Friday, July 29, 2011

The Great GPS Test

Many people out there wonder "Which GPS watch should I get? Garmin? Timex? The new Nike?" That question has been unanswered until now. I went and got all of the available watches with integrated GPS and tested them out with a series of runs. Here is the watch list:
  • Garmin Forerunner 305
  • Garmin Forerunner 405
  • Garmin Forerunner 210
  • Garmin Forerunner 310XT
  • Garmin Forerunner 610
  • Timex Ironman GPS
  • Nike+ Sportwatch GPS
  • Nike+ Sportband (just for fun)
To get a good feel of how all of them perform I took them on three runs:
  • Track workout consisting of 6x800m sprints with 400m jog rest
  • Trail run consisting of a 2.2 mile loop 3 times
  • Road run of 9.45 miles around White Rock Lake
This is the fairest way to test all the watches because it gets them on a variety of terrain, varying distances, and tests the signal in both covered and uncovered areas. Before I go in depth on the results of the tests, let me break down the watches:
Run #1: Track
I took all 8 watches to the track for some 800m repeats. I stayed in lane one on the inside of the lane the whole time so I wouldn't stray from exactly .25 miles each lap. With the 400m recovery after each repeat, the total mileage for the run was 4.50 miles. Here are the results from the workout:
So the total workout took me 29:32 for the 6 800's and the recovery jog. I didn't do splits for the run because that would have been way too hard to press the lap button on all those watches. But as you can see, the Nike+ GPS is the clear winner for sure. It was spot on for the whole workout. I am very impressed with Nike on the track. Both of their watches ranked in the top 3. As long as you have the Sportband calibrated properly, it can hang in there with the expensive watches. I threw in the column for displayed pace to show how much of a difference .05 of a mile makes even in a short run like this one. So from the best of the watches closing in at .01 miles off to the worst watch at .27 miles off, GPS has a long way to go for track workouts. Kings of the Track:
  1. Nike+ Sportwatch GPS
  2. Garmin Forerunner 305
  3. Timex Ironman GPS
Interestingly enough, even though I ran with 5 Garmins, only one made the top three. Another surprise is that the 305 and the Timex both measure less than the actual distance while all the others (disregarding the Sportband) measure farther.
The reason GPS watches have such a hard time with distance on the track is the constant turning. Because the watch gets signals from the satellites every 3-6 seconds, the watch connects the points linearly instead of on a curve. When you think about it logically, however, the GPS path should be shorter instead of longer. It could be that the watch is trying to accommodate for the curve and adding extra distance, or it could be that people actually don't run on the 400m section of the track, they could waver a little bit and go into other lanes or not take the innermost section of the track.

Run #2: Trail
Depending on the trail, GPS watches have never really been the best in tracking distance. Elevation changes, switchbacks, and tree cover all make pinpointing a location very hard. Often you will see watches that are way off in distance both above and below the actual distance. So I hit the trail on a 2.2 mile loop that has tons of elevation change, loads of switchbacks, and about 75% tree cover. I did the loop three times to make sure I could really test to see how the watches were doing and see if they were consistent throughout the multiple laps. Here are the results from test #2:
I expected there to be a big difference amongst the watches, but I had no idea it would be this bad. The closest to being the actual distance was the 310XT and it really was the stand out in the group. The probable reason for the watches performing so poorly was the tree cover. The signal gets blocked temporarily and then the watch has to guess where you went, which means you could lose an entire switchback or a long stretch of random trail. The only watch to display a farther distance than actual was the Sportband, and that makes perfect sense. The Sportband goes based off number of footstrikes, not GPS location. Since you take smaller steps when you are trail running, and your watch is calibrated for your typical longer stride, it thinks you are going further than you actually are. Kings of the Trail:
Aerial view of the trail run
  1. Garmin Forerunner 310XT
  2. Garmin Forerunner 610
  3. Garmin Forerunner 305/Nike+ Sportband
Looks like Garmin dominated this run. The Nike+ GPS and Timex GPS really were nowhere to be seen. Both had very poor performance pretty much from the beginning. For the second run in a row, the "old school" Garmin 305 has placed in the top 3, which for me is surprising. But without a doubt, none of the watches could even compare to the 310XT, so trail runners, go pick it up and hit the trails.

