Thursday, December 24, 2015

Garmin Index Smart Scale setup and review

Contrary to what my wife may say, I don't have a eating disorder.  

I am interested in keeping my weight stable. I can lose weight pretty easily when running a lot, and can also pack on some pounds when I let my diet go to shit. Lose weight, my clothes don't fit, gain weight, my running slows and my joints start to creak. Over the past decade, I've ranged from a high of about 195 to a low of about 163. Right now, I'm in the 165-170 range for a 72 inch tall guy, which puts me at a very healthy BMI of 22.6. I'd like to stay around this weight.

A scale does help me track my weight - sending a signal if I'm going too far in either direction. A wifi scale is helpful to me --  I bought a Withings scale a few years back and found I was more likely to use it regularly with an online feedback loop in place. The scale flaked out almost a year ago - it didn't seem to work even with new batteries, and I was not interested enough to try and fiddle with it beyond an unsuccessful reset. When it worked, it was fine, but I like the idea of consolidating as much health tracking under one roof to make it easier to follow with one app.  

I pretty much live in the Garmin world -- tracking steps, sleep, intensity minutes, and total activity minutes in one app (I am also a big Strava fan, but that's for my running miles for the most part). So of course, I was very excited to read about the new Garmin smart scale from DC Rainmaker. His mini-review was promising, so I bought immediately from Amazon once it got stocked.  

I'd like to add a few things to Ray's review for those unboxing on Xmas:

- The setup was very easy in terms of connecting to the Garmin app for Android, but a little funky during the part where you connect to your wifi network (you have to do both). The app worked flawlessly, but the scale wasn't communicating with my home wifi network using the standard Verizon router. My network displayed in the menu, I selected it, I pasted my password, and waited for the connection. Even though the scale was feet away from the router, it didn't successfully connect.  I did a manual connection -- entered the SSID (network name) and then entered the password - and this worked.

- Garmin Connect mobile has a two device connection limit, and I have a Vivosmart HR + 920XT with bluetooth on and connected. Once I successfully connected and weighed, I turned off my bluetooth on my 920XT watch so I could connect the scale. This is no big deal for me, but it would be a nice feature to be able to connect three devices at once.  

- The scale is good looking - better so than the Withings scale, and has a nice set of stats, including BMI, body fat, % water, muscle and bone mass. I like the way it displays in Garmin Connect mobile.

- The scale seems to only display your last weigh in during any given day - LIFO (last in first out).

- Garmin says you should not weigh yourself within two hours of eating, drinking, exercising or bathing.  I guess that would rule out my entire day.  

So far, so good.  I'd definitely recommend for data weirdos who like the Garmin family of tracking devices.  

This post would suck without photos.

 Weigh-in (pre-run, with shorts on, to spare all of us any unpleasantries)

Recognizing me as MPB (midpackbiped) 

Shorts-on BMI

Shorts-on body fat %

Percentage water - definitely not dehydrated

Bone mass in pounds (should be 15% of my body weight - about 24 pounds -- but not sure how accurate this is, and I am small boned)

Monday, November 30, 2015

Intensity Minutes - Can you get them from an elliptical (and how does a treadmill run work)?

Yes, and here's how.

I started using the arc trainer elliptical machine at a 15 level resistance, working my way higher in order to keep my HR over 100.  I continually increased the resistance level up to a 25 in order to keep my HR above 110, below 120.  Since I was creating an activity, I wasn't monitoring the Intensity Minutes meter (IMM) during the session.  

Total elliptical time: 30 minutes
Total IMs: 31 minutes 

I was getting near 100% "Moderate" exercise minutes from an "easy" exertion elliptical session, keeping HR 100-120 (max 134) for the entire workout.  

The Strava heart rate chart from the elliptical.  

While on the treadmill earlier in the day, running at an average pace of 10:19 and as fast as an 8:20 minute/mile, keeping my HR above 130 (max 157), I was getting mostly "Vigorous" exercise minutes (22 minutes of vigorous, 13 of moderate exercise).

Total treadmill time: 35 minutes (incl. 3 cool down)
Total IMs: 57 minutes.

The Strava heart rate chart from a treadmill run.  

Please check out my final post on Intensity Minutes and the VHR in general:

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Intensity Minutes -- Can you get them from treadmill walking?

Yes, and here's how.

I started walking on the treadmill at 3% incline, 3 mph.  A couple of times the Intensity Minutes meter (IMM) started flashing, but it wasn't a sustained flashing.  

