integration to the watch whatsoever.

At the end of the run, the disembodied voice of Kevin Hart blasted through my brain congratulating me on the run.

My feeling about this exercise routine is that it was very poorly implemented.

The second run type was a benchmark run. This was really well implemented. A benchmark run is a seven minute gentle warm-up, followed by three minutes of all-out effort and five minutes cool-down time.

When you start the run, a calm-voiced trainer gentle talks to you about what you are about to do. They introduce the form of the run, why you are here and give you good general coaching encouragement. Throughout the warm-up the coach builds your enthusiasm for the coming effort.

There’s a count down to the theee minutes and you’re off! The coach chimes in a couple of times during this hard effort encouraging you to push harder and letting you know how far through you are. Then, all too soon, the hard effort is over and you are in the cool down phase.

Here the coach tells you what you achieved, massages your ego a little and reminds you why you are doing this.

Once you complete the run, that disembodied Kevin Hart voice comes back to award you a gold star.

What a difference between the implementations! 2/10 for the speed routine. 9/10 for the benchmark. 

I’ll fill you in with more details as I move through the program.

Froze My Butt Off

Finally some wintery weather has descended in the Philly suburbs. 

A light dusting of snow arrived Friday night and then the temperatures plummeted into the low teens Fahrenheit.  

This led to some great playtime with the kids on Saturday and to a very cold run on Sunday morning. 

The actual temp listed was 13F but the real feel was 3F; so getting the right kit was imperative. 

Kit included:

  • Snowboarding socks
  • Under armour underoos (an extra layer for butt)
  • Sugoi winter leggings
  • Under armour cold weather long sleeve shirt (x2)
  • Cycling wind breaker layer (has long back pockets that also cover your butt). Make sure this is a visibility colour against snow; do not wear white or grey. 
  • Balaclava
  • Baseball cap
  • Winter mittens

10 miles later, all that froze was my butt. My face and hands were toasty. I wore my iPhone holder inside my outer layer to stop the phone from freezing up. 

I wasn’t fast but then no one would be with all those layers on. 9:07 average pace reported by Nike+. 

I’m writing this sitting on a heat pad to defrost my extremities 🙂

Tech-wise I ran with my Lumo Run device today and I got ‘in the green’ results for four of the five measured categories, with the only exception being my hip rotation. 

I used Nike+ on my Apple Watch for tracking and started it from my watch. This meant that to hear the announcement for distance and speed I had to hold the watch up to my head as the sound wasn’t routed through my headphones that were connected to my iPhone. Nike really need to get their integration worked out. 

Now to get showered before my sweat causes me to get a chill. 

Have a warm week. 

Nike+ Run Club: Strange Behaviors

Two more runs on the books since we last spoke; Monday was a quick run with my friend Ed and today was a 45 minute run as prescribed by the Nike+ marathon training programme I’m testing out. 

Which brings me to Nike+ Run Club: what is going on with this? It’s behaviour is very inconsistent. 

I’ve used it four times now and get different behaviours most times:

  1. First run Sunday: started from watch. Recorded heart rate but no elevation. 
  2. Second run Sunday: started from watch. Recorded heart rate but no elevation. Same so far. 
  3. Monday run: started from watch. No heart rate or elevation. 
  4. Wednesday run: started from phone.  No heart rate but elevation recorded. 

Also, it seems that there is no integration between the phone app and the watch app. If you start the run on your phone the data doesn’t show up on your watch as you run. I assume this is why it isn’t recording heart rate, too. 

It’s all a bit odd to me and clearly there are som edges that need to be rounded off. 

The app itself on both the watch and phone are very slick looking but have some internal integration issues too. If you start a run as part of the programme and compete it correctly, it still doesn’t mark the run as being done in the programme. You have to go into each run and assign them to the various programme activity. Weird. 

I’m trying to be good and did a few stretches after the run. My son decided he would be my coach; very helpful, I’m sure. 

