What the Heck Is VO2 Max?

running-advice-bugWhen sorting through the features of the latest generation of fitness devices, runners might pause and ask, “Do I need that?” I wondered just that myself this fall, when I noticed that a number of fitness trackers, including the new Microsoft Band, started including VO2 max as a metric.

DSC_0407Fitness devices are intended to improve our health and training performance by giving us useful information such as how fast our hearts are beating and how many calories we burn. But much of this information is only marginally helpful in shaping how we train. For example, although most of us understand the concept of calories, many of us don’t eat solely to replenish the calories we burn in a workout. We may feel better about ourselves if we work off some of what we’ve eaten, but we don’t necessarily stop gulping the sugary morning coffee drink after seeing how many calories we’ve burned.

VO2 max has been used for many years in assessing the aerobic capability of athletes. The test measures the maximum amount of oxygen that an athlete consumes during exercise. Think about the efficiency of a car and the size of its motor. (However, keep in mind that VO2 max is not a measure like maximum horsepower or torque that calculates the engine’s ability to produce raw power.) Rather, VO2 max measures oxygen consumption, which is used in aerobic exercises like distance running. It doesn’t tell us much about our power during anaerobic exercises like a running sprint. So, while VO2 max gives us a picture of the power of our “engines,” it’s not telling us how fast we would be “off the line.”

To test VO2 max, athletes typically hook up to an apparatus that measures how much oxygen they breathe and how much oxygen and carbon dioxide they exhale during exercise. This is a direct measurement of how much oxygen is going in and how much is actually being used when athletes run. VO2 max is reached when oxygen consumption stops rising – even when the workout gets harder. The measurement is helpful because it allows athletes to determine how intense their training should be – and to monitor their VO2 max over time.
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How to Choose the Right Gadget for the Runner on Your Gift List

running-advice-bugIf you’ve got an electronically-inclined runner on your holiday shopping list, you may be wondering how to pick the best running gadget for him or her this year. Loads of electronics out there promise to improve health, track information and even calculate arcane pieces of information such as your VO2 max and “ground contact time.” But, by homing in on what really matters for runners, you can simplify the shopping process. Here’s what to know about the various options before you start your spree:

1. Fitness and Activity Trackers

The Garmin Forerunner 620

The Garmin Forerunner 620

The Fitbit and FuelBand makers of the world would have you wear a device on your wrist that gives you a panacea of health-related information. Most of such fitness trackers use a pedometer to count your steps and integrate with a software application that can display information such as the number of calories you burn each day and how much sleep you’re getting.

While activity trackers are good for general information, many runners find them less useful than purpose-built sports watches. The information from a pedometer is typically based on counting steps, so it’s hard for many of these devices to differentiate between walking, jogging or running – each of which burn progressively more calories. Fitness trackers also won’t work well for tracking information about sports such as swimming or CrossFit, where the feet aren’t moving around that much.

Grade for runners: C

2. Smartwatches

The news this year has been all about the smartwatch, from the Apple Watch to the Samsung Gear to the Moto 360. Most of these devices include fitness-monitoring features, such as heart rate monitoring and step counting.

The primary drawbacks of these gadgets for many runners are twofold. First, to take advantage of the watch’s features, you may have to carry your phone along with you on your run. Many runners don’t want to carry an expensive, potentially large, device with them. Second, some of the devices may not appreciate getting doused in sweat or rain on a daily basis. My own experience with the Moto 360 taught me that wearing a smartwatch with a leather band leads to a very grimy, yucky-looking band in no time flat.

Grade for runners: B-
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Product Review — Jabra Sport Pulse Bluetooth Wireless In-ear Heart Rate Monitor #running #fitness

running-advice-bugI was kind of intrigued when I was offered a chance to test the new Jabra Sport Pulse in-ear heart rate monitoring system. I wondered how well a heart rate monitor would work when placed in the ear rather than worn around the chest on a strap. And I wondered whether this would be a handy device to offer to runners that want to try a heart rate monitor integrated into their earphones. After about six weeks of use, I can say now that there are pluses and minuses to using a system like this. Let’s delve into this today.

Jabra Sport Pulse Bluetooth In-Ear Heart Rate Monitor

Jabra Sport Pulse Bluetooth In-Ear Heart Rate Monitor

As the name implies, the Jabra Sport Pulse is designed first and foremost to offer heart-rate monitoring. It is also a set of wireless Bluetooth earphones that can be used for listening to music. The product includes software applications for both Apple and Android to operate both of these functions with your Smartphone (more on this later). The head-phones act just like any other Bluetooth device in that you pair them with your phone and then can easily reconnect them by turning them on when you want to use them. Overall, set-up was a snap and very intuitive. Literally the only thing I couldn’t figure out in the first few days was how to turn them off after use. (I found out later that you hold down the center multi-function button until they power down.)

