The problem with a Pebble + iSmoothRun tandem

I touted the advantages of a Pebble + iSmoothRun tandem. After several months, however, I discovered one major issue, and it is making me reconsider a Garmin watch.

A bit of history here. My Garmin Forerunner 610 conked out – the display was out of whack – and I was not in the mood to purchase a replacement. At that time I already owned a Pebble watch and I knew that there are plenty of running iOS apps that could connect to the Pebble. So I did the research and came across the iSmoothRun app, which integrates nicely with the Pebble.

With the iSmoothRun you can build all sorts of workouts, create blocks of workouts – like a 5-minute run at 6:00/km pace followed by a 1-minute recovery run – then repeat that block as interval sets which can be bookended by a warmup and a cooldown. The app can link with Bluetooth heart rate monitors and tracks your cadence, stride length, even the mileage of your running shoes. As a stand-alone app it’s functionalities don’t differ much from the more recognied apps like Nike+ or Runkeeper, but where it stands apart from these is how iSmoothRun integrates with Pebble.

I was in love with how the tandem of Pebble watch and iSmoothRun app works. You control the app through Pebble. You can pause the app, start the app, indicate lap intervals. With iSmoothRun you can customize what info is displayed on your Pebble. You can display distance, time, pace, heart rate, cadence, speed, GPS signal, iPhone battery level, steps, average pace, average heart rate, and many many more. In addition you can scroll through different screens holding different information. Think of your Pebblie watchface as one page, a page holding three types of info, and you can scroll through these pages using one of the watch buttons.

Sadly though there’s one catch. Battery life.

There’s something with the battery life of an iPhone that worsens as the iPhone ages. And somehow even the battery life of my Pebble has deteriorated. A two-hour run would leave my Pebble with around 30% battery life. My iPhone would be at 50%. Given that I probably would run a marathon in 5 hours (maybe even more), then chances are my devices would run out of juice before I finish. For training runs it could still work.

So now I am in a quandary. The most obvious choice for a running watch is the Garmin Forerunner 620 which has all the basic features plus a few advanced ones that would please the inner geek in me (like VO2Max and vertical oscillation, though I wonder how useful this info would be). One thing, however, that I loved with the Pebble was the capability to see my iPhone messages (without having to take out my phone. With that feature I could choose what messages – and even what phone calls – to respond to and what to ignore. While it’s true that I can’t reply using the Pebble watch, at least I can decide whether or not to pull out the phone. The recently released Garmin Forerunner 920XT has that feature and all the other geeky features of the 620 but the 920XT is more expensive and is a triathlon watch so basically I am paying for some features that I probably won’t need.

So what will it be for Christmas – the 620 or the 920?



84 days to go: a much better long run

I wrote that yesterday’s run was a tedious run. Well my Sunday “long” 12-kilometer run was much better.

I was able to get a good sleep. I flopped to bed at about 10:30 pm and got up after 8 hours. Then I took another nap at around 2:30 pm and I think I overdid it because I woke up heavy and sluggish at around 5 pm. I promised myself that I would run no matter how late so I fired up the usual gadgets, laced up my shoes, and hit the pavement.

The day’s training plan called for an easy 4 kilometers, followed by 4 kilometers at 20 seconds faster than my marathon pace, ending with an easy 4 kilometers. After a few minutes of easy running I knew that yesterday’s drudging run was already history. There was zip in my legs. Gone was that feeling of lethargy. All systems were back to normal.

The second part was no different. I tried to coast, keeping a high cadence, but my iSmoothRun app kept on cueing me to go faster or slower despite what I felt was a steady pace. I am not sure if it is a glitch in the app or if it is because of spotty GPS in my area. I figured that if would rather err with a faster pace so I kept on running at what I thought would be the correct pace. It came out that I was running at 20 seconds faster than the prescribed pace. Despite that I didn’t feel exhausted or fatigued. I was breathing heavily but not gasping for air.

As a side note, the run took me to this stretch of road where cars tend to zoom by. I would reach that spot whenever a run was 10 kilometers or longer. The sun had totally set when I reached that part of the route, and the road had no functioning lamp posts so it was dark and cars had their headlights on. I had strapped reflectors and ran against the traffic, but I still couldn’t “tune out” and had to be alert for swerving vehicles, not to mention a few motorcycles or bicycles that don’t have headlights. This is the reason why I try as much as possible to avoid running at night.

I slowed down for the third part of the run. Actually I thought I would hit my zone 2 pace but found that I was still running relatively fast. I also wanted to see how long before my heart rate returns to normal. When the app cued me to go into the slower recovery pace, it told me that my HR was 172. After one kilometer of what I thought was a slow pace, HR dipped to 164. It never reached zone 2 however.

After a few hours, my coach advised me that he would review the data and see if I should increase the pace for the subsequent runs. I expect that he would since I feel that I have just been on cruise control.

Run stats:

  • 12 kilometers in 1:27:45
  • Interval pace – 7:50, 6:29, 7:36
  • Interval HR – 135, 163, 163.
  • Time in HR Zones – 1% in Z1, 37% in Z2, 38% in Z3, 24% in Z4.

Dependent on gadgets

I admit I am a gadget-geek, and it shows in my running. Those who think that running is a “cheap” sport should look at the plethora of gadgetry out there. We have running watches that track time and distance, heart rate monitors that connect to your watch or your smartphone, fitness devices that measure number of steps, and so on and so forth.

I have my own slew of devices. I went through a number of Garmin watches before settling in on a combination of a Pebble watch and an iPhone running the iSmoothRun app (which pairs nicely with the Pebble watch). I use my iPhone to measure my sleep patterns, track the number of steps I take, measure my HR in the morning.

But I have to also learn to disassociate myself from these gadgets. Early this week my HR monitor died on me so I ran Tuesday's run just going by “feel.” Then the other my Pebble watch lost connection with my iPhone, causing me to run with no feedback on pace, heart rate, time, distance. It was discomforting.

Gadgets are supposed to help me run and I shouldn't be dependent on it. The plan called for a 30-minute run and I roughly know what route to take and what pace to run to complete a 30-minute run. Even if I'm off by a few minutes, at least I got to run. Fortunately my phone could give audible alerts on time so I was able to finish the training run.

There was a time when all I had was a stop watch and I got to run. I remember when we knew what was an easy run and what was a punishing run based on how hard I was breathing and how hard my heart was pounding. I should remind myself that running is less about the gadgetry and more about what one feels and senses.