Saturday, April 29, 2017

New Running Toy - LifeBEAM Vi

This week I started using 2 new toys. This post will focus on one of them.


This was a Kickstarter project my husband saw last year. He said "hey, honey, that looks like something you should get!" I love how my husband not only tolerates my obsessions of endurance running and endurance horseback riding, he downright encourages (enables??) them!

I've been running with a "necklace" bluetooth headset (the LG Tone Ultra) for about a year now. It's really nice not to have to worry about a cable winding around my body and attached to my phone.

So when my husband saw this bluetooth headset that also boasted HR tracking and a built-in running coach, he thought I'd like it. I wasn't convinced at the time, but after a few weeks of pondering, I put in a pre-order in January. I expected it to arrive just after my marathon in March, so I was hoping it would help kickstart (pun intended) my rear back into running after the marathon. Last year, I took 4 months off from running after the marathon and I didn't want to go that long this time.

After some back and forth with the LifeBEAM support team, during which some of the emails never reached me, I finally got a shipping tracking number and the device arrived this week. I got to run with it for the first time on my Friday evening 5 mile trail run.

There was no paperwork in the box itself. Just the headset, a charging cable (a standard micro USB cable), a soft carrying pouch and a large pod with various sized ear buds and fins to find that perfect fit. The box itself has text that announces the Vi (pronounced Vee) is already charged, tells you where to find the power button and says to go download the app. And that's it.

I downloaded the Vi Fitness app from the Google Play App Store for my Android Moto X Pure phone and started it up. The app advised to pair with the headset. I pushed that button and it popped me over to the standard Android Bluetooth settings. I tapped the item marked "Vi Earphones (35A)" and my phone connected and a voice in the headset cheerfully announced the device was connected. So I returned to the app. Which continued to insist I needed to pair with the Vi. I forced the app to close and then opened it again. Still said I needed to pair. Long story short, it didn't recognize the Vi being connected until I turned my phone completely off, then back on, made sure the Vi and my phone were connected via Bluetooth before opening the app again. Then things were moving a little better.

I couldn't figure out how Vi would get my heart rate, so I had to go to their site and look through their FAQ before discovering that the HR is an optical HR sensor built into the left ear bud. I had only the right earbud in during set up. No wonder it didn't see my HR. I popped the left ear bud in and almost immediately got a HR reading.

I headed to a nearby trail system for a run. I wasn't sure exactly how long I was going to run, so I just chose the "Free Run" option instead of a set distance or time.

Me wearing the Vi headset. I need to remove the tag!

The Vi voice talked to me during my run. You can change how much she talks in the app settings, but I just left it at the most talking. I figure I can also turn her down later if I want. I ran my podcast app which conveniently paused when Vi wanted my attention.

Vi gave me tips throughout the run about running form, running too hard and how to use the headset. Such tips as, hold the +/- buttons to skip forward/back on your music or podcast player. Or tap the right earbud so she'll listen to you.

You can say "Heart Rate" to get a bead on your heart rate. This is what I did often during the run so I could compare it to the optical HR sensor on my newly acquired Forerunner 935. They matched almost perfectly. I hadn't been expecting much, so that was a nice surprise.

Since I've only run with it once so far, I don't know if it'll turn out to be something useful or just a gimmick. I'm interested to see where they go from here.

New Running Toy - Forerunner 935

This week I started using 2 new toys. This post will focus on one of them.

Garmin Forerunner 935

I have been a Garmin user since, well, eons ago. I used the Garmin Forerunner 201 and the 301 and on and on. I have a lot of units in my arsenal. For training for my first marathon, I bought a Forerunner 630 and have enjoyed using that. When the 735xt came out, I decided it wasn't worth upgrading and I would miss the touch screen of the 630.

I happily used the 630 for training for my first and second marathons. The biggest pain point for me on the 630 was battery life. If my 630 wasn't fully charged, my 20 mile long runs would tax the battery and I did get a low battery warning on it during both marathons. Not a happy thought that my data collector would die on me during a marathon! I always ran with my backup Forerunner 620, just in case. Even though the battery life on that one isn't much, if any, better than the 630.

Anyway, when the 935 came out, I wasn't sure I wanted it. I did want to upgrade, but I was annoyed at the $500 price tag for a watch with an optical HR sensor. I haven't been impressed with optical HR sensors I've used in the past, so that was a gimmick I didn't want or need, since I'd use my existing HR strap. Also, I was worried the optical HR sensor part of the watch would be uncomfortable, especially for something I didn't want to use.

So I went looking for reviews and read DC Rainmaker's review on the 935. If you've never read his review on a fitness gadget you want, you really, really should. He's very thorough. He showed a picture of the back of the 935 with a very flush optical HR sensor. The optical HR sensor would not be uncomfortable and get in the way. That did it for me. I pulled the trigger and put in an order at REI, even though it was on back-order. It shipped the next day. :-D

I ran with it for the first time on Tuesday. A 2.75 mile flat paved run at a local park. I used my regular 630 paired to my normal HR chest strap. I did not pair the 935 to my HR strap. I wanted to see what the optical HR sensor would do. I wore the 935 in the normal watch position and the 630 further up my arm on the same arm.

The 630 paired to the HRM-Run chest strap gives Running Dynamic metrics. That information is provided to the 935 by a tiny pod device that clips to the back of my running shorts. That was an additional purchase. This thing is smaller than a foot pod and just turns itself on and off. No fuss, no muss. I tend to forget it's back there. The watch has a handy feature to remind me to take it off when I finish a run. While the directions say an occasional spin through the wash is ok, it's not recommended and one should take precautions to remove the device from one's shorts.

