Tag Archives: Gearist

Review: Polar M400 – a GPS Watch and Activity Tracker

There is an old trope, “jack of all trades, master of none.” Polar may just have proven this untrue.

I purchased the M400 with few expectations. I have used Garmin watches for a while, and wanted to see what another manufacturer was doing with GPS watches. I was especially interested in Polar since they invented the first wireless heart rate monitor and I am a believer in heart rate training.

The M400 is Polar’s latest running watch that doubles as an activity and sleep tracker. And honestly, it does a good job with both. This is quite an acheivement for a device that costs less than $180 ($230 with a heart rate monitor).

boxed

The box is a pretty straightforward design. You can see the watch, read about the features and scan a QR code on the top for a video.

The contents include the watch, a micro-usb cable and the paperwork. The fact that it uses a micro-usb cable is really very convenient since most people are likely to have some lying around and the watch can be charged on most powered usb ports. This saves the expense of getting a second charging cable for another location or replacing a lost proprietary cable.

contents

Setting up the watch is very easy. I just had to go to flow.polar.com/start and download the latest version of Polar FlowSync. Once the watch was recognized and updated, I disconnected to the computer and synced it with the Polar Flow app on my iPhone. I never connected it to the computer after that point. I imagine that I will only need to if it has to be updated.

Running with the M400

The M400 is an excellent running watch. I found it to be spot on with accuracy and the workouts were very much in line with the Garmin Forerunner 620.

With FR 620

As can be seen by the above, the M400 is not much larger than the Garmin Forerunner 620 and has about the same thickness.

After running, it is very easy to upload. Just press and hold the menu button to sync with the app. The results can be seen on the Web or in the app. A basic overview of the run is found in the Diary section of flow.polar.com.

browser capture 01 browser capture 02

The top of the Web page has a basic breakdown of time, distance, heart rate and calories above a map of the route run. It also tells you what kind of workout you have done based on effort levels determined by heart rate zones.

Underneath the map, there are more detailed breakdowns showing the time spent in each heart rate zone along with laps and a combination chart showing elevation, pace, and heart rate.

One really handy feature is the ability to “Zoom In” on an area of a run. By clicking the two slider controls, you can select a smaller portion of the run and see metrics from just that period like the following:

metrics

In this shot, I selected only the first five minutes of the run. My heart rate was within Zones 1 & 2 and averaged 148. This ability can be really handy to dial in to performance metrics with-in certain parts of a workout like how a set of hills affect a run, what kind of kick you have at the end of a race, or to filter out warm-up and cool down parts of a run to get the meat of a workout.

Polar does a nice job of replicating the views in it’s iOS app as well. As you scroll down the screen, you can see the workout summed up at the top with the duration, HR average, Calories, Distance, Pace and Ascent (elevation). It also breaks down what kind of workout it was for you.

workout 01

If you click the Training Benefit, it will give you a definition/explanation as shown below. This is to help you understand the physiological effect of the run based on your heart rate zones and the effort expended.

 

training benefit

 

Following the basic summary of the run is a heart rate chart with a breakdown of zones underneath. Between these, you can see the amount of time you spent in each zone and what kind of heart rate drift you had in the workout.

workout 02

Last, you have the map and lap breakdown for the workout.

workout 03

 

One nice feature of the app is that you can expand on different areas like you can on the Web site. For example, you can expand the map and use the scrubber to move along it to see your progress as shown below. You can do the same for heart rate as shown in the following image.

 

map expanded 02

 

heartrate

 

But wait, there’s more

The watch has some other really cool features as well. These are the Finish Time Estimator, Interval timer and Heart rate zones.

The Finish Time Estimator is used to determine approximately how long before you finish a workout or race at a specified distance. You set the race distance before you start and it will show you how long you have left. You also can set intervals by either distance or time and start them after warming up. Last, you have the ability to see what heart rate zone you are in and can lock your zone with audio alerts if stray outside of the parameters.

These features are shown the Polar M400 video below.

Another really interesting feature that is typically only found in high-end watches is the ability to find your way back to start. This feature uses a compass to direct you to the shortest path possible to return to your starting point.

Yet another feature available for the Polar M400 is Smart Coaching and as a part of it, the Running Index. Running Index is very similar to Garmin’s VO2Max on the Forerunner 620, the Fenix 2, and the Forerunner 920XT. Keep in mind that these watches start out at $400.

The Running Index evaluates your performance in a run and predicts racing times. This is shown on the following chart online at the Polar Running Index page.

running index

 

Running Index is explained in the Polar produced video below:

In all, the Polar M400 does an outstanding job with many features that are often only found on very high-end watches. At it’s price point, it is an incredible deal. The only thing lacking is the addition of a vibrate alert instead of audio only, but this is minor compared to what it offers runners.

The M400 as an Activity and Sleep Tracker

The Polar M400 is not only a GPS watch, but also an activity tracker. And it does a find job with that. As you go through the day, it will track your activity including your steps and workouts. It goes even further than that with more detailed information about what your activity is like throughout the day as shown below:

daily activity

The app and Web site both will show what your activity has been throughout the day and how it is broken down. Another feature that is offered is an Inactivity alert. If you have been sitting for a while, you will get the message “It’s time to move!”

Time to Move

This is to prevent you from sitting too long at any point. You can also see how many of these alerts you have gotten through time, be it a day, week, or longer interval.

Another thing that the M400 tracks is sleep. And major kudos to Polar, you don’t have to do anything. It will automatically detect when you are sleeping. This is something that Garmin does not have, even on the newly released $500 Forerunner 920XT.

sleep

Polar not only tracks the hours of sleep, but also how it breaks down. It’s very important both for health and recovery to see more than just when you were in bed and for how long. This is another feature it has over Garmin’s fitness trackers and watches – they require that you manually set when you are going to sleep and wake up.

