My thoughts on social media, technology and running

Running has changed a lot over the years.

Obviously I wasn’t there in the “glory” days of the past when running gained momentum and popularity among the masses (long before London Marathon became the entry nightmare it is today) but you hear a lot about how it used to be. Someone at parkrun told me how when they were training for the Southampton Marathon back in the 1980’s they were unable to find running shoes – if shops even sold them! He had to wear flat plimsolls. I mean, seriously. And forget gels, electrolytes, isotonic drinks and super duper compression gear. It wasn’t around back then. Some may argue is it even needed really?

Today it does seem a bit like we’ve over-complicated running (and cycling I suppose) with technology, gear and nutrition. No longer do you just throw on a t-shirt, shorts and trainers and get out the door. Put on those carefully chosen trainers (do you pronate too much? Not enough? Flat feet? High arches? Narrow? Wide?), have you had your pre-run snack (not too high in protein, careful of that fibre, is it the right carbohydrate?), find those satelites, (DON’T YOU DARE START RUNNING UNTIL YOU HAVE THEM) and run along your pre-planned route of the set number of miles according to your well-researched training plan (which you’ve got the book for, obvs). Gotta hit that mileage for the week!

Post run routine… have you foam rolled? Had a hot bath with your epsom salts? Don’t leave your post run snack too long – you’ll lose those gains and you’ll fall over with faintness! Put on your compression socks, you don’t want those muscles to get tight. But MOST importantly, have you updated Twitter? Facebook? Instagram? STRAVA. Omg, don’t you forget about Strava. If it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen! Think about the forgotten kudos, likes, favourites and comments.OK I’m being silly. And I’ll be honest with you, the thought of running without my Garmin and not tracking takes a little away from my enjoyment of running. Don’t get me wrong, if Garmins suddenly died everywhere or Strava disappeared, I would still run. Running is a significant part of who I am and how I live my life. It gives me great happiness – and health, of course.

But I love the post-race analysis of a run. My splits, cadence, elevation… I find it interesting. It adds to my enjoyment of the run. Strava segments are fun to get involved with and beating a run you did a year ago is always a nice boost. It gets me motivated and I love having a log of what I’ve done.

My legend of a granddad who’s in his 80’s uses Strava. He regularly goes for walks, hikes and bike rides and logs it all. He’s a cool guy. I remember having a conversation with him a while ago where he said he wished he could have written a blog or had Strava back in the days when he was in the thick of his mountain climbing. Claiming segments, summits and routes left, right and centre. You could easily prove who got somewhere first. It wasn’t just relying on someone’s word. He’s a highly competitive person so I imagine this would have really boosted him to see his achievements in this way. So though back in the day it might have been a simpler world, there are definite advantages of how it is today.

And social media? Oh yes I’m certainly guilty of excessive over-sharing. Pre-run photos, intra-run photos, post-run photos… I’ve done them all. Look at my new shoes! Look at how I did in this race! Or just simply boring guff about how I went for a run one lunchtime and didn’t get rained on. I’m not breaking any records or doing anything really that worthwhile to shout about.But still, I like to share. I like to throw my little run into the soup of social media and interact with other runners who have done just the same. I prefer to follow people who are similar to me. Elites are interesting don’t get me wrong, but I love the posts where someone has just gone for a 4 miles run at 9.30min/miles on a normal Wednesday morning. I like to connect with runners all over the UK and the world – people doing exactly what I’m doing. No disrespect to anyone, but most of us aren’t that fast…but we all love running and the community of that is fun to be involved in. It’s interesting to see what others are wearing, what runs they’re doing, where they’re going and what they want to achieve.Yes some posts I roll my eyes at. Some posts can annoy me. Or make me jealous. When you’re injured, social media is certainly a dark place to be. But equally, it’s an uplifting place. It’s full of good natured people with good intentions who like to support others. I will never meet 80% of the people who I follow and follow me on social media, but that doesn’t mean I don’t take an interest in what they do. I want them to do well, give advice when I can, receive advice when I need it… For me social media, when used wisely, is a good thing.

That said, I do know I need to work on how much I use it. Especially when Real Life is happening. Learning to put my phone away and not telling Twitter every tiny boring detail of my life. Learning that the people actually next to me in the flesh are more important than hundreds of, essentially, strangers.

