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One of the features on my TomTom Cardio Runner watch is a race setup, where you can pace yourself against either a previous run you have recorded or one of the set time/distance challenges in the MySports dashboard (5k in 26mins, 10k in 50mins, half mara in 2hours etc etc).

With the aim of seeing how it works I went out and set a time on a 3-mile loop from my house. It was nothing special, just an easy jog on a circuit I do often. It takes me along the main road, down a hill and on to the canal. I usually stop my run just as I get off the canal and walk back up the hill to my house.

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To set it up to race this set time you head into the run option then click right to find the race screen. Then you choose from either MySports or your history. I had to go back into the app on my phone and check which date the run I wanted to race was set. It is also possible to rename your activities and save them in MySports, which is particularly handy for parkruns – I have my recent ones saved so I can try to beat them next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Select the activity you wish to race and then start your run as usual. The main screen shows a road, with a banner at the top that counts down the distance you have left to go, and two arrows showing if you are ahead or behind you previous effort. At the bottom you see + or – however many yards. Whenever you change position against your ghost the watch vibrates and shows a big #1 or #2 on screen for a few seconds so you are aware you have either got ahead or dropped back. It was weird at first as it seemed to be buzzing a lot, but for most of the run I stayed ahead of my previous self so the watch stayed quiet. It’s kind of like a Pavlov’s dogs experiment but for runners though!

You can still click left while running and see all the usual data options.

 

 

 

 

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When you reach the total distance for the run you are racing the watch vibrates again and you stop it as usual. Or I suppose you can carry on. I can’t actually remember if I had to stop it or if it did it automatically!

Anyway, I beat my previous time by just over a minute and was awarded a rosette, as you can see.

It’s a cool feature and the graphics are clear and good-looking. I definitely pushed a little to make sure I stayed ahead and beat the set time, even though it was just for fun.

At the moment I don’t really like working in my min/mile pace as it is has gotten a lot slower, so this is a great way to set a challenge to push myself without having to see those actual numbers. It will be good to set a goal to beat myself by a few seconds at parkrun every week yet not have to do maths on the move!

 

 

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I’ve now used my TomTom Cardio Runner (kindly given to me by The Running Bug) on several outings so here I am to give you some thoughts on its capabilities! My “other watch” is a Motorola MotoActv and I have been using this since March 2013, so where I’m comparing to another gadget, that’s what it’s up against!

Just so you know, when researching which GPS device to buy I ended up with MotoActv over a Garmin because:

  • I prefer the way it looks – squares are better for watches than circles to me, don’t know why!
  • I didn’t have an MP3 player at the time and the MotoActv has a built-in MP3 player and you can either use plug-in headphones or wireless ones.
  • I like to be different.

Don’t forget you can see what I and other reviewers are saying about the watch over on Twitter by searching #getsmyheartracing.

 

First run with the RunnerCardio was just a little morning bimble. It found GPS signal quickly and buzzed to tell me it was ready. Press right and I was off. I had set it up so that pace and distance showed in the top of the screen when running. The majority of the screen is then taken up by one bit of info, and you can scroll up and down to change this (elapsed time, pace, calories burnt, heart rate, distance etc). I looked at my heart rate a couple of times but went back to distance as that is what I usually run for (as opposed to running for time) and it was handy to see it in big while moving.

At traffic lights I held the left button to pause, then hit the right button to go again. At the end of the run hold left and left again to complete the run. At first I was a little worried I hadn’t done this right as it didn’t give me a workout review – I had to go back into the run menu and find the “history” to check my run had been registered.

Back home it was easy to upload the data via Bluetooth to the iPhone app (note to self: remember to turn Bluetooth on phone off again to help with battery life).

 

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The next run was Leeds parkrun and I wasn’t going for a time so I just kept the big screen on heart rate to see what would happen. It went up to 90 on the start line (pre-match nerves!) and got up to 180 at one point – scary! Afterwards the data on the app said this put me in the “sprint” range for heart rate. I definitely wasn’t sprinting! Just shows I need to regain my fitness!

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By the way, the heart rate monitor uses green LEDs on the back of the watch. These shine through your skin and register how transparent it is – this changes depending on blood flow (ie, heart rate). And that’s the (very basic version of) how it works! You must ensure the watch has good contact with your wrist – wear it too far down on the bony bit and it won’t work accurately. I must look into heart rate training and try some runs based on that (yet another blog to come then!)

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Next up was the Yorkshire Veterans Athletics Association Race at West Park. I knew the route was 5 miles so I set the distance challenge to this to see what would happen. In this mode you get a big wheel on the screen and it slowly fills up like a pie chart telling you the % to go (but you don’t see total distance on this screen, so if you want to know exactly how far you have done you have to scroll through to the usual screens). It buzzes at 50%, 90% and 100% to let you know how you’re doing.

