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?



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.