All posts by Rebecca Adamson

Coaching runners and triathletes since 2012. Degrees/Certifications: B.A., ITCA, NESTA Sports Injury Specialist and Lifestyle Weight management specialist, US Masters Swimming certified Level 1&2 CoachRace Experience: Boston marathon 2010, 2011, 2012; Ironman Lake Tahoe 2013 finisher; Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2014 finisher Contact: rebecca@krendurance.com

LifeBEAM Smart Hat review

As a triathlete and runner who utilizes heart rate based periodization training, I was very interested in reviewing the LifeBEAM Smart Hat.  As workouts are prescribed based on training zones, athletes need a reliable source of gathering heart rate data during the session.  For years I used a Garmin chest strap, which is generally considered to be the best measure of heart rate data.  However, the downside of a chest strap is that it can chafe the skin, causing redness, soreness, pain, and broken skin.  Fortunately for those of us who battle with chafing, products with optical sensors are becoming increasingly popular and there is a fair variety to choose from.  The downside of optical sensors has always been their tendency to be inaccurate at times, when compared to a chest strap.  Dips, surges in heart rate, and high or low readings tend to happen occasionally, which can be frustrating when the numbers don’t match your rate of perceived exertion.

Enter the LifeBEAM Smart Hat.  It comes in a nice carrying case with a charging cord.  You can choose a white or black hat.  One size fits all, with a Velcro strap for adjusting.

smarthatunboxed

There is a small electronic unit that plugs into the hat and tucks neatly into a small pocket on the back side of the hat.  The electronic unit is to be removed when washing.  The optical sensor is built into the hat, and rests above the brim, on the forehead.

smarthatunderside

The charging cord plugs into the electronic unit.  Tuck it into the pocket (it stays closed with a thin Velcro strip) so that the power button (small circle on the unit) aligns with the power icon on the back of the hat.

smarthatback

Put the hat on, adjust, press the power button (it will beep, and a blue light will flash through the clear circle next to the power icon) and pair with your watch or smartphone app via Bluetooth 4.0 or ANT+.

I found the hat paired easily with my Garmin 920xt.  It was comfortable to wear and I did not notice the presence of the electronic unit, much to my surprise.  The hat also easily fit my head, which can be an issue for me with Velcro straps.  I liked the feel, and the gray stripe around the edge adds some reflectivity.

I wore the hat, paired to the Garmin 920xt, on a free run which included one stop and some varied terrain. I also wore a Garmin 110, which was paired with a Garmin heart rate strap, for comparison.

Here is the data from the hat paired with the 920xt.

smarthat1

Here is the data from the strap paired with the 110.

HRM1

I was pleasantly surprised that the Smart Hat was in line with the readings from the chest strap. The biggest deviation I saw during the run was only three beats, and most of the time they were the same, or within one or two beats of eachother.  I took the hat on multiple runs and had good accuracy every time (even in the rain). The advertised battery life is 17 hours, which I found to be accurate as well.  The hat has an auto shut off feature, so when you’re done with the run, you can just take it off and be on your way.

I would recommend this product for anyone looking for accurate heart rate data in an easy to use optical sensor.  The Smart Hat will pair with most watches and smartphone apps (full list here http://support.life-beam.com/hc/en-us/articles/200832681) and provides heart rate, cadence, calories and steps.  This makes it quite versatile for the fitness enthusiast at any level of experience.  The price point does at first seem high at $99.  However, considering a premium chest strap alone can run $69, considering all this hat can do, I find it well worth the price tag.

You can buy the LifeBEAM hat at their Website or intermittently at the Amazon link below. Buying from either of these links will help the site out with a small commission at no extra cost to you.

From Gametiime to FitFam

I was first attracted to Gametiime for its search capabilities.  As a runner, triathlete, and coach, having a comprehensive, nationwide, race search platform is incredibly handy.  There are a fair amount of sites out there that to a decent job of compiling lists of races. However nothing comes close in terms of total races and ease of use as Gametiime.  Boasting 130,000 plus races (road, trail, ultra, triathlon), and peak monthly total of 100,000 unique visitors, this site has done a great job making it easy to athletes to find races of all distances.

Gametiime is a Seattle based start-up, created by fitness enthusiasts.  Their goal is to empower people of all abilities to live a healthy and active lifestyle.  With the huge amount of growth in running and triathlon in the past few years, there has been a similar boom in websites, fitness tracking apps, blogs, podcasts, forums, and social media outlets.  Add in the amount of technology available such as gps watches like Garmin, and on-line training calendars like Training Peaks and the Final Surge, and it can get confusing pretty quickly for new runners.  When I first started running, I put on an old pair of New Balance, a Timex watch, a sweatshirt, and grabbed my Sony Walkman.  Now runners have access to all kinds of tracking technology (GPS, heart rate, pace, elevation, and cadence to name a few) via smart watches or through their phones, and various ways to listen to music or podcasts while running.  The social component has also grown tremendously with sites like Daily Mile and Strava.  Runners and triathletes can post their workouts, find friends, share, and comment.

