Thursday, September 24, 2009

Go Gadget, Go!

One of my pseudonyms is Gadget Girl. While I probably don't have to explain this to those of you who've read some of my posts, the name derives from my love of all things gadgety. Running has some especially cool gadgets, and I do my part to support the economy by trying out just about every one.

I had a bit of an electronics scare last week. One of my friends who is running the Twin Cities Marathon this year and also ran it last year told me that they did not allow elite runners to wear GPS devices last year because they were considered a form of pacing aid. I thought this sounded fishy, but my head started spinning with the repercussions of this news. What would I do without my Garmin? I don't have a regular split watch (aka wrist chronometer in USATF rulebooks, btw) that actually has a charged battery. In fact, I don't even know how to work any of my other watches since I don't wear them, ever. Of course, I could slap a battery in one and learn fairly quickly how to use it, but I want my GPS! After a quick exchange of messages with the elite athlete coordinator for Twin Cities, I found out that they are allowed. Phewww!

On Tuesday, the reality of catastrophic gadget disaster entered my happy little Gadget Girl world. I had the good fortune to run a workout with Jo (pronounced "ho") Mama early Tuesday morning and, in the middle of one of her repeats, her Garmin 405 froze up with the lights on. Just stopped functioning: no stopwatch, no pace, nothing. This had never happened to me before. She said it happened to her all the time! The 405 is notorious for bad behavior when it gets wet. Mine generally starts beeping like a hungry baby bird, but I can silence it with a bezel lock. I've always been annoyed by this defect, but I excuse it since there are so many other things I love about the device.

Faced with the potential for complete gadget meltdown at Twin Cities, I thought about my options which included carrying/wearing a separate watch as a back up. While this is a viable option, the alternative seemed much better to me: buy another gadget. Anyone who knows me knows that I am generally the first in line to buy the latest gadget. Case in point: I stood in line to be one of the first to get the iPhone when it came out. That was actually fun because it was like a geekfest replete with nerdy chatter and anxious energy in anticipation of holding one of these revolutionary devices in our own little hands (picture me right now rubbing my hands together and shouting muwahhh, muwahhh in a mad scientist kind of way). You get the picture.

So, when the Garmin Forerunner 405 came out, I was on it. I had it up and running and had dialed in all of the features to the point that I was teaching classes in how to use it within weeks. There were features from my older Forerunner 305 that I was sorry to give up like maps for navigation, a big screen and on-the-fly workout programming. However, I liked the sleek new design and the wireless data transfer of the 405 (though I waited forever to be able to download directly to my Mac).

When the Forerunner 310XT came out, I wondered what all the hubbub was about. It looked the same as the 305 (=big), but had the convenience of the wireless data transfer. The difference? It is waterproof. That's what I needed right now was a little reassurance that, if I dumped a cup of water on or drooled all over my wrist, I would still have a functioning watch and GPS during the marathon. I purchased this little beauty yesterday and my first question to myself was, "what the hell took you so long?"

While the unit looks bigger than the 405, it's not, in my opinion. The 405 just has a massive plastic bezel that serves no function while the 310 gives you nothing but screen. The map function serves as my Hansel and Gretel back up plan for when I'm running in foreign environs. It leaves little breadcrumbs on the screen that you can then eat on the way back to your starting position. I can't even tell you how many times my butt has been saved by this gem of a feature, which existed on the 305 as well, but not the 405. While I usually advise against the use of new devices in important races, the 310XT functions just like my 305 did. I feel confident that I can master it in time for the big race.

So, I got a chance to test out one of the features last night at the gym where I had a hot date with Tready. I had planned to do my 14-mile workout in the morning but got sidetracked. I sat down to check e-mail messages before my run and had an inconveniently-timed brainstorm hit. I started mind mapping like crazy on my computer. You just can't let moments of brilliance like that pass. Two hours later, I emerged from the blizzard, but now the temperatures were hovering around 75F outside. I was NOT going to do my hard workouts in the heat any more now that it looked like 40-50 degree weather was on tap for Twin Cities on October 4th.

So, I postponed the workout to the evening and made a date with Tready. He was happy to see me again. My workout was 14 total miles with:
  • 3 miles @ goal marathon pace (GMP), 3 minute jog
  • 2 miles @ 10-12 seconds per mile faster than GMP, 2 minute jog
  • 1 mile @ 10k effort, 3 minute jog
  • 4 x 400m @ 3k effort, 1 minute jog
I really wanted to dial in my paces in this workout after not feeling great about running GMP in last weekend's long run. I realized that Tready could help me here by literally, well, dialing in the paces. I could then use my new toy to measure and record my heart rate throughout the workout to see where it fell and to maximally leverage my geek-out opportunity with data analysis and chart creation when I got home.

This idea was truly inspired. I had a great workout and was even happier when I got home and saw my heart rate charts. I ran the GMP right on 6:18 pace (of course with added incline to make up for the lack of wind resistance) and my heart rate hovered around 85-88%* max. According to Dr. Jack Daniels, this is right where I want to be for marathon pace. My pace for the 2-mile section was 6:07 and my heart rate barely cracked 90% of max, which is at the tippy top of the marathon range. I ran 10k effort at 5:52 pace and my heart rate made it up to 92% of max. I felt great the whole time and, while GMP didn't feel "easy" it was a whole lot easier than it was last weekend.

While I'm not sure that you can count on the Effin' J stimulus package to turn around the California economy any time soon, I do feel much more confident going into my marathon race armed to the teeth with shiny new technology.

*As a follow up, I have done a little looking into the question of what range your heart rate should be in as a percentage of your max heart rate for a marathon. There is wild variability in the answer here, and it appears to depend on a lot of factors. Daniels says that the marathon training zone is 80-90% MaxHR and that elite athletes will race closer to the upper limit than novices. I've seen other articles that suggest you race a marathon around 80% MaxHR, starting out as low as 75% MaxHR. I think the real lesson here is that it's good to have a benchmark so you know what your range is, but the bottom line is that you will slow down if you push the limits of your fitness in a race. Your heart rate will increase to an unsustainable level and force you to slow down. I found this article in PLoS One on the regulation of physical strain in athletes to be particularly interesting. There's a graph showing the MaxHR of 55 runners over the marathon distance, and, regardless of speed, they all ramped up and remained at around 85% MaxHR by the 5k mark and slowly crept up from 85% to 90% MaxHR from the halfway point to the end.


  1. No doubt the watch is a MUST.
    I like the info on the Heart, good stuff......

  2. I got the 310xt a few months ago! I love it!