Everyone likes a new toy – I think it’s safe to say that a lot of engineers love new toys. If you’re a running engineer, well, things can just get out of hand with all the interesting tools you can use to help you meet your running and fitness goals. Whether you’re running to get fit, training for your first race, or trying to beat your best time, there are tons of tech tools out there to help you keep on track, stay motivated, and reach your goals. The systems and tools described here will give you a quick primer on what’s out there.
Timex watches: how much simpler can you get than a wrist watch? It’s a tech-step above the truly minimal (which would be no gear at all): it helps you keep track of how long you’ve been running. That’s… pretty much it. Timex watches can come with a lot of bells and whistles, though. Their most basic watches will keep track of time, how many laps you’ve done, etc, but their more loaded models feature tap screens and GPS. Ideal for: those just starting out, those who don’t like to run with a lot of gear or tech, those on a tight budget. Pros: durable, affordable (for the basic models). Cons: limited to timers and stopwatches (again, for the basic models).
The Adidas miCoach: this relatively new tool from Adidas is becoming quite popular amongst runners who want more than time and pace displayed on their wrist. The miCoach can’t replace a real coach or trainer, but it can still help you reach your fitness goals. It’s an audio based training system that comes with a stride sensor, a heart rate monitor, an online workout manager, and tons of data and charts to show your progress and help you plan your workouts. It works by plugging the pacer unit into the music player of your choice, which you connect to your earphones. You can use the miCoach Pacer in “free” mode or “coaching” mode. Free mode will save your data so that you can check it out later, and the coached mode will do just that – coach you. The coached version chimes in to guide you by telling you to pick up the pace, slow down, or give you your stats. You can download training plans for staying fit, training for a race (whether to finish or improve your time), and improving at soccer, football, tennis, or basketball. The miCoach Zone is also available, which is a wrist band that displays coloured lights that correspond to your heart rate and calories burned. Finally, there’s a miCoach app you can download for your iPhone that uses GPS and real-time tracking to coach you. Ideal for: people who want more bells and whistles than a GPS or regular watch, and who work out with music. Pros: lots of features to take advantage of, moderately priced in comparison with GPS watches, can use for more activities than running. Cons: lots of components to deal with so not ideal for the minimalist runner, must use in conjunction with a music player if you want to use the coached mode, not as accurate as a Garmin or GPS system for tracking distance.
The Nike+: this system has been around for a while, and is very popular with runners who want some coaching and GPS features without the price tag of a GPS watch. It used to be that you could only use the Nike+ system if you ran in Nike shoes, but now that you can combine any shoe with the Nike+ system this tech is more accessible to runners. Nike has a few systems available, so you can choose the components that are best for your needs. For example, if you don’t run with music, you can use the Nike+ SportBand to track your pace, time, and distance. If you’d rather run with music, you can combine a Nike+ Sport Kit to your iPod nano and get live audio feedback while you’re training. You can also combine your iPod touch or iPhone 3GS with the Nike+ sensor to get the same feedback. Nike+ is compatible with the Polar Wearlink+ Transmitter to track your heart rate. As with the miCoach, you can select the workout of your choice or follow a training plan made with Nike+ Coach. Ideal for: people who want to take advantage of the features offered by a GPS watch with the added bonus of coaching. Pros: less expensive than the miCoach, more social than the miCoach (forums and challenges are available to Nike+ users), GPS and pacing available, can still use the system if you don’t run with music. Cons: only compatible with an iPod if you want audio coaching, distance and pace is less accurate than a GPS watch.
GPS watches: There are a few big names in the GPS watch market: Garmin, Polar, and most recently Timex, to name a few. Garmin’s Forerunner series is a running favourite: their 305 and 405 watches track your pace and distance very accurately, can be used for multisport, and let you analyze your workout data using their Garmin Training Centre software. Other models are ideal for triathletes and other multisport athletes as they’re waterproof and support more advanced workouts, such as the 310XT. Garmin GPS watches also link with TrainingPeaks.com, a training system for endurance athletes. Timex GPS-enabled watches are similar to Garmin’s, but are slightly more expensive. Polar watches are also accurate and support multisport, and come with the added feature of measuring your aerobic fitness at rest and telling you your progress. They can be thought of as a middle ground between a GPS watch and a miCoach or Nike+ system, and are similarly priced to Garmin’s watches. Ideal for: those who want more than a watch, but don’t want audio coaching to help them train. Pros: highly accurate, still allows you to analyze your running data and track your training. Cons: much more expensive than the miCoach and Nike+ systems, minimal coaching available.
RunKeeper: this App for the iPhone and Android systems allows you to connect with runners in your region, helping you share routes, search for races, and take FitnessClasses to help reach your goal. The coached running plans don’t give you audio training, but do give you a training plan to follow on your phone. RunKeeper has an interesting feature called the Street Team, which is a collection of RunKeeper users in your area that you can use to help motivate you. Best of all, the app is free! Ideal for: people who run with their phone and want accurate pace and distance data, along with some social networking features for motivation. Pros: free, accurate, and has built-in social motivational tools. Cons: training plans are basic, must be willing to carry your phone with you on your run.
There’s still the good-old-fashioned way if you’re not into workout tech: finding a workout buddy or joining a running group. Check out the Running Room’s group runs on Wednesdays and Saturdays, UW’s running group, or Engineering’s running group. The Engineering group meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:00 pm on the POETS patio – all are welcome!
And there you have it: the basics on a few of the more popular running tech tools on the market. If you want the extra training help, one of these just might be right for you. Good luck, and happy running!