March 14, 2012

Nike Saves the Day

Sometime last spring, when the weather got warm and I ventured off the treadmill and out onto the road, I began to develop an oddly shaped, oddly colored, semi-permanent lump on my left arm. The fact that it was light green was only slightly concerning, and the glowing light didn't worry me too much, but I did get kind of uneasy when it started to beep at me...

That's right... as quickly as I became an outside runner my Garmin emerged as an extended appendage. Like most runners I know, I developed a begrudging obsession with this sweaty accessory: it was so easy to monitor my pace that all of a sudden I wanted to know exactly what it was at all times. Some days I spent more time watching my stats than I did watching the road under my feet (which I suppose could explain a few things), caring more about how my splits came in than how I was feeling. Comfort and even logic went out the window -- my biggest priority on each run was seeing a pace I could be proud of every time I glanced at my wrist (ie every 15 seconds or so). Garmin provided the last word on the results of any given run: negative splits? Speedier pace? Longer distance? I could be dead on the side of the road, but if my numbers were good, that was all that mattered.
There were several dark days last summer when Garmin failed me... a few mid-July runs where my sweat shorted out the poor guy and shut him down halfway through my course, strange instances when my battery would drop from fully charged to dangerously low in less than an hour, and of course days when those elusive satellites couldn't be located no matter how much I coaxed cursed. The few times I had to run without my not-so-trusty friend, I felt lost and unfocused. I hated not knowing my exact numbers, and instead of relaxing and just running by feel, I spent the miles mapping out courses in my head, frantically estimating distances, convinced I was barely moving. It was a terrible addiction, a sticky love-hate relationship.
On Sunday, after covering such a large percentage of my mileage the past few months on the treadmill, I was thrilled to get outside for a gorgeous run. Unfortunately, what should have been lovely took a sharp turn towards ugly when, less than half a mile from home, my fully-charged, Garmin started that dreaded beep. I gritted my teeth and looked down to see "Low battery" blinking on the screen, choking back the urge to rip the thing off my arm and hurl it into the nearby swimming pool. I turned around and stomped back home, fuming a little more each time it emitted a pathetic, dying beep. I wasn't about to sit around for another hour waiting for the thing to charge itself again, especially since I had a sneaking suspicion I'd just end up facing the same problem again. I flopped down next to my husband (who was still half asleep), launched into a tirade full of words that I really shouldn't share here, and clipped the offending Garmin in to charge. In my haze of ire, I pushed the start button to turn the darn thing on... and immediately, to the dismay of my poor confused hubby, burst into tears. The screen requested that I pick a language. English? it prompted, which I knew meant only one thing: it had been reset.
Months of times and splits and distances and totals... gone. Race data... wiped. Sure, I had written down the basic info about each run (total distance, overall pace). But all of the details I had been meaning to load onto my laptop someday? Erased in the blink of an eye. I was a frightening mix of devastated and livid... it was not pretty.
In my anger, I tossed my former friend to the side and grabbed my knight in shining armor -- the iPhone. I typed "Run GPS" into the App Store and within seconds had fallen head over heels for a new love:
Meet the Nike+ app. This baby does everything but actually run the miles for you: it tracks your course, pace (by the second, literally), calories, totals, PRs, weather, and more. It plays your music for you. It shows you a full map of each run, color coded by pace. It speaks to you, reading your total distance, time, and overall pace at user-defined intervals. It plays you inspirational messages from elite runners when you need a little pick-me-up. It is accurate, thorough, and everything a numbers girl like me could ever wish for.
I've only used it twice so far (Sunday's run and another beautiful 70-degree outing last night), but already I am practically sold. Here's a quick breakdown of what I can tell so far:

 -- maps the course right there on your phone, making it easy to go back and remember the details of your route
 -- provides a clear picture of the fastest and slowest points of your run:
lovely green downhills
 -- eliminates the need to look at a screen constantly by updating you (as often as every quarter mile, although I have it set to half miles) on your distance and pace. I love having this read to me as I continue to focus on where I'm going, instead of having to look down at my wrist at just the right time while the Garmin cycles through stats
 --tracks record distances and speeds, making it easy to set goal paces and tempting to outrun my previous sessions
 -- I haven't tested this, but there is also an option for treadmill runs -- I have no idea how this would work, but I'm definitely going to experiment with it
 -- smoothly imports playlists so that you can pause or skip a song right from the app, and allows you to designate "power songs" for a boost when you need it
 -- the overall layout of the app is very impressive: it offers so much information and possibility, but everything is easily accessible and self-explanatory. The screen displayed during runs is simple and uncluttered, and historical data is easy to retrieve
 -- imports data to the nike+ website, which includes even more details about each run, goal setting, challenges to join, training programs to load, and so much more. Also (theoretically) a more foolproof way to save data than the prone-to-epic-failure Garmin
 -- less chance of technical failure (again, theoretically) -- at least so far, I have not had to wait a single second to load satellites or connect to a network or plug into the heavens before heading out to run
 -- one less thing to charge, remember to bring with me when I run after work, and carry on my runs (I always bring my phone for entertainment/safety anyway)

 -- harder to check pace at any given second (you have to swipe the lock screen to see the pace display)
 -- no function (that I've found so far, at least) equivalent to Garmin's pace buddy:
I kind of liked smoking that little guy...
 -- while it's fine for regular training runs, I'm not sure that I want to be carrying my phone during a race (I'm going to look into an armband, although I may also decide to revert to the Garmin just for races)

... I think we have a winner. As sad as I am to admit that my little Garmin, who I have (mostly) loved so well in the past year, is not as capable or convenient, it's tough to argue with all those advantages to the Nike+ system. It's been fun to watch my total miles add up each time I open the app, and I love knowing that when I'm ready to hit the road, it's ready to go with me. Best of all, though, I am hoping that it will break me of my little pace obsession -- during my first two runs, I only checked the screen once or twice to see where I was, instead pushing myself to hold what I thought was a good pace until the next half-mile update. I hope that this will help me tune into myself a bit more and get to know what my paces feel like, as opposed to struggling to hit a certain number on the screen.

Is there anyone else out there who uses or has used Nike+? Love it or hate it? I'm curious to hear everyone's thoughts on how it compares to Garmin!



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