Once up paired with your phone, the Jabra Sport Pulse software app will launch when you connect to your phone. The interface is very intuitive. You can track running, cycling, walking, hiking and several other sports. The app prompts you in (in my opinion) a sultry female voice with a British accent, which I found charming at first and then later found sort of annoying. She pops in pretty often to tell you how far you’ve run and how fast, although it occurs to me that she never actually gives you your heart rate. Heart rate information is displayed on handy graphs showing the amount of work in different heart rate zones and all of your workouts are stored in the app for later reference. There is also a piece of software called Jabra Sound that acts as a music player should you need one. I found that the earphones worked just fine for streaming music from Pandora and listening to MP3s from my Amazon Music player.

Now let’s get down to the pros and cons of using this solution. First among the cons is that this is an in-ear solution, which means that it wouldn’t be allowed in many events such as triathlons where headphones are against the rules of competition. A second problem with the in-ear solution is when training in a group setting, you’ll have something in your ears. Just like any other headphone, people may avoid talking to you or you may have trouble hearing them when they do. When I used these headphones in my spin class environment I found myself pulling them out to talk to people, even when I wasn’t listening to music. You do still hear a fair amount of ambient sound with them inserted in the ear, but it’s hard to hear people talking in loud exercise-equipment rich environments just the same.
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Review: Pearl Izumi Tri Fly Octane Triathlon Cycling Shoe #triathlon #pearlizumi

running-advice-bugIt’s not very often that I actually ask a manufacturer to send me a product to test. I pick out the best gear for myself and my athletes, but taking time to write about it all doesn’t rank that highly on my to-do list. But when it came to the Pearl Izumi Tri Fly Octane Triathlon Cycling shoe, I had to make an exception. I needed to try out these shoes and they didn’t disappoint me.

Pearl Izumi's fantastic Tri Fly Octane cycling shoe

Pearl Izumi’s fantastic Tri Fly Octane cycling shoe

I first saw the Tri Fly Octane while on a visit to triathlon gear e-tailer Trisports.com down in Tucson. What will strike you upon picking up the shoe — after the bright orange color — is the weight of the shoe. This shoe is quite literally half the weight of any other shoe around it on the triathlon shelf. At 185 grams, they are ridiculously light. For comparison, my previous shoe weighed 295 grams. And while I’m not usually obsessed with weight, these shoes are so much lighter than anything else I have seen that it really stands-out.

The lightness of the shoe comes from a combination of things. One of them is the mostly-mesh upper on the shoe. This reduces the amount of bulky material, but it also lets a lot more air through the shoe and lets water drain out quickly. This is a bonus when you have wet feet getting into the shoes in T1. The flip-side is that riding in this shoe on a cold-rainy day is not that much fun. My booties needed to make an appearance early this Fall.

The shoe sports a carbon-fiber base that makes it very strong. Even for a powerful cyclist that likes to push the pedals hard like me, it provides an un-flinching platform to push against.
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Is YouBeRu the Future of Running Event Timing and Tracking? #running #marathon #triathlon

running-advice-bugHere’s a question that I can throw at you today. Will YouBeRu (#YouBetterRun) be the next Instagram or Uber? Perhaps not for everyone, but if this one takes off athletes, race directors, live sports event producers and spectators may one day follow athletes in a whole new way.

Smartphone AppIf you follow my writings on my Event Futurist blog, you’ll know that I believe that technology has the power to transform live events, connecting people and enhancing their experiences. This is true of many new technologies that help share content among event participants and that help connect participants with one another. In the sports event production space, there have been many great advances in athlete tracking and monitoring as well. Way back in 2005 I worked on a project to bring live video feeds to the courses on Ironman triathlons and things have gotten progressively better from there. Spectating at Marathons and Ironman Triathlons is tricky, because athletes don’t always move at constant speeds — and even when they do it’s hard to figure out where they are with complicated wave starts and only best guess estimates for their pace on race day.

Systems that track participants for the most part still rely on timing mats along courses, which means that data about an athlete’s progress only happens when (and after) an athlete has crossed a mat, generating a time “split” or event for the system to track. Yes there are some more exotic methods of tracking athletes such as placing small cellular transmitters on bikes as they have done at times in a races like the Tour de France or extrapolating performance like the Boston Marathon did in its app this year. But the field is still open for an app or system that collects live data on athletes to help spectators know exactly where they are or will be on a race course so that they can see them, cheer for them and be there to give high-fives and hugs.