What I do know for certain is that I enjoy the way I run – Garmins, selfies, over-sharing and all – and I’m glad to be involved in different communities, but I don’t need that stuff to make me happy and fulfilled. As long as I have the important people with me and I’m not injured, I’m happy.

What are your thoughts?

Do you use social media?

Do you track your running?

Fitbit Surge Review

Through being connected with Run Reigate (I’m running their half marathon and blogging for them), I’ve been given a Fitbit Surge to help with my training as they’re one of the Run Reigate sponsors. So I thought I’d do a little review of how I’m finding it and what I think.

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When the fitness trackers first started coming out I had an original Fitbit. It was fairly basic but it did what I wanted: counted my steps and monitored my sleep. Then when the Garmin Vivofit came out I decided to upgrade as I liked the idea of it also working as a watch (the original Fitbit didn’t have a screen) and I have a Garmin running watch so it seemed to make sense.

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Now I have the Fitbit Surge. I was really excited about this because I liked the idea of having a heart rate monitor on all the time. I’m a geek and love all the stats so this really appealed to me. Plus I liked that it looks a lot more like a watch that the Vivofit. A few of my non-running friends often laughed at my Vivofit saying it looked like I was wearing a prison tag device on my wrist *sighs*.

So what are the features of the Surge?

Activity Tracking

It tracks steps, distance, calories burned, floors climbed, active minutes, hourly activity and stationary time. And, using the Fitbit app, you can see cool graphs of your activities over the day and week:

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And you can delve into this further to see when those steps were accumulated over the day:

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This day had a run in the morning as you can see by the spikes at the beginning of the day.

Tracks Workouts

Unlike the Vivofit, you can track an actual workout.

FitBit spin

There are different exercise groups you can choose from, such as hiking, weights and spinning.

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This was a spinning session I did. It tracked my heart rate and calories burned. Not visible in the screenshot is, if you scroll down, it will tell you how many steps were taken during this workout and activity minutes – basically the “impact on your day”. So when I go to the gym and do weights I can see how many steps I take purely during that workout, which I think is quite interesting. And very handy as well with running as when you run it’s easy to get over 10,000 steps and maybe you want to hit 10,000 despite the run (basically not being an active couch potato Winking smile).

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You can then see what you’ve been up to during the week in terms of activities (that Thursday run went a bit wrong as I was just getting used to how to use the watch!).

Tracking Runs

The handy part of the Surge is that you can use it as a running watch. It has GPS so you can track a run exactly as you would using a Garmin.

Fitbit Surge

On the watch face you can choose what stats you see. So, average pace, heart rate and distance etc. It vibrates when you hit a mile (though you can change this to whatever increment and metric you like). I wore my Garmin watch with it as I still prefer my actual Garmin to run with but I liked that I could see my HR and the stats were very close between the two watches. If you were looking for a running watch and wanted an activity tracker then this would be ideal for you.

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Interestingly even when I didn’t select the running functionality and just used my Garmin (but still wore the Surge) when I synced it later to my phone it had picked up I’d run anyway (though contained no map as the GPS hadn’t been engaged). I love this! It means that I can still partition my steps away from a run but not waste battery on using GPS. Very clever. And yes, it does connect to Strava.

Tracking Sleep

Like other trackers, it monitors your sleep. You don’t have to click anything to say you’re going to sleep, you just sleep.

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Like the steps, you can hone into the detail of each night’s sleep and it will give you a graph displaying when you were awake, restless or asleep and for how long.

Notifications

It also picks up messages and incoming calls by gently vibrating and displaying it on the screen. You can read the messages on the screen which I think is quite handy. You can also control your music through your watch. This is amazing for me as when I go for a run and listen to music my phone will invariably be in a bag or armband and be tricky to get out. If a song comes on I don’t fancy it’s such an effort to get the phone out – but using my watch makes things a whole lot easier! The same goes for if I receive a message or a phone call – I can just click to read/answer it there and then.

Alarms

This is what I really missed about my old Fitbit when I moved to the Vivofit. I loved that there was an alarm functionality which was basically a gentle vibration of the device and this is the same for the Surge.

Heart Rate

This was the best part for me: seeing my heart rate through the day. Especially during marathon training, it’s important for me to monitor these things to make sure I can catch any early signs of illness or over-training. I check my heart rate in the morning as soon as I wake up (I always remember Steve Way telling us at the MT Run Camp that he checks his HR all the time and noticed that one morning he woke up and it was 10 beats higher than normal and felt a lot more tired and realised he was over-trained and needed a break before he crashed).