One unfortunate feature missing from Polar Flow is direct synchronization to MyFitnessPal, a dominant diet tracker. However, this may not be a complete show stopper. Polar is now working with both Apple HealthKit and Google Fit according to their post Google Fit and Apple Healthkit.  It’s not a perfect, but you should be able to get data into MyFitnessPal by using Apple Health currently or Google Fit in the future as an intermediary.

Polar is also rolling out support for 3rd party developers as posted in Connect with Polar. Their program is free, so it will likely speed up adaptation.

Another thing that the Polar M400 does not track is stairs. Sadly, it will only track steps and sleep at this point.

Overall, what Polar does track, it does very well and consistently. It does not compromise on the tasks.

Cycling with the M400

I have been injured lately and need to do a lot of cross training by cycling and aqua-jogging. Fortunately, the Polar M400 accommodates both activities.

The M400 has a cycling mode that will allow you to track a ride. The only problem is that it is limited to GPS for speed, pace and distance and won’t work with any extra sensors except a Heart Rate Monitor. But it works well in a pinch. I wore the watch on multiple rides and compared the results to a Garmin Edge 500. The results were very consistent.

I wore both the Polar H7 Heart Rate Monitor and the Garmin HRM Run at the same time and wound up with the same metrics. The speed was the same on both devices. The route tracked just fine. The elevation was different on the Polar but that may be because there are some serious elevation issues GPS devices as a whole. Here is a good article from DC Rainmaker – Understanding Sport Device GPS.

ride compare

One thing to note. Polar does a nice job of giving a workout breakdown in one quick view. If you tap on any data item with a red tab marker, it will change to another related piece of data. For example, the tab next to the heart rate toggles between the average and max for the session.

Another really cool feature is the ability to “relive” a workout. It can maybe seen as gimmicky, but it’s well done and I enjoy how they present it. Here are the results of the cycling workout shown above and below.

relive workout

One thing that I really was delighted with on the Polar was the fact that it even counted steps while I was riding. I’m not sure if it was factored in when tracking the workout, or the watch was sensitive enough to pick up vibrations when I was riding. Either way, it credited me with steps as shown below. Something that no other device I have tried does. I even have used a Nathan pouch on one shoe with a Garmin Vivofit taken out of the band and a Fitbit Zip on the other shoe to track steps. The fact that the Polar tracked this on all of my rides was a wonderful surprise.

steps with cycling

Both result sets for the workouts can be compared at http://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/630096797 for the Garmin Edge 500 and https://flow.polar.com/training/analysis/34699897 for the Polar M400.

Conclusion

Polar has really come out with a pretty special device here. It really checks off most of the boxes to be both be a good activity tracker, and a very good GPS/Fitness watch. The number of features it packs into the device at the price point it has prove that Polar wants this budget to mid level market. I can whole-heartedly recommend this watch to anyone who is looking to track their workouts and trying to get a cost-effective device. It really rivals much more expensive equipment. You can get the watch at Clevertraining or Amazon in my affiliate link below (I get a small commission if you buy through the links).

Review: Moji 360 Mini Massager

This has been a terrible training season for me. It started out well, then a cascade of injuries occurred and I have had to cancel all my races this fall. Sadly, I have been injured enough that I have begun to learn the names of muscles, tendons and fascia that I never new about before.

Truthfully, I wish I were oblivious. But, this experience allows me to share information about recovery products. Two of my mainstay products are foam rollers and The Stick. I have one of these at both home and work. But there is a third device that I don’t always talk about. It has been out for a couple years, but surprisingly not everyone has heard of it. Even my chiropractor wasn’t familiar with it. It being the Moji 360 Mini Massager.

moji-360-mini-massager

I extended the build-up for this device because I consider it almost a secret weapon tool. I know my IT band quivers when it comes out.

I first heard of the mini massager from The Gearist in one of their great videos and had to give it a try.

The basic design is like a scrubber for your muscles. There are seven different sized ball bearings called “spheres”. They are omnidirectional and move freely while using the device. The spheres at each end of the Moji Mini 360 are larger and are used for increased intensity with the one that falls under the palm being the most intense of all.

And by intense, I mean it can be incredibly intense. This is good. You have the flexibility to really put some extreme pressure on a highly targeted area. I currently see a sports chiropractor and have Active Release Therapy and the Moji allows me to self-administer some as well.

When I use the Moji, I use the larger spheres to tackle my trigger points. I actually use the one closer to my finger tips more frequently because it is easier for me to nail down uncooperative muscle strands and tendons with more accuracy. I then work the device over the muscles in question and break up the adhesions.

What I have found is that after I use the Moji for very intense massage of trouble spots, I will follow up with The Stick or foam roller. I will use them like rolling pins to knead out the area and maximize the results. With the combo of the Moji 360 Mini and The Stick, I can have nearly complete relief from IT band soreness. I also use the Moji 360 Mini to tackle my peronius longus muscles on the outside of my legs. I then follow up with the foam roller.

The best part of the Moji is that it is small and highly portable. So while I have foam rollers and the stick at both home and work, I only have one Moji Mini, which is good so I can keep an eye on it. It is one device that I definitely don’t want to lose.

The Moji Mini is one foolproof device that I can recommend for any athlete, and for under $30, it’s a great deal. It can easily fit in a stocking as well.

You can get one at gomoji.com or Amazon

Note: The links on this page are affiliate links which will give me a small commission.

Review: Tuvizo Reflective Vest

When running in the dark as the season changes, it’s often most convenient to just grab something reflective, throw it on, and go run.

A lot of running clothes have reflective options, but they can come at a premium. This can really get expensive quickly. Especially when you have to buy high end items like new jackets and other winter gear. This is where a product like the Tuvizo reflective vest comes in. It is a very functional device that you can wear over the gear you already have and remain visible.

