Sunday 25 October 2015

From Armin to Garmin

The A-G of running gadgetry – an incomplete guide.

If you are expecting this to be a serious review and are wondering why it only goes to G and not “T for Tom-Tom” or further, you’re going to be disappointed, so you might want to stop right there.  It’s not any of that!
This is more of a tongue in cheek look at the various tech and Apps that I’ve used on my running journey so far.  So, without further ado, let’s start at the very beginning.

A is for Armin.

The Armin was the name Sue and I gave to our method of keeping track of what we were doing on our first half marathon in February at Sleaford in 2013.
We started out without much of a time in mind.  I had run nearly 13 miles in training but hadn’t timed it and Sue’s longest run pre-race day was 10 miles.  So just finishing was the main aim. But there was a cut-off of 3 hours.  I set us a goal of finishing within about 2:30, and set about writing times on my arm at which we should hit each mile-marker.

The ARMIN - the poor man's Garmin!
It all went well at the start, but as the race went on and I started to sweat, the writing smudged all over the place and we were clueless at the end!  So there you have it, the Armin – the poor man’s Garmin. I can imagine taking this onto Dragon’s Den.  They’d say that they couldn’t invest because the patent isn’t worth the skin it’s written on!

S is for Sounds

Thank goodness the days are gone when we had to have a portable CD player or Tape player in order to listen to music whilst exercising.  The ability to store music on and play it from a mobile phone through earphones must be a boon to many runners.  I used music to keep me going on the longer training runs towards a half marathon and ultimately for marathons. I like a mixture of music, but always something with a nice easy beat and some tracks that make me smile.  I’m running less to music these days because I’m either running in company or I’m trying to listen to my body and pay more attention to my running and surroundings rather than being distracted by music.  I’m not binning off music altogether, but will probably just do the odd run to music when I’m not bothered about pace and just wanting a relaxed run.

P is for Podrunner.

Podrunner is a collection of music mixes for running to, created by a guy called Steve Boyett.  The music is listed according to the beats per minute (BPM) so that you can choose the speed you want to run to.  Some of the music is the same BPM all the way through, but there are also intervals sessions and ramped work-outs for progressively getting quicker.
Sue told me about Podrunner, but she wasn’t using it herself as she didn’t particularly like the music. I found the tunes neither good nor bad, certainly bearable if it was going to help me run quicker.  This was before I knew anything about interval training or had any guidance on how best to increase pace. 

I was only running a loop round the village at the time when running alone.  What I found was that even thought I tried to run in time with the music, I completed the loop in a similar time whether running to a steady beat or a fast one. I was worn out running to the faster beat, but didn’t cover the ground any quicker.  Strange.  On reflection, I think it may have been that I increased the cadence (steps per minute). I was probably taking quicker shorter steps rather than getting faster at moving along.

Anyway, I gave it a bit of a go, but it wasn’t for me. If you fancy having a look, here is the link:  The web site has free music to download to play from your phone or MP3 player.  I believe there was an App for the iPhone, but as far as  I know, not for Android. Podrunner music is free to download, but you can make a donation of you wish.

C is for Click-counter / M is for Metronome

Speaking of cadence (which I was a couple of minutes ago) has just reminded me of the time Sue and I got interested in it.  I think she had read that increasing the number of steps per minute was a good idea. She bought a couple of click-counters and I think when we went running, one of us timed a minute and the other clicked the clicker on every step.  Ha! Very scientific.  It was hilarious. My hand-eye coordination is pretty rubbish and I just couldn’t get to grips with it, I just kept pressing the clicker willy-nilly, completely out of sync with steps.  I just ended up in fits of the giggles.

Then we tried using a metronome app on our phones.  As I recall, we had a bit of success with that, running to the beat of the metronome, but it was flipping annoying, ping, ping, ping!  I think my interest in cadence was short-lived, but it’s something I would look at again with a view to improving the efficiency of my running.