Run #3: Road 
Your typical runner is going to be running primarily on the roads, which is why this test was so important. I went and did a lap around a lake, which is typically 9.3 miles, but I took a wrong turn and it added .15 miles. So I did a 9.45 mile run on the road in a completely open area with no tree cover. I expected to get the most accurate results here and the tightest span from worst to best. Here are the results:
 Between the GPS watches, the span wasn't too bad. The worst was only .16 off, which isn't horrible over the course of 9.45 miles. The Sportband obviously wasn't calibrated correctly for this run, so it performed the worst of all of them. The 610 and 310XT were exactly correct which is very impressive by both watches! Looking at these results though, you can obviously tell Garmin is king of the road. Official Kings:
  1. Garmin Forerunner 610/310XT
  2. Garmin Forerunner 210
  3. Garmin Forerunner 405
This was the first test that the 305 wasn't in the top 3, but it definitely was right there with them. This test is the most fair of all the tests since it was run in open air with nothing to interfere with the signal.

Overall Results
 When we go based just off the average percent error of all 8 watches, here is the order of most to least accurate in varying conditions:
  1. Garmin Forerunner 310XT
  2. Garmin Forerunner 610
  3. Garmin Forerunner 305
  4. Garmin Forerunner 405
  5. Garmin Forerunner 210
  6. Nike+ Sportwatch GPS
  7. Timex Ironman GPS
  8. Nike+ Sportband
In the end, all Garmin's seemed to be the best. But the hands down winner for most accurate is the 310XT with an average of .13 miles off for 3 runs totaling 20.05 miles. The least accurate GPS watch was the Timex Ironman GPS with an average of .44 miles off. 
Overall, very interesting results coming from these tests, I never would have expected what came about. I will leave you with my GPS watch accolades:
  • Best GPS Watch Overall: Garmin Forerunner 310XT
  • Best GPS Watch for Track Running: Nike+ Sportwatch GPS
  • Best GPS Watch for Trail Running: Garmin Forerunner 310XT
  • Best GPS Watch for Road Running: Garmin Forerunner 310XT and Garmin Forerunner 610
  • Best Value GPS Watch Based on Accuracy: Garmin Forerunner 305
Well that wraps that up! I hope you found this review helpful and enjoyed The Life of a Runner. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Shoe Review Tuesday #5 (Brooks Ghost 4)

Brooks Ghost 4
Support Category: Neutral
Weight: 11.3 oz
Cost: $100
Available in Widths: Yes
Multiple Colors Available: Yes
Durability: 300-500 miles
Updates from Previous Model:
  • Replaced hydroflow with DNA
  • Introduced Omega Flex Grooves in the heel
Upper: Secure middle-weight upper with few overlays
Arch Height: Medium-High
Heel-Toe Drop: 12 mm