Tuvizo reached out to me to try out their running vest. We were unsure of what size I should use because there is some overlap and I fall in the middle, so they sent me both sizes of the reflective vest to compare.

IMG_0715

This was a good idea because it enabled me to see how each would fit, and I have to say, very well. I tried the S/M/L first and wore it with a Brooks running jacket and Under Armour fitted mock and it had no trouble accommodating me. I am fairly large at 6’2″, 195 lbs and wear a large t-shirt. The vest fit with plenty of slack.

I then tried the second vest the next night. This time, I was only wearing an Under Armour fitted Mock. I wanted to see how loose the much larger one was. This one cinched right up just as snug as the other. So, if you are in an area that gets extremely cold and have to wear very thick jackets, you may want to opt for the larger size.

What I liked about both vests were how easy they are to snug up. I don’t like to run with anything loose because it can cause chafing. With the Tuvizo, on the sides by the buckle, I just had to move the buckles and then pull the straps into place. I had them fitted to me in less than 20 seconds, and I’m the type who can get easily confused.

IMG_0751

Another feature I liked were the clasps. Sometimes gear like this is cheaply made and the clasps can come unsecured when you are shifting around or brush against it. This clasp closes up and you have to actually insert your thumb or finger into the top and squeeze both tabs for it to release. It’s very easy to do when you intend to, but won’t easily come apart accidentally.

IMG_0750

 

The actual elastic fabric is of a good quality. It is thick and feels very well made. I doesn’t seem like it will fray or lose it’s elasticity over time. Actually feel that I could strap a water bottle or the like to it and it would support it fine.

All in all, I think these vests are a really good buy at around $25 for such a versatile piece of equipment. You can wear one with anything and have it for years to come.

The vest is currently exclusively sold at Amazon and you can get it through my affiliate link below:

 

Review: FitBit Charge – Return of the Force

This may be the quickest review I have ever written. “Fitbit created a device. Fitbit recalled the device. Fitbit fixed the device and released it under another name for the same price. End of Review.”

I’ll start with a little history. Late in 2013, Fitbit released the Force. It was an update of the Fitbit Flex that added a screen to see your exact progress throughout the day and the ability to track stairs. It essentially was a Fitbit One combined with a Fitbit Flex. The other two features were automatic sleep tracking and incoming caller id when paired with an iOS device. The Caller ID feature was not available out of the gate and added later in a firmware update.

Then in February 2014, Fitbit made the surprise announcement that it was recalling all Fitbit Force devices due to many users suffering skin irritation as discussed in A letter from the CEO.

On October 27th, Fitbit announced three new devices, the Fitbit Charge, the Charge HR, and the Surge with the Charge HR and Surge being released in 2015. The Charge is available now.

What is the Charge? Well, it is the Force with a new band, better clasp and bit wider. If you own a Fitbit Force and have no skin issues, you have no reason to upgrade.

The Charge is .83 inches versus the Force at .75 inches or 2 millimeters wider (21.1 vs. 19.1). The Fitbit Flex is .6 inches or 13.99 mm.

ruler

The clasp on the Fitbit Force was a source of aggravation as well. It was very easily unsnapped causing people to drop the devices frequently. The new clasp has addressed this and is much more secure. As can be seen in the image below, the new clasp on the top has the posts farther apart and a little thinner. They do noticeably hold the band together more firmly.

IMG_0253

As far as the rest goes, I have trouble finding differences between the devices. The software is the same as you can see below (Notice the firmware):

firmware

It does seem like the Charge connects and syncs a little faster with the phone, so there may be some hardware tweaks inside, but really, the Fitbit Charge just seems to be the Force completed.

This makes it a bit less exciting. Technology has changed over the past year and Fitbit seems to have not put forth the effort to grow with it. One example is the fact that the Charge is still not waterproof. The Charge is also still priced at $130. This makes it tough to recommend when you have the Garmin Vivofit which has just had a price drop to $99 at Clever Training and on Amazon (both links are affiliate links which will give me a small commission at no cost to you).

Another troubling development from Fitbit appears to be a dispute with Apple. Apple featured Fitbit at the 2014 World-wide Developer Conference (WWDC) which is a major boon for most companies as shown on the below slide from The Verge article Apple HealthKit announced: a hub for all your iOS fitness tracking needs.


After receiving all this attention, Fitbit mysteriously confirmed that they were not actively developing for Apple Healthkit as reported by MacWorld in the article Fitbit says no to Apple’s HealthKit for now. In response, Apple has pulled all Fitbit devices from their stores as documented in Apple Insider,

Considering that other players like Garmin, Jawbone, Withings, Strava, MyFitnessPal etc are all working with Apple HealthKit, it is hard to recommend staying with Fitbit at this point.

Review: Moov Activity Tracker – A FitBit with a bonus coach?

The Moov activity tracker was launched 02/27/2014 with a crowd funding campaign. They did the crowd funding on their own site, rather than using Kickstarter, FundAnything, IndieGoGo, or another crowd funding tool. I was super excited about the possibilities and signed on 2/28 as an early backer.

Gizmodo did a nice writeup Moov Might Be the Most Advanced Fitness Wearable Yet about the device and the company when it was announced in February 2014. The article is worth reading for more history and explains that one of the three co-founders, Nikola Hu was a former engineer at Apple who also worked on the Xbox HALO series.

The Device

The premise behind the Moov is that it will do far more than just count steps. It combines three sensors (magnet, angular rate and gravity sensors) in proprietary manner to create a “9-axis sensor.” This sensor can track the actual motion of movement. Their site states this technology is mostly used in strategic missiles — I like to think of my movement being compared to strategic missiles – powerful. Using an app, this data is interpreted and used to coach an athlete.

