Friday, June 29, 2012

Running App Review Part 1: Map My Fitness and Runtastic

So begins my Friday Product reviews.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I will be discussing  the two apps below this week, followed by RunKeepers and Endomondo next week.   I will end with Strava the following week.

Let me know if you agree with my reviews or you have other running app recommendations.

This app is kind of the granddaddy of the bunch.  Originally an one-stop site to track both your fitness and diet, it has since put out apps that interface with their site.  This is the site I began tracking much of my running three years ago since it interfaced nicely with Google maps.

For the most part, it is a sound app.  It does track pretty accurately; however, I stopped using it because it was power hog.  When it first came out, unless you like running with a bulky powerskin, you are good to have an hour to maybe a hour and a half of battery life.  They have since fixed the problem and it now uses power much more efficiently.

The GPS tracking is pretty accurate.  I also run with my Timex Ironman  Global Trainer GPS and the differences between the two are with 1/100th of a mile (probably because I started on before the other and moved a smidge).

A new feature found on their site is challenges.   Very similar to Strava, you can create segments that you may run on a regular basis, and it will record your achievements and those of other runners that run the same course as a creative way to improve your running.
I am a bit disappointed with the audible.  While you can adjust the frequency, currently it will only provide you an update every mile.  This is fine for a race; however, it very good if you are using it to train with.

Also, and this is why I switched to, I over analyze everything.  While Map My Fitness is an one stop shop from a fitness standpoint, allowing you to track your diet and activities, this is a basic site that doesn’t do a good job of in depth tracking and trending.  That you get at the fee based premium level.

I do not recommend this app. While it has so much potential; however, you do not get much through the basic program.  There are a series of premium levels; however, why pay when you can get so much more on the other sites?  

For example, it does have audible cues down to the half mile; however, you need to purchase the premium level if you are going to run further than 1.5 miles (which you are alerted to when you run past that distance).  Also, the metrics provided are very basic, the time you have run, your average miles per hour (not pace) and calories (I can care less on the amount of calories I expend while I am running).

It appears that they are more of a company run by the technology instead of the end user.  For example, I have been getting an e-mail on a regular basis.  I would love to read it; however, it is in German.  Their limited basic service shows that they are focused on marginal revenue instead of wanting consumers to want their product, driving premium membership.

With all the competition, they really need to reexamine their business model.  Strava, RunKeeper, and Map My Fitness provides so much more content at even a basic level, I do not see much adoption by runners other runners which will further hamper innovation at Runtastic.  From my experience, Runtastic is not fantastic.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Running Apps: A Preview

So starting this week, I am beginning product review Fridays.  I’ve realized that one of the reasons I enjoy blogging is that it takes me back to when I was a reviewer on the high school newspaper.  I would review anything from restaurants to movies.  What’s funny is that I would always shy away from doing any type of sports reporting – I was brought up believing sports was a waste of time and to develop more of my “intellectual” side.  It is kind of funny now that I enjoy running and cycling at the level I do. Now that I also working for an Open Access Publishing company, my writers block is gone and I am really enjoying writing again.

Over the years, I have been using different online sites to track both my fitness and diet.  My favorites being,, and I will review the different sites in another post. 

The greatest challenge though for me has always been the tracking, it has been very manual.  I would map out different routes using the sites mapping program and assume with the that they are at least 95% accurate (which I have since found out that I was correct).  The greatest value though for me to use these sites is at least I can match up my diet with my exercise schedule and tweak it as I go along.  Also, one of the greatest benefits for me has been that I am able to track the mileage I put on my shoes and bike.

So last year I got my first smartphone, a HTC Sensation.  I love this phone!!  I have never been a gadget guy, I am a slow adapter.  That said, I have really enjoyed the different apps from Google Play (android market) I can download, which brings me to this post.
One of the things I look for in a running app what is the ability of the app to provide audible cues that tell me my average pace, current pace, and distance.  Why this is crucial for me is that I wanted the ability to know exactly how fast I was going, especially during a race, so that I could meet my goals.  It also is a motivator during my training runs.  This is something my watch cannot provide.  What also is important to me is the frequency of the cue. For example, if I am training, I like an the cue to tell me the above at the very least every 0.5 mile, preferably every 0.25 mile.  This way I can run fartlek’s to work on my speed.  If I am running a race, I might only want to hear the queue every mile to two miles.
Also important to me is how much of a power drain on my phone it will be.  I do have a power skin; however, it is too bulky to run with.
Finally, I prefer an app that have comprehensive level statistics as well as  the ability to test your mettle  against others using the app as part of its basic features.  This has greatly helped to further motivate me in my training runs.

I downloaded a series of running and exercise apps to use. I tried Map My Fitness, RunKeeper, Endmondo, Runtastic, and am currently using Strava.  That said, I am also running with a Timex Ironman GPS Triathalon watch now, reason being I have been using for some time and also have found that some of the apps do not use the power in the smartphone efficiently or they have problems with the GPS (this may be my fault since I keep my phone in my pocket and not on a smartphone arm band holder). 

