Category Archives: My Points of View

My approaches, opinions on various running related matter. Not necessarily grounded in any evidence or research, just the thoughts of an average runner.

StravistiX – Awesome analysis for Strava

Introduction

A while back I came across an addon for Strava called “StravistiX“. Its totally free and it gets installed as a Google Chrome browser extension – but only works on your computer rather than on your mobile devices. (The extension exists for Opera too which is a lesser used browser, but not for Firefox, which is more well used which is a bit odd). I already think Strava is amazing for training analysis, but StravistiX takes things a step further.

What it does is embeds extra bits and bobs (OK, stats if you want to get technical) into the Strava website as you are browsing it. Some are more interesting and useful than others admittedly, but they recently introduced a feature that really opened my eyes. Apparently, something similar is already in Strava, but only for Cycling data and only with a Premium subscription. Its also the same as the Performance Chart in Training Peaks, but again requires a premium subscription.

So, for StravistiX to have this for free is a real bonus.

Once the addon is installed, you configure the settings to tell it your weight, gender, age and configure things like your heart rate and pace zones. You can also turn on and off features you do and don’t want to use. I haven’t tried all of them as there are a LOT, so the rest of the post is on the features I’ve tried, and I like.

Stravistix Settings

Subtle Enhancements to Strava

First up there’s this tile which gets added to your Profile page (It displays for you only on your profile) and shows you where you are at this year versus your previous years activity history – helpful if you want to “beat” last years mileage goal or something similar!

Stravistix Progressions for Strava

The Flyby is a feature in Strava I love to use because I’m a nosy so and so. When I’m out running and I pass someone who is absolutely flying, when I get back I look at my Flyby, and if they are on Strava I can see what session they were doing and view the activity data. Admittedly, its a bit stalky but its also helpful when looking at a race and see how you tore away from (or got left for dust) by the rest of the field! StravistiX embeds the Flyby button to every activity on your activity feed, so its easy to access the Flyby much faster.

Stravistix Flyby for Strava

The next panel appears when you are viewing an activity. It gives you some great additional stats for that activity, like how much of it were you climbing. It also shows you your “TRIMP”. This stands for “TRaining IMPulse” and I’ll talk about that a bit later in the post, but its similar to your Suffer Score – which is only available to Strava Premium members – so this is another free alternative to premium membership!

Enhanced training stats for Strava by Stravistix

Clicking the “Show Extended Statistics” button then lets you see full screen a full and detailed analysis of your data. The “Grade” information is shown below. But it also shows you heart rate, pace, cadence, and elevation. It splits them all into fully configurable Zones so you can see the effect of grade on your pace and heart rate, for example. Strava limits these zones, so having flexibility to add more could be attractive for some people.

Grade chart for Strava by Stravistix
Segments are one of my favourite things about Strava, and StravistiX have enhanced the segment view too. It adds some extra columns and colours to the segments that you crossed in your activity, so you can analyse your segment attempts directly on the list. It shows how far away you were from the CR, your PR and your ranking against the leaderboard for the effort.
Strava Segment Analysis by Stravistix

But now for something a whole lot more interesting…

The “Multi-Sport Fitness Trend”

Recently StravistiX released this (rather wordy – why not just “Fitness Trend”) feature and it seemed… somewhat familiar. Confusing, yet familiar. It essentially examines your training history and plots it into a chart showing 3 key metrics, all based around your “TRIMP” – I told you I’d come back to it!

TRIMP

TRIMP is your TRaining IMPulse and is a measure of the amount of effort you put into an activity. It calculates it based upon your heart rate during the activity and the zones you are working in. It’s just like Strava showing you your Suffer Score. The longer you run the higher your score gets. But if you are running “easy” then the score accrues at a lower rate then if you are running at your lactate threshold. So harder runs accrue a higher TRIMP. It does this totally dynamically, so is you have 2 miles easy, 4 miles at threshold and 2 miles recovery, it will accrue the score based upon just that, so for 2 miles your TRIMP will accrue slowly, for 4 miles it increases quickly, then for 2 more it accrues more slowly.

Fitness, Fatigue and Form

It uses these TRIMP scores, applies some calculations and plots them into a whizzy chart as 3 different metrics.

The first metric is called “Fitness”. This a rolling average of your TRIMP over the last 42 days and is also known as your Chronic Training Load – it gives an indicator of how fit you are based upon your training history. So, if you had a week with no running, this would slowly decrease – after all you don’t suddenly become unfit overnight! Similarly if you ran a bunch of hard efforts this would slowly increase as you can’t suddenly become more fit just because you ran a couple of hard efforts!

The flip side to your running – particularly running hard – is that you get fatigued. The harder you run (higher TRIMP) the more fatigued you are afterwards. The Fitness Trend tracks the average of your last 7 days exertions to give you your “Fatigue” score, also known as Acute Training Load. So, if you don’t run any hard sessions for a week, your Fatigue score will drop more drastically than  your Fitness Score as its based on your short term rather than your long term history.

Thankfully, the third metric is simpler to understand. It’s called “Form” and is quite simply your FitnessFatigue. So lets say your Fitness is 80 and your Fatigue is 90. Your Form is -10. This indicates that you are a bit tired and not quite race sharp – You are more fatiguesd than you are fit. On the other hand, lets say your Fitness remained at 80, but your fatigue is only 70 – this gives you a Form of +10 – you are less fatigued and sharper to race (or indeed run a hard session)!

Practicalities – Using Form Zones

Looking at it like that it really does confirm the old adage that there really are no short cuts to “Fitness” – the less fatigued you are, the better you race. Not exactly rocket science I know, and it’s intel we all (should)  know anyway, but seeing this visually plotted over time is much more helpful than simply seeing your Strava suffer score for your single activity.