My Take on the Shoe
I ran in the Ghost 3 a bunch and when the Ghost 4 came out, I was kind of indifferent on it. The introduction of the DNA cushioning system didn't hit my foot right like the hydroflow did, so it wasn't that "Oh my gosh this is the best shoe ever" feel for me. Great lightweight shoe for high mileage though. Around an ounce lighter than the competition, the Ghost 4 will last you a good amount of miles. This is a road shoe, so I would not use it on trails, but grass would be just fine. A more detailed look into the fit:
  • Heel- More relaxed than other Brooks shoes I've had in the past, but still a nice firm grip that eliminates any slipping.
  • Midfoot Wrap- Nice and snug, has sewn in eyelets to maximize tightness based on lacing, and also added a loop on the tongue to keep it from sliding down into the shoe.
  • Forefoot- Open and relaxed. People with bunions will have no problems fitting in this toe box.
  • Cushion- About 6 out of 10. Not super firm, not too rigid either. Extends the length of the shoe with the most significant padding being under the ball of the foot.
What is DNA?
DNA is a non-Newtonian liquid (think cornstarch and water) that reacts adversely to forces. If you hit hard, it will become springier and more rigid. If you hit lightly, it will become softer and more forgiving. So DNA makes the Ghost 4 a good shoe for long, slow runs by becoming a soft shoe, and good for hard, fast runs by becoming more resilient and springy.  Brooks has slowly been introducing DNA into their shoes starting with the Glycerin 8, and is now boasting it in the Adrenaline, Trance, Ghost, Glycerin, Beast, Ariel, and Cascadia.
What are Omega Flex Grooves?
Omega Flex Grooves are the little tiny pieces of outsole on the heel that look like the Greek letter Omega, Ω, designed to start guiding gait upon impact. In the past, the bottom heel has been one piece and for lack of a better word, cumbersome. But now that the heel has been given flexibility, the foot can roll more naturally from the beginning, quickly falling into the desired neutral gait.

A Little Personal
My first impression of the shoe was that I wasn't going to like it, but when I took it out for my first run, any doubts went away. The Ghost 4 has a very smooth ride, guiding you through the gait cycle the moment you impact the Omega Flex Grooves. The DNA in the forefoot was significantly higher than any other shoe I had before and almost felt like it had an arch under the ball of my foot. But after the first run, that went away and it felt great. With the Ghost 3, I would do speed workouts, long runs, easy runs, hill workouts, just about anything you could think of, and I will continue this trend with the Ghost 4. Specific reasons I like it:
  • Lighter than other neutral high-mileage shoes
  • Versatility in that it can be used for about any kind of run because of the new DNA
  • Durability, if it is anything like the Ghost 3, it will take a while before you need a new pair.
  • Price, at only $100, you can't really beat this shoe
  • Simplicity, there isn't a whole lot to the shoe besides the technology involved in the midsole and outsole, so in my eyes, less is more
Overall this shoe is a solid 8 out of 10. Great update to the shoe, I have a feeling it is just going to keep getting better and better. For those of you who are looking for a high-mileage lightweight shoe, I would either go with the Ghost 4 or try out the New Balance 890. Both of them are going to be great for whatever your needs may be. That's it for another Shoe Review Tuesday, I hope you enjoyed The Life of a Runner.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Shoe Review Tuesday #4 (New Balance Minimus Trail)

New Balance Minimus Trail
Support Category: Minimal/Neutral
Weight: 7.1 oz
Cost: $100
Available in Widths: Yes
Multiple Colors Available: Yes
Durability: 300+ miles
Updates from Previous Model: Debut!
Upper: Light, stretchy mesh
Arch Height: Flat
Heel-Toe Drop: 4 mm

My Take on the Shoe
I got this shoe much after it came out because availability was very low. New Balance expected this shoe to only sell about 60,000 pair nationally this year, but they just finished fulfilling orders of 600,000 across the US. So all the stores caught up in stock and I grabbed one when opportunity struck. I took it out on the trails right away and it was the total opposite of any other trail shoe I have worn before. You will feel every rock, root, and dirt clod you step on in this shoe. It makes you much more aware of your surroundings because you have to make a conscious effort to avoid something you would normally plow through. About the fit of the shoe:
  • Heel- Snug with a low heel collar, meaning it doesn't touch the back of your Achilles very high or even touch your ankles
  • Midfoot Wrap- Nice and snug, you don't have to worry about the shoe sliding at all
  • Laces- Eyelets woven into the fabric of the shoe, making the tightness of the laces really effect the tightness of shoe around the instep
  • Forefoot- Snug and narrow feeling, designed with a horizontal piece of material to keep your feet in place when going downhill
  • Toebox- Wide open to allow for a natural toe splay (the spreading out of your toes right before you land)
  • Cushion- Virtually none, this shoe is not soft!
The Minimus Trail can be worn with or without socks, just make sure the first time you run without socks you use something like body glide between your toes to prevent blisters. The outsole is an extremely durable rubber compound made by Vibram. Since this shoe is designed to be used on trails, there is no telling just how many miles you can get out of it. The design of the outsole is very unique in itself. Consisting of a series of small pods with little ridges, it is designed to provide maximum grip in any kind of terrain (dirt, gravel, mud, grass, etc...).
Some people have been asking me about an "update" to the Minimus Trail (MT10) called the MT20. This is not really an update. It is a lower quality shoe designed for big box stores like Sports Authority so they can have a minimalist shoe for their patrons. The Minimus Trail is a shoe sold in running specialty only, so if you see a shoe similar to it in a place like Academy, that is the MT20, and you should save your money and either go to a specialty store or order online because they are the same price.