All this can be a lot to take in.  And athletes come in all shapes, sizes, ability levels, and level of competitiveness.  Its easy for a new athlete to feel intimidated by some of the more technical forums, blogs, and experienced athletes who have a level of intensity that can feel unrelatable.

This is why I like Gametiime.  On November 10th, they will relaunch as FitFam.  The mission is the same.  To empower the everyday athlete to take charge of their fitness in a fun and interactive way.  This is not a site where anyone will feel excluded or confused by a slew of metrics.  FitFam will continue to have the fantastic race search capability.  With the rebrand, athletes can join virtual events, challenges, and brands can start the process of hosting their own virtual events.  The social component includes adding races to your profile, collecting badges, finding and following friends, and group discussions.

FitFampic

Gametiime has already hosted a handful of virtual events, two of which I took part in.   I like virtuals because often they are for a good cause.  The Puppy Run benefited animal rescue, and also allowed for registration of your canine friend.  The swag came in the mail and included goodies for your registered dog.  I love this type of thinking outside the box when it comes to a virtual.  As someone who runs with her dog, the novelty of registering her as well was great fun.  And isn’t that why we do this?  For enjoyment, live a healthy lifestyle and feel good?  The other virtual I did was to benefit Northwest Boxer rescue.  Virtuals are great for people who have limited access to races due to geography, time, or cost of race.  Virtuals by their nature are less expensive and while there isn’t the feel of a large race, sometimes this is a good thing.  Crowded roads, lack of support and lack of choice of the course aren’t a factor.  The Gametiime virtuals had sites where participants could add Garmin (or other GPS) data to show their exact time and distance.  This capability is important in terms of legitimacy.  A verifiable race result is key in virtual racing.

thepuppyrun

Gametiime has worked with Nuun hydration, Clif Bar, ENERGYbits and Orca.  The Nuun virtual run had a Facebook group where all the athletes talked to eachother.  This company is clearly invested in making running and triathlon accessible and empowering healthy lifestyles.  There will be an Ambassador program for 2016, and in full disclosure, I will be taking part in it.  I have kicked around the idea of applying for Ambassador programs in the past, but this one speaks to me as it aims to be incredibly interactive and the #movethemission philosophy mirrors the training philosophy I hold as a coach.  Everyone is welcome, everyone is included, and everyone’s journey is unique and important.  For more information and sign up go to http://www.fitfam.com/

nuunpeople

Thump Fin IPX8 Review

The Thump Fin IPX8 is a waterproof, 8G MP3 player advertised for swimming.  I add the qualifier “advertised for,” as the instructions indicate that this MP3 player can be used for both swimming and dry land activities.

The Thump Fin has “headlock design,” guaranteed not to fall off.  It looks like this:

thumpfull

It is worn like a headband, but on the back of the head (like sunglasses in reverse).  You can adjust it up or down on your head for comfort.  Nothing would actually prevent it from being worn like a headband on the top of your head except it feels a little tight that way to me.  For swimming, wear over the cap with the controls in the back.  The fit is snug, but not tight.  While swimming, I forgot it was on my head at all.

The Thump is a basic MP3 player, very easy to use.  The design is clever, the back unsnaps from the band, showing a USB, in which you plug into your computer, and then you can easily drag and drop MP3 music files and sync to the Thump.

thumpback

The front looks like this:

thumpfront

Here we see the power/play /pause button, volume up (+) and down (-), and arrows that skip forward to the next song, or back to the previous.  Note that the smaller button is the reset button.  The brain intuitively wants to use that button as the power on/off, but the unit is actually turned on by holding the play/pause button, which is the large circle in the middle.  The blue indicator light blinks when the unit is on.  Hold the + button, and the unit switches to FM radio. The green indicator button blinks.  Use the arrows on either side of the play/pause button to scroll through radio stations.  Hold the + button again to switch back to MP3.  A full charge lasts up to 10 hours.

The Thump comes with 6 sets of earbuds.

earbuds

The instructions say the spiral design buds are for waterproof activities, while the other buds are for dry land/sport activities.  I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t be interchangeable, and the Thump website advertises 5 interchangeable buds (the box I received had 6) for the most flexible fit for swimming.

I first used the Thump at the pool, with the smaller of the two spiral (long) earbuds.  I was highly impressed with the sound quality.  Sound quality has been an issue in years past with waterproof MP3 players, although Finis has done a great job with the new Neptune (although Finis uses bone conduction instead of an earbud).  The sound from the Thump was more clear, and richer than the older versions of the Finis Swimp3s that I have used.  The Thump fits well and does not go anywhere, even during speed sets, drills, and flip turns.