 

I got another couple of sessions out of the watch (about 3.5 hours of active use) before the battery went. When it died I was in the middle of a bike ride and it just stuck on the time. I didn’t twig for a while that it had been showing 10:02 for ages and thought I had cycled into a worm hole!

 

 

So far I’m finding it comfortable to wear and easy to use. As with any new gadget, after a few uses you quickly pick up how the menus work and can find the bit you need with no trouble. A couple of times I have noticed that it has stopped showing heart rate for a few seconds, then it comes back. Not sure why that happens.

I like the sync via Bluetooth as that means I can do it straightaway as long as I have my phone – with MotoActv I have to wait until I’m in WiFi to sync my activity. But with both I can see the basic info on the watch anyway.

The MotoActv is the winner in terms of how much data it displays while running. I can set up to six different parameters to all show at once on the screen (I have time of day, distance, average pace, current pace, step rate and time elapsed), whereas with Runner Cardio I get two little ones at the top and one big one, with the option to scroll through to see others. In particular I miss seeing my step rate in real-time – I find that this drops when I tire, and this generally means my form has got worse. When I see this happening I can make an active effort to pick up my feet quicker and take smaller steps, thereby improving my form and reducing the risk of injury. The screen sizes aren’t vastly different – MotoActv is square whereas Runner Cardio is more of a portrait rectangle.

The built-in heart rate monitor is probably the Runner Cardio’s main selling point. Having never trained by focusing on this I can’t yet say how important this is to me personally, but I will be giving it a go! If training by heart rate is something you do then this could well be the watch for you. However, one thing that did strike me is that in winter I wear long-sleeve tops with thumb holes that come down over the backs of my hands – I’ll have to keep one “unhooked” and pulled back a bit so the Runner Cardio can still make contact with my skin if I want to track my heart rate on cold runs.

On my early morning run today I wore both Runner Cardio and MotoActv (on the same wrist) to see how they compare. As you can see the figures are very similar except for the step rate.

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I still have more things to test on the Runner Cardio – I’ve set a time for a 3-mile loop so I’ll “race” that next week to try out that feature. And I’ll do an interval session too to see how that works.

The John Carr 5k race series is organised by Saltaire Striders in memory of a club member. It is a series of three 5k races, held on consecutive Wednesday evenings in May. I did the first race last year as my inaugural outing in the purple Kirkstall Harriers club vest, and returned yesterday to do the first in this year’s series.

I had no real desire to chase a PB last night. My overall PB for the distance is from Pontefract parkrun last year (26:44), although my official race 5k PB is from John Carr race 1 last year (29:39). Having lost my way a little after the marathon and not done any specific race training since I knew that getting close to 27 minutes would be a no-hoper, but figured I would still give it all I had and see what happened.

What happened was a pleasant surprise – 28:06 without feeling like I needed to crawl/collapse/chuck-up. Best of all, each mile was the same pace, which is an achievement in itself.

The route is flat and downhill apart from one very short hill that is over quickly but does require a gear change. It is run on private roads in a water facility in Esholt, and then briefly through the quiet village, although there did seem to be a lot of vehicles around.

In all honesty none of us were particularly enthralled with the prospect of running when we got there – it was grey, cold, windy and rainy, and kit choices left a lot to be desired for some of us. But we lined up and did it anyway, and actually we were quite warm, and smiley, by the end.

As well as keeping to an incredibly consistent pace the whole way round I was also chuffed that only one person overtook me (a bloke who came from out of nowhere with just 0.1 mile to go), and I overtook several.

In terms of my running I ran hard and strong, and felt happy with how I was running, so I gained a good confidence boost from it.

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This week I got to participate in a small running study at the University of Leeds. A group of five exercise and sports science students had set up the study for their dissertations and put out the call for runners to take part. Always the willing and helpful citizen I went along to be a guinea pig. In the initial stage last month I simply had to run on a treadmill and be measured/weighed, and yesterday I went back to the lab for the full trials.

Here’s the blurb on the study:

Barefoot/minimalist running is becoming increasingly popular and it’s important to understand the potential differences between the biomechanics of running in different footwear and how this changes after a period of time running in them since this may have performance or injury related consequences.

There will be four conditions tested: barefoot, barefoot with sock, cushioned shoe and minimalist shoe (a shoe without cushioning). Two separate speeds will be used for the shoe conditions – a jog and a run. This will be no more than moderate-intensity exercise.