I raised the speed to 3.8 mph, at which point the IMM stayed flashing continually, which was at about 20 minutes (my pulse was around 102 at that point).

The meter was running.  After the 30 minute mark, I started reducing the speed (I had earned 10 IMs).  It continued earning IM minutes until the speed was down to 3 mph, at which point the IMM stopped flashing -- around minute 37.

Total walking: 37 minutes
Walking before IMM continuous flashing: 0 to 19 minutes (speed <3.8 mph)
Walking while IMM continuously flashing: 17 minutes (speed = 3.8 mph)
Total IMs: 17 minutes

(the point at which the IMs started counting -- getting cred for the previous 10 minutes where the meter had been continuously flashing)

Please check out my final post on IMs and the VHR in general:

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Vivosmart HR - resting heart rate

I find my VHR does a remarkably good job of nailing resting heart rate (rhr) day in, day out. 
My resting rate is in the 44-48 range, and usually happens within two hours of waking. I have been fascinated about the jumps during the day.
Sometimes getting up for coffee will result in a jump to over 100. An overnight awakening will show a rate jump to 70 or so. 
It's not a smooth graph. This is from Tuesday. The exercise and sleep periods are pretty clearly marked on the top of the graph.  To the left of the first alarm clock is a sleep period; to the right till the "zzs" is a waking period.

You may be interested in DC Rainmaker's post on rhr.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Vivosmart HR review -- more about Intensity Minutes on an arc trainer and stationary bike

This will be the final IM post for a while.  I'm having problems repeating patterns, which makes me think this is an algorithm issue not an exercising issue.

Today, I did 20 minutes on the arc trainer with an HR above 100 and got 15 minutes on the VHR and 10 minutes on Garmin Mobile and Garmin Connect web.

I did 20 minutes on the stationary bike -- hitting 130 hr -- and got 0.

I'm back to my original post -- this is an interesting metric for Garmin to introduce, but the lack of consistency of earning these minutes with similar time/pace/effort shows its not yet ready for prime time. 

For now, I'll be sticking with the total activity time widget on Garmin Connect web (unfortunately not shown on Garmin Connect mobile) to compare cross-activity exercise.  

(PS: It would be great if Garmin Fitness could make web and mobile consistent with each other, both in terms of metrics and look and feel).

Vivosmart HR review -- intensity minutes on a treadmill walk (0)

More experiential data this am:

Notes -- 

Went for a 40 minute treadmill walk.  
Earned around 4800 steps, 0 intensity minutes.
My HR was bouncing around 80-95, but had one spike (probably inaccurate) to 134 (when I started on the treadmill at a slow speed).
Started around 2.5 mph and worked up to 3.3 by the end, 0 incline with 3% by the end.

The IM meter started flashing a couple of times, but clearly not enough activity to kick it into counting.

Conclusion: a walk may or may not kick in the IM count.  I successfully had it count on an outside walk with some significant hills - distance of 1 mi, time of about 15 minutes.  A 40 minute walk on the treadmill didn't work this time.

More and final thoughts for now:

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Vivosmart HR review - intensity minutes part ii

I seemed to have maligned intensity minutes prematurely in my previous post.

From reading the Vivosmart HR (VHR) subforum on Garmin forums, I learned from a supermoderator that:

1) Intensity minutes can be triggered by arm movement/heart rate increases
2) There is no magical formula for how fast, but it requires significant heart rate increase (70% of maximum was one theory offered) to get the meter running.
3) People have earned intensity minutes on stationary bikes.  

I tried 15 minutes on a bike earlier this week, getting my HR averaging 118 to a max of 139, but failed to earn any minutes.

20 minutes on the arc elliptical earned me minutes, with an average HR of 108 and a maximum of 139 the same day.

So, either the bike session was too short, non-arm movement activity requires higher heart rate to trigger counting of intensity minutes compared to arm swinging like walking or running or elliptical, or...

Today, I did a bike session that was more intense.  I got average up to 121, max of 148, and did a bunch of hard one minute intervals thrown in.

And voila - I earned vigorous intensity minutes (vigorous are given 2:1 to moderate minutes according to Garmin Connect) -- I got 55 intensity minutes for 30 minutes of stationary biking - not quite 2:1 but close.  

Mr. Science was intrigued - exactly what is the point where it kicks the intensity meter to the point where it starts counting?  And where do vigorous minutes kick in, vs moderate minutes?

So I got on the treadmill and started a slow walk - around 2.5 mph, keeping my hr below 90. Even after 10+ minutes, the IM didn't start counting -- I started and it remained on 391 minutes. But at around 11:21, it started flashing (indicating the meter is either ready to count or actually counting)

Flash on.