So this week will contain a review of the Map My Fitness and Runtastic.  Friday July 6th will be a review of RunKeeper and Endomondo.  On Friday, July 13th I will wind up this series with Strava.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Embarcadero....Back to a Running Schedule

For the last few weeks I have been back to riding my bike to BART 16.5 miles each day and running at lunch 4 times a week.  It really feels good to be back on a schedule and I definitely feel more productive than commuting in a car.

Where I work is halfway between AT&T Park and the Marina Green which means I can do some pretty fun runs at lunch.  I can choose to go north towards Fisherman’s Wharf and play tourist dodgem and run up the short but challenging hill at Fort Mason or I can go south past the Ferry Building and around McCovey Cove and AT&T park.

This run was initially intimidating since my pace is way off.  There are a lot of serious runners on this stretch and for good reason.  Once you get to the Bay side of the road, there are no cross streets which means you can run without worrying about street lights throwing you off your pace.  

But I will say, what I like most about running the Embarcadero is that I can really work on my speed.  I typically run 4.2 miles to 5.3 miles at lunch.  What that means is I can get a good 20+ miles in a week on a flat straight away and then add a long run of 8+ miles on the weekend.  That combined with the 7.7 miles I sprint back and forth from BART to work, I can easily get over 30 miles of running each week.

An added benefit to Embarcadero is that it is also easy to be able to pace other runners for motivation without being intrusive.

I have also learned how to run during lunch without a shower.  Let me clarify before you say ewe!!!  When I started the job, seeing all the runners at lunch made me realize that it would be such a waste if I didn’t take advantage it.  I inquired where the nearest showers were, which would have been a 10 minute walk away.  Double that time and the time it would take to get changed, I would extremely limited on how much I could run.  So I did my research and learned that there are several companies that make shower pads.  Let’s just say these are over sized baby wipes made for running; but, they really work.  So I go out for a run, which typically is about 40 to 45 minutes.  I leave my backpack with the receptionist with my lunch and my change of clothes, water, and lunch.  When I get back, I sit outside and eat lunch as a cool down for 10 minutes.  By that time I can go inside, clean up with the shower wipes and change.  I am finding I like it better than when I did work for a company with a shower.
Another benefit to where I work, and hopefully will be mentioned in a future post, is the Filbert Street Steps up to Coit Tower.  I haven’t worked these in, however I am looking forward to that.
So combined, at the end of the week, I ride my bike a little over 80 miles a week and run at least 27 miles.  So I now cover over 100 miles a week under my own power.  And I have the best back drop, the San Francisco Bay and Bay Bridge, to do it in.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Cha Cha Cha Changes........

 Over the last year there have been so many changes.  I was laid-off from a company that I had worked at for 12 years, in an industry I worked in for 14 years.  I was out of work for 3 months, started a job in the wine industry, and came to a “mutual understanding” that it wasn’t a good fit.  And now I am working for the largest open access mega science research journal in the world.

So much time has wreaked havoc on what used to be a pretty set schedule.  Keep in mind that I used to ride my bike to work, which was 8 miles each way, and my wife would run with me at lunch.  Since I worked close to home, and I am a “farmer” as one manager called me because I get to work early, I would be home at 5PM.   From a fitness standpoint this was ideal. 

However a year before I was laid-off, the stress of the job started to weigh.  This was about the time the first wave of lay-offs began.  In the end, the company ended up reducing its staff by 60 percent.  This is when I started to notice, despite my fitness regimen, my weight beginning to creep up.  Mind you at the time this meant I went from 177 to 186 (I am 6’1”).  My problem was that in the new division I was in, they provided its staff with a “goody drawer”.  So I could rationalize eating some peanut M&Ms, gummy bears, Jelly Bellies, because I needed to fuel up.  At this point I was running 25 miles a week and 65 miles on my bike.  But really this was stress eating.
Hey I just ran 4 marathons in 1 year, one sundae wouldn't hurt!?!

I gained another 6 pounds during my time off.  Since my schedule was thrown off, I did get a lot of bike riding in as well as running.  At Long Beach, I missed my half marathon PR by 6 minutes; however I was still happy with 1:56.

Then I began driving to work for the first time in 15 years to Napa.  I mean this does sound a bit spoiled; however, I have really enjoyed being able to ride my bike at least to the BART station, less to work.  On the train, you can be much more productive (like writing this blog, reading, sleeping, etc.) and you can justify your exercise since it is tied into your transportation.  When you drive to work, basically you are sitting, listening, and probably eating something.  I thought it was really interesting that a study came out about this time on how people who have commutes over 25 minutes are typically obese.

Sloshing through the mud at Diablo Challenge 2011.
Then you have the whole wine industry culture.  To work in wine is to celebrate life through food and drink.  So it wasn’t uncommon to have food available to snack on. That, combined with starting during November, I saw my weight expand from 192 to 206.  This was even with running 25 miles plus a week during lunch and training for the Napa Marathon and the Diablo Challenge Ultra Marathon.