The initial app is for running, but Cardio Boxing is now out and there are others in development including swimming and cycling. Their timeframe for release according to the post When will more Moov apps be released? site is as follows:

iOS:
Swimming (late October)
Cycling (November)
Body Weight (December)

Android:
Apps for Android will be released in stages, the first of which, the Run & Walk app, will be released in November. Other apps including Cardio Boxing, Swimming, Cycling and Body Weight will be released 3 months after the iOS release.

Moov Run & Walk was released in July 2014. Cardio boxing will be released in September and the rest of the apps will be released one after the other with a month in between.

As an early backer, I received my Moov device in August and didn’t get the opportunity to really try it until September. This is my experience using it.

Unboxing

The unit comes in a nice looking box. Very Apple-like. It’s a box with a wrap around sleeve.

When opened, after pulling the paperwork, you see the Moov device on display.

The Moov itself is not too large, about the size of a small watch. Here it is with a quarter to get a size impression.

Underneath the Moov, there is are two bands. One for the wrist and another for the ankle. In the other compartment is the charging/sync cable.

The Moov snaps into a cradle at the end of the cable to charge.

When you have the Moov fully charged, you connect it to your iPhone. You will need to have downloaded the appropriate app. Currently that’s Moov Running and Walking or Moov Boxing – Cardio Punch. I tested with Running and Walking because that was the only app available at the time. I was planning to also test Cardio Punch, but having two Moovs is recommended, so I will hold off on that.

After downloading the app, it’s really simple to connect. First, create an account or connect to Facebook (that’s what I chose). Then, fill out your information and press finish.

Then you will be prompted to Press you Moov to connect and it will appear as an option. You can give it its own color and then press Go!

For running, you will need to use the ankle strap. It is definitely noticeable, but many people think us runners are weird anyway. What’s another piece of gear?

As soon as you hit the Go! button, you will be prompted to Allow Location Access. If you are on iOS 8, you will get a second prompt for you talk allow GPS access when you are not in the app.

Once you have granted access, you have four workout types from which to choose.

These are described in the app as follows:

Brisk Walking will challenge users with high cadence intervals. Fit for those looking to maximize their daily walks by increasing step count and calories burned.

Running Efficiency will train you to run further for the energy you expend and turn you into more efficient runner. Made for those who want to run long distance.

Sprint Intervals will challenge users with high speed, high cadence intervals. This program is for those looking to get the most out of a quick workout when time is limited.

Speed Endurance will coach you to run further and faster through intervals that challenge you to sustain a target pace. This program is for those looking to increase their personal running records in marathons, triathlons and other races.

I only worked with the last three workout types.

When you choose one of the workout types, you will be asked a multiple choice question. These are shown below in the order previously listed.

How you answer the question will determine a starting level for the workout. The levels have a pretty broad range. In order to change them, scroll up and down on the screen. When your desired level is highlighted, release and wait for a second. The results will appear.

The images below show Running Efficiency options. If you choose Too Easy, you will start out in Level 3 and you have options all the way to Level 16. You can see that the intervals are quite a bit longer.

Levels can also be chosen for Sprint Intervals and Speed Endurance. Sprint Intervals have a ranges from Level 1 with 5 intervals of 30 seconds each at a cadence of 170 spm to Level 46 with 5 intervals of 2 minutes each at a cadence of 215 spm as shown in the following images:

Speed Endurance Intervals have a ranges from Level 1 with 3 intervals of 437 yards each at a pace of 13:00/Mile and cadence of 150 spm to Level 69 with 3 intervals of 1 mile each at a pace of 3:22/mile and a cadence of 180 spm as shown in the following images:

The mile pace for Level 69 of Speed Endurance intervals is quite hilarious considering the world records are as follows according to Wikipedia:

The current mile world record holders are Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj with 3:43.13 minutes and Svetlana Masterkova of Russia with the women’s record of 4:12.56 minutes.

Obviously it will be a while before anyone will be training at Level 69.

My Run

As an endurance athlete, I started out by choosing Running Efficiency.

Warmup was 2 minutes. Woefully short. This is a real concern to me. I believe that warmups need to really be much longer. They also can be enhanced with some dynamic stretching. I would recommend doing a warmup before running with the Moov. That will eliminate the concern. Here is an excellent article by Jeff Gaudette of Runners Connect: 3 Common Myths About Warming Up Before a Run (and How to Make it Work for You).

When I was running the intervals, a voice that sounds like Siri starts prompting you. If you are on track, there is a chime to help re-enforce your effort.

I got to hear the voice a lot. As I was running, I kept hearing that my cadence was low. Very low. Sometimes as low as 90 SPM (steps per minute). Then a few seconds later, I would hear that it was dead on. I would also hear that I was moving too fast. This was a challenge. When I increase my cadence, I run faster. I resemble what Alex Hutchinson of Runner’s World and Sweat Science and Pete Larson of RunBlogger have shown in their studies about stride rate and pace in these two posts The problem with 180 strides per minute: some personal data and Running Speed: Human Variability and The Importance of Both Cadence and Stride Length.

The Moov is set for arbitrary speeds and cadences. This makes it very difficult for me to dial in to the proper speed and stride rate. I wound up being constantly reminded that I am going too fast, or that my cadence is too slow. It can be a challenge. I really would love a way to customize the program.

I am embedding my marathon from earlier this year to demonstrate my average pace and cadence. You will be able to see that my pace is relatively quick at a moderate cadence of 164 average. I am 6’2 and this definitely may be a factor.

This is the workout I did with the Moov. My cadence was increased and my pace was quicker. This causes me to be reminded that I am running too fast to maintain the pace. It’s flattering, but persistent.

Another fluke was that even when I was told that my cadence was too low, I would look down on my wrist and see that my cadence was dead-on, or even higher. I would be running with a cadence of 178-182 according to my watch, the Fenix 2 (with Running Dynamics) and the Moov would be telling me that my cadence was 134 or the like. This happened frequently. However, I will say in the end, the outcome was pretty similar when I compared the results as shown below.