Flash off.

But by after 14 minutes, the IM finally showed progress.  It hit 411, up from 391 (20 IMs in 14:40 minutes, meaning there was some counting of vigorous minutes in a walk that would not be considered vigorous by many of you).

At 26 minutes, the IM hadn't made much progress -- 414 after 26 minutes.  

A manual and VHR pulse check showed I was bouncing around in the 70s and 80s, so I decided to take things for a spin at minute 29:00 and do 20 at a run pace -- the VHR showed around a 7:55 pace, but it was definitely over 8:00 per mi by feel.  

I got my pulse going 125+ for the run but as high as 141 by the end, earning 28 IMs for a 20 minute run -- around a 1.5 ratio, so it though I was doing vigorous minutes for almost half the run which I would say is about right -- I did have to step off to tie my laces at one point.

To answer my questions:  I think that you need to plan on 10-15 minutes of walking at a brisk pace, 10+ minutes of running, or around 15 minutes of biking to trigger intensity minutes.  You don't have to start an activity for this to happen -- VHR will be activated from arm swing and/or increased H.  And for vigorous minutes to kick in, I think the supermoderator's comment that you need to be north of 70% maximum hr is probably right.

And day three of charge #2 comes to an end with still about 1/3rd of the battery life left -- on daily activity creation or hr broadcasting, with notifications, with weather screen, and fairly constant wrist play.  Get your minds out of the gutter.

 Back to resting (HR), even though Sunday is long run day.

See newer post: Intensity Minutes on a treadmill walk

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Vivosmart HR review of Intensity Minutes (So intense, so fail)

At first, I thought the Intensity Minutes (IM) feature was more Garmin Fitness bloat.  How many metrics do we really need? Aren't steps and miles enough?

Then, I started to warm to the idea, especially after understanding there are two types of IMs -- moderate intensity, and vigorous intensity.  Vigorous minutes count for 2 moderate intensity minutes.  This way, you can set a week's goal and hit it with some intense minutes, running, elliptical or hopefully stationary bike (not walking/running/ellipticaling exercise) in my case, or with some moderate minutes - like walking which I do a lot of - particularly in a two dog household 

and with a downstairs treadmill + flat screen TV setup.

So I did a little math (emphasis on little):

4 days minimum of 30 minutes running = 240 intensity minutes
1 day minimum of 90 minutes running = 180 intensity minutes
420 intensity minutes from running alone

That's what I set my weekly goal as, with the expectation on a good week I will hit 720 minutes from running alone -- a three hour run equaling 360 minutes all by itself - and four additional runs averaging 45 minutes = 360, plus another five days of 20 minutes walking per day or some biking could easily get me up to 720.  What good are Garmin goals if you can't smash them on a regular basis?

Activity minutes seem to be activated, according to Garmin Connect, from ten continuous minutes of step activity.  I confirmed this today from a 10+ minute walk around the block with dog #1.  When I started walking, the IM screen on the Vivosmart HR started flashing.  And after ten minutes, the minutes started increasing.  This is what I'm talking about:

This is what Garmin Connect (web) looked like before my walk:

And after:

The math:

1180 fairly easy dog walking steps = 10 intensity minutes (and a heart rate spike to 98bpm). (Note - the distance on the band showed .38 miles on a 1 mile course, even though I've custom selected my step length properly.  Not sure what's going on, but I think the Vivosmart HR might be a little funky on the distance measurement - the Vivosmart classic was definitely better.  But I digress...

Now, for my next trick, a trip to the gym to see how a stationary bike ride (stepless motion but with an activity created on the watch) will work.

I hit the stationary bike for 15 minutes, creating an activity on the Vivosmart HR at the start, ending at the end, syncing when done.  I got a good HR reading, and pedaled away.  A few minutes into it my band slid down (I didn't take my own advice and tighten it a notch before exercise, serves me right) and had a little dropout until I readjusted it.  But it gave what seemed like an accurate hr reading which was expected.

Unfortunately, the minutes didn't show on my watch as Intensity Minutes.  Zero, zilch.  Let's examine what Garmin says about Intensity Minutes: "You must do at least 10 minutes of moderate or higher intensity activity at a time to get your health benefits and for your Garmin activity tracker to count it."  Meaning: waving your arms for 10 minutes, either running, walking, or ellipticaling but not biking, unless you pedal and flap your wings at the same time.