A Little Personal
I'm a big fan of this shoe. Before, I had worn the Brooks Cascadia and had done fine. But when I tried this shoe out for the first time, I was hooked. The level of awareness is incomparable when you are in a shoe that forces you to really pay attention to your surroundings and terrain. I've done up to 13 miles in this shoe and have had no problems whatsoever. Like most minimalist shoes, it is one that you kind of have to ease into, so be careful going out and running too many miles too quickly. I would advise you to stay off the road in this shoe. The lack of cushion really gets to you when you start pounding the cement in this bad boy. I took it out for a couple miles on the road to see if it was ok to use off the trail, and the impact was enough to give me a headache. The main factors I like about the Minimus Trail:
  • Lightweight, weighing in at only 7.1 ounces, this shoe almost feels like you have nothing on!
  • Extremely durable, anything you see with a Vibram outsole is going to last you a loooong time
  • Versatility, I have trekked through mud, streams, hills, rock beds, and just about everything else you can imagine and nothing slows this shoe down
  • The option of going sockless, the sockliner is sewn into the shoe, so you don't have to worry about it coming out when you take your foot out after running barefoot in it
To all trail runners, I would say to at least try this shoe out once. It is a whole new experience that really can't be explained in words. Availability should be on the rise now that orders have been fulfilled, so it won't be hard to find in stores anymore. Overall I give this shoe an 8 out of 10, it isn't my favorite shoe that has been ever on my foot, but it is probably my favorite trail shoe. So get out there and experience The Life of a Runner!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hill Training