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It’s fairly accurate I think as I had my heart rate taken my a proper HR machine thing a few years ago and it’s always been around 50, which I guess is below average (probably why I feel dizzy when I stand up too quickly!).

The App

I love the app. I love the design of it, how easy it is to use and the sheer amount of data you can delve into. The Garmin Connect does have similar data but I just prefer the Fitbit app. It’s more intuitive and interesting.

IMG_4701The Dashboard

It also syncs really quickly and easily to it. You can connect with other Fitbit wearers and do different challengers as well to gain different badges. All very cool.

Other functionality I really liked was that the screen is touch screen and it’s very fluid and smooth moving. You can go back and forth through the different bits very easily. I disliked the Vivofit as it involved clicking a physical button and you had to click all the way through to get back to the time… and if you clicked one too many times you had to cycle through them all again.

I also really like how it has a backlight. This means I can tell the time in the middle of the night without looking at my phone (being short-sighted is an issue at bedtime). I hate looking at my phone in the middle of the night as it can sometimes distract me – “ooh a new notification on Facebook or Instagram…”.

But the one thing that I really don’t like though is the battery life. The Vivofit didn’t need charging, whereas the Surge needs to be charged once a week. For someone who’s used to wearing a watch now all the time, it’s hard to remember!

All in all, I really love it. I won’t be going back to my Vivofit!

Do you wear an activity tracker?

How many steps do you do on average in a day?

Do you like to track your workouts?

**I was given the Fitbit Surge for free by Run Reigate in exchange for my participation and blogging in the Reigate Half Marathon. All opinions are my own honest owns.**

Rants and Raves #12

Well I haven’t done one of these posts in a while and I certainly have an abundance of rants stored up in me…but I’ll try and keep it balanced.

Rave: I’ve mentioned a few times about how my Garmin heart rate monitor strap rubs when I wear it. This is highly annoying considering it cost around £50 (separate from the actual watch). I don’t really do heart rate training with all the different zones but, like most runners, I love having all the stats from a run (oh the graphs! Oh the numbers! So much information!). It’s also handy to keep an eye on my heart rate when I’m doing a long run to make sure I’m not pushing too hard. But anyway the strap rubbed my chest and was quite painful, meaning I couldn’t wear it. Very frustrating considering I was able to wear my Polar HR strap when I went to the gym with no issues. I did try putting the actual HR bit on the Polar strap but it kept pinging off…so I did some Googling and found a way to overcome the chafe.

IMG_0289 Plasters! I found this out from the legendry running tech reviewer DC Rainmaker so I’m hugely grateful to him. I’ve had no issues since! The article is HERE. I’m stat happy once again 😀

Rant: Windy running. I don’t mind running when it’s cold, or wet, or really hot, or even in snow…but wind? Wind just sucks your soul and drains your energy like nothing else. I ran 17 miles on Sunday and it felt like I was being slapped by a wall of sea water as I ran along the coast. I ran past another runner and we looked at each other like “why are we out in this?!”. When I got home I then had to contend with the dread Post-Run Hair: Post-run crazy hair Luckily it didn’t take too long to comb through. Short-haired people and (the majority of) men, you are lucky!

Despite the hair issues, the run went well thankfully though my pace was all over the place despite trying to keep it consistent. Though I wanted the final mile to be faster so I could see how it felt on tired legs. It was tough!

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And after last Sunday’s fun Southampton half running with a bunch of friends, this run was lonely and hard work. I’m wondering if I can tempt anyone to join me on my 18 miler in two weeks time – or at least part of it…It seems everyone else’s marathons have finished so there’s a severe lack of long run runners on Sundays now.

Rave: Kangaroo burgers at my friend’s BBQ. A local farm shop sells the most amazing meat and BBQ fodder that I couldn’t resist buying kangaroo burgers and some equally delicious red Thai chicken burgers.

Kangaroo burger Kangaroo burger

Kangaroo is a bit gamey and a bit beefy but very nice! The BBQ was on the Bank holiday Monday and was good fun, though slightly chillier than I had anticipated (I wore shorts: mistake). And two of my very talented friends baked cakes which were delicious. Homemade for the win every time.

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How pretty is that cupcake on the right?? My friend Louise is so good at baking!