I repeated the exercise on an elliptical which bore this out.   20 minutes on the elliptical gave me 20 intensity (therefore they were moderate minutes) on the treadmill.  I kept my avg HR under 110 - not sure what the trigger is for vigorous intensity, but this workout didn't do it.

Garmin needs to allow the HRM to trigger activity minutes to make it useful.  Or bikers, yoga-ers, etc., will cry themselves to sleep at night onto their Vivosmart HR, possibly shorting out the Elevate HR modules on the fitband.

Otherwise, let's just stick to Total Activity Time (below, seen on Garmin Connect web), and Garmin should create a window for it on the Vivosmart HR and on Connect Mobile rather than the rather silly (in current incarnation) Intensity Minutes.

See newer post: Intensity Minutes part ii

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Vivosmart HR review - Garmin Elevate HR module tips and tricks.

Several things I've found to improve your happiness with the HR module at least as implemented on the Vivosmart HR:

1) Let it warm up when you first put it into broadcast mode before exercising.  It seems it takes a minute or two to calibrate properly - and during that time it gives it a chance to have a durable link to the paired ANT+ device (in my case, the 920XT).  Not sure if this is necessary, but I got more satisfactory results this run (no disconnect from the 920XT or funky readings in the first couple of miles.

2) Wear the band right above your wrist bone, but not too high on your arm.

3) Find a comfortable tension for the band for your non-exercise time.  Something tight enough where it isn't sliding around on your arm like a bangle, but not so tight that its noticeably tight.  This is enough for good resting HR readings most of the time.

4) For exercise, tighten the band up a notch.  Enough to feel snug, not so much you are tourniqueting yourself.   Enough so when you loosen it up after exercise and move the band, you leave a light imprint of the stay loop on your arm (see the imprint above the strap on the top right of the band).  This technique definitely keeps the HRM more "locked in" during exercise.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Vivosmart HR - broadcasting heart rate data

I bought the new device primarily to monitor resting heart rate, I didn't see the broadcasting feature - whereby the Vivosmart HR ("VHR") broadcasts the heart rate signal from its Elevate optical HR module over ANT+ - to be a major draw.  However, after wearing it for a 5K treadmill run, I am reconsidering it as a strap replacement.  While it doesn't seem as instantly responsive as my Garmin HRM Run (it has a slight lag time -- from my subjective sense), it does seem good enough for my daily use after its first real workout.

I put the VHR into broadcasting mode - pressing the side button, scrolling to the settings icon then sliding to Heart Rate, pressing it, sliding over to broadcasting and then pressing the check icon - paired with my Garmin 920XT in the same way you'd do any other HRM (I now have three devices paired).  I started running, thinking I was good to go, but it seemed that I must have missed a step or the initial pair didn't work - when I went into indoor running and started the activity on the 920XT, it wasn't showing my HR a couple of minutes into the run.  You can see this on the red chart below as its flatlining around 60bpm.

I stopped the treadmill, re-paired, and started the run again (you can see where it happened on the upper (blue) chart.  

The monitor in the VHR broadcast to the 920XT worked like a charm -- it showed approximately 130bpm during my 9-10 min/mi pace on the treadmill, jumped up to around 155-160 during two 7:15 min/mi interval sessions.  I slowed down towards the end to a walk until I got my hr down below 100 - which usually takes about 2 minutes when running outside using the HRM Run strap, same with using the VHR.

The strap was not secured "very tight" -- tight enough not to slide loosely, but not so tight that it was uncomfortable for me (princess and the pea).

One side note:

When I ran on the treadmill, those minutes were reflected in "intensity minutes" metric, even though I didn't "create" an activity on the VHR, just on the 920XT.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Vivosmart HR - first observations

I've had a Vivo device since the Vivofit I was released in 2013.  First the Vivofit (v1), then the Vivosmart (classic) last fall.  It's become a must-have accessory for me, primarily for step counting and sleep tracking.  

A lot of people ask: why bother with steps when you do so much running?  First, walking is a great active recovery exercise on days off, and its nice to be able to keep myself honest - do enough walking that its significant, not so much that its not really recovery.  Also, with ultrarunning, you can do a lot of time on your feet that is walking or elliptical work -- less pounding than running, but still pretty useful on the longer races.  I find that if I get my average steps up to about 140K/wk, I can handle the physical demands of 6-8 hour races fairly easily.

I also like two handed device wearing -- being able to monitor mileage/pace on one hand, time or HR on the other.  Dork city.