My main issue was that the buds kept falling out of my ears.  My solution to that issue was to keep putting them back in, trying each time to push them a little further so they would stay.  Just when I thought I had it, one of the buds fell off the unit.  While I was retrieving it, I realized that the other bud was jammed into my ear canal, and I was unable to get it out with my fingers.  Fortunately I found a sympathetic woman in the locker room (who just happened to be a nurse!) who was willing to get her tweezers from her car and pull the bud out for me.  Note: as with any ear bud, be very careful not to push it too far into your ear canal.   I did change the buds to the larger spiral, and had the same issue, where the bud would not stay.  I rigged them by pulling my swim cap down over my ears, which mostly got the buds to stay in place so I could enjoy the high quality sound, but I don’t see that as a solution to the issue.  I had the same problem with the other interchangeable buds, both in the pool and on dry land.

Thump does have a wraparound waterproof Bluetooth headset, the Thump Xtreme.

WetThumpX3_480_320_grande

It would be great to see this design (no earbuds) on the waterproof/non Bluetooth version.  This would solve the issue of the earbuds popping out.

The Thump website has testimonials of swimmers who have successfully used the MP3 player in the water as the unit was intended, with the earbuds staying in place, while keeping the water out of their ears.  I was disappointed not to be able to get the buds to stay in, as this product has great sound quality and a lot of promise.  The design is smart, the device is light, and the USB stays covered and dry.  I turned this on and off many times in succession, and it was never glitchy or refused to play like other waterproof MP3s I have used.  If it weren’t for the earbud issue, I could see using this model for many different activities.  Swimming, workout out on the spin bike, running, lifting weights or doing any other gym activity.  It would also be great for working in the yard or taking a walk, listening to the FM radio function, without worrying about wires or having to carry a phone.

Review: Mio Fuse

What is it?  The Mio Fuse is an activity tracker and heart rate monitor.  It is a pretty nifty little device.  As an activity tracker, you can set goals, monitor your heart rate, and keep track of steps, calories and distance.  It will show you, via the app, how many steps you have taken, and how many you need to reach your goal. The heart rate monitor is an optical sensor.  Meaning it shines a little light on your skin and the sensor pick up heart rate.

My interest in the Mio Fuse is primarily as a heart rate monitor.  As an athlete and coach who trains with heart rate based periodization, heart rate is an important piece of information.  Each athlete has their own individual heart rate zones.  No two people are alike.  Using a standard formula for everyone does not produce individual zones and is not useful for training (and in fact could be detrimental, as too much time in the wrong zone, or too high a zone can lead to burnout and injury).  I want to run in specific zones in my own training, and when I write workouts for athletes, they are assigned zones based on the intent of the workout (endurance, tempo, or recovery for example).  As a woman prone to chafing, I have some serious issues with the Garmin heart rate strap.  For me, it causes painful chafing under the sensor (for other people it can cause chafing anywhere under the strap itself).  Its not possible to put anti-chafe under the sensors, as that interferes with the signal.  The Fuse seemed to be the solution to this problem and I was excited to give it a try.

The Fuse comes in two sizes, depending on the size of your wrist.  I chose the small size and as you can see, even while wearing the Fuse high on the wrist (more on placement later), I have enough extra band.  The Fuse has 3 buttons, or touch points.  The two on the side scroll through time, calories, steps, distance and goal.  It will also display your heart rate.  The midde touch point is for finding your heart rate and starting, pausing, and ending an activity.  The Fuse finds heart rate pretty quickly.  Touch the middle point, it will say “find” then wait for heart rate to pop up.  To start a workout, touch the same point again.  It will read “go” as the timer starts.  Touch it again to pause, then hold it down, when paused, to end an and save an activity.

838eadc6ad9341a6b5438c539a70adaa

 

Pairing the Fuse with the Garmin was easy.   Put the Fuse on and find your heart rate.  Then set your watch to scan for the heart rate device.  It pairs quickly, and since the first pairing,  Garmin finds it right away (no scanning again required).  Heart rate will then show on your Garmin/watch screen.  The Fuse does not have an “always on” screen, which I would like, but I imagine this is a battery life issue.  You can customize your zones in the app (which “talks” to the Fuse via Bluetooth) and the Fuse will vibrate for a split second to let you know when you have changed zones.  It will display heart rate at that point, so in that way you can see on the display when you putting out too much heart rate effort, or not enough, and stay in your proper zones.