Rant: Headaches after my long runs. It doesn’t happen every time, but occasionally I’ll get an awful headache that just persists regardless of what I do. I drink a big 500ml of nuun after my run and drink through the day but I don’t drink on the actual run so maybe that’s it? I also try not to drink too much before running because I hate needing the loo half way through. Re-fuelling with lots of sugary cakes is probably not the best thing either. I know I need to be more sensible but all I want is cake when I do a long run! I feel like I’ve earnt it you know??

The Tea Room Lee-on-Solent Another afternoon tea session with my parents on Sunday – The Tea Room in Lee-on-Solent

Rave: Being in the paper! A lovely reader Tweeted me to say they saw me in their local paper. I was over the moon (so was my mum).

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Our moment of fame!

The picture above the photo of my running friends and me is of another Hedge End Runner who ran both the Southampton 10k and the Southampton half (same day!) in a Cookie Monster outfit to raise money for charity – what a legend!

Rant: Being forced out of the communal gym area because one of the personal trainers wants to use it for his customers’ boot camp session. Now I wouldn’t mind so much if it was a proper scheduled class run by the actual gym and is pinned up on the board like the other classes (so I was aware), but this is his freelance work and so he really has no monopoly over the gym space. It’s rude and unfair. He pushed out another girl, three guys and me – we were not amused.

Rave: My mum gave me her spare hot sleeve for my hair straighteners so they can cool safely after I’ve used them (my mum is the type of woman who buys two of everything, just in case).

Hair straightener holder

It’s so useful! It means I don’t have to worry about the hot irons leaving marks anywhere or Alfie finding them (find it HEREnot an affiliated link, just if you’re interested!).

What are your recent rants and raves?

Do you get headaches after working out? Any tips?

Do you wear a heart rate monitor when working out?

Rant and Raves #2

There’s something rather cathartic about having a bit of moan at times, and also professing my love for stuff, which invariably includes some form of food 😉 I try not to be predictable…but why deny my nature, eh?

Rant: I love my husband (obviously) and I love that he’s really gotten into the whole baking lark. We bought loads of new cake tins and gadgets and we’re about to purchase the rather expensive (though heavily discounted because of Ben being an employee) Kenwood K-Mix. However I was led to believe that him baking would be a regular thing. He threw around the sentence “every other week” quite happily. Has this happened? No. And he’s off to China with work for a while so no homemade cake in the foreseeable future either. Good job I know a lot of afternoon tea joints near me otherwise times would be looking grim.

Rave: I love all these owl-themed things that are going on at the moment.Owls The top right is a necklace I got from Mango at the airport just before we went on our honeymoon, so it holds a special place in my heart (corny, yes I know). It’s a lovely long necklace which just goes with so many things. The necklace below is more delicate and sparkly and is from Accessorize. The top left is a cushion I found in a lovely trinket shop near to where I live. The bottom left is a hand-made Christmas tree decoration my parents bought for us as they know we are weird like owls. The bottom right is cake. I want that cake.

Rant: Garmin watches. Yes I expressed my love for all things “pace” a week or so ago but nothing irks me more than a Garmin that doesn’t find satellites. And standing in the cold at 5.50am waiting to find satellites is not what I call fun. I call that verging on hypothermia and looking like a creepy person loitering on a street corner. However, I have since found a way to combat this…

IMG_8394 This was Sunday morning – when the sun had actually risen at this point

By balancing my watch on our front door handle before a run means I can do some dynamic warm-up moves in the comfort and privacy of my own home while my watch takes its sweet time to get itself together.

Rant: The iPhone keyboard for typing texts. Maybe I just have fat fingers because honestly I never seem to be able to get a coherent sentence out via text.

IMG_8365 Me asking Ben if he was coming to parkrun on Saturday

I know I’m not the only person who struggles. I know we’re a lot better off than previously when we had to press each button like five times before getting the letter we wanted, but COME ON. Other phones do it better I’m sure.

Rave: Sweet popcorn hot chocolate.Popcorn hot chocolateLet’s ignore the number of chemicals undoubtedly present within this one mug and focus on the deliciousness that is this hot chocolate. It rocked my world. Normally I’m a mint hot chocolate kinda girl but I went crazy and tried a new flavour. It definitely paid off. Options hot chocolate, thank you. (FYI the salted caramel flavour is also pretty good).