So why upgrade from the Vivosmart - a really terrific device if its working so well?  I can't resist an upgrade - pretty much always have been an early adopter to a compulsive fault.  And I really want to track resting heart rate since I believe it is a great early warning system for overtraining/overdoing.

The Vivosmart HR jettisons the sleek and anonymous look of the Vivosmart classic and returns to the big bulky look of the Vivofit.  

Which is really not so bad... I never minded the size of the Vivofit - it still is a lot smaller than a running watch or a smartwatch.  It is light enough to sleep in without discomfort.   So the size bloat from Vivosmart to Vivosmart HR doesn't bother me much.

Plus: you get some added features from moving to the Vivosmart HR from the Vivosmart classic:

- Always on display (black background, white font - an LCD display that lights up when touched or when activity is started or notification arrives.
- Additional data (it can display weather on one of the swipe screens, transferred via Bluetooth when connected to your phone)
- And, drum roll please... Garmin's new proprietary optical HR monitoring that can not only take and track resting HR, but can also "broadcast" the HR signal to other ANT devices like any other Garmin HR strap would.  

Initial experience is positive and makes me think this might not end up back in the shopping cart behind the customer support counter at Best Buy.

1. The device is comfortable.  The strap is very soft, even when buckled with some firmness (which seems to help HR readings vs letting it dangle like a bangle on your forearm).  

2. Advantage to always on display.  One thing I forgot - whether its a fitness band or a running watch, the basic function of Time is underrated.  Its nice to see the time without having to raise your forearm on demand.

3. The HR monitor seems to work pretty well.  I've always been partial to chest straps, especially the new Garmin soft strap.  They do a good job for me in reliably capturing HR data, except when super sweaty.  Obviously, they aren't for 24 hour use.  Garmin's new optical monitor seems to be fairly reliable in both resting HR monitoring (its been showing an accurate resting HR) and for exercise (see below -- the first part around was an 8 minute brisk treadmill walk, followed by a two minute sprint at the end and a one minute cool down).

This isn't a hardcore workout/test, but it is a good sign.  Garmin is smoothing out the HR nicely in the graph, and the optical device is pretty responsive.  Better than a stick in the eye (fail) on day one.  

The only concern I have at hour 8 of ownership is battery life.  4-5 days is the claim; I'd hope I could get to the outer edge of that period on a regular basis since part of the charm of these devices is not having to do a nightly Apple Watch like charge up.  I'll report back here with updates by the end of the week about HR accuracy, broadcasting, and battery.  Over and out for now.

Edit: see new post on broadcasting HR data

Edit: See final post on VHR -

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Altra Instinct 3.0 Review (sparing the needle, spoil the runner)

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. - Lao Tzu

Last summer, I was riding pretty high.  I had successfully run my first two 50Ks, a 20 miler, and was looking forward to my first 6 hour run.  Apart from a flare up of IT band problems from a muddy race, I was peeling off 30-40 miles + week after week with no foot issues. 

I had been mostly running in Skechers GO Run Ride 3s, to great success.  However, because the shoe has such a light and soft upper, I would slide around quite a bit especially on downhills, leading to black toenails on an ongoing basis.

I started to experiment with other shoes, and found the Saucony Ride 7 to work very well.  It had ample (or so I thought) toe room, but locked down my foot enough.

My running went great for about a month.  Then, I developed what looked like a cyst on the outside of my foot right under the ball.

[Warning: foot picture.  Please leave this page if you are faint of heart.]

Ha, its not so bad looking, I'm sure you've seen worse on the interwebs.  But you can see the raised spot near the ball, almost like a pea under the skin.  It started off not hurting, but progressively developed pain that was about a 2 of 10, and radiated over and under and through my big toe.

I went back to the old shoes, but the cyst didn't disappear.  I experimented with everything from Hoka's (Cliftons and Challengers) to Pearl Izumi Road N1s.  Saucony Triumph, Breakthru, Zealot.  The Zealot ended up being the best of the bunch, but the pain never completely vanished (except for about three weeks when I got a baby cortisone shot into the area around the cyst, after the podiatrist gave his best shot in trying to aspirate the little sucker, unsuccessfully).

I accepted my lot as long as I could run.  Because after all, my podiatrist said if it isn't interfering with gait, try and either experiment with shoes to find something more comfortable or get over it in so many words.

I felt like I was at the end of the shoe experimentation, having not found anything much better than the Zealot.  Then I heard this podcast from Trail Runner Nation interviewing Golden Harper, founder of Altra Running.

