The great thing about running is that it is a sport in which almost everybody already has what is necessary to participate. If you can walk, you can run. You don’t need to spend a cent. You don’t have to buy a whole bunch of ‘stuff’ to be a runner. Ironically, we can ‘just do it’ without having to spend a fortune on all sorts of branded gear and equipment.
This suits me to a tee, because I’m not really a gadget guy. I don’t feel compelled to have the latest gizmo all the time. When I do purchase something, it’s usually after a lot of careful deliberation and a determination that while it may not necessarily be essential, it may be helpful.
So, after I started running seriously a few years ago, it took me a little while before I started investing in better shoes, and shorts and t-shirts made from technical fabrics. Not essential, but helpful.
At the start of 2007, I was given a second generation, 2GB iPod Nano I would never have gone out and purchased one of these, but I’m glad I was given it., because after I loaded a bunch of my favourite songs on it and started to take it out running, I loved it.
2007 was the year that I also started ramping up my training to do my first half marathon. I started keeping a detailed running log using a basic excel spreadsheet template I downloaded for free from here, (I still use this log and have one for each of the last four years). I used my car to measure the distance for a number of different routes I was using, then used my watch to time myself over those distances. However, to keep my log accurate meant I could only run the routes I had measured out prior. I needed the freedom to vary my runs whilst maintaining an accurate record of them.
I started to read about GPS devices like the Garmin Forerunner but with their price tag, (up against a mortgage and two kids) I couldn’t justify the purchase and reconcile it on the ‘not essential, but helpful scale’.
Then along came the Nike+.
For a fraction of the price of a Garmin, I could purchase a foot-sensor and attachment for the Nano I already had. The Nike+ is essentially an accelerometer that, when calibrated correctly, estimates speed and distance over time. The foot-sensor is designed to go into a specially designed Nike shoe (which I wasn’t going to get!), so I purchased an all-weather pouch to mount it on the laces of my existing running shoes. The sensor communicates wirelessly to the Nano where the screen shows your speed, distance covered and average pace. The recorded details are then uploaded via iTunes to the Nike+ website where your runs are graphed and where you can participate in an online community to encourage and/or challenge other runners. There are also other non-Nike sites like Runner+ and Buckeye Outdoors which offer greater flexibility and freedom to interact with other runners who use the Nike+.
The Nike+ is relatively inexpensive (mine cost me around AUD$45). I generally like the online community, the encouragement and the challenges, the ability to keep a slightly more accurate record of my runs and the freedom to run wherever I want, but the downsides of the Nike+ are numerous.
While I’ve come close, I’ve never been able to achieve a really accurate calibration. Occasionally the calibration is lost completely, or alters slightly from run to run – on two recent track sessions, I measured a 100m difference in the lap length from one session to the next. Because it’s based on the Nano, it doesn’t work well in humid weather or in the rain. Sometimes when I go to pause the Nike+ on a long run the buttons stick and rather than pausing the run it ends it and I have to start it up from zero again. It’s no good for interval training as it doesn’t seem to keep pace with sprints and strides. The Nike+ website is slow and ponderous to navigate and doesn’t lend itself well to the sort of social networking that can be achieved on sites like runnerplus and Daily Mile. The battery in the sensor ran out within a year and I had to purchase a replacement. This second sensor’s battery has been going now for almost two years – go figure! It has been a love/hate relationship.
Nevertheless, it has served me fairly well to this point. But with my goal this year of running a marathon, and with working to a very detailed training plan that requires much more accuracy than can be provided by the Nike+, I think it’s time to move onwards and upwards and get a GPS-based device (and I reckon my 40th birthday might be a pretty good excuse for a rare indulgence in a new gadget).
Anyone else used the Nike+? How have you found it? What about other devices? What do you recommend?