But with all these things, the tool is only useful if you can use it practically. So, what can you actually use it for. A recent addition to the tool has added “Form Zones” so you can see roughly how these efforts are/should be affecting your training and race performance.

The below is taken directly from the StravistiX documentation.

  • +25 < Form : Transition zone. Athlete is on form. Case where athlete has an extended break. (e.g. illness, injury or end of the season).
  • +5 < Form < +25 : Freshness Zone. Athlete is on form. Ready for a race.
  • -10 < Form < +5 : Neutral Zone. Zone reached typically when athlete is in a rest or recovery week. After a race or hard training period.
  • -30 < Form < -10 : Optimal Training Zone.
  • Form < -30 : Over Load Zone. Athlete is on overload or over-training phase. He should take rest
  1. You can use your current form to make sure you push your training load so that your hard efforts are greater than your current fitness, but in a sensible way. By keeping your form between -30 and -10 is the sustainable way to see your perfromance improve. Any less than this and the benefits of your training will likely be negligible.
  2. You  can also see if you are over-training and risking injury by seeing a sharp spike in your “Fatigue” score as it will push you into the “Over Load Zone” The longer and higher you push that spike above your current fitness, the longer you’ll spend in this zone and the greater the injury risk. So if you are pushing that Form Score beyond -30 then beware.
  3. It shows quite clearly why you should avoid back to back hard efforts and how important rest is – you simply keep accruing fatigue and pushing your “Form” lower and lower below 0, risking bad things happening to your body. It also shows how important it is for recovery runs to be just that – they maintain your fitness but reduce your fatigue, as long as you do them at the right effort.
  4. It highlights the need for regular “quality” sessions to push you beyond your current “Fitness” score. If you aren’t pushing yourself regularly your form will slip into the “Neutral” zone. This is the zone you’ll find yourself in if you are in a recovery phase/week, or are tapering for a race. If you are spending a long period of time in this zone you are likely putting in “junk” miles and you’ll not see any long term improvement by hanging around in here!
  5. You can tell when you are ready to race as you’ll find your form in the “Freshness” zone, which will be somewhere between +5 and +25. Your short term intensity has lowered meaning your fatigue has dropped below your fitness score so you are fresh to race! This is evidenced quite nicely in the attached section from my chart – I didn’t think I was capable of the PB I got at Poole last year, but the chart shows my Fatigue had reduced by the perfect amount. Now if I see a Form score like that before a race I’ll know I can give it a good effort!
  6. You can, to some degree, use it to plan or at least assess your taper. Over time and history you know the sorts of sessions you will be running and what your TRIMP is likely to be and you can work out when you might peak. I might be a nice feature addition to allow a user to enter some values here to model their taper.
  7. The basic rules of cause and effect are, you train at a certain speed for a certain time you get better at running that speed. To get faster you need to push yourself on further again. I use McMillan to reassess my training paces after a race normally, but when training this might not be frequent enough. Now, I can see when my training reaches a plateau as I would be in the Neutral zone, even though I’m not doing a recovery or taper week. With this intelligence I can assess if I need to increase my training paces to increase the training stimulus. This should ensure a faster increase in performance as long as you don’t overly fatigue yourself in the process.

Review

I was blown away by this feature. Really. To some degree just because it proved that my training methodology made some sense, but mainly because I can see, long term, how this can help me improve as a runner.

It’s not anything particularly new – The creator credits Banister and Coggan (References below) who came up with and improved this concept  – but embedding it into your existing Strava data was jsut really nice and so easy to use. It took my some time to understand but once I did, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by it.

StravistiX have done a lot of hard work and made this free, Full credit to Thomas Champagne for a brilliant app. I will be donating to the project in thanks.

THIS POST WAS UPDATED 11th January 2017 to reflect great new additions to Fitness Trend.

Credits

Thanks to this article which explained to me what these numbers actually meant on a practical level. Credit: Training Peaks http://home.trainingpeaks.com/blog/article/applying-the-numbers-part-3-training-stress-balance

BANISTER, E. W. 1991. Modeling Elite Athletic Performance. In: MACDOUGALL, J. D., WENGER, H. A. & GREEN, H. J. (eds.) Physiological Testing of Elite Athletes. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics

Wikipedia also has more information on the topic: http://fellrnr.com/wiki/Modeling_Human_Performance

Stravistix use the attached link as a source of information and I read it too to understand the practical uses of the zones: http://www.joefrielsblog.com/2015/12/managing-training-using-tsb.html

 

Vitality London 10,000 2016: Race Report

I’d booked this race many months ago, as I had such a great time in the 2014 staging of the event. It’s a popular 10k held in London, with the race assembly area on the Mall right in front of Buckingham Palace and the finish on “Spur road” – the last corner of the London Marathon – taking in many popular landmarks along the route.

Waking up on Monday morning, I quite frankly couldn’t have been in a fouler mood. I’d had a few bad runs in the week leading up to the race, my legs weren’t playing ball and I thought I’d actually run slower than my PB – a time I had since beaten as part of both Bramley 10m and the Cardiff World Half Marathon!

We arrived late, the weather was overcast and I needed the loo. And the queue was predictably enormous. It all felt like a bit of a waste of time and money. Not only for the entry, but the fuel, the parking and the train.

With all that in mind though, there we were, Jodie and I, plus Imogen, Lauren’s friend who was running her first 10k. Jodie was planning to run with Imogen all the way,  which given that she’s 7 and a half months pregnant was probably a wise choice!

We went our separate ways before I went to the toilet stop as I was in a different wave and needed to check my bag. The toilet queue made me stress even more but actually moved quite quickly, and I made it into the start pen with about 10 minutes to spare.