 

Battery Life

This is a real standout because they must have injected some real magic. From what I have seen, the battery life is pretty stellar. I only used the Moov for three workouts on two different runs, but that was well over a month ago and the battery is showing over 40% as I write this.

Conclusion

The Moov is a really interesting device with a ton of potential. Since it is controlled by software on the iPhone, I feel that they can modify the app to make it a true companion for extended training.

I think that the Moov can be especially helpful for those who are just starting out running. While the voice prompts can be frequent, they really do help keep you in focus with your form and activity with helpful guidance to pick up your feet and run lighter. I also like the G-Force measurements because the amount of impact can be detrimental to your legs. Running is a high impact sport and any way new runners can learn to lessen impact from the start is very welcome. This actually helps experienced runners as well.

If they were to add a way to customize the length of intervals and the paces, this would be an indispensable device that I would use for most tempo runs and the like. I am eager to see what comes out of development and in future updates to the app. I see the promise of it and with a few tweaks could grow to love it.

I also will be testing the cycling and swimming apps when they are released. Since I am a newer rider and a hopeless swimmer, I hope to benefit from the device. I am really curious about how it will give feedback for swimming. I don’t have waterproofing for my headphones or iPhone. That app may have to be different.

The Moov can be pre-ordered through this link https://moov.cc/getmoov/5DF0A58A07. That link also gives me a $5 credit toward a second device so I can review Cardio Punch later. Thanks for your support.

Five Running and Riding Gear Items for Fall

As Daylight Savings Time is coming to an end, it’s time to start thinking of colder weather and shorter days. Here are some gear items I used to get through the season.

1. Knuckle Lights – I cannot praise these lights enough. I am someone who cannot stand wearing a headlamp. It makes me crazy and gives me a headache. Plus I find it tiring on my eyes as the light bounces around. And if that’s not enough to make it tough, I seem to keep hitting reflective surfaces and blinding myself.

Enter Knuckle Lights. I first heard of these on the Marathon Training Podcast, a forerunner to Steve Carmichael’s RunBuzz Radio. After he described them, I immediately went out and got a pair. They may be my favorite piece of winter running gear.

I run in an urban environment that is kind of unique. It is combination of city, a college campus, a hospital and a decommissioned military base. By being such a varied environment, there are different lighting conditions. I have street lights for big chunks of my route, but there are dead areas within. I also have some really dark areas as I get out to the end of Fort Monroe. The knuckle lights offer great versatility.

When I enter a dark area, I simply click on one or both lights and see my path. I love the fact that they light the path and don’t bounce off of hard surfaces back into my eyes. I also like that there are two, so if the batteries die in one, the other is likely to be available. This has happened to me in the past.

2. Nite Ize LED – Nite Ize sells several products that help you remain visible when out riding or running. My wife made it clear that I will not be riding my bike especially without being visible. The Nite Ize make me look like a Christmas tree, but I think I would rather have the red lights on my bike and person instead of the top of the ambulance as they take me away. I use the four lights to the right. The SlapLit lights I wear on my ankles when riding. I wear the helmet light on my bike helmet. The Clip-on marker I wear on my backpack when I am carrying stuff, otherwise I wear the Sport Belt.



3. 180s CRG (Convertible Running Gloves): I got these gloves last year and they were wonderful. They are a combination of very light running gloves and mittens. The mitten part folds up into the glove when not being used, but pulls over the fingers to block the wind and add warmth when needed. Believe me, these are warm. What is wonderful is that they cover you for a wide range of temperatures. I have worn them from the 10s – the 40s F. They also have terrycloth on the back where you can wipe your nose. Unfortunately I can’t find the pair I own any longer, but they have an updated version that includes an LED light on Amazon.

4. Brooks Men’s LSD Lite Jacket III: Where I live in Hampton Roads, VA, we usually have moderate winters with a few days of real cold. This jacket is a wonderful ‘tweener. It fits somewhere between cool and cold when you where something warm underneath. The biggest benefit is that it does a nice job of blocking the wind. I like to wear it with an Under Armour Cold Gear Fitted Mock. This combination keeps me just warm enough, but if I feel like I’m going to overheat, I can pull the LDS jacket off and tuck it into my waist pouch or vest. I also have worn the Jacket in snow and light rain. I will warn you that it is water resistant, not water proof. But worn with a running cap and the hood up, it helps keep the water out of your face.

5. Brooks Running Head Gear: These next two items, I alternate back and forth depending on the weather. These hats I especially like because of the Brooks’ motto “Run Happy.” I sometimes have to remind myself to do this when the weather is terrible. The Wanganui Fleece Hat is quite warm, but light and breathable and the Run Happy Mesh Cap is really good to keep rain or sun out of your eyes. I wear mine year around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: All of the links on this page are affiliate links and I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you when you use them. Thanks for your support.

Review: Does the Garmin Vivosmart combine a FitBit Flex and Pebble?

It was with great excitement that I unboxed the Garmin Vivosmart. I had already reviewed the Vivofit and missed my Fitbit Flex for its size and unassuming design. Could this new offering from Garmin be the fitness band you rule them all?

It has such promise. It tracks your steps and sleep, tells time, and even can receive notifications from an iPhone or Android device.

But wait, there’s more. It can also act as a remote for a Garmin Virb, control music on your iPhone, and connect to a speed/cadence sensor to track a cycling workout. These are all some exciting features, but does it deliver? What kind of execution?

Within the box there are only a few items – The Vivosmart, a quick start manual, the charging cable, and the Vivokeeper which helps hold the clasp in place.

After opening the box, I saw that the Vivosmart powered on. Since I had Garmin Connect on my iPhone, I synced it. I already have a Vivofit and the app squawked that there could only be one fitness tracker, did I want to use this one (the Vivosmart)? I chose yes and it didn’t seem to work, so I deleted the Vivofit and Vivosmart from the app and tried again. This time it worked.

