5 Gadgets For Running

Sydney Half-MarathonEarly this morning I ran my first half-marathon. We started over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, ran around the City, and ended up at the Sydney Opera House. It was a beautiful day and a great experience.

My recent running adventures have been motivated by the usual things; keeping fit, feeling healthy, living longer. And also an unusual interest in running gadgetry.

So I thought I would share some details of that gadgetry, in the hope that it will appeal to the latent runner inside some other gadget enthusiasts out there. It’s an Engineer’s approach to running a half-marathon.

Also I am finding it difficult to walk this afternoon without cursing like a pirate, so I might as well be productive while I sit here at the computer, alternating my feet between buckets of hot and cold water and hallucinating about apple pie and custard.

Fitbit

FitBit

First up is Fitbit, a wonderful gadget that provides you with visibility of your calorific inputs and outputs. The Fitbit Tracker contains a motion sensor like the one found in a Nintendo Wii. It senses your motion in three dimensions, works out what you are doing, and provides useful information and advice about these daily activities.

Data is uploaded from your Fitbit device to your Fitbit website via a wireless base station connected to your computer. On the website, you can also detail everything that you eat, chosen from a large database of foods, to compare your calorific intake to your calorific burn.

Understanding calories is no longer a black art. I’ve long had a suspicion that sitting at my desk all day long was probably a bad thing. Now, my Fitbit shows me exactly how much of a bad thing.

FitBit Dashboard

You can also select activities from the Fitbit database, to help it understand what you are doing. Want to know how many calories it takes to change a light bulb? Fitbit will tell you; 5 minutes of light bulb changing activity consumes 12 calories.

And Fitbit will analyse your sleep patterns at night, helping you to understand how much quality sleep you are getting, which helps you understand the circumstances in which you get a good night’s sleep.

FitBit 150bpm

Personally I love the data mining that is possible. For example, I have discovered that I tend to road run at 150 steps per minute, no matter what speed or incline. If only I had one of those iPod gadgets I would use iTunes to filter my running soundtrack to just 150 bpm. Also the pie charts are great, showing what percentage of your time is “sedentary” vs. “active”. Mmmm pie…

And of course you can hook up your Fitbit account to Twitter and Facebook to share your fitness statistics. That might help people stick to a fitness regime.

My only gripe about Fitbit is that they are running late on the delivery of their API. Some interesting social fitness apps would become possible once Fitbit allows its data to be extracted by third party apps.

Treadmill

Treadmill for Midgets

If we can see calorific input and output from Fitbit, a treadmill is the next gadget, to maximize calorific output to your advantage.

Yes we all know what a treadmill is, but here’s what else I have learnt about what can be done with this gadget…

High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, is IMHO the best possible workout on a treadmill. It’s cardio exercise performed at such intensity, way beyond your normal comfort zone, that your body will spend the rest of the day burning more calories to recover from the ass-kicking you gave it. This post-exercise state is called Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption, or EPOC.

A HIIT workout on a treadmill lasts 20-30 minutes, and includes several short bursts of intense running to raise your heart rate to maximum levels, each followed by a short interval at a lower heart rate. This is well suited to a treadmill because you can control a repeating pattern of slow / fast speeds, and you can tweak the variables until it hurts just right.

Here’s the pattern that I settled into:

HIIT - High Intensity Interval Training

The grey area above shows how I also added an exponential climb, by steadily increasing the treadmill incline throughout the workout. So I would recommend a treadmill gadget with a decent incline motor. This helps build up your leg strength for road running.

Vibram FiveFingers aka Monkey Shoes

Vibram FiveFingers KSO - Keep Stuff Out

Regular training shoes encourage the foot to land on the heel, which releases unnatural pressure and shock to the legs and knees.

Motion studies show that when running barefoot instead, you naturally land on the forefoot, directly below your center of gravity. This results in optimum balance, increased stability, less impact on the knees, and greater propulsion.

The only problem is that running around barefoot is no good when you tread on sharp stuff.

Luckily, Vibram FiveFingers is a gadget that provides a good solution to this dilemma.

Vibram is an Italian company that has been making shoe rubber since 1937. According to their website, they are an undisputed leader in soling technology for a wide range of quality performance footwear.

Vibram FiveFingers is barefoot performance footwear. With a slot for each of your toes, they combine all the freedom and feel of running barefoot, and all the advantages of a proper forefoot strike, with tough rubber protection from sharp stuff on the road.

There are several varieties of Vibrams, I have the KSO which stands for Keep Stuff Out!

RunKeeper

RunKeeper iPhone App

The next gadget is RunKeeper, an iPhone or Android app that tracks your location using GPS as you run, so that your split times and pace / speed can be calculated.

And when the data is uploaded onto the RunKeeper website, you can share your running routes with others, and explore other nearby routes on a Google Map.

My favorite feature is (of course!) the use of the Google Maps Elevation API which displays an elevation view of your run, overlaid with your pace or speed, to help you understand how your running is affected by uphill or downhill stretches.

RunKeeper Dashboard

RunKeeper generally does a decent job of working out where you have run, except it struggles in dense road areas on a cloudy day. But that’s no drama, as the data can be manually tweaked on the RunKeeper website to remove any noise from your signal.

Puma Phone

As an aside, it’s inevitable that the roles of RunKeeper and Fitbit will become combined into a single gadget. The Puma Phone gets an honorable mention at this point. It combines a GPS and pedometer and other innovations such as a solar charger, plus software supplied by Myriad Group, my current employer. Oh, and it makes telephone calls too apparently.

GU

Finally there is GU, dietary gadgetry, and a late addition to the field. I only heard about this stuff last week, and just managed to score some Strawberry Banana in time for the race today.

GU is an energy gel, squeezed directly into the mouth, and easily digestible so it can be eaten during endurance events, especially long distance running. The nutritional breakdown on the packet is all zeros apart from the carbs.

My RunKeeper map of the half marathon today reveals a noticeable spurt of speed at 11km and 15km which is when I slurped my Gu today. Great stuff and highly recommended.


That’s all for now. Time for some pie and custard.

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