Before long, and without too much fanfare, we were off.

mfearly

My strategy was to target about 6.45 pace which would have been sub-42, a 45 second PB. I didn’t think I’d get it, but I figured at the worst I’d still fall inside the PB even if I slowed up.

The course itself differed this year from when I ran it in 2014. There was more running through buildings and no running on the Embankment, which was a bit of a shame as that was one of my favorite parts of the course as it took in basically the last 2 miles of the London Marathon.

10k2014
2014 Course
10k2016
2016 Course

The course is advertised as predominantly flat, though I found the profile actually quite odd. I had no feeling like I was really running uphill at all at any point of the race, but there were certainly some fast downhill sections. Looking at the course profile it looks like there was a lot of climbing in the first mile – thankfully I didn’t notice it! According to Strava, there was 161ft elevation gain in total.

london10kprofile

During that race we ran through Trafalgar square, the theatre district, past St Paul’s Cathedral… not that I saw any of them. I DO remember passing Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament and Birdcage Walk though.

Aside from my personal preference of the “sights en-route” being better on the old course, the biggest problem with the ne course was the narrowness of the course after Trafalgar Square. Running down the Strand was VERY congested right up until we got to Aldwych were it seemed to open up, but until then it was almost impossible to find a comfortable stride and space to run unimpeded.

The support through the race was excellent and I can’t think of anywhere en route that was sparsely cheered.

mffinish

My first mile was a little slower than I would have liked, but I didn’t realise it was net uphill. I managed to bring the pace down a bit for mile 2 but it went up again for 3. Strangely however, I crossed the 5k mats in 20.55. This was encouraging for 2 reasons. Firstly, this was the time I ran Yeovilton 5k in a couple of weeks ago – where I died on my arse – and was still feeling pretty comfortable. Secondly, My watch didn’t register that it was 5k yet and was coming up short, which meant my pace was actually OK.

With this in mind, I pushed on for the second half and ran a very creditable second half in about 20.35(ish). With the last 1.2 miles at a decent pace I really didn’t expect to have at all, yet alone in the final stages. This resulted in a tidy negative split too, which I was very pleased about!

10kanalysis

So in spite of my foul mood trying its hardest, I actually came away with a PB. Now don’t get me wrong I still don’t feel in great shape. I still think back when I was in Marathon peak form pre-Manchester I think i could have managed a sub-40. If I hadn’t had such a shocking post-Manchester recovery, and I’d been able to kick on I think I could have managed it too. But c’est la vie. It’s still great for the confidence that it’s somewhere in the right direction, better than Yeovilton last month.

The finishing funnel was excellently managed, people kept getting moved on and the tag was removed on a funky bridge – saving the volunteers backs – which was a great idea.

Then to top this off, the goody bag was absolutely first class. An Adidas “Response” technical tee, cracking medal, loads of food and drink too. Probably the best goody bag I’ve ever had.

20160530_111033_resized

Considering the price of this race was only £28, I felt that this was EXCELLENT value for a city center race with such a good atmosphere and goody bag.

The only down side was the queue for the baggage. By no means as bad as the Manchester Marathon fiasco, but still quite a wait.

After I finished my race I went to find Lauren who was supporting and cheered in Jodie and Imogen at the 150m to go point. They looked really strong, Imogen ran really well and I think she actually enjoyed it too.

20160530_112814_resized

All in all, a fabulous race and we will certainly be back – a highly recommended race.

20160530_122113_resized

 

 

Epson Runsense SF-810: GPS Accuracy

I was selected as an “Epson Runner” to review the Epson Runsense SF-810. In exchange for 5 video reviews I’ll be allowed to keep the watch, but that’s not going to stop me being honest about the device and my experiences.

http://www.100runnertesters.co.uk

Some key points from my findings on the GPS accuracy

  • The GPS does seem very accurate, especially compared to the Garmin Forerunner 220
  • The usage of GPS for pace and speed on the device is excellent
  • The AGPS feature to push GPS satellite information results in a fast GPS lock, but its VERY slow without it
  • If the bluetooth communication with the device was “Always on” this would be an improvement

Review: Garmin Forerunner 235

I recently purchased the Garmin Forerunner 235. When I make an expensive purchase like this (It was expensive to me anyway!), I try to be careful and do my research –  so I know I get what I want AND need.

After having my Forerunner 220 for over 3 years, I figured I was due an upgrade. Running watches are expensive, but if you think that I’ve used mine 5 times a week for 3 years, that’s 750 outings. For a watch priced at £250, that equates to about £0.33 per run. That’s significantly cheaper than a coach and represents good value in my eyes.

Which Watch?

I did a bit of looking around and had a think about what I really wanted in my new watch. Optical heart rate was on the list (one less device to worry about and reduced aggravation on my chest from the strap). Activity tracking was another feature I was keen on, as was a device with some better GPS accuracy.

These features were all “nice to haves” along with what I consider my absolute essentials.

1. Must have heart rate monitoring
2. Footpod/cadence capability
3. Programmable workouts
4. Strava integration
5. Customisable data screens so I can have timer, lap pace and distance on the same screen

When it boiled down to it, there were a lot of devices that fit the bill, many offering a feature set far in excess of what I actually needed and would have found useful on a practical level.

For example, it may be nice to know what my Vertical Oscillation is, along with my ground contact time – but I can’t say that’s really going to help me run faster, not at my standard.

Equally there are a number of devices on the market now which will let you play music through them – but I don’t listen to music, so wouldn’t want a watch with that feature on it.

What I think I am saying is, “Only pay for what you need or are likely to find helpful”. When I compared all the facts against my requirements, the Garmin Forerunner 235 hit all the right notes.