M is for Map-My-Fitness

Most people will have heard of Map-My-Fitness, which it the umbrella App for a collection of Apps, including Map-My-Run, Map-My-Ride (cycling) and Map-My-Walk. It's a phone App that links to a computer program.

I used this as the main method of recording my runs for a couple of years and this was when I first started to pay attention to pacing and mile splits.  It was great when it was working well, but occasionally would miss out whole sections of a run because it lost the satellite, and when I got to using it on runs of up to two hours the phone battery would die and I’d lose the whole run.  Nevertheless, it was good on the whole and free, which is a bonus.

P is for Polar

Quite early on, Chris bought me a heart rate monitor.  I read a tiny bit about heart-rate training zones and set some up on the watch that came with it.  This wasn’t a sports watch as we know them these days; it just timed the duration of the workout, and what was your lowest, average and max heart rate during the workout. I set it to beep at a certain HR when I was supposed to be doing a steady run.... and promptly ignored it because it got on my nerves!  I found it fascinating to know what my heart rate was, but didn’t really make any proper use of the info. 

K is for Knowledge / P is for Purpose.

OK, so neither Knowledge or Purpose are gadgets.  And that is exactly my point. What was missing from all of my efforts with gadgetry was that I didn’t know what I was doing with it and why and therefore it served little purpose.  Gadgets are a means to an end, and I think I was using gadgets as an end in themselves. The big thing that changed all this was joining Caistor Running Club and starting to run with more experienced runners. I continued to use Map-My-Run, but learned more about varied training, interval sessions, stamina and saw how people were using gadgetry with a clear purpose.  I coveted their sports watches but didn’t want to invest until I was sure that running wasn’t just a whim!  I’d been running for about 2 or 3 years by that point, but, you know, I wanted to be sure. I don’t know how long I’d have given it before investing. I’d probably still not have one left to my own devices.

G is for Garmin.

Yes!  On my 51st birthday, Chris gave me...... a Garmin Forerunner 220.  What a delight!

A real Garmin.... I've arrived!

Now I felt like I was a proper runner.  As much as I only used the basics initially – distance, time checking split pace it helped me to monitor training more accurately and certainly helped me to keep a nice even pace at Chester Marathon in 2014.  I predicted a time of 04:20:00 and actually my chip time was 04:19:59.  OK, there was some luck as well as judgement in there but the watch certainly helped with consistency.

......and then the good people of CRC introduced me to ......

S is for Strava...... and segments!

Strava is a phone / computer app, similar to Map My Fitness, but connects with Garmin easily and provides the stats in an easy way to follow.  As well as this, Strava has the facility for people to define a stretch of a run as a segment, which is then times and recorded on a league table.  You can compare yourself to all runners or on gender and age category. It’s fun and great to beat your own time on a segment.  If you are at the top of the league table for a segment and someone beats your time, you get an email / notification.... “ooops! Someone has whooped your ass by 18 seconds” (or some such).  ..... the faster runners then engage in the sport of ‘segment chasing’; returning to said segment to take it back.

W is for ‘What’s next?’

As I’ve mentioned above, we’ve had quite a laugh with some of the gadgetry and even when using stuff properly, I’ve not got to the stage of using the watch and the information it can provide to its full capacity. I’m just starting to read about different types of training that are suitable for different kinds of running, in particular endurance running.  For this, the watch and heart rate monitor will be very useful for tracking progress.  I’ll be writing about this in the near future, but although I might be taking this particular experiment quite seriously, I hope never to lose the ethos of Caistor Running Club – Run For Fun.


  1. Hi Fran - just wanted to say thank you very much for the sponsorship of my Day 1000. Not only was it a great day, but Macmillan is a cause I feel very grateful for, so thank you

  2. You're most welcome. Macmillan is personal for us too. Will always sponsor runners (hence it's a small amount because I try to sponsor everyone!) Congratulations on your achievement and wishing you many more.


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