There haven’t been any posts for a few weeks now – hunting season is not the best time for exploring new trails, and the weather has not been particularly accommodating. However, with Christmas coming up, it is a good time to suggest some toys for the runners in your life. One of the allures of running is its simplicity – a decent pair of shoes and gym shorts, and you can have a great time. That said, I have found a few gadgets which certainly enhance my running experience.
One would have needed to have spent the last few years in a mayonnaise jar to be unaware of the now ubiquitous iPod, and many runners use this great little device as a training partner. While it is clearly not appropriate to listen to one’s iPod when running with friends (too antisocial) or when running alongside busy roads (too unsafe), they can certainly make the miles go by faster, especially on those runs when the weather isn’t right, the body isn’t right, or you just plain don’t feel like it. Personally, the greatest benefit of the iPod to my running is how it has substantially diminished the frequency of my running injuries. I have a tendency to push solo runs too hard sometimes, but relax and slow down a little when listening to my favorite music or podcasts.
Associated with the iPod Nano – the small version of the iPod most suited to running, is perhaps the greatest value in running gadgets ever – the Nike Plus system. This consists of a small receiver attached to the iPod itself, and a tiny transmitter which you put in your shoe. Nike shoes have a pocket for this transmitter built into many of its running shoes, but one can purchase miniscule pouches which tie into your laces if you, like me, don’t find Nikes a good fit. This, with the associated software, gives you your elapsed time and distance (where it is remarkably accurate for so simple a device!) and pace throughout your run. The associated software allows you to see your pace at every point in the run after a routine iPod sync. and even keeps a training log for you. It also has social networking tools for runners, which aren’t my cup of tea, but clearly a source of enthusiasm for a lot of people. This little device is all yours for a mere 29 bucks! The major negative of this device is the unpredictability of its built in battery. I have have had these last as little as a few months, but my current transmitter is over a year and a half old and going strong. Finally, you can purchase narrated workout downloads from iTunes which fit just about all musical tastes and training needs. What could be better than a workout narrated by Lance Armstrong spouting platitudes such as “pain is temporary, but quitting is forever”?
The “gold standard” for running gadgets, of course, is the Garmin wrist GPS. If there are other manufacturers of this sort of device, I have not seen them. I use my Garmin for all of the stats in this blog. There are features to this device which I haven’t even tried yet, but in a nutshell, it gives you high accuracy mileage readout, as well as your current pace at any time during your run. After the run, when you sync the watch to the Garmin software on your computer, you can get your altitude at every point in the run, as well as your heart rate if you were wearing the optional heart rate monitor. Readers of this blog will recognize the utility of the altitude readouts. I am not as enamored of the heart rate monitor, however, as it tends to tell me things I usually knew already, like “Guess what – you pushed it too hard today”, as your heart is pounding out of your ears at the conclusion of a long climb. Finally, the software syncs to Google Earth almost effortlessy, allowing me to map my runs on geographical features quite easily. Since it is based on satellite signals, it sometimes loses its signal on trail runs when too much of the sky is blocked by trees. This does not seem to throw off the mileage, or average pace, but does make for annoying spikes in graphs of pace versus time due to the fact that it temporarily assumes the runner isn’t moving when it loses its signal. These GPS’s can get quite pricey (over $300), but if you just want the basic functions and don’t need the heart rate monitor, you can pick them up for the low-mid 100′s if you look around online.
Hope Santa is good to everyone!
Jeff Byers is a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Middlebury College. He also writes the Middlebury Trailrunner blog. We'll be periodically highlighting posts from his blog, but for more recommendations for trailrunning and cross country skiing in the county, head to his Web site.
This entry was originally posted on Dec. 12, 2010.