Fast Tracks New Year Day Run

Happy New Year everyone.

The club’s traditional New Year’s Day run at Valley Forge Park was this morning. It starts at General Knox car park and heads out on the rolling hills of Yellow Springs Road, then takes a sharp right up the vertical challenge of Diamond Rock Road. There were around thirty people at the start point consisting of Fast Tracks members and other from various running groups in the area that we meet with for regular runs.

This run is certainly a challenge as the hill of Diamond Rock is a constant climb and just seems to get worse as you progress; ending with a section that is around a 20% incline (if my cycling memory serves me well).

There were a few of us at the front and we stopped to take a picture at the bottom of the hill (I wasn’t in it; I took it). 

As we started up the main part of the hill there were four of us. Three of us made it to the top within a couple of seconds of each other, although I was there first. 😉

One of the club members lives near the top and had kindly left a few drinks out for us (much appreciated). We all waited a while for the bulk of the group to catch up and then decided on routes back down.

Most went back along the road, but a small group of us decided to do the Horseshoe Trail that connects onto the op of Mount Misery and takes you back to the start point. This is a nice route that runs along the ridge at the top of the hill and is (again) rolling hills.

Parts of the trail get quite technical and it comes at you quite fast too. I missed a couple of turns due to my unfamiliarity with the route, but the people I was with spotted it within a hundred feet or so.

There was a log book partway down the trail and a few people stopped to sign it and some chose to take longer route down the mountain and around the Creek Trail. I stuck to the plan and did the Mount Misery Trail, getting back first out of the group. I rarely run with the groups so I’ll take whatever I can get but will add that it is not a race. I just finished first. Some people were running up the hill with a child in a jogging chair; now that’s dedication.

After hanging back in the parking lot for a while waiting for people to come in and to say a few ‘happy new year’ greetings, I headed back to the car and home.

Here I am in my new Fast Tracks running shirt that I picked up just yesterday in anticipation of the run.
In total the run was 6.9 miles, but, oh those hills! Nike+ Run Club doesn’t seem to give elevation details in the app or in the site.

The Apple Watch worked well today with the distance announcements coming out of the speaker on the watch rather than my iPhone. That made them much easier to hear rather than having them muffled by the case on my arm. Nice touch.

I wish you all a happy new year and hope you enjoy your running in 2017.

And he’s back…

Greetings blogosphere!

Did you miss me?

I got caught up in spending time with family and really cut back my running for the last couple of months, so I stopped updating the blog. I seem to be back now, however.

Lots to catch up on but I’ll spread that out over the next few posts.

Reasons I’m back:

  1. I managed to run my traditional Boxing Day marathon earlier this week. It half killed me as I hadn’t been running enough to really be able to do it easily. Lesson learned. 
  2. I just upgraded my Apple Watch (original) to the Apple Watch Series 2 Nike+ version… and it is lovely. 

Today’s run was my first with the new watch and it worked great.

I had a music playlist on the watch and connected my Bluetooth headset to it to get some good sounds for my run.

I then used the built-in Nike+ application to record my run…and I left my cell phone at home! 

The Nike+ app (Nike+ Run Club) is really well executed, easy to read, use and it gives good feedback through the headphones, too.

As for the gps tracking on the new watch, well it was within 0.01 of the distance that is usually measured by my iPhone, so I’m going to call that accurate. Given that the iPhone number can vary by more than that on any one run, I’m thinking this is in the right range. It was old to see the route instantly on my watch when I completed. For some reason it hasn’t picked up my heart rate info from the Apple Watch so I’ll have to investigate that.

The watch looks cool (now I sound old) and I went with the model that has the light watch and strap with Volt colored inset holes on the strap.


It goes well with my shorts and belly in this shot. Yeah, I’m going to need to work on that a little. 🙂

I’m quite looking forward to giving some updates so I won’t blow it all on this first post. Have fun out there and enjoy your New Year training routines.