Garmin Forerunner 235

The device itself comes in 3 different colour options, but the one I went for was black and grey as it looked most like a “day-to-day” watch. I personally wear my Garmin all the time anyway, but as this devices doubles up as an activity tracker, people who wouldn’t usually wear a Garmin all day would probably want something that blends in with their non-running wear!

Garmin Forerunner 235 - Top

Garmin Forerunner 235 - Side Speaking of day-to-day use, the watch face itself is pretty clear. It comes with a highly programmable alarm, and you can set multiple different alarms for different days of the week – which crucially you can set to repeat. This is a brilliant feature as far as I’m concerned, as on my 220 I used to have to turn it back on every day and adjust the time at the weekends.

The charge cable for the Garmin Forerunner 235 is different to the 220, and features a side clip instead of the “right around the back” method. This makes the cable much smaller, but less easy to identify in a laptop bag filled with cables like mine is!

Size wise it is on a par with the 220 and weighs slightly less – I barely feel like I am wearing it most of the time.

Some reviews I have read have complained about the backlight being too dim – I’ve run plenty of times in the dark and it is more than bright enough to read the screen.

Unfortunately, I also read that the alert sounds on the device are a bit quiet – and I have to say I agree. Even when I am running on my own with no traffic around, I struggle to hear the alerts over the sound of my own breathing. There doesn’t seem to be a volume control either – thankfully the vibrate is just about strong enough so I don’t miss my laps.

I’ve also heard some negative feedback on the user interface when using the watch. In my humble opinion, this is the simplest user interface I’ve found on a running watch. It’s very easy to navigate around, make selections, and you can clearly see whats turned on and off using easy to understand logos and symbols… to me it just seems very well designed.

Features

With all the above in mind, lets dig into some of the highlighted features the Garmin Forerunner 235 offers.

Optical Heart Rate

One of the big selling points for me (and probably others) is the Optical Heart Rate sensor that’s built into the watch. I don’t want to worry about using an HR strap as well as a watch so this should be the right solution.

I’d heard mixed reviews on the implementation of the sensor into the Garmin Forerunner 235, with negative comments around the reliability of “locking onto” the heart beat, through to it missing the mark completely and over or understating stating the heart rate readings.

Personally, I’ve had a mixed bag of results but ultimate agree with other people’s comments and views.

Shown below is the data captured from a basic recovery run – the first I did with the watch. Despite running at a very relaxed comfortable conversational pace, it massively overstated my heart rate throughout the workout. Using my personal knowledge of my effort during the run, I know the data should have mostly been in Zone 2, with a bit in Zone 3.

Garmin Forerunner 235 - HR Woes

The next diagram is taken from a long run (20 miles) the day after the previous diagram, and the data here is much more in line with what I would expect to have seen, given the type of run and the effort I put in.

Garmin Forerunner 235 - HR Woes 2

The next chart comes from an easy run. With this data set it’s difficult for me to work out of the chart is right, as it did feel tough – but given the previous two runs I naturally had limited confidence in the watch.  So during the “cool down” phase of this run (Which I had on a programmable workout for the last 10 minutes), I took deliberately the watch off completely, and the watch continued to record a heart rate of 160+! This is obviously not a good result.

Garmin Forerunner 235 - HR Woes 3

The last diagram is from an Interval workout I performed yesterday. If you look at the data you can see the HR for the first part of the workout (and the first 3 interval reps) reps was woefully shoddy, before picking up again and seemingly being right for the rest of the run.

Garmin Forerunner 235 - HR Woes 4

 

I tweeted Garmin about it who gave me some advice on improving the accuracy (Which is what resulted in a good set of data for my long run), but despite carefully wearing the watch following that guidance I’m still experiencing issues.

Rumour on the Garmin forums is that an update is due to help with this, so i’ll wait and see if this helps (if and when it arrives).

So basically, at the moment it’s not good. It’s just not reliable enough for the data it produces to have any meaning.

A plus point is that I can override the Optical Heart Rate Sensor by pairing the watch with my old strap, but that defeats the object of having the Garmin Forerunner 235 over the 230 (And paying more for it).

EDIT: Following some further research, It seems I may not be wearing the watch tight enough. I’ll retry it and report back with my results next week.

GPS + GLONASS

There’s a great feature in this watch which they call “GPS and GLONASS”. GLONASS is the Russian set of satellites that they use for GPS, which means by using GPS AND GLONASS you get double the amount of satellites to your Garmin Forerunner 235 uses to track your activity.

In addition to this, the 235 now offers “1 second recording” for your activities. This means it will record your GPS location every second. The other option – “Smart” recording – which the 220 used instead, detecting when you were running in a straight line and then record fewer data points as it was “smart” enough to know when you were not weaving around too much. This saved battery but if you made a sharp turn it would often not quite “get it” and result in your run recording as a shorter distance than you actually completed.

Additionally, the watch downloads GPS satellite coordinates whenever its synced with Garmin Connect/Mobile. This results in a super-fast satellite lock-on. I was indoors when I first tried it out, and it acquired a GPS fix in seconds!

Essentially, by using GPS, GLONASS and 1 second recording, your Garmin Forerunner 235 should be faster than ever locking on to satellites, and also show an increase in GPS accuracy.

The downside to this is that it results in increased battery consumption. That’s a downside I’m willing to take – it’s not an inconvenience to charge the battery twice a week (See below), especially as using the combination of GPS, GLONASS and 1 second recording produced such accurate results.

From an accuracy point of view, it really is excellent. Of course, its difficult to contextualize this because often implementation of route overlays on a map don’t correlate, but when I’ve made sharp turns or crossed roads, the Garmin Forerunner 235 records them much better than the 220 did.