In-shoe pressure will be used to measure foot pressure during running to analyse foot strike pattern and plantar pressure distribution. Muscle activation of four muscle types will also be measured on the leg lower leg. This allows us to check the onset of muscle activation to check the muscles are activated at the same time since this has been shown to be an underlying cause inhibiting performance improvements or a possible injury. This requires the skin to be prepped for use of the EMG equipment, so the lower right legged will be shaved. The Qualisys camera system will require markers to be worn on both legs and the lower back. This is so the system can track the movement of the participant on running on the treadmill so kinematic data can be analysed. The data collected allows analysis of particular angles of the leg as well as velocities. A video camera is also used to record a real time image.

As it turned out they had abandoned the “barefoot with sock” condition as running with the pressure-sensitive insole and a sock was causing problems. I had markers and devices attached all over my legs, lower back and sides, which was rather amusing, and did the cushioned shoes first. They were Saucony, but I didn’t get the model details. The next shoes were VivoBareFoot, which I wear for walking around in anyway so am used to. And the final test was barefoot with the markers stuck on my skin. For each condition I ran for five minutes on the treadmill. I’m not sure what speed it was set at (they determined the pace they would use for me in the initial test) but it felt like a nice tempo pace.

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Being the tippty-toe Bambi ninja that I am I had no problems running in new shoes. I always land midfoot, and in fact I am very forefoot with minimal or no shoes and when going faster.

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I got to see a little bit of the data straightaway, including the info from the pressure sensitive insoles in the Vivo shoes – as expected I show the classic midfoot strike pattern. Apparently I was the only person to land midfoot in the cushioned shoes as well – everyone else had been heel striking in those but becoming more midfoot in minimal shoes and when barefoot.

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It was good fun and the students were very friendly and confident in explaining everything they were doing. I’m glad to have been able to help out and am looking forward to reading what they make of their findings. I hope I wasn’t too much of a statistical anomaly to throw their data!

As well as making me hungry for cake, all carbs in sight and absolutely anything dipped/smothered/coated in Nutella and/or peanut butter, running also makes me hungry for data.

At first, tracking runs was simply a means to an end – all I needed to know was when I could stop! Once I graduated to running for distance instead of time I used a very basic app called Endomondo on my phone. Then, as I got more serious about running, I downloaded a better app and started to take notice of how I was getting quicker. With its built-in training plans, RunKeeper got me through six races, including my first half marathon at Silverstone.

Then in March I decided to upgrade to a dedicated running watch and bought myself a MotoActv by Motorola. I decided on this one because as well as being a GPS watch it is also an MP3 player. Since then I’ve been munching on data alongside bananas and chocolate milkshakes post-run.

These are the key bits of information I digest, both during and after a run.

Distance

This is the obvious one, and for reasons unknown I much prefer running to distance than time when training. Where I can (ie unless there’s a race finish line) I stop on a whole number or to the exact 0.1.

Pace

Sometimes I’m not too worried about pace. On recovery or slow runs for example I just try to run smooth and easy and sing or talk to myself so I know I am not pushing too hard. In races I’m checking on my pace regularly, and then doing maths in my head to check whether I’m still on target (reminders written on my hand also help).

Cadence

Cadence, or steps per minute, is a factor I read about a lot when I started to think about how I could get quicker and improve my technique earlier this year. Many pieces of advice said to try to increase cadence by using shorter strides. Smaller steps, but more of them, help to avoid over-striding and encourage the foot to land under the hips.

I got a metronome app and practiced at 160 steps per minute, which felt ridiculous the first few times. I concentrated, and kept practicing, and now I am usually in the mid to high 170s for even the steadiest of runs and hit the “magic” 180-something most of the time.

Here are a few screenshots from my GPS watch website.

01d33132ac2afb81df3ebe5df6f5a25c0a3f8bc2ed The most evenly paced race in the history of the world! This was the Chester Round the Walls (Racecourse) race on Boxing Day 2013. It was laps on boggy grass, hence the ease of maintaining an even pace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0595The final run from my Portugal training camp. I was told to run a 10k in 58 minutes, so I did. One day I am going to use some of the maps in an embroidery project.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0594And here’s Roundhay parkrun. It is three laps, and despite a variation in pace I kept my cadence high.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shoe use

I have an app on my iPhone to help me keep track of how many miles I have done in each pair of shoes. There is no exact science to how long they should last as the figure will vary depending on weight, brand, gait, terrain etc but it is helpful to see how the miles stack up. It also allows me to look back alongside my training journal and see which shoes I wore for a particular run so I can get to know which conditions they are good for.

Training journal

As well as the website for my MotoActv data I also write a training journal (I use this running diary). This allows me to make notes on how I felt, any aches and pains etc. I’ve never kept a personal diary – despite being a writer I just can’t do it – but this I can manage.

Race/parkrun results and RunBritain ranking

I’m forever clicking refresh on websites after a race and checking my phone every two minutes after a parkrun to find out my official result. Then I spend most of Monday checking to see if the RunBritain Rankings site has been updated and if my handicap has come down.

From Runner’s World

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