In fact,  due to the extra weight and over-training to compensate for not bicycling, I added over an hour to my time from last time. 

That job ended with me out of work for an additional month.  But now I am back to what I consider a healthier commute, while longer.  I am back riding my bike over 80 miles a week as well as running down the Embarcadero in San Francisco at lunch for an additional 27 miles a week. Yes I now cover over 100 miles under my own manpower. I work of a company that provides fresh fruit to snack on as well as nuts. Have restarted tracking my food and am accountable for what I eat.  I have refocused on eating highly nutritional foods, instead of processed foods. Yet, I have only lost four pounds in 6 weeks. 

There can be a couple of reasons for this: I am sleeping less ( 5.5 hours to 6 hours of sleep at night), I may have cut back too much on my calorie intake, and I am 4 years older from when I was my lightest.  Also, if weight were the only thing to judge, I wouldn’t take into consideration that the last time I was in the 200’s I was wearing size 38 waist jeans, not size 34, and that my legs (and the abs below the flab) are lean.

Not as fit as I would have liked.
But here is the lessons learned.  You cannot underestimate what a change in your schedule can do to your fitness and diet.  While you may feel you are adapting to the change, your body and habits really will show quickly how really you are dealing.  Also, you cannot make justifications in eating habits due to the exercise level you are at.  Again, the body will adapt and if you are “carbbing up” with quick burn fuel (comfort food) instead of high nutrient, high quality foods, you will end up in a nasty cycle.  Also, to maintain a healthy body weight is work, and will always be work.  Don’t give up or rationalize that it is acceptable to be unhealthy because you are a victim of your schedule or what life throws at you.  

If you identify a roadblock, stop talking about it and do something about it.  For example, I have a leak under my kitchen sink.  I know what the problem is,  I know what I need to do to fix the problem, I have even bought the repair kit.  While I don’t have the tool to fix the leak, I know what tool I need.  However, after months of having the leak, I still have a bucket under the drain. Why?  Because it is easier to empty the bucket instead of invest in the tool or the time I need to fix the problem.

Life is the same way.  If you do not make time or have the right tool, you will always be talking about how you need to fix your health and diet; however, you will always be taking the shortcut without fixing the underlining problem.

What 177 looks like with my beautiful wife and son.
My journey back to 177 will take a while; losing weight always takes longer than gaining it, especially as you age.  It may even be an unrealistic goal, with the proper focus being on achieving on how lean I am and if I can improve my running.  That said,  I am making the adjustments now to reach my fitness goals.  These include completing my first 50K, running a half marathon under 1:50 and a marathon under 4:30. I also want to do a Century bike ride as well as a triathlon.  And finally, I want to hold out as my big audacious goals and test my limits being able to run a 50 miler and a 70.3 Ironman.   If I keep this goals in mind, I will always be conscious of the changes that are affecting my health and fitness and adjust accordingly.

What are your health and fitness goals?  And how are you going to test your limits?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Wildcat 10K Recap

One of my favorite races in the Bay Area is the Wildcat Half-marathon, 10k, and 5K that is organized by Brazen Racing.  As with everything Brazen does, it is a first class event.  Last year, I ran my first trail 10k on this course.  It is beautiful with rolling hills and breathtaking views of the Bay Area, from the Golden Gate, to Napa, and across to the foreboding Mt. Diablo.  It boasts a little over 2K feet of elevation gain including two nice climbs.
Brazen Racing Photographer

This was a pretty neat race to run this year.  My 10 year old daughter would be running this with me while my wife would be running the 5K with my 5 year old son and 8 year old daughter.

Photo: Brazen Racing Photographer
At the start of the race you are faced with the first climb, followed by a long down hill where we found the first aid station.  This is where the 5K turns ground and goes back up.  After the drop back down into the valley, there is a long stretch of rolling gentle hills. Before the next, and greatest climb we found the second rest area.  I made Emma stock up on gummy bears, soda, and water (all the good things in life).  We began the climb and she was such a trooper.  Towards the top we were passed by one of the elite half marathon runners who gave Emma a good pep talk before continuing on.  I really appreciated that as well as her. Once at the top, there were again a series of rolling hills, and then the final drop into the finish line.
Photo: Brazen Racing Photographer

As we were descending we caught up with Beth and Myles.  She had a "wonderful" time with our five year old; who says he wants to "run" the race but hasn't figured out that it requires actual running.  When we got back to the finish line, Sophie, our 8 year old was waiting for us.  She had completed the course by herself with a respectable 1:01:00.

Photo: Brazen Racing Photographer
What made this race so special is that my daughter Emma ran it with me. As you may have seen in past posts, I typically run all my races with my wife, and these are definitely our time to really take on and overcome a challenge together.  It has really drawn us closer.  However, it was fun, in this brief  moment, when I can keep up with her, that we were able to do this race together.

I am proud of my family for taking on this race.  I look forward to doing it again!!!

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