Garmin Forerunner 235 - Good GPS Accuracy

Garmin Forerunner 235 - Good GPS Accuracy 2

Now, this is all fine when it comes to reviewing the activity in Garmin Connect afterwards, but unfortunately there seems to be a bit of lag when its displaying things on the device. For example, I found that my Lap pace on the watch was a bit “laggy” and struggled to keep up. Early in the lap it would show a much slower pace and then gradually re-adjust until it was correct at the end of the lap. I had a similar issue when I first got my 220 though and this was fixed over time with subsequent software updates.

Customized Data Screens

The main improvement with the Garmin Forerunner 235 over the 220 is around data screens. Not only can you now display 4 metrics instead of 3, there is a wealth of new fields you can display.

This includes temperature fields (Current, and Min/Max in the last 24 hours), lap counter and your navigational heading, as well as some other (To me) non-essential features. But more importantly, your key metrics like distance, speed, cadence and heart rate are all now displayable as “Current”, “Lap Average”, “Average” and “Last Lap” – much better than the 220.

Additionally you can have graphs and charts for your Heart Rate zones as a data screen, and add custom data fields and screens using Connect IQ – but more on that later.

I am very happy with this level of configuration.

Activity Tracking

The device also acts as an activity tracker. It records your heart rate all day, counts your steps, and records your sleep.

Having watched the step counter tick up as I walk, its pretty accurate. I can also vouch for the all day HR being pretty accurate, having done some spot checks while manually checking my pulse.

It does some clever things on the display which shows how its gone up and down in the last 4 hours, and then also calculates what your resting heart rate is. It seems to be pretty accurate there too.

One of the things I also like on the Garmin Forerunner 235 is the sleep tracking. What it seems to do is track your movement along with your heart rate in order to determine your level of sleep. I have no idea if this is right, nor how accurate it is, but when looking at my sleep charts it at least detects the right time I am going to sleep and waking up. I am relying on good faith as to how much of my sleep is “deep” and how much is “light” though!

Garmin Forerunner 235 - Sleep Tracking

The implementation on the watch for activity tracking is good too. All I need to do to see it is scroll through the watch faces and it shows me all I need to. I can turn these on and off using Connect IQ.

Programmable Workouts

One of my key use cases for my watch is using Garmin’s programmable workouts. it keeps me focused in the right pace zones at the right times and keeps me honest. I use a custom workout 95% of the time I am running.

It’s easy to push them to the watch (Either manually or by syncing my whole calendar) and selecting them to use on the Garmin Forerunner 235 is very easy.

Unfortunately, the device has had some issues in implementing them. Specifically, at the end of a “workout step” it sometimes seems to insert a random lap.

This is a workout I programmed and selected on the watch. A simple 8 mile run at a certain pace zone.

Workout

When I actually did the workout, it inserted these random laps for no apparent reason. I originally thought that it was a watch glitch, but it is displaying them in the recorded data too.

Garmin Forerunner 235 - Workout Split Issues

These can’t have been added manually (via lap button press) as when you are mid workout, pressing lap would skip you to the next step. The total number of legitimate laps still equates to 8, so I have no idea where these came from!

The main problem for me though is that I want the watch to beep at me when I’m running too quickly or too slowly. At the moment this doesn’t work either.

It’s a minor gripe, but an annoyance that needs to be fixed. According to the Garmin forum these are confirmed bugs though, so I hope to see them resolved in the next update.

Connect IQ

Connect IQ is a bit like an App store for your watch. You can use it to install custom watch faces, custom data fields, and even rudimentary “apps” to your watch.

The “watch faces” customisation is quite a nice feature – If you don’t want to use the default display, you can install an “analogue style” watch face instead for example. There are dozens to choose from in the Connect IQ “Store”.

Similarly, I really like the customisable data fields. One feature I wanted was a “Virtual pacer”, which is available on the higher end watches. It’s not available natively on the Garmin Forerunner 235, but someone has developed it in Connect IQ, so if I wanted to use it for a race, I can now add it to my watch screen.

“Apps” can also be installed to the watch for a variety of reasons, like showing the weather, installing basic games etc – but I have to say I haven’t found one that’s really useful yet.

All the Connect IQ installations happen within Garmin Connect (And Mobile) and then you turn them on and off on the watch ad-hoc.

Bluetooth

The Bluetooth connectivity is excellent. When I had the Forerunner 220, it was hit and miss at best – I regularly had to repair the device to get my runs uploaded. With the Garmin Forerunner 235 its MUCH more robust and reliable and I have had no problems with it at all.

Another “smart” addition to the bluetooth connectivity is using “Smart Notifications”. Your phone will pass you the push notifications it receives and display them to you on the watch display (You configure what you receive from which phone apps using Garmin Connect Mobile). You can’t reply to them, but it is enough for you to be able to work out if something needs immediate action or not. Of course, this will only work if you are carrying your phone with you on the run!

Battery Life

I had read bad things about the battery life on the Garmin Forerunner 235, but I have to say it’s not anything I have  had a problem with.

With the following set up, over 4 days constant use, I used 80% of the battery.

  • GPS and GLONASS
  • Backlight lasting 15 seconds with Wrist Turn
  • Smart Notifications on (Receiving about 50-60 per day)
  • Bluetooth always on
  • 24 hour heart rate on
  • Activity tracking on
  • Running 35 miles (4 hours)

That really doesn’t seem too unreasonable to me. It isn’t a hardship to charge it up every few days. We have to charge our phones, tablets, laptops and other devices after all.

It clearly has enough battery to last at least 40 miles which is plenty for me. I reckon if I turned Bluetooth off I’d get a lot more than that too.