I always thought Altras were nothing more than a marketing gimmick, preying on the deformed of foot.  But after listening to the podcast, I was convinced there was real consideration and thought given through both trial and error as well as Golden's formal schooling about proper form and footwear.

I know I prefer 4mm drop shoes, so the idea of trying Altra zero drop shoes was a lot less intimidating than when I was running in 8mm plus shoes.  It seemed unlikely I would suffer from exploding achilles (this doesn't really happen, but you never know) with the transition from 4 to 0.

And voila - almost instantaneously -- upon trying the Instinct 3.0s -- the foot discomfort I had for the better part of 14 months vanished.  I now have 70 miles on the shoes, and they seem like the real deal.

My thoughts on why they work for me:

- Big toe box.  Giving my toes room to fully splay is doing the ticket.  I think they were able to do this with the Skechers, and all other shoes, despite their considerable benefits, squeezed my toes together too much.  

- Moderately inflexible.  The podiatrist noted that my ball joint on my foot looked a little pre-arthritic, and often folks with this can benefit from a stiffer shoe.  I do think that not having a completely bendable shoe is helpful to me.   It's not as stiff as the Breakthru, but definitely less give than the Zealot.
- Padded heel collar and tongue.  My foot likes soft in these areas.
- Nice flexible mesh upper so no hot spots.
- Excellent lacing system.  You can make them tight without putting excess pressure on any one spot on top of your foot.
- Nice hard rubber on the heel and forefoot.  Good traction and a firmer feel are pluses for me.
- Light weight (8.1 oz).  Much heavier than this, I start to do the shuffle.

I would highly recommend for someone suffering similar foot pain, but please follow the directions in the box and online for transitioning from higher drop shoes.

I was shocked at this morning's long run how a few committed runners had never heard of the brand. I have seen and talked to others about Altra before, so assumed knowledge was widespread.  But, I think it may be more of a trail thing and the roadies don't know as much about the line.  As long as they continue to work, I will try and spread the good news along with my toes.

I'm at 70 miles right now, and plan on running two marathons in these guys in the next 7 weeks. I hope I continue to enjoy them as much as I have so far.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Tech breakup after first date: thoughts on Fitbit Charge HR vs Garmin Vivosmart

Vivosmart: Where's my "2" goig? (barely can see the
degradation of the bottom of the 2 in September 12.
My beloved Vivosmart is getting long in the tooth.  It's starting to lose some visibility on the bottom right line of pixels, I've had it for a year, my tech jones was itching to try something new. There is internet chatter there will be a new Vivosmart updated hardware sometime this year (like with the Vivofit, updated after year one), but Garmin has been silent on the prospects.

Plus: I have a newfound love for heart rate monitoring.  It has made a big difference in my energy level to take a rest when my resting heart rate is much above average, and to keep most of my workouts below 140 beats per minute per the Maffetone Method.  I have not had a day lately where I feel run over by a truck, I am sleeping well, and I seem to have much more energy in the tank at the end of runs.  All good.

The lure of the Fitbit Charge (FBC) HR is 24/7 heart rate monitoring.  But the lure doesn't quite deliver on reality for several reasons, many which have been raised in DC Rainmaker's review.

FBC: fairly accurate HRM
while couch potatoing
1) Its implementation of heart rate monitoring is not very good during exercise.  It does well during rest -- and found my resting heart rate very well.  But even a slow walk on a treadmill had my HR on the watch well into the 100s (120!) even when a manual check had it from 90-96 at the exact time.  Who can deal with inaccurate data? Not me!

2) The device is too big for me.  The beauty of the Vivosmart is the thin band that is unobtrusive.  The FBC HR is pretty slim, but still much wider and less comfortable.  I'm also not wild about the FBC buckle which requires some wrestling with.

3) The FBC HR needs to come off for showers and drains battery faster, requiring more charging frequency, unlike the Vivosmart which is waterproofed and lasts over a week with notifications on.  Who needs another thing to charge and take off more regularly?

4) The Fitbit app and website is now behind Garmin (mobile app and Connect website).  Once upon a time, Fitbit kicked Garmin's ass.  Now, the Garmin app works better (faster to connect, stays connected) and has features that I'd miss (integration with my running GPS watch, social connections nicely displayed and sortable by steps/miles/etc., and better sleep statistics).

5) I missed the "move" bar on the Garmin.  FBC doesn't have it (although it has some nice stats like minutes of activity (auto) and floors that Garmin should implement.

I'd love to have resting HR implemented in a way that wasn't visible - that only gave you a 24 hour average/high/low reading, but didn't pretend to be accurate in real time.  However, that's something that all companies need to focus on.