The first run I did with the Fuse, I experienced long dips (into the low 100s when I should have been in the high 140s), and conversely, spikes into the high 170s/180s when I should have been high 140s/low 150s).  This happened after about 3 miles of perfect heart rate numbers (compared to rate of perceived exertion, which I know quite well, having been a heart rate based athlete going on 5 years now).  This was disappointing.  I then did a run wearing two Garmin watches (910xt and 110).  The 110 was paired to the strap and the 910xt was paired to the Fuse.  Here are the results.  You can see the Garmin strap (top in both examples) is accurate, whereas the Fuse has dips and long surges.

cc3ae97b2b954677849a1adc0697f5c2

1a8b722bd65d45ea92f6b9ced0958625

I called Mio and left a message (there is an option for a call back, but if you just let customer service ring it will put you to voicemail).  Surprisingly I received a call back in a few minutes.  The rep made a couple suggestions.  One, put the Fuse on your wrist, with a little room on the strap. Then “snug” it up your wrist about 3-4 inches.  Let the strap conform to you, instead of putting it on tight.  The Fuse is meant to be worn high on the wrist, as it needs enough surface area to get an accurate reading.   Being female with small wrists, I need to wear it on the high side to get accuracy.  He also suggested wearing it on the inside on the wrist, although I did not find that in practice to be accurate.  The last suggestion was to wear it for a few minutes before pairing to the Garmin and starting a workout. On my next run, I did as suggested and the Fuse was accurate.  The take-away – wrist placement is key for accuracy.  I find I have to wear it high and a touch off center.  It does sometimes slip down and needs to be gently nudged back into proper position.  After wearing it for a few more runs, if it is place in the right spot, it is highly accurate.  When it deviates (either error in putting it on or it slides around), that is when the dips and spikes occur.

The Fuse will record distance a bit low.  For example, an 11.2 mile run on the Garmin read as 9.69 miles on the Fuse. The Garmin had another at 11.01 mi. with the Fuse reading 8.92 mi.  But not always.  A different time, Garmin had 10.22 mi. to the Fuse at 10.8 mi., and my 10k (with mile warm up) came up as Garmin 7.34 mi. and Fuse 7.35 mi.  Again, not a big deal for a runner using the Fuse paired with a GPS watch.

I also used the Fuse on the bike for trainer rides.  The weather hasn’t been conducive to outdoor riding so I have tested it indoors only.  The accuracy is 100% on the bike, most likely because your arms are in a more fixed position than when running.  The accuracy is the same whether the ride is recovery (low HR), endurance (Zone 2) or tempo and intervals (pushing into Zone 4 and beyond).  This is very encouraging and the Fuse getting very sweaty did not affect accuracy.  Again it paired easily with Trainer Road via Ant+.

TRMio

The Fuse was a pleasant surprise on the swim.  Unfortunately, the Garmin 910xt does not have an available heart rate data field under the swim function.  So there was no way to to pair it for a swim, and no way to get a heart rate graph from Garmin Connect.  I wore the Fuse by itself in the pool.  It stayed in place pretty well, and the heart rate readings were accurate as compared to perceived exertion.  The distance is not correct, but that doesn’t really matter, as athletes are typically following a written swim workout.  One swim I did was 2500 yards, it recorded .91 miles.  The next at 2600 yards recorded .89 miles.  Not quite right, but again, not an issue.

Mioswim

The Fuse needs to be synced via Bluetooth to the Mio app on your smartphone.   Cloud/web capability is currently in the testing phase (according to Mio).  Implementation with 3rd parties such as Garmin require business agreements and such.  This is good news, as hopefully a few months down the road (from publication of this review) there will be a way to export Fuse data.  It has a limited amount of storage, and if you don’t sync it frequently it won’t be able to record an activity.  This is no problem, syncing is fast and easy.  The app is easy to use.  You can set up your profile and customize heart rate zones, or set daily goals.  All very straightforward.  Where the app lacks currently, for me, is data analysis.  Select an activity (it asks you to confirm, you can choose from running, road biking, walking, mountain biking, climbing, swimming, rowing and hiking) and click on it.  Then you can see the stats (avg HR, time, distance, calories, most frequent zone, time, speed and pace) but for Android users, no heart rate graph.  It is shown only on the iOS app.   According to Mio they are testing this and it should be available for update for Android in the upcoming weeks (from publication of this review). A heart rate graph will be very nice to see, particularly for the swims (as there is no heart rate data field option on the Garmin 910xt, you can pair Mio to the 920xt in open water swim mode, not as a data field but it will show up in analysis on Connect). It sounds like Mio is very aware of what consumers want in terms of functionality and data analysis, and are in the process of making that happen.

All told, I am impressed with the Fuse and would recommend it to any athlete who is interested in an alternative to the chest strap, or to any active person interested in activity tracking.

Compatibility of the Mio Fuse to other devices and apps can be found on its product page. It can be purchased directly from Mio or at Amazon with the affiliate link below:
Save 20% on Mio heart rate monitor watches with promo code Mio-Bucks at checkout! Valid through 3/31/15 11:59PM