Pros

  • Great day-to-day watch features
  • Highly configurable alarm
  • Activity tracking and 24 hour heart rate works well
  • Sleep tracking seems pretty accurate
  • Bluetooth connectivity is seamless and excellent
  • Good (in my opinion) battery life

Cons

  • Alerts are very quiet
  • Optical HR is highly inconsistent
  • Programmable workouts produce random laps.

Summary

Weirdly despite some critical issues at the moment, I still love the Garmin Forerunner 235. It clearly needs to do something with the optical HR which I know is coming, and I will log a support ticket with Garmin about the Workout programming and Alert volume, as when they have cracked those it really will be a top end device.

This review has been entirely based upon my user experience. if you want something more in-depth I can highly recommend DC Rainmaker’s review which really is excellently detailed and doubles up as a practical user guide.

Do you remember your first run?

I started reminiscing about my first run on my way to work the other day.

Obviously the first time I ran was as a small child… But after a decade with no exercise from my teens to my twenties, my first run as an adult was naturally tough.

Not my first run
Not my first run, but the first time I’d let myself get photographed doing it. Now I’m a vain photo whore.

The decision to start running wasn’t one that I made overnight. After dieting for years and my weight plateauing, I knew I’d need to do some exercise if I wanted to shift any more.

I’d tried the gym a couple of times with no success, and my fried Jules mentioned to me that a few years ago she did this “couch to 5k” thing. Intrigued, I asked about it, and she said she downloaded these podcasts by Robert Ullrey. My addiction to running is almost entirely his fault.

Its basically your standard couch to 5k program, but in mp3 form. This was before the days of apps, and a step up from the “stopwatch” route. It was cheesy american dance music with him telling you when to start and stop running.

I ran in a pair of Umbro football shorts with boxers underneath, a cotton tee shirt, cotton sports socks, and my budget MP3 player and cheap earphones in my pocket.

Not a piece of technical kit or GPS in sight.

I had to run in the dark as I was so self conscious about the way I looked and we ran up and down the Ninesprings cycle path – which to this day remains one of my “bread and butter” routes. Traffic free and flat.

That first run saw 60 seconds of “running”, 90 seconds of walking, and repeated 8 times. After every minute of running I was immeasurably grateful of the walk break, and by the end of the session I felt exhausted – but looking forward to the next one.

Looking back on it I began thinking to myself – I barely covered a mile in 20 minutes for that first run, and now I can run 3 in the same amount of time.

And that makes me so proud.

Not that I’m now 3 times faster than when I started – that’s just a consequence. I’m proud that I started at all.

And when I’m in that last 10k at the Manchester Marathon this year, when the chips are down and I’m blowing hard, wondering how the hell I’m going to finish, when I’m on the edge of collapse as I chase that elusive PB that will feel like the end of the world if I miss it – I’ll remember how I felt towards the end of that first minute of running, on that first run of the couch to 5k program.

The satisfaction of finishing will be just the same – because that’s what running is all about. Not the distance, not the time… just running because you can.

Do you remember your first run?

Epson Runsense SF-810: Initial Thoughts

I was selected as an “Epson Runner” to review the Epson Runsense SF-810. In exchange for 5 video reviews I’ll be allowed to keep the watch, but that’s not going to stop me being honest about the device and my experiences.

http://www.100runnertesters.co.uk

Some key points from my initial findings.

  • Stylistically its a bit like an old school stop watch
  • The display is OK, but lacking in colour like other watches at the price point
  • It’s difficult to navigate on the device to begin with and takes some getting used to, its not as intuitive as a Garmin
  • The Epson portal for analysing your activities is a long way off the mark, but will auto post to Strava which is my preferred method.
  • The Bluetooth connectivity doesn’t happen automatically, have to manually perform a Sync process

 

What’s in a (blog) name?

So I came up with a new name for my blog.

The old name, whilst descriptive of my (ongoing) journey from couch potato to skinny fry, didn’t exactly roll off the tongue!

I’m proud of my journey but I’m just as proud to put my bigger days behind me and focus more on the present.

My name is Matt, I’m a runner, and I write about my running, and soon, running in general.

Welcome to ‘Running Matters’.

(See what I did there?)

I’ve spent a little money on a domain so I can have a little more creative freedom, and I’ve revamped the look and feel.

Hope whatever readers I have like it!

New York Marathon Ballot

And another thing…AndNow, I know the New York Marathon is one of the World Marathon Majors… And I know its in one of the most amazing cities in the world… And I also know by that logic that the ballot for entries is insanely popular.

But their ballot entry system has to be one of the greatest extortions known to man! You have to pay $11 just to enter the ballot, and according to Runners World, then there were 80,000+ ballot entries last year. That’s an astonishing $880,000, just to be part of the draw.

Then, if by some miracle you get in (Knowing my chances in Marathon Major Ballots – I won’t) its then over $350 for your entry. With 50,000 places that’s $17.5million in entry fees – $18million including the draw money.

I’ll be expecting a leather goody bag by Louis Vuitton with PROPER treats in it for that kind of money.

Now, I understand that the laws of supply and demand mean the price is reflective of this, but to put this in some context, an entry to the London Marathon is less than £40 ($60).

What I can’t understand the disparity. Surely closing the roads of London and New York would be of similar cost? They have around 10k fewer runners in London, that couldn’t justify the massive price difference.

Naturally, if I win a place I will pay it, because I’m an idiot and I want to run it – but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. I will have to console myself in the faint glimmer of hope that someone, somewhere is benefiting from this scam through charitable channels.

 

 

Why Strava is Awesome – A Brief Guide to Analysing Your Training

A lot of people I know use Strava. Either directly on their mobile devices, or by linking their GPS running watches so their activities upload there, and it is a fantastic way of tracking and recording your runs.