I'm back! Over the past week or so, I have been vacationing in the Caribbean on a very hilly island and that got me wanting to talk about an under-utilized workout in most runners schedule: The Hill. A good amount of runners tend to avoid hill workouts because they can cause extra stress on the knees and Achilles tendon, but in most cases, the good outweighs the bad when it comes to hills.
On a personal note, I try to do hill workouts at least once a week. I feel when it comes to racing, having the ability to surge up a hill and not crash in the later parts of the race gives you a tactical advantage over your competition. So when I went on vacation and the very first thing I saw was a mountain, I knew I was going up. Prior to leaving for vacation, I was on mapmyrun checking out if there were any cool running trails or elevation gains. Much to my delight, I saw a mountain smack dab in the middle, but it came with a catch. This mountain was 1.25 miles long and gained 1000 ft. The average grade was 22%. For those of you who don't know what grade is, it's just the rise divided by the length (and 22% is about as steep as you'll find anywhere and still be able to run). So morning 1, I set out on a mile and a half run over to the mountain and started my climb. I quickly realized this wasn't going to be as easy as I originally thought, because I was keeled over on the side of the road trying to catch my breath after only about 200 meters. I gave it my best to climb the mountain, but I only got up .75 miles and had to stop about 6 times to catch my breath. But it wasn't over yet. I turned around and was faced with .75 miles of straight downhill where it's way too steep to open up a stride and cruise along letting gravity carry me the rest of the way home. At this grade I had to constantly apply the brakes, making a conscious effort to land on my heels trying to keep from getting to an out of control speed. At the end of the run, not only were my quads burning from the climb up, but my hamstrings were on fire from the downhill portion. The next day all I could do was stare at that mountain and just look at it in disbelief knowing that it beat me. So I regrouped and tried it again two days later with my hill climbing knowledge that I already had, but was too cocky to utilize the first time:
  • Take your warmup truly as a warmup, you will need all the energy you can muster to power through the hills
  • Shorten your stride, you will really need the increased turnover in your legs to push you
  • Lean into the hill, let gravity do as much as it possibly can
  • Focus on breathing, especially when in high elevations, the air can really get away from you
So this time, I went about a minute slower per mile on my warmup, and focused on getting "in the zone" to accomplish my goal of reaching the summit without taking a break. When I reached the base of the hill, I instantly shortened my stride and leaned forward into it, not worrying about speed but on conserving enough energy to keep going. As I passed the 200 meter mark (where I stopped the first time) I had so much energy I wondered what I could have done a couple days earlier to already be tired enough to stop. I powered through muscle fatigue and shut out thoughts of stopping because it was too hard and eventually passed my old turn around point. Thinking it was going to get easier from there, I round a turn expecting to see a little ease in the grade of the hill. Nope. Thoughts started going through my head like "I almost need a hand hold to climb up any further." But because I had conserved energy in the beginning and used the proper technique for climbing, I ended up making it to the summit, walk-free. I stopped to admire the view for about 30 seconds, let out a victory yell, then started back down the mountain following the downhill running rules:
  • Look ahead, the last thing you want to do it get distracted and trip over something easily avoidable
  • Don't lean too far backward, it could cause your feet to come out from under you
  • Keep that stride short, it's going to keep your hamstrings from tightening up and keep you at a controllable speed
  • Let gravity take you with it, ease into a comfortable pace where it almost feels like work
I made it down and back to my place safe and sound and with a huge smile on my face knowing I had just beaten the mountain that had beaten me two days prior. In case you were wondering, here is the elevation graph from my Garmin.

Back to a more practical note
I know most of you don't have a mountain you can go run up, but the uphill and downhill rules apply to hills of any size. For a typical hill workout, you are going to be doing anywhere from 6-12 repeats of anything from .25-.5 miles or 1-4 minutes. My workout was extreme, I went straight uphill for 13 minutes. A common hill repeat workout is going to have much smaller distances, but they need to be done over and over again. Now, what are the benefits of doing hill workouts? Because you are fighting gravity when you run uphill, you take all the normal muscles you use when you run on flat ground, and give them a supercharged workout. They have to release more power to push you along greater forces, which build up more power in your legs, which ultimately gives you stronger, longer running strides. Hill running has been compared to sprint workouts because they work the same muscle groups, so hill workouts make you run faster. If you are running to lose weight/tone up, hills work your booty and hamstrings, which is a different set of muscles than flat running.
Let's recap:
The benefits of hill running are
  • You gain a strong, long running stride from increased power in the legs
  • Your fast twitch muscle fibers are worked, giving you faster land speed
  • You get a rocking body in the process :)
If you are anxious to try a hill workout, here is a chart for an intermediate-advanced workout:
To make it easier/harder, adjust the number of repeats. To do this workout properly, do your warmup to the hill at an easy pace, enough to get your blood flowing. When going uphill, do your best to run at a pace just outside your comfort zone. That pace will help push back your anabolic threshold, making you able to run at a faster pace more easily on race day. When you reach the top of the hill turn back right away using the downhill as your recovery. Jog down at a pretty quick pace, but not so fast that you can't catch your breath. At the bottom of the hill, turn around and start the next repeat. When you finish all of your repeats, go ahead and take a couple minutes for a breather then go do an easy cooldown at a pace you can hold a conversation in. This is a long workout, I've always been a believer in that hard workouts should be as long or longer than your race if you do anything less than a half marathon. At the half and full distances, getting up into the double digits on a speed workout will help tremendously.
So what are you waiting for?! Get out there and go run some hills! Your PR will thank you. Now go out and enjoy The Life of a Runner.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Shoe Review Tuesday #3 (Nike LunarEclipse)