YouBeRun BraceletEnter a new start-up from Denmark called YouBeRu, which operates under the very poignant hashtag #YouBetterRun. The idea behind this new technology is to harness the power of smartphones to act as the timing mats. Participants wear a wrist band that sends out a signal and people with the app on their phones become the receivers along the course. This means that each time an athlete wearing a band goes by someone on the course, the data is collected and shared with users of the app. The idea here is to create a grid of timing locations that is much more dense than the number of mats that you can put out on a race course.
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Review: Strava Running and Cycling Fitness GPS App

running-advice-bugI love Strava. I just love it. There are many fitness apps out there today, but there are five things that make the Strava Running and Cycling GPS App my number one choice for tracking and comparing running and cycling workouts.

A screen capture from Stava

A screen capture from Stava

First off, I have not been paid, solicited or even approached by the folks at Strava or any other company to write this review. I have been using Strava on my Android smartphone for more than a year. I have used it on both Samsung Galaxy S3 and now LG G2 Pro smartphones. In that time I have recorded about 1,900 miles of rides and almost 1,000 miles of runs. I should also note that I continue to use a Garmin Forerunner GPS watch and a cycling computer on my bike, both for the instant access to data that comes from these devices. But there are a number of reasons that I think Strava is tops for recording and capturing workout data.

Reason 1: It’s easy to use. For an app to really make it with the broadest range of users it has to be super easy to set up, use and navigate. Strava does such a nice job of keeping the interface simple. Say you want to switch between running and cycling? You just click the icon of the bicycle or the shoe at the top. That’s it. (It used to be two different apps.) You simply start a recording and then save it at the end. The app does the rest. The simplicity of Strava extends to the way it compares data to other athletes. It does it automatically. You don’t have to tell Strava to compare you to others or define the routes. Strava users define the routes, leaving this to those that care to do it, and the system makes the comparisons for you. It couldn’t be simpler.

Reason 2: It’s a training history all in one place. I used to be so haphazard about keeping records of my runs and rides. Forget writing them down or inputting them into TrainingPeaks. Since I take my phone with me on my workouts, now I simply hit start and have a record of all of my outdoor runs and rides in once place. This makes it very easy for me to scan back and see what I’ve done over the course of the last month or how long some ride or run might have been.
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Gear — Buying Running Shoes Might Require Patience

running-advice-bugI was working with a client over the past week to do the seemingly straight-forward task of putting running shoes on her feet. You’d think that buying running shoes would be a simple affair. You might even think that it would fun. And for some people it surely is a fun experience. But for others, an exercise in patience it can be. Let’s look today at why buying running shoes might require some patience on your part.

First, there are people out there that are blessed with a great bio-mechanics, commonly shaped feet and a bit of luck. I admit to being such a person. I could put on just about any pair of running shoes in my size and I could probably run in them. For me it comes down to the feel of the shoe as well as picking a pair that helps me meet my performance goals. In fact, a lot of good runners fall into this category. Perhaps we’re not lucky. Perhaps the people at the running shoe companies use us as the models for their shoe designs and poof — they just work.

But then there is the vast majority of the rest of you out there. Those of you that put on a pair of shoes and realize that your knee-bone is connected to your ankle-bone and that’s connected to your hip-bone and it suddenly doesn’t feel that good.

Here’s the thing. Everything from the foot up to your head is connected in a big chain of linkages and carefully connected structures. When you take off running, your feet are engaged in a epic battle that requires balance, power, and leverage. In fact just about every muscle in your body from the foot up through your mid-section is doing something to either push you forward, keep you upright or create the counter-force that keeps you from flopping over forward or backward.
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Products — Polk Audio UltraFit 3000 Sport Headphones

running-advice-bugPolk Audio has released a new series of headphones designed for running and sports called the UltraFit 3000. The headphones are designed to fit snugly in the ears, isolated noise, resist moisture and stay in place while jostling around in active sports. I’ve been testing the new earphones for the last two weeks and I can say that they do perform as advertised with a couple of caveats.

Polk Audio UltraFit 3000 Sport Headphone

First, let’s start with fit. This is an in-ear earphone, which means that you pretty much push them into your ear canals to both stay put and block out noise. The sales person at the Vancouver Marathon race expo showed me this really cool kind of judo chop move in which you put the earphone into your ear and then pull your ear lobe downward, allowing the earphone to move a little further inside your ear. When done correctly, the headphones stay securely in place, even when you’re running, jumping or stretching. Here’s the first caveat however: there are a number of removable ear-plugs designed for different sizes and shapes of ear canals. If you don’t have the right fit, the ear-phones will pop right out (or not go in at all). You really need to make sure that you have the right fit.

Moving on to sound quality, the Polk Audio UltraFit 3000 sounds very good. For such a small ear-phone, you’ll notice a great deal more bass and sound quality than the typical in-ear bud that comes with an iPod. Here’s caveat number two: you may notice that you lose the bass tones if the ear bud moves too far out of your ear canal. I notice that if I’m sitting at my desk (as I am now) I can clench my jaw slightly and then I head the sound more richly. I think this comes back to fit. By moving my jaw a bit I’m probably securing a slightly tighter fit in the ear-phone and that increases the quality of what I’m hearing.