I was off and running. First, I put it on with the Garmin Vivofit that I already owned to get a comparison of size and step count over time.

As can be seen by the picture, the Vivosmart is definitely much narrower and less bulky all around. It also does not always have a display shown like the Vivofit. This makes it more similar to the Fitbit Flex. When it is not illuminated, the band is much more subtle and unobtrusive. The Vivosmart display is also backlit whereas the Vivofit is not.

However, the Vivofit has a much sharper display. This display is much more readable, while the Vivosmart is almost hazy as DCRainmaker noted in his post – First look at Garmin’s new Vivosmart activity tracker. It really is a problem as I will explain later. As far as step counts go, they are pretty close. After a few hours and 5000 steps, they were within a couple hundred. With fitness trackers, the numbers can be all over the place, so it’s a wash.

The Vivosmart also shares the movement bar and target steps with the Vivofit. The big difference being that while the Vivofit bar turns red and extends across the screen to prompt you to get up and move around, the Vivosmart is much more aggressive and vibrates.

Sadly, the way it chooses to vibrate seems to be arbitrary, or on a timer. I lost count of how many times I was up from my desk walking around when I felt a vibration on my wrist. I would look down to see if a notification came in, but it was just the band telling me to “Move”. Uh, hello? That’s what I’m doing Vivo-not-so-smart…

Music Controls

One feature that I wanted to try out were the playback controls. Or at least I thought they were playback controls and that Garmin just called them Music Controls. But no, they are music controls on the iPhone. I was listening to a podcast and hit the Play/Pause button and a song started in the Music player. It turns out that unlike most devices that control playback on the iPhone, the Vivosmart only works with the built-in music app. So, no audiobooks, podcasts, or Spotify for you.

Notifications

The main feature that got me excited about the Vivosmart was the ability to get notifications. The Vivosmart will start receiving alerts for any notification that displays on the lock screen of an iPhone (I tested this with an iPhone 6). Nothing is required. It starts receiving as soon as it is configured in Garmin Connect on the phone.

Here is an important productivity notification from the Words with Friends app:

And this is a notification from Twitter:

You scroll left and right to get through the notifications and touch the down arrow to scroll down and read the notification. As you can see, there is not much shown at a time. The Twitter notification simply shows who is sending it and my Twitter name. It disappears fairly quickly and  you have to scroll to retrieve it on the band.

Also, it actually took me several tries and angles to get the shots to be as clear as they are here. This is the ideal shot. I had a lot of trouble reading the notices on my wrist when they came in. Especially at an angle on my wrist. I found that I had to keep retrieving them again. It really is about as much trouble to pull the iPhone out of my pocket or a holster.

Compare what is shown above to what I use as my daily device for notifications – the Pebble Watch. Here is a tweet on the Pebble:

It is much clearer and you can immediately scroll up and down to read the rest of it. Also, you can click the center button to dismiss it. This removes it from both the Pebble and the lock screen on the iPhone. This is a relatively new feature on the Pebble, but still very handy.

Also, it may seem unfair to compare the Vivosmart to a full blown watch, but consider that the Pebble has been out for well over a year and is priced at $99, $70 less than the Vivosmart and has apps like Misfit to track steps and sleep as well.

Battery Life

Another consideration is battery life. And this is a big one. I had a Fitbit Flex and it got 6-7 days battery life on average. The Pebble gets 5-7 days with constant notices. The Vivosmart? Well, day one I took it out of the box and used it. That evening I got a battery low notice and it was dead within two hours. When it is dead, it’s as active as a rubber bracelet. No low battery icon or anything.

Now, in fairness, when looking at the quick start manual, the first thing shown is the following image. It seems to imply that the first thing to do is charge the device. But for how long? And why doesn’t it explicitly say it.

So, the next morning, I charged the device for some hours. It then held up for 2.5 days. Meh. Next charge was 3 days as well as the one after that, so I felt okay with it.

Then the next charge was a day and a half. And then it didn’t last from 10 AM until the next morning . I woke up and found a dead Vivosmart. When comparing it to the Vivofit which is supposed to last one year (I have had it for 3 months so far), this is aggravating.

Virb Control

The remote control for the Virb works fine. You navigate to the Virb menu and it will connect to the device. You then can tap to either record video or take a picture. The only issue is that the band goes asleep, so you have to tap to wake it, then you can tap to stop or start the recording. This added step should be considered when you are using it in the field. You will need to enable the remote setting on the Virb camera in addition to enabling the Virb screen on the Vivosmart.

Cycling

The cycling functionality is interesting. It works right away. You have to enable the feature in Garmin Connect for it to show. As soon as you have the feature enabled, you will be prompted to pedal for the device to connect to the Speed or Speed and Cadence sensor. After it has detected it, press the fitness icon (it resembles a runner) and then a play/pause button appears. This button starts a workout timer. Press that and start riding. The you can press the button again to stop the workout. Press the save button (floppy disk I wonder when that symbol will go away) to save the activity or the trash can to delete.

When you save the workout, it will automatically be loaded into Garmin Connect. You can see them below:

One really cool feature was that at the time I was wearing a heart rate monitor with a Garmin Fenix 2 watch. This heart rate monitor was detected by the Vivosmart and connected automatically without any intervention from me.

Unfortunately though, the speed was  vastly optimistic. I had me averaging 24.04 miles and hour with a top speed of 2808.14 miles per hour. I promise that I wasn’t riding a rocket at the time. The ride as tracked on the Fenix 2 with GPS is below:

Update Issues

Another issue I fought with was an inability to update the device. I kept being teased by the “New Updates Available” message in the Garmin Connect app. I would hook the VivoSmart up to external power, remove it, and then see Update Failed.