But it’s so much more than just an app, but you don’t really know it until you sign into the website rather than the app.

It’s a great social networking tool for runners. I no longer post run information on Facebook, as no-one really cares that I did a 5 mile recovery run. But your “followers” on Strava do.

Some people say its like Facebook for runners, though I think its more closely resembled to Twitter. You aren’t “Friends” with people, you follow them. You can comment on posts they make, but can’t post on a “Wall”, and you can give people “Kudos” which is like a “favourite” (or a “like” I guess).

Your “tweets” are your activities… and that’s where the real power comes in. Strava is EXCELLENT for data analysis.

I’ve heard “But it just means I’ve got to upload my watch there too which is twice the work”, but you needn’t worry. You can set your Strava account to automatically pull data from all the main GPS upload sites like Garmin Connect, Suunto, Tomtom, and Fitbit.

Activity Log

In it’s most basic form, its a training diary and gives you a summary of your mileage on a day by day basis. But it uses subtle little visual aids to help you understand it.

traininglog1

The circles are sized depending on the volume (time/distance) of your activity, so you can see which days you did the most volume – which is one way to identify hard and easy days (Along with any rest day’s which of course appear blank).

The other way is through the Tagging system. When you upload your runs you can tag them a “Run”, a “Workout”, a “Race” or a “Long Run”. From the screenshot above you can see these are represented in different colours. An ordinary standard easy run I tag as “Run” which is light green. Any “session” I do which I’d consider a “quality run” such as an interval session or tempo run I tag as a “Workout” which is Orange. “Races” are red, and “Long Runs” are Dark Green.

Hovering your mouse over the circles gives you the ability to have a quick overview of the activity, a link to it’s details, and you can quickly re-tag it too. I use the “How did it go” box for all of my runs and type in how it went so I can always check to see how I felt after the run – it can be more useful than looking at pace/heart rate data.

traininglog2

How does this help? Well lets say I had a terrible race. I could look back on this screen and see that in the build up to the race I didn’t have enough rest days, didn’t taper my mileage enough, or ran back to back hard sessions. It’s quick and easy. I can then hover over the circles and spot where I write in “What a horrendous run I had no energy and I think this is because…”.

Athletes worldwide keep training diaries, magazines publish their importance on a monthly basis… Strava is your training diary… and so much more.

You can then scroll back to look to see how your weekly and monthly mileage increases and decreases to see if you broke the 10% rule, you can see how much elevation you gained in a week compared to others too, which could also explain why some weeks feel easier than others – it may be you climbed a lot less!

Workout Analysis

The feature I found most recently is the “Workout Analysis”. When I tagged my run as a “Workout” and looked at the activity, I saw a screen I’d never seen before.

traininglog3

Its a brilliantly graphical way to view your sessions. Distance is the horizontal access, pace is the vertical axis. The darker the blue, the faster you went. So looking at the above you can see exactly what the session was. Most importantly you can see how consistent you were. In the example, the session was 2 x 500m at 5k pace, and then 300m at 1m pace. So the first 2 intervals of the 3 should have been consistent, but they weren’t, and you can see clearly every 3rd interval is slight shorter but slightly quicker.

You can also use a neat little tool Strava has called “Grade Adjusted Pace (GAP)”. If you are out road running, chances are that the road isn’t flat and therefore as you rack up the miles you’ll ascend and descend, so your split times will naturally be slightly faster on downhill, and slightly(!) slower on uphills. By toggling the GAP, you can see how all of your splits equate to on the flat. Brilliant for long tempo intervals/runs on the road so you can make a more accurate analysis, especially round ‘ere (in my best west country accent).

Race Analysis

Toggling your run as a Race gives you a brilliant little Race Analysis chart instead. It takes your usual pace/elevation chart and overlays some great information such as your wider split times dependent on what distance the race is.

For example, over the marathon distance it gives me my 5k split times – which brutally shows just how badly I detonated at Manchester. I can see that my 5k splits were pretty even up until 30k where I started slowing. What I deduce from that is that I should have gone out slower, as though I was consistent I just didn;t have any juice at the end. A slower long burn would have hopefully resulted in a more even and complete race. It also highlights my fastest and slowest miles, and I can see in the middle there was a mile where I was much faster than target and also would have jeopardised my race.

traininglog4

When I look at the same view for a 5k race it breaks it down into my 3 x mile splits.

traininglog5

I can see here the same thing I saw at Manchester – I faded badly at the end! Again, I can see here I went out too quick and had nothing left by the end and needed to walk, which is that lovely dip in the curve!

Pace Distribution

There are a few golden nuggets of advice I’ve followed over my time running. Firstly, run most of your miles easy. Secondly, run within your training zones, which I always calculate and use from McmillanRunning.com. Using both of these rules you should (In theory) avoid burning out through overtraining in zones your body isn’t ready to reach.

Although Strava doesn’t use McMillan Running directly (That I can tell) to identify these zones, I think it uses a very similar method. Enter a recent race time/distance and it gives you the various zones you should be working out in. Then when you look at an activity, you can see how much time you spent in those zones.

Here is an example of a recovery run. Most of my time is spent in the Active Recovery zone and the Endurance zone. There is some anomalous information but some of that could be attributed to speeding for short periods of time (For example, to cross a road), or that I just was not focussing on keeping my pace down.

traininglog6

Also, this uses “GAP”, so whilst I know I was maintaining my pace at a solid clip, because I did some climbing the GAP slants this a bit. On the whole though, I am happy with the above as a recovery run. What I could do to improve this or to work at a lower effort level (Which is the purpose of a recovery run), is next time I run the same route to take the hills much slower.