Nike LunarEclipse
Support Category: Neutral to Moderate Stability
Weight: 12.2 oz
Cost: $130
Available in Widths: Yes
Multiple Colors Available: Yes
Durability: 300-500 miles
Updates from Previous Model: Original
Upper: Tightly woven mesh, secure, full-feeling
Arch Height: Medium-High
Heel-Toe Drop: 12 mm

My Take on the Shoe
I started using this shoe about 4 months into my training for the White Rock Marathon last year. Before I had been using the Nike LunarGlide, and what a difference it made! This shoe is SO much softer than the LunarGlide and in my opinion, feels much more secure on my feet. The secure feeling is given by the sturdy upper that surrounds the entire foot. The upper doesn't provide a lot of give, causing the sturdy feeling. Unlike other Nike shoes I have owned in the past, the LunarEclipse doesn't feel narrow in the forefoot. A great fit for almost any foot, the LunarEclipse can take a beating too. I put about 120 miles on this shoe in a month and it still felt like it was almost straight out of the box. If you are a marathoner, this shoe should definitely be in your closet.
Perhaps the coolest part about this shoe is the midsole. Nike uses a "Dynamic Support" system to open up the shoe to the widest range of runners possible. The way they do this is through a two-layer wedge system. The top wedge, the cushion layer, is thin on the lateral side and thick on the medial side. The bottom wedge, the correction layer, is the opposite, thin on the medial side and thick on the lateral. The point for designing the shoe this way is to accommodate for different gaits. Almost everybody lands on the outside of their heel if they heel strike, but depending on their rate of pronation, they land in a different spot and roll in a different manner. People who pronate tend to land more on the outside of their foot and roll inward as they go through their gait cycle. People who are neutral footed or supinate typically strike more centered and stay straight throughout the gait cycle. So the way the midsole is set up, when pronators land on the outside of their heel, they activate the correction layer, which pushes them into a more neutral position. When neutral runners land more centered, they don't activate that correction layer because the cushion is too thick, so they stay in line the entire time their foot is on the ground. Don't worry midfoot/forefoot strikers, this shoe won't really correct at the end of the gait cycle (when you are typically landing) so it is a good fit for you too.

A Little Personal
I have used this shoe on grass, dirt, road, uphill, downhill, long runs, and speed work. This versatile shoe is one of my favorites. As I said earlier, I started using this shoe for my marathon training, and after the first run (a 10 miler) I knew it was going to be my new long run shoe. So I started using it for long runs at first, but it was cold outside, so I started wearing it for other runs to keep my feet warm because of the beefy upper. After running with it for speed, easy runs, and long runs, I couldn't get enough of this shoe. When selling it to people, I always present it as a Frankenstein shoe that thinks for your foot. By that, I mean the dynamic cushioning will correct you the right amount with every footstrike. By Frankenstein shoe, I mean that the LunarEclipse seems to take one major piece of technology from all the other shoes in the Lunar series and apply it to itself. It takes the flywire from the LunarGlide (flywire is designed to tighten the upper around the arch of your foot when you tighten the laces), it has the lightweight durability of the LunarElite, and it even has it's own piece of technology in the heel counter (heel counters are the rigid piece of plastic in the heel to make a shoe more stable). Specifics I like in the LunarEclipse:
  • Versatility, you can use this shoe for anything!
  • You can create this shoe in whatever colors you want on Nike's website
  • The high durability 
  • The secure feeling I get when I step into it
  • The ability of the shoe to correct my gait no matter the slope of the road, be it either horizontal or vertica
One thing I hear from a majority of customers regarding Nikes, "Nike shoes never fit my foot, they run too narrow." To that I always ask, "When was the last time you tried them?" Often times I hear a response between 2 years to 5 years. I am saying it now, performance Nike running shoes (Bowerman and Lunar Series) do not fit like they have over previous years. Go try them on! It really is worth the time to go try them out. If you are in any doubt as to what kind of shoe you need, chances are you can wear the Nike LunarEclipse. So everyone go out and try a new pair of shoes and enjoy living The Life of a Runner.