This happened numerous times. Ironically, the update it was trying to apply included “Changes to make future updates coming from iOS 8 download reliably.” in the Change History. I finally was able to get the Vivosmart to update by connecting it to my laptop and pressing and holding the battery icon. A USB icon appears that it is connected. You can then use Garmin Express which can be downloaded from www.garminconnect.com/vivosmart. On the page, in the statement “Don’t have a compatible phone? You can set up and sync your vívosmart on your computer,” click the link “on your computer.”

Conclusion

There is a lot to like about the Garmin Vivosmart, but it is not without issues. It has many features, but they are not all quite ready yet. Hopefully some of it can be improved by firmware updates. But at this point, it feels like the product is not fully baked. The device is being sold exclusively at Best Buy until November 2014 but you can pre-order it from Clever Training (This is an affiliate link and I will receive a small commission). Maybe by the time it is rolled out to a wider release, it will be more solid.

FlipBelt Review – It’ll fit the iPhone 6 Plus

 

Like I found with LaceLocker, sometimes the simplest ideas make the best products. In a day when we are trying to figure out how to carry many varied items, it can be a struggle. We often have to leave something behind.

For example, when I ran my first marathon, I had to make some decisions. Do I want to have my car key and all the gels and skip my iPhone, or do I want to leave a couple gels out. I wound up putting a couple in my short pockets and hoping for the best.

That’s where FlipBelt comes in. It is a really simple concept. It is a band made of EPA Certified, Odor Resistant, Pilling Resistant, Anti-Bacterial High Tech Poly Spandex Fabric as described on the product information page.

All along the belt, are slits that act as pockets. This offers an ingenious method of storing items like your phone, keys, gels and more. There are even hooks to help prevent your keys from slipping out.

One thing really nice about the setup is that the FlipBelt will hold a smartphone quite securely. It also allows you to shift it to nearly any location along your waist. This is especially important if you are using bluetooth headphones like the Thump BLU. You may have to place the phone in a good location to prevent clipping.

Perhaps the most important feature is that the FlipBelt will fit many different sized phones. I tested it out using my iPhone 5s, but with the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus just introduced, I was very concerned about how I could carry them. So I tested with a co-worker’s giant phone – the Samsung Note 2.

Even though FlipBelt does not claim to fit the Note 2 in their FAQ (with some qualifications). I was in fact able to fit the phone — although the FlipBelt looked like a snake consuming prey.

With the iPhone 6 Plus being even thinner than the Samsung Note 2, it should fit in the FlipBelt. It may be a little bit of a squeeze, but the FlipBelt is a definite accessory you can use to carry it while running.

The only issues I can find with the FlipBelt is that it is a quick wicking material and will absorb your sweat. After a hot run, mine becomes a DripBelt. So make sure that you put your electronics (i.e. phone) in plastic bags if that is an issue. They also claim that they will provide a free plastic bag with your purchase in their FAQ, but when I went to the checkout, I only saw the option to buy a three pack. I will email support about that.

Overall, the FlipBelt is a very good product that serves a need for flexible, light storage. It is very comfortable to wear and delivers on its promise.

FlipBelts can be ordered at flipbelt.com or from Amazon below. I will get a small commission for the sales.

 

 

Thump Bluetooth Headphones – Review

I visited the Thump Booth at the expo for the Virginia Beach Rock & Roll Half Marathon. There, I had the opportunity to meet the CEO of Thump, Todd Beetcher. His company originally named QAK was a start-up founded in 2011 as mentioned in the 2012 Denver Post article Headphones making noise, and Colorado companies join the party. It is a real treat to be able to speak to the owner of a company about his product. And Todd the “Thump-meister” is excited about his products.

Thump has four models of headphones starting with the entry level wired Thump Rap. Their mid-tier headphone is the Thump Blu — this was the one that founded the company. There is an advanced version of bluetooth headphones with the Thump XTreme. And they also have the Thump Fin which is a self contained mp3 player and headphone set for swimmers.

I am a major music, podcast, and audiobook addict so I bought a pair of Thump Blu to try out. I already have used several types of Bluetooth headphones with the Motorola SD-11 HD Flex being my current gold standard, so I will use them for comparisons.

The headphones come in a very nice reinforced Thump Case, which can be purchased separately. It is very solid, but light and pleasing to handle. It definitely will protect the headphones along with a couple other items.

As can be seen below, there is not a lot of excess packaging. Just the headphones, a quick start card, and the power supply. But not much more is needed. Just press the Phone button and hold until the blue and red LEDs are alternating and then open the Bluetooth settings on your phone. I tested with an iPhone 5s and it worked fine. It should work well with any modern smartphone that supports Bluetooth A2DP. Essentially most smart phones within the past 5 years should support.

The headphones themselves are very light which is good and don’t really draw a lot of attention to themselves. They also are designed to wear either above or below the ear, which is really unique. This enables them to be worn when laying back, dealing with a headrest and they can fit under a bike helmet. I successfully wore them under a bike helmet over the ear and didn’t have a need to try them the other way. I do prefer the sound when they are over my ears.

The sound of the headphones is very good. It is nicely balanced with a full spacious tone. They are not as bass driven as some headphones, but that is not a bad thing. They still sound rich and have good clarity.

One nice feature of the headphones that really like over the Motorola S10s, S11s, or even some Plantronics Backbeat 903+ that I have is the control functions. With all of my bluetooth headphones, I find it difficult to work the volume while wearing them.

I find it so difficult that I actually am in the habit of turning up the volume all the way and then using the volume on the side of the phone to control levels. This is not the case with the Thump BLU. It has discreet volume buttons that are easy to find and manipulate. This is a huge feature for convenience. Another usability feature involves moving forward and backward through tracks.