I do love the Fitbit alarm setup (really, why can't Garmin implement multiple alarms on the Vivosmart?).  And some resting HRM is better than none.  But those advantages are outweighed by some big disadvantages.  I'm sticking with Garmin Vivosmart for now, hoping v2 of the hardware will build on the already strong device.

Link: DC Rainmaker Vivosmart First Look

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Garmin 920XT - odds and ends feedback

1. Still loving the device.  A worthy upgrade from the 620.

2. The GPS locks on very fast, and I haven't lost a signal yet.

3. Connect ID is a good idea.  I hope they can get enough people writing apps and widgets for the platform.  Garmin should spend money subsidizing app writers to make sure the ecosystem doesn't die on the vine.

4. The Bluetooth implementation is great.  It connects on its own with my Nexus 5 without having to fiddle with on/off or pair.  Woo hoo!

5. The display is very readable while running on trails.

6. The battery life seems good.  It looks like approximately 13 hours with HRM and Bluetooth, Smart Recording on (not every second).  

-55% after about 5 hours of running time, with Bluetooth on the whole time, with widgets, and with a paired HRM.  
-43% after 7.25 hours of running time, with BT, widgets, paired HRM.
-36% after 9 hours...
-13% after 11.5 hours.  I threw in the towel and put it on the charger at that point. 

Update: I think it should be pretty solid for 14 hours with HRM and BT on. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Garmin 920XT - another unnecessary yet satisfying running-related purchase

I just upgraded from the Garmin 620 to the 920XT.  This might not have been particularly well-timed, as there's a broad expectation of a 620 upgrade at some point around the two-year post release of the original.  But I felt like that by the time that model released and there are sufficient firmware updates issued to make it usable and eliminate annoying bugs, there will be snow on the ground around here.

There are five main reasons why I upgraded now:

1) Longer battery life.  The 620 is reliable for about 6 or 7 hours by this point.  I'm sure part of the reason is battery abuse on my part -- full discharges, infrequent charges -- both which wreck havoc on lithium battery capacity over the longer term.  But the 920XT seems to have at least double that, putting me in a comfort zone over longer ultra-length runs and races.

2) Better contrast and larger display.  My eyes are starting to go, and I found that the 620 display was not that easy for me to read in low-light situations.  The 920XT is much easier for me to see on the move.

3) Enhanced GPS features. While I haven't had major issues, I have had dropouts in wooded valleys and city streets.  Hopefully, the receiver on the 920XT will be more reliable. Says DC Rainmaker:

The FR920XT contains new GLONASS satellite capabilities, which are typically used in conjunction with existing satellite systems to improve GPS reception.  In my testing, the FR920XT consistently performs as the most accurate Garmin GPS device I’ve seen, and certainly on par and usually better than other brands with recent models.

4) Garmin ID.  I like the idea of being able to download additional doodads onto the watch from the Garmin app store.  The only one I found so far that I liked enough to do so was BigWeather, but I hope I'll find more.  Another potentially useful piece of data.

5) Enhanced features TBD.  I just discovered the back to start feature, which can get Mr. Magoo back to home base when he's running in unfamiliar places and gets lost. I'm sure there will be more to discover regarding the mapping features, but this will be way helpful to me.

So far so good. I'll never wear it during the workday, as it's mildly hideous looking, as are most Garmin running watches in my opinion. But it serves me well in its running functionality, which is all I really care about, and something I have found the Forerunner series to deliver since I first bought my first Forerunner 205 (speaking of hideous).   

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Osprey Rev. 1.5

I bought this pack for hydration purposes on the trails, but have been relying more on handhelds for that use this summer.  I don't like the sound of water sloshing, and find I drink too much causing upset stomach with a giant bladder on my back.

But now that I'm temporarily in a one- car family, and not fond of being solely reliant on RideOn/WMATA, and the fact the weather is getting a little less unbearable for a hilly 6-9 mile one way run, I'm returning to run commutes for some of my travel back/forth to the office.  So: what to use?  Spi-belts only go so far...

I pulled the Rev 1.5 out of my running equipment box and used it on the run in today.  It was extremely comfortable - the chest straps don't rub or chafe, and it doesn't constrict my movement at all.  With the phone pocket, it provides easy one handed access to a phone so I can do work from my field office on the sidewalks of MD/DC.  

And there's enough room in the hydration pack area (I removed the bladder and tube) for a shirt, underwear, socks, wallet, and keys.