Rave: I’m going with a double rave here rather than another rant as I’m all out of ranting. As I run stupid o’clock in the morning it is obviously very dark. I’ve been sent some truly fantastic running products made by Nathan Sports which make being seen a piece of cake. I’ll do a proper review another date, but so far I’m impressed!

IMG_8418 No excuses: don’t run like a Ninja – male yourself visible!

This is a handy little gadget (called the Light Spur) that you attach to your trainer and it lights up. It’s very bright and very easy to wear. I love running, but I do not love risking my life by not being seen when I run. Sometimes you can’t just rely on a high vis top.

[Disclosure: I was sent the Nathan Sports products for free to review, all opinions are my own though]

What are your rants and raves this week?

What’s your favourite hot drink? I love tea and coffee but I adore a hot chocolate in the evening.

Do you run in the dark? How do you stay safe?

It’s all about that pace

Another post title that almost made the cut: “your pace or mine?” Annnnyway… Generally speaking there seems to be two groups of runners in terms of pacing. Those who watch their Garmins like a hawk and those who don’t.

IMG_4235 Ahh my old Garmin. I’m now using the Garmin 220 (love it)

I’m part of the former group. I love wearing my Garmin, tracking my pace when I run, keeping to a certain target pace and then having those stats to upload for later nerding. If I don’t log it on my watch, the run didn’t happen.

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The first speed work I’ve done in a while! 40mins steady running

OK I’m joking, I’m not that extreme. I’m not adverse to going for a run without my watch, but it’s definitely not my preference.

Perhaps this is due to not trusting myself (will I run too fast? Will I run too slow?). Or perhaps it’s due to feeling like I’m not in control. If I don’t know what pace I’m running at then how do I know if I’m going too fast or not working hard enough? On my first mile I might be absolutely blasting it feeling great…because it’s my first mile. I might still have 9 to go and the wheels will undoubtedly fly off later.

Some people are so much more in tune with their pace that they can run without keeping check on their watch and they run perfectly well. Perhaps I’m one of those people, but I’ll never let myself know. When I first started running I just had an app on my phone to track my pace so I couldn’t look at it all the time. It would tell me every mile my pace (in an annoying woman’s voice) but that was it. Just once a mile. Not like now where I can look down at my watch every second and see my current pace, my average pace, the miles I’ve run and the time I’m doing it in. And I love it!

SimageStats from the Berlin marathon 

For the Berlin marathon I would literally check my watch every minute. I had a strict pace schedule I was trying to stick to. My intention was that the first 10 miles should feel relatively easy, so the temptation to run that little bit faster without realising was a risk. I needed that feedback from my watch to keep me in line. I really didn’t have the training behind me to risk anything. And I managed to do a nice negative split and felt comfortable all for but the last mile. I’m pretty sure I’ll do the same for my next marathon or any race in fact. I just like being in control.

IMG_3920 For my first half marathon I wrote my splits on my hand to make sure I kept to them

There also tends to be a bit of (and I use this word very loosely) snobbery. The idea of being a “slave to your watch” or not listening to your body. I can understand that but I don’t necessarily agree with it. Of course you can train on feel. Run a tempo run at a speed where you can’t really say more than a few words. You don’t need your watch to tell you that. Or run flat out 100% for 400m – you won’t have time to look at your watch. But even if you’re not looking at your watch at the time, how can you mark progress without this data saved from those sessions at a later date?

I’m absolutely not saying one way is better than the other – or that they’re mutually exclusive. I admire people who just go out and run without a watch and have no idea about their pace or just run on feel. But for every run? I definitely couldn’t do it. Personally for me my Garmin is there to keep me honest, track my progress (or mistakes) and it makes me happy. Perhaps it’s also my tendency to favour long distance where your pace, I strongly believe, is so important to keep under control because you’ve got a long way ahead of you. Whereas for a 5k perhaps it’s just a case of blast it like hell and hold on for as long as you can.

Sure maybe one day I’ll go out without the watch to just “run free”, but then I’ll probably just cover up my watch so I can still have a sneaky look at the stats later 😉

What do you prefer: running with a watch or without?

Do you like ‘geeking’ out with your running stats? There’s nothing better for me than looking at my splits after a race, I’m that sad.

If you’re not a runner, do you use other trackers for your exercise (e.g. HR monitors, gym machine stats, etc.)?