By looking at the activities in this way (Along with the usual elevation chart) you can start to see a bigger picture of your activity and tweak what you are doing accordingly to make sure you really are taking your easy runs easy, and in turn make sure that you are running your hard runs hard enough to obtain the maximum benefit!

What would be really nice is if I could set my pace distribution levels to match exactly what my McMillan pace zones should be, but as they tend to have a degree of crossover it wouldn’t really work – perhaps they could let me set them manually like they do heart rate?

Heart Rate

I use a heart rate monitor, and one of the things I always look at to see how hard I’ve worked is the heart rate stats. Admittedly, sometimes it seems more accurate than others, but that’s more a measure of my ability to wear it properly than anything else. Strava gives you some great ways to see how hard you are working and scores them.

This heart rate chart came from the same recovery run as the Pace Distribution chart above.

traininglog7

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to say “Hmm, if this was meant to be a recovery run, surely the heart rate should be in the upper half of that chart rather than in the ‘Tempo’ section“… and that’s absolutely right. If I was recovering properly my heart rate should have been much lower. So I clearly worked too hard, at least according to that chart.

There could be many reasons for this. Maybe you need to consider that your pace zones need adjusting – are you really still fit enough to be running that race time? (This was my diagnosis!) Was it a really hilly route? Were the contacts on your monitor suitably moist? Were you hydrated enough? (Being dehydrated means your blood is a bit thinker and needs to pump more to get the blood around the body). Ultimately, though, did you feel you were running as hard as the HR monitor says is usually a good enough indicator.

If that’s all a bit complicated though, you can get away with just looking at your “Suffer Score”.

traininglog8

The higher the suffer score, the longer and harder the activity, based upon your heart rate. Your “Points in the red” represent the amount of time you spent at your “threshold” zone or higher and represent really tough running. For your usual “run of the mill” runs you may find that you don;t get a named score. but if you’ve worked hard (A long amount of time, or a high proportion of points in the red to suffer score) you may get rated “Tough”, “Extreme” or “Epic”.

The only “Epic” I’ve had was during the Manchester Marathon, but I have had a few extremes, usually after a very long run or a race, and regularly get a “toughs” after a session.

If you get a “Tough” score after a recovery or easy run, it wasn’t as easy as you think!

Overview

I started out writing this post to evangelise how cool I think Strava is because of its great features, and its turned into a bit of a how-to guide. Please be aware this is how I use it and I’m no trained coach! I’m not advising anyone to do anything, but this is how you could use it.

If you aren’t on Strava, get on it. It’s worth it.

Gels and Fuelling: My Approach

Race fuelling is an important consideration for the marathon. Generally speaking, if you’ve had a decent carby dinner and breakfast, most people have enough glycogen (The way carbs/energy are stored in your muscles) to see you through to about 18-20 miles.

(Yep, this means you don’t really need them for a half marathon, though they do provide a useful boost as a placebo)

Obviously this leaves a shortfall of 6-8 miles for your body to find juice for. So you’ll need to consume more energy whilst you are running to see you through the extra miles. Of course, you can’t stop for dinner on the way around, so you need to consume your energy on the move.

You also need to remember that the carbs you take on board won’t be ready for your muscles to use straight away. It takes time for them to digest and convert to glycogen so your muscles can use them. So waiting until you’ve made it to 18 miles to start taking fuel on will be too late. Common sense dictates you should start fuelling early on, at regular intervals so your body never runs out of glycogen in the first place.

So what do you take to fuel yourself? Well some people take flapjacks, jelly babies or a manner of other things. Personally I use energy gels. They are small and easy to carry (Some are, anyway) and more importantly, easy to consume. I’m not sure I’d get on too well trying to chow down on flapjack at marathon pace!

Gels however are very rich, vary widely in flavours and also vary as to how much energy they actually give you per pack. I read some horror stories about people who try gels and they simply do not agree with them, causing ‘runners tummy’ – not nice to be caught short with that mid marathon!

You need to find a gel that you like the taste of, sits well in your tummy, and provides the right amount of carbs for your needs. The only way to work that out is through experimentation, and practise. And the best time to do that is on your long run.

Firstly, pick a brand (With various flavours) and get a few individual sachets of a gel and stick with that brand for a long run. See how your tummy reacts during that run, and see how you feel at the end of it. It’s no good mixing brands, if you have a bad reaction to one its impossible to tell which caused it! When you have tried them out, ask yourself these questions

Did you feel sick? Need the toilet? If its a no to those then your digestive system agrees with them.

Did you like the flavour? Many brands have a range of different flavours to experiment with, as long as your tummy agrees you can try different ones.

Were you able to open them OK? Silly question, but when you are running at speed and reaching mile 22, your coordination isn;t what it used to be! You want to be able to open them easily and with confidence that you won’t drop what could be your last gel!

Can you carry enough? Think about how many you’ll need for the full 26.2 and how you are going to carry them? I have a SPI Belt with 6 gel loops which is enough for me to have one every 4 miles with one spare for droppage. Do you have capacity to carry them?

Can you run with that many gels? Make sure you have a practise run with all the gels you’ll need loaded in your transport system. When I ran Paris, I had never worn the gel belt, and it felt incredibly weird carrying a heavy waist pack. I wish I’d have tried it first!

If you find a gel which meets all those requirements, get a box of them (as they are cheaper in bulk) and keep practising with them. Your body will get more used to them and you’ll be able to work out how frequently you need to use them, if you need water with them etc.

I tried SIS Go (didn’t like the taste), Clif Shot Bloks (Tasted great, but struggled to shew and breathe whilst running at marathon pace) and finally settle on Gu. Thick and syrupy, but very tasty. Small to carry on my gel belt and also light. Easy to open and easy to consume. My order is with Wiggle as we speak!