Matt’s Guest Blog: Nike+ SportWatch

Kathleen and Mike ran their distance run Friday morning, so I was on my own for 11 miles today. I slightly re-aggravated my hip flexor on Wednesday’s run, so the additional day of rest was welcomed and needed to avoid further injury. The pro to the hip flexor issue is that I kind of know how to manage it. I was pretty surprised at how well I felt both during and following today’s run. I guess the three weekly short runs are conditioning us well for distance running. After today’s run, I’m looking forward to the Philadelphia Rock n Roll Half in September. I’m predicting a pretty big chunk of time shaved off of my current half marathon PR.

After looking over my past runs, it turns out that today’s 11 miler was the longest continuous run that I had completed since March 16th (Rock n Roll USA Half Marathon). It’s hard to believe, but I’m pretty close to setting some distance PR’s!

This week’s topic is the Nike+ GPS-enabled SportWatch. Kathleen and Mike had previously written about their upgrade from the Nike+ iPhone app to the Garmin GPS watch. Last January, I did a similar upgrade but chose to go for Nike’s SportWatch and continue to use the familiar Nike+ online interface (which I really liked and wanted to keep using).

I chose to switch because I really didn’t like the Nike+ iPhone app. Full disclosure: much of this dislike is because I hated the inconvenience of having to carry my phone on runs – not the app itself. I didn’t have an iPhone workout arm band, so I had to zip my phone into a bulky water bottle pouch. This was a problem. Not being able to easily see the face of my phone meant I couldn’t interact with the app – see pace times, distances, etc. On top of that, it was very difficult to pause my run for red lights, untied shoes and motorcades (yes, that has happened). Granted, the delay in hitting the pause button wouldn’t destroy my pace times, but 5 seconds here, 10 seconds there…it can add up over the course of longer runs.

The Nike+ SportWatch solved all of my problems with the app’s usability. All the information and controls are easily visible and accessible at a moment’s notice. It is unfortunately not BlueTooth-enabled, so you need to plug the watch into your computer to log any run data. The USB plug is housed in the band’s clasp and has held up great with normal use. There’s a TomTom GPS unit inside the watch which makes it a little bulky, but that’s an inevitability with GPS watches. That said, I’m not a big fan of wearing things on my wrist, but I can say that this feels pretty comfortable. Lastly, the SportWatch came with an accelerometer that I wear on my sneaker to log strides in the event that I lose GPS connection. It can estimate stride length and frequency and give a close idea of distance and pace without GPS. I don’t use this feature much, but wear the accelerometer just in case.

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Upper left: USB plug hidden in clasp; Upper right: Nike+ SportWatch face; Bottom: If I wore Nike sneakers, I could embed the accelerometer into a cavity in the sole, but I don’t, so I use a small pouch on my laces to hold it.

Functionality wise, the TomTom GPS unit is noticeably more accurate than the app, which runs off the iPhone’s GPS. On short runs, the app’s small deviations from your true path won’t make much of a difference, but over longer distances, and extra 10-20 feet every so often will add up and could change your distance by a few tenths, which in turn will that will affect your recorded pace. Then again, we’re discussing a free app. For all that I’ve said about it, it is an extremely cheap solution and it does a very good job at getting close enough for the price. For someone interested in true accuracy for training purposes, the SportWatch records a much more consistent and true run path.

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Left: iPhone GPS Unit; Right: SportWatch GPS unit

On today’s run, I accidentally turned onto a wrong trail and had to run about 8’ through some bushes to hop onto the Mount Vernon Trail. The SportWatch picked up on my two 90 degree turns and 8’ relocation. Impressive.

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SportWatch picked up on my 8′ run through the bushes to get back on the Mount Vernon Trail.

All of the GPS watch manufacturers have great programs that collect the essential data that runners are looking for – distances, overall time, mile splits, real-time pace, accurate GPS tracking, elevation, etc. What I like about Nike+’s online interface is their pace color gradient when mapping your run. This allows you to see where you ran fastest (green) and slowest (red) and help you identify problem areas – hills, ground surface, etc. Another nice feature is the ability to tag each run to a specific pair of sneakers. This is great so that you know when they’re approaching retirement.

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Today’s Nike+ run map. One flaw: when I use the SportWatch, the weather is always 32 degrees and partly sunny.

I have to give Mike a shout-out when talking about the color gradients because he runs at an extremely consistent speed regardless of whether he is watching his pace or not. I’ve gotten better at consistency over the last few months, but I occasionally will lose it completely. It’s always funny to look at my “normal” runs vs. running with Mike.

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Top: Running with Mike; Bottom: Running alone (2 weeks ago I think)

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