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parkrun

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.

I’ve been a bit slack with blogging recently. I have been running, although I’m not working to any specific training plan so I’ve just been going as far and as fast as I feel like (which is not very, as it happens). I should be doing some work towards my next half marathon – Chester on May 18th – as it’s only a few weeks away. I’ve got some speedwork and interval sessions in mind, and I’ll be giving it my all for a sub-2:00 on the day, so I best crack on!

For now, just to prove that I am still here and still running (and still loving it), a few photo highlights from the past week or so.

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I love cherry blossoms. I like to wear cherry blossoms in my hair when they arrive. This was after Leeds parkrun on April 19th, the day I wanted to run forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Views at Swinsty/Fewston reservoirs where I had a wonderful Bank Holiday Monday run with my good friends Jill and Laura. It was incredibly therapeutic – we had some deep and meaningful conversations, but we also swore and laughed a lot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is my friend Stevie (Helen’s boyfriend). He runs regularly but doesn’t race or do parkruns, so I’ve been nagging him to give them a go. I finally got him to come to Leeds parkrun on April 26th, and I think he enjoyed it! It was a bit drizzly but we had good chats.

 

 

 

 

Marathon training is about to get really scary – it’s time to taper! This means that over the next three weeks my mileage, and the distance of my long runs especially, drops quite dramatically. The idea is that you get a decent rest ahead of the big day, but it’s not so long that you lose all that fitness you have built up.

So far this year I have put a total of 336.95 miles into my legs, and they’re not about to forget those in a hurry, although a bit of an easy period will be well received. I just need to up my focus on strength and feeding my body good stuff so I’m in the best possible shape on April 13th.

Week 13 has been pretty kind to me. I did miss one scheduled run because of a long lunch with a good friend, but to be honest I needed this more than the run. And as I was house-sitting for my friend in Chapel Allerton for the week I got to enjoy some new routes and went to Eccup Reservoir and Roundhay Park. There’s something about being by the water that makes me feel amazing, so that was a big mental boost.

I also enjoyed Cross Flatts parkrun with my friends from South Leeds Community Radio and Lift A Finger. This week I record my first radio show, so expect lots more on that!

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My long run on Sunday was my final dress rehearsal for the marathon. My outfit has been tested before but I figured one more go wouldn’t hurt. Unsurprisingly, it is all purple apart from the cherry blossom pink sleeves and the pink on my shoes. I did 21 miles, but took a few walk breaks and some stops in bus shelters to get out of the hailstorms. One minute I was getting a tan, the next I was being pelted by tiny balls of ice! Anyway, I did it, and it didn’t feel too bad. My nutrition strategy (gels and jelly babes) worked well and I had no chafing.

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Bring it on!

Total: 37.1 miles

(all distances in miles)

Week 14

Monday: 5 (easy)

Tuesday: cross train

Wednesday: 6

Thursday: 8 (race pace)

Friday: rest

Saturday: 5

Sunday: 12

Phew! Another week has come and gone and I’m still standing! Actually, I’m surprisingly mobile given the 20 miles I ran yesterday!

Anyway, the week has been full of lots of running, but also lots of friends and good stuff.

On Monday I recovered from Silverstone with a walk into town with Bethan and Vikki for a pie and a pint. It was perfectly perfect! Tuesday I enjoyed a jog along the canal in the afternoon sun, and Wednesday I rested again with chats with Ems and Gary and a very useful running workshop in the evening. Thursday was the running study so a bit of “free” activity and Jill’s hills in the evening, which weren’t too intense (I took it steady).

Friday was a particularly good run – I did four miles along the canal (into the wind) at slightly quicker than marathon pace, then finished with a slow mile barefoot. Which reminds me, I need to ask the doctor for a tetanus booster just in case I stand on something nasty! It was awesome though – I felt like I really made a connection with the world.

Saturday was a very easy and enjoyable Cross Flatts parkrun with my friends from South Leeds Community Radio and Lift a Finger.

Then Sunday was a potential killer of a 20-mile race – East Hull 20. I will do a full review this week, but I did it and I didn’t die.

Total: 36.45 miles

(all distances in miles)

Week 12

Monday: 5 (easy)

Tuesday: cross train

Wednesday: 8 (race pace)

Thursday: mile reps

Friday: rest

Saturday: 3

Sunday: 18

 

As it is my birthday today I am having a weekend of celebration, mostly involving running.

I called on my friends to join me at parkrun in Woodhouse Moor yesterday dressed in all the neon they could muster, and they did not disappoint.

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There were a few PBs and a lot of blurred neon around the course. Then afterwards it was back to mine for cake.

My good friend Helen bought me a Costco cake for my present. They are massive and the yummiest sponge cakes in the world.

We made a good go of scoffing it all but there is still plenty left so I’ll be living on cake for a few days yet.

Big thanks to all my Kirkstall Harrier, other running and non-running friends for joining in my celebration and bringing me some fantastic cards and gifts. I am very blessed to have you.

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I am very happy to report that I am back on the wagon and running to plan. The back of knee/calf thing has eased off and I’m feeling good and getting out there. I’ve even been getting in several cross training (swimming and static cycling and rowing) plus regular stretch and strength sessions. I’m also upping the yoga and meditation/mindfulness. Luvvly jubbly!

The week has been pleasant enough with some easy, steady and enjoyable runs, a tough Temple Newsam parkrun and a grand day out in my home village with some Harrier friends for the Four Villages Half Marathon (race review to follow).

Total: 28.2 miles

(all distances in miles)

Week 5

Monday: rest

Tuesday: cross train

Wednesday: 5

Thursday: 6.5 intervals

Friday: rest

Saturday: 5 – Northern Cross Country Championships

Sunday: 16