These are billed as “noise-isolating” ear-phones and I can attest to the fact that you’ll hear almost nothing from the outside world when these are ear-phones are in place. Unlike a typical over-ear noise-cancelling earphone, these ear-phones are also acting as ear plugs. When you put them in your ear they are sealing out the noise around you. This means that they really block everything out. Whether this is a good thing is going to be up to you. I typically press the pause button when people walk up and start talking to me. With these ear-phones in place, I have to pull one of them out to talk to people. This was somewhat annoying on several recent flights when flight attendants came up and asked me question. I was furiously giving the international sign for “hang on” which I pull my ear-phones out. I also find it just a bit off-putting to run with these ear-phones on the road, because I hear absolutely nothing of cars, horns, sirens, or anything else. They are, however, great for the gym where the idea is to block out the outside world completely.

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Product of the Year — Newton Running Neutral Performance Racer

running-advice-bugRunning Advice and News is pleased to announce our pick for 2010 Product of the Year. This is the product that most captured our attention and represents continued innovation in running products for 2010. Our pick is the Newton Running Neutral Performance Racer running shoe from Newton Running. We congratulate Newton Running for pushing the envelop of running technology with their innovative designs and thoughtful approach to re-evaluating the running shoe.

Background

Newton Running Neutral Performance Racer

In a year when everyone seemed to be looking to barefoot running and the Vibram Five Fingers barefoot running shoe as the next direction in shoes, it was the approach taken by Newton Running that caught my eye. While barefoot running and the Newton Running approach share something in common — moving the runner to a more forward and natural running position — Newton has found a way to protect the foot from the pounding of the pavement while putting the runner in a position that will foster more speed, agility and fluidity in their form. While both approaches require a retraining of the runner and changes to the runner’s position, I feel that runners will fare better in a cushioned shoe that places them in a more natural position, than exposing their feet to direct pounding on pavement.

Newton Running’s approach is to build up the cushion under the fore-foot and give the foot a stronger push from the shoe on take-off. The heel height is also reduced to varying degrees based on the particular model of the shoe, because the runner impacts less on the heel in this forward position and moves the runner farther forward onto the balls of their feet. As with barefoot running, running in a more forward position does require greater strength in the calf muscles, feet and Achilles tendons, but it places the runner in a position that allows the legs to work in a more natural way to propel the body forward.

My test of the Neutral Performance Racer started in June after buying a pair at the Rock N Roll Marathon race expo. I was attracted to the shoe because as a fore-foot runner the shoe promised more cushion and support in the fore-foot area. At the time both myself and Coach Dean Hebert briefly tested the shoe. As I noted in my first review of the product, Coach Dean did not like the shoe due to his history with Achilles Tendon problems and the stress that the shoe can put on the Achilles due to its lower heel angle. And as I pointed out in that initial review, I had reservations about the shoes applicability to some runners.

Over the past six months, I’ve worn through two pairs of the Newton Running shoes and have found that the product performs well under many different running conditions — from dirt to the track to the road and in wet, dry or hot conditions. But I have also found that the adaptation caused by the shoe has had overall benefits for my strength as a runner. In early testing, I noted that I often needed to warm-up in a more traditional shoe, because the forward position was fatiguing when running slowly. Over the course of the first few months, this fatigue disappeared completely. As my feet and legs became stronger, the forward position of the shoe felt more and more natural at all speeds.
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Product Review — Newton Running Performance Racer (Part I)

running-advice-bugI’ve been testing the Newton Running Neutral Performance Racer for three weeks now. And oh how I wanted to dislike this shoe. I wanted to dislike them, because I dreaded the fact that I would fall in love with them and have to pay $155 a pair for them for the rest of my running career. While I haven’t made that leap yet, in these first three weeks I have at least become quite impressed by them.

Newton Running Neutral Performance Racer

Let’s start with some basics. Newton Running (www.newtonrunning.com) is a small running shoe company from Boulder, Colorado. As they say in company materials, their goal is to design running shoes that “mimic your natural barefoot running form.” They go on to say that the technology in the shoe took more than 14 years of development.

The core of the shoe design is two-fold: on the one-hand the shoe has more of cushion and spring under the forefoot and on the other it has less build-up under the heel. When you put these two things together, it means that the shoes sits in a somewhat flatter position on the ground (it has a less steep angle from the back to the front) and more substance under the front of the foot.

The idea here is that when running in a more natural — forefoot style — running position, the shoe helps defray the impact on the front of the foot and provides more push against the ground from the forefoot. This is somewhat contrary to the way many running shoes are made in that they tend to have a very large heel to capture the impact on the heel of the foot, before the foot stabilizes and then pushes off from the front.
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