I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of the optical HR on the 935. It was very close to the HR strap. The biggest issue with the optical HR is the fact that it can take a second or 2 to register a change in HR and if you're doing short intervals or hovering around the max HR alarm you've set, it can take a little longer to respond to changes than the chest strap. But when I was running evenly and steady, the HR was comparable. I am starting to think I can get away with skipping the chest strap altogether! Which would be great as the HRM-Run strap rubs me and I have scars from marathon training with it.

While I didn't mean to test this HRM theory, my very next run, I forgot my Foreunner 630 at home. So I bravely set out to run trails with only my Forerunner 935 and the running dynamics (RD) pod. It was fine. The data looks fine. The HR looks great and it kept me from overreaching and running too fast. And it was so freeing not to have that chest strap digging into me!

Believe it or not, on my 3rd run with the 935, I AGAIN forgot my 630. That run I also forgot my RD pod, so I didn't have any of that data for that run, but I'm most interested in the pace, HR and elevation data anyway.

I am actually wearing the 935 all the time. Even while I sleep. The band is very comfortable. I can get the watch snug for the HR reading, but I don't feel like I'm being choked at the wrist. It has been many many years since I've worn a watch when not running.

I've discovered my resting HR is about 59 bpm, which is a good 6 beats lower than I thought it was.

I charged the watch on Monday afternoon as soon as I got it and have not charged it since. I have worn it 24x7 for the most part. I have recorded specific activities with it. I've run 3 times, ridden my horse once and done PT with the other horse several times with this watch. It still shows 54%. I'm starting to wonder how I'll get by when I have to finally charge it up again. ;-)

Although I actually do miss the touchscreen of the 630, the 935 is quickly taking its place as my main running watch.

Garmin's comparison tool for the Forerunner 935, 735xt and 630: Comparison Tool

Of note, the Forerunner 630 is a "previous model," which basically means they're not making them anymore.

Bridge Street Half Marathon & 10k Training

It's been a month since I posted to my blog! I need to get back into the habit because even if nobody else reads these posts, I enjoy looking back on them as a running diary.

Bridge Street Half Marathon

I did make it to the Bridge Street Half Marathon on April 9. I had originally planned to get a hotel room, but scrapped that and got up at 3:45 or so to drive down to Huntsville, AL, for the 7 AM start. It was chilly at the start, but I warmed up quickly.

At the start, near the 3 hour pacer

I started with the 3 hour pace group. This was the first time I'd been at a run that had a pace group slow enough for me to run with! Unfortunately, they were running too fast for a 3 hour pace, so I dropped back after a mile and a half and let them go on. I caught and passed them in mile 4 and never saw them again.

Super cool part of the run through McMillian Park and their double helix path! 

I really enjoyed the run. The first 9 miles were fairly easy for me, but it got a little harder for the last 3 or 4 miles. I was running around a large group. They were pleasant and not at all annoying, but I didn't like playing leap frog. We were going about the same average pace, but doing different run/walk ratios to get there. To get away from the leap frog, I sped up and dropped my walk breaks. I got a comfortable lead on them and then, around mile 11, there was a porta potty. I needed to pee and I hadn't seen a porta potty for miles and miles. So I debated and finally zipped into the porta potty. I lost my lead I'd had on the group and had to speed up once again to get my lead back.

Around mile 12, my right calf began to bother me. I didn't speed up any, but I also didn't slow down, so it didn't really help my calf muscle. The last 1/2 mile was a bit of a struggle as my calf was hurting and I was running faster than I should have been, but the finish was "just there" so I pushed to get it done. The finish line was in the middle of the open air Bridge Street Town Centre mall. Pretty crowded!

I got my medal and a water bottle and stumbled over to the closed carousel for a little breathing room, literally. I had hit my max HR just at the end there and needed a little room to move around to let my HR drop slowly. I finished in 2 hours 47 minutes, so well under the 3 hour mark.

My favorite part of the entire run was a father with his young children. They were clearly following a runner, but I never was able to identify which runner they were cheering on. But they certainly cheered me! The little girl was 5 or so and her little brother was maybe 3. Their dad had a wagon he pulled them in. Because the run winds around the streets of Huntsville, this guy and the kids were at several spots along the race route. The kids were giving out high fives! It was great fun to see them and I looked for them along the route. I saw them 4 or 5 times. The last time I saw them was just near the finish. They were crossing the street in front of me to reach the finish line (I still had to run around the outside of the shopping center first). The little girl ran to get in place to give me a high five. Her little brother was in the wagon pulled by their father and I circled around to get a high five from him as well. Really made my day to see them so often. They seemed to be having so much fun and I certainly enjoyed it as well. I did take a picture of them but I'm not going to post it here out of respect for their privacy, but they were great.

10k Training Starts!

I started my 10k training the week after the half marathon. Due to my calf muscle being a little tender, I took a full week off before starting training for the Nashville, TN, July 4th 10k. The 10k is a street run, but since I signed up for the Asheville Marathon next March, I'm spending a lot of this training cycle on trails. Since I'm not running nearly the mileage that I ran for marathon training, I figure this is a good way to ease into trail running with the shorter runs. Of course, it makes for slower runs. To boot, I'm also training to HR this cycle, so I'm spending a lot of time trying to find that sweet spot for the fastest pace within my HR limit for any given run.

Part of the trail at Smith Park in Brentwood, TN

Week 1 Stats 

Number of Runs: 5
Number of Trail Runs: 3
Training Mileage: 11 miles
Training Time: 2 hours 54 minutes
Training Average Pace: 15:47
Elevation Gain: 1,290 feet

Mill Creek Park parking area off Old Hickory Blvd

Week 2 Stats

Number of Runs: 4
Number of Trail Runs: 3
Training Mileage: 14 miles
Training Time: 3 hours 43 minutes
Training Average Pace: 15:54
Elevation Gain: 1,958 feet