As I mentioned in my recent review of the VFF that I run in, I would be talking about some of the other things I have been experimenting with. This is the Nike+ gear and website and associated Apple products, almost all of which I happen to have anyway.
After I had switched back to the bush running I prefer, I started to get interested in tracking my performance, mostly distance and time. It can be easy to work really hard, feeling like I had done a workout and come back after only 20 minutes and 1 or 2 kilometres. One of my first steps was to spend some time working out some routes on Google Earth to figure out their distances. But with the multitude of trails available to me, it proved difficult to remember all the legs in my head as I was running. Not helpful.
I remembered from the menu on my iPod and from the Apple website that they had some connection with Nike. I did a bit of research and found that my iPod nano 6th gen (that I scored through a product recall of my 1st gen) included the ability to track my pace. I tried this for a little while and also experimented with the Nike+ website. I found the Nano pretty inaccurate and even calibration didn’t really help.
For $20 I could get a Shoe Sensor from Nike. Some Nike shoes have a little pocket in the sole to insert these sensors, which then link to various devices and give a much more accurate reading of when the shoe strikes the ground. As you know I don’t run in Nike, I run in VFF. A tip off youtube and I tried just sliding into my shoes on the top of my foot, just behind my toes. Fits snuggly, isn’t annoying and works fine. I found a significant improvement in the accuracy of the iPod with this, but it got me curious about the other options.
Over to the iPhone. Nike has an app that works with the GPS to track your run. I thought the app was a couple of dollars, but it turns out it was free. Not sure if that’s a permanent price though. I had two concerns… how do I carry my iPhone on my run (holding it in my hand just wouldn’t work) and how well would the GPS work in the gullies and bush I run in. The iPhone app also works with the Shoe Sensor, but it will only use one or the other at a time. The iPhone will also track your pace without either should it lose the GPS signal and you don’t have the sensor.
I’ve since done about 7 runs with the GPS and only lost signal on a whole run once. THat’s pretty good considering some of the steep sided gullies I occasionally find myself in.
All the variations of gadgets I’ve tried have voice feedback, describing how far you’ve run, time taken, average pace (instant pace on iPod). These are at regular intervals, I have them set for every 500m. The summary is also read out to you at the end, and occasionally you get a cheer from some one famous encouraging you. You can also see all of this on the screen during the run.
The second part is the Nike+ website. The iPhone can sync over wifi or 3G, the iPod can sync through iTunes. You then get a record of your runs, along with achievements (fastest, furthest, most calories…) and the opportunity to comment or note terrain, weather and what shoe you ran in. If you’ve used a GPS tracker, then the route is mapped, colour coded to pace. Otherwise you get a graph of distance over time, slope (and colour) giving you pace.
It’s a pretty site and reasonably useful. You can compare yourself to some averages, and earn nikefuel (which doesn’t seem to be anything useful, just a tally).
Problems (It hasn’t all been smooth sailing)
– The iPod was the least accurate, I think because my pace varies quite a bit over the rough terrain I mostly run in. In the worst case, it had a 5.5km run as 6.6km. It can be calibrated but this had better results on an even track or on a treadmill, but I don’t usually run those. Accuracy did improve with the sensor. Still it was pretty out, a few hundred metres over the 5.5km.
– When the iPhone lost the GPS signal at the start of one run, the iPhone didn’t alert me apart from a popup which I didn’t notice as it was in it’s armband and I didn’t look at it again until I finished the 5km run. It still recorded my pace and gave me timings etc. But no GPS track.
– I deleted a bunch of inaccurate runs from the website and now my results (fastest, furthest etc) are all messed up. This may fix itself as I surpass those ones.
But other than that it’s been pretty good.
I still think running with the phone is a bit much and I’d like to go back to the Nano, but it’s widely inaccurate, so I had been considering the Nike+ Sportwatch which can use both the Sensor and its own inbuilt GPS at the same time. I’ve heard fairly mixed reports of the watch, but the local Nike shops can’t seem to keep them in stock so they’re either wildly popular amongst runners here, or there are a lot of “cool kids” buying them because they’re Nike watches….
Last Minute Update – Just purchased the watch today. All set up and ready to run on Monday.