On the Motorola units, I have to double-tap a button to advance and triple-tap to reverse. I usually can advance fine, but reversing often involves multiple attempts. When running, this is difficult. The Plantronics were so hard for me to manipulate, I forgot how to even do it with them.

The last feature of the phone is a really good battery life. It advertises 7 hours off of a 1 hour charge and I feel it delivers on this. I do find it odd that it uses a USB Mini cable instead of the more commonly used USB micro. Also, while it delivers and excellent battery life, how do you know when the battery is dead? […] Yep. Silence. It’s little disconcerting. You hit play a couple times when the music stops before you realize that the battery is just dead. There is no warning.

The headphones are sweat resistant, but not waterproof. Keep this in mind. If you are planning to run in a heavy downpour, This is the statement on the Website:

Built for active people, Thump Blu is designed to be sweat resistant. We have a lot of runners who ask about rain. The simple answer is put it away. Thump Blu is not designed to be a water resistant device.

Also note, if you are a heavy sweater like I have been in the high heat and humidity lately, you might have troubles. I was running and sweating like mad on tempo run and one of the earpieces stop emitting sound. I thought I might have burned it up. But when I blew on it, some weak sound came out. Later, when I was in the light, I was able to see that within the earpiece is very fine screen. This screen can capture the sweat, which in turn acts like a film and obstructs the sound.

Also, note that the Thump Blu should not be worn in the front of the body in the belt buckle region. Due to the electronic placement, you will likely experience clipping (where sound cuts out for short periods). This is because your body is a giant bag of water and that can obstruct the signal. This is very common with bluetooth headphones and something I have suffered with all of them but the Motorola S10 and S11 series.

Overall, the Thump BLU is a solid product and a good entry level headset in the world of bluetooth headphones. It has a reasonable price in an area where $100+ is the typical starting point and sounds very good.

They can be ordered at http://thumpu.com or at Amazon using my affiliate link below:

Bio Skin Calf Sleeves – Serious Compression [Updated]

Some weeks ago, I was asked to be an ambassador for the company Bio Skin. I told them that I needed to review a product and they offered to send a product and told me that their calf sleeves were especially popular.

I have never really been a big believer in Calf sleeves. I thought that they might look silly on me. But after suffering foot issues on and off for a while, it was between flare ups. This let me observe that my calves were extremely tight. Actually, some of my recent foot problems can be tied to the tightness in my calves pulling on my heels.

So, I decided that the calf sleeves would be a good choice. First thing, I had to measure to get the right size. I used a high-tech method involving earbuds and a ruler. I wrapped the earbuds around the thickest part of my calf and then laid it on a ruler, noted the spot, slid it up and added the totals. After doing this a couple times, I determined my calves were 16.5-17 inches. This put me right in XL or 16-18 inches.

The calf sleeves arrived in very straightforward no-frills packaging. The package is a recycling code of 1 or PET which I can recycle with the city, so big thumbs up there.

 

I pulled out the sleeves and they were.. Well, calf sleeves. The pair I got was black and no frills. Just the way I like it.

The material is hard to describe. It is definitely not your standard nylon/spandex blend.

I decided to put them on and feel how they worked before I tried to run with them in the early morning. I am not exactly a mental giant in the early AM.

I took them out the package, pulled on the top and the bottom to stretch them a little, and pulled them up my leg. They recommend that you don’t use any kind of lotion or have wet legs. This is a good idea because I had to get them off. That is where the hilarity ensued.

I walked around with them on for a few to see how they felt. It was very interesting. I haven’t worn compression before, so it was a new sensation for me. Then it was time for removal… I didn’t plan very well for this. I pulled them down and got one just over my heel.

It locked and I yanked. And twisted. And rolled. And had my wife laughing and taking pictures with the phone.

Finally I got one off and had to repeat the process with the second.

Well, it turns out that Bio Skin has a video up on YouTube describing how to work with the Calf Sleeves. DOH! Folks, I offer this service. I do stupid things so you don’t have to.

After I mastered the art of actually removing the calf skins, I put them up for a later run. That came a couple days later. I put them on, did my typical stretches (very light and half dynamic), and went for an easy run. I didn’t want to try too many miles on my first go.

I made it not quite a half mile when I felt an extreme cramping in my legs. It was like a herd of charley horses traversing my calves. I immediately yanked them down, massaged my calves and stretched until the pain subsided. I then ran 7.5 more miles and finished my run with some odd looking ankle bands.

In fairness, I was told that these calf skins were very compressive and needed to be broken in. As you can see from my earlier tale, I don’t always follow advice.

Since they are also made for post run recovery, I decided that I would use them after the Rock ‘n Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon. Three days before the half marathon, I had a flare-up of a shin splint on my right leg that made me cut my run short.

I pulled out the Bio Skins and begin to wear them for a couple hours each day and by Saturday, I ran 10K without much pain in my right leg at all.

The half marathon turned out to be a disaster (I will be writing a race report) between my right leg, record heat and humidity — it turns out that it was the hottest in the history of the event — and dead legs from some tough training the week before. But, I did use the Bio Skins all afternoon and much of my leg pain was abated.

I do recommend this product with the caveat that it is some serious compression. I think of it as almost medical grade versus consumer. Take your time with them and really break them in. They are a definitely quality product.

UPDATE

I have been suffering with a serious shin splint on my right leg. After resting for an extra day and some serious icing, I was able to complete 7 miles wearing the Bio Skin Calf Sleeves. After wearing them several times in the days leading up, I had no trouble with them on the run and can credit them for helping me to get through it. I had no swelling afterward as well. Very cool. Very satisfied. Just make sure that you break them in a little.

Where to buy

You can purchase the calf sleeves using this link  Bio Skin Calf Sleeves. It is an affiliate link and I do earn a commission from it. However, I would not link to it if I didn’t feel it was a quality product.

If you are looking for other recovery products, you can also go to their main site at bioskin.com.