At $70, the price is right.  Here's an Amazon link.

You can see where my Nexus 5 fits in the blue pocket on the left side of the vest (for the wearer).

Not a ton of room in the main compartment, but enough for some clean clothes - even a long sleeve dress shirt + undies.

The tie system in the back is handy for cinching a jacket in the outside webbing.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Helping prevent running-related cancer

"Saving lives? She's one step above working at the Clinique counter."
"Dermatologists. Skin doesn't need a doctor."
"Of course not. Wash it, dry it, move on."
- George and Jerry, in "The Slicer"

I didn't put skin cancer on the same level as things like pancreatic or lung cancer.  Even Seinfeld made fun of it.

It took me a long time to come around to her regular use of sunscreen; it really didn't sink in until I sat in a waiting room for a dermatologist who specialized in treating skin cancer. It kills almost 10,000 people per year -- less than the 30,000 who die from prostate or the 40,000 from breast cancer, but much more easily avoidable through a couple of simple steps.

Why should we as runners care?  Marathon runners are far more vulnerable to skin cancer than control groups who don't run.  And there's gear for this, which is why I'm writing about it on this very sunny, very runnable day.

I used to use a visor when I was in direct sun, along with UV protective sun glasses (not religiously, but regularly).  But as I'm getting older, I can see where damage from sun exposure during outdoors activity is occurring - in spots not shaded by the glasses/hat.  

I've started to wear a uv half Buff bandana to keep my head and forehead covered, and using sunscreen to cover ears, face, neck and arms.  Balm to cover lips.  And  I wear tech shirts (not singlets) to keep my shoulders covered - a particularly vulnerable spot.    

I know it seems extreme, but take a look around at races at some "older" runners who don't take precautions.  This damage isn't reversible.  

And it's a matter of life and death, not just vanity.   

PS: While it happens to women runnersmen are more vulnerable than women to skin cancer.  So take some care, dudes.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Saucony Breakthru top ten first impressions

I got these bad boys from Running Warehouse on my dime. I wanted to patronize my local Pacers on 14th St., but not only did they not carry these (or the Zealots), but the guy there didn't hear about the Breakthrus nor did he believe that they'd be carrying them.  

I'll probably have more to say, but these were my out of the box impressions from wearing them on a walk and on a 5K training run this am.  I plan on wearing them tomorrow for a 13.1 where I hope to be near my course record time but nowhere near a PR.

1. The Breakthru is in the general ballpark in terms of weight vs the Zealot in size 13. Listed at 8.6 oz vs 8.3 oz for the Zealot.

2. Not as flexible as the Zealot, but it isn't very rigid.  I felt enough give as I rolled from heel to toe.

3. More cushioning than the Mirage 3 but less than the Zealot or Triumph. I'd describe it as firm yet cushioned vs. the firm/hard feel of the old Mirage.  More rubbery than foamy.

4. Enough forefoot space for me.  Didn't seem like there was any areas of discomfort or constriction. Happy toes.

5. The tongue is nice.  

It looks similar to the puffy mesh material in the Brooks Launch. They laced up very easily and have very even pressure.

6. I like the feel of the upper - locked down but not too locked down for me.

7. They are a jack of all trades, like Runblogger said. I could see using them in a 5K race up to a marathon, and for training.

8. I barely noticed the 8mm drop of the Breakthru vs the 4mm drop of the Zealot.

9. My foot seems to have the most pressure below the ring toe on the ball of my foot under my toes.  That is a good place to be (better than on the inside of my foot -- under the second toe).

10. They didn't impact my form much - but it felt easier to run faster than with Zealot.  I definitely can run faster with firmer shoes (The tread seems identical  similar to Zealot, so don't think that is a factor but there is more rubberized tread on the Breakthru. (More of that thin, durable black rubber vs. only the small amount of red rubber near the toe and the outer edge of the heel.  Plus, the yellow rubber is denser than the red puffy rubber nubs under the toes down to the heel on the Zealot)

Edit: this seems to have been corrected on my second version of the Zealot, below: more durable black rubber where the first version had the puffier, less dense red rubber.

Very possibly I think in part, the a faster feel may be related to the lower ground clearance - 15 mm in the forefoot vs 21 mm in the Zealot.)

Update: Just finished a 13.1 race with them. They did a great job protecting my feet and also helped with maintaining a good stride and cadence. Enough shoe for a 13.1/26.2 but not too much to get in the way. A strong contender to be my go to shoe for fall halfs and Marine Corps Marathon. 

Review of Breakthru 2: