Review: Running by Gyroscope

Running by Gyroscope lets you take your GPS run data and combine it with a photo to create stunning images to share on your favourite social media service.

Terrain layout

The “Terrain” layout lets you overlay your stats over a map of your run.

GPS data from your runs is automatically loaded into the app via integrations with both Strava and Runkeeper. Once a new activity is detected, the app alerts you with a push notification to let you know that you can create a new image.

Multiple Templates

There are a number of templates including map views (terrain, satellite and a dark street map) along with overlays that you can put over a photo taken on your run.

Each of the templates is really slick looking. Some, like the bar template, put the key metrics from your run along the bottom of the photo. The route template adds a small map of your run.

There are also a pair of fun images including the Donuts template (how many donuts you burned on your run) and the Elevation template that provides a visual on how much climbing you did on your run.

Post to Social Media

Once you’ve created your image, you can either save it to the camera roll for sharing to Twitter, Facebook or Dailymile, or use the built-in “share to Instagram” feature that makes it easy to post to the popular photo sharing service. You can also share and view it on Gyroscope’s own service, alongside other runners’ pics.

Why I Like It

I’ve used a few other apps to make these kinds of photos including Fitframe, and FitSnap. The images that Running by Gyroscope creates are more visually pleasing to me, and the integration with Strava makes it easy to choose a run to visualize. The addition of a route overlay also set it apart from competitors.

As mentioned, Running by Gyroscope is a free app, available on the App Store for iOS. Learn more at Gyroscope’s website.

Here’s some sample images to give you an idea of what you can create with the app:

 

Review: Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless Earbuds

Ask a runner what the worst thing about running with music is and they’ll likely tell you it’s the headphone wires.

Those who know me, know that I’m not a fan of running with headphones for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest is the headphone wires that always seem to be in the way.

Jabra Sport PulseI used to treadmill run with an iPod and a pair of Apple headphones, but after snagging the headphone cord and dropping my iPod or iPhone off the treadmill for about the millionth time a few years back, I swore off the headphones for good.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve a chance to test out a pair of Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless earbuds to see if going wireless would get me back into running with music.

Disclaimer: Jabra provided me with a pair of their earbuds for me to test out at no cost. As with other reviews where I’ve either paid for or received products at no cost, these are my own opinions and there was no pressure or input from Jabra on the content of this review.

Unboxing and setup

First impressions were good. The packaging is nice, and documentation is good. It’s actually a little weird at first to be holding a pair of headphones where the earbuds have a wire that only goes from one bud to the other instead of to a 1/4″ headphone jack.

The headphones are very light and the box included a nice carry case and a variety of different sized ear bud covers along with a variety of sizes of what Jabra calls ear wings so you can get a comfortable fit for your ears.

IMG_3964After a couple of test fittings, I settled on a good combination that felt snug in my ear, but not too snug. I was worried that the headphones would slip out on runs, but a bit of jumping around confirmed that wouldn’t be a problem.

Once the fit was figured out, the next step was getting them hooked up to my iPhone via Bluetooth.

I put the headphones on and held down the middle button on the remote (yes, there’s a standard iPhone remote and mic on the wire, so no need to pull your phone out to change tracks, or even to make a call). After a little beep, the woman’s voice guided me through the setup process. That was a nice touch, and a bit of a surprise, to be honest. Usually these things are a bit of a mystery to setup with flashing lights or no prompts at all.

It took just a few seconds for my iPhone to detect the Jabra earbuds and that was it – all done. Last step before a test run was to charge the battery. Charging is handled by a hidden micro USB port in the right earbud and a short USB charging cable is included. Battery level can be seen in the Jabra iOS app, or right in the menu bar of your phone when connected.

Sound quality

I’m not an audiophile, and I generally wear Apple EarPods headphones when I’m out and about, and a pair of Bose over-the-ear headphones at the office when I’m working.

The Jabra earbuds were no match for the Bose (as expected), but were the equal of the Apple EarPods, if not a bit better. Because they are in-ear, they do filter out a bit more of the noise around you than the EarPods do. That’s maybe a plus for music, but potentially a bit of a minus for runners from a safety perspective. That said, I didn’t find there was too much sound isolation when I ran with them and didn’t feel like they compromised my safety.

The takeaway here is that if you are used to decent headphones, you’ll find these sufficient. The sound quality is nothing to write home about, but they do the job and provide good sound on the run.

Heart rate monitor functions

You’ll note that Jabra calls these the Sport Pulse Wireless Earbubs. That’s because they’ve incorporated a heart rate monitor (HRM) into the left earbud. It measures heart rate during your workouts through an optical sensor.

Having the HRM in your ear means one less thing to worry about – no need to wear the usual HRM chest strap, or in my case a wrist-worn Mio Link HRM. That’s the theory, at least.

In practice, my testing showed the HRM was sometimes fussy and also inaccurate.

Maybe with some additional practice putting them in, or with more runs to play around with the fit, I could have made it better, but I wished it would have just worked right from the start. I felt that the fit was snug (almost too snug) and the HRM did accurately detect my heart rate some of the time. Bummer.

As a result, on test runs, I heard a voice in my ear a few times on the run telling me that the left earbud needed to be adjusted. It caused a great deal of distraction throughout the latter stages of my run.

A other consideration is that headphone-based HRMs only work if you have them in. Take your headphones off to take a break from the tunes, or to have a chat with a buddy, and your heart rate data stops. I couldn’t imagine wearing these for a full long run, but I’d definitely want heart rate data for the full run.

The biggest downside for me was that there’s no way to get that heart rate data to a Garmin or other running watch. I could use the Strava iOS app instead of Jabra’s app and get the data that way, but that’s limiting for me since I’m not a heavy Strava user and my running friends are mostly on Dailymile and Garmin Connect.

The Jabra Sport Life app

To get the most out of the Sport Pulse, you really need to use the Jabra Sport Life app. It’s available on iOS and Android for free and provides similar functionality to other running apps like Runkeeper or Runmeter.

During the run, the app announces pace, heart rate, distance and other metrics at regular intervals. I found the voice a bit difficult to understand because of a heavy British accent. I’d prefer something less distinctive, but you might think otherwise.

The app itself is servicable, but if you already run with a different app (or a watch), you likely won’t be keen on making the switch. One nice touch in the app is four fitness tests that can help you determine things like your resting heart rate, endurance capability, and even to see if you are pushing it too hard and over training.

Like the run mode, all the fitness tests include vocal prompts and combine the data from the heart rate monitor along with pace and distance info (from the phone’s GPS) to come to its conclusions.

 

Compatibility with other apps

Users of the Strava, Runkeeper, Endomondo, Runtastic and MapMyFitness apps can get the heart rate data to those apps as they have the required support built in. Users of other popular running apps like Dailymile or Runmeter are out of luck in terms of heart rate data.

If you are just interested in listening to music or podcasts on your run, the headphones work with any of the music apps out there, including iTunes, Rdio, Spotify, etc. I tested it with Rdio and Castro (a podcast app on iOS) and experienced no issues with dropouts.

As mentioned, the built in mic means you can take calls without pulling the phone out of your pocket, or waterbelt pouch. And in my testing Siri worked fine for sending texts or doing quick searches where the results were read back to you (like the weather, baseball scores or the time).

The verdict

Based on my couple of weeks of testing, if you are a runner who like to run with music, the Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless earbuds are a good choice to get rid of the annoying wires. They fit pretty well (with lots of sizing options included) and stayed put during my runs. Sound quality was good and the Bluetooth connection worked well with no dropouts.

On the other hand, while the Sport Pulse offers a nifty in-ear heart rate monitor, more serious runners may be annoyed by occasional inaccuracy in heart rate readings, and some fussiness in getting them working reliably. Additionally, the lack of integration with Garmin and other fitness watches could be a dealbreaker for some. For that reason, I probably wouldn’t recommend them if you were buying them specifically for the heart rate monitor function.

On the app side, the Jabra Sport Life app is well-designed and decently executed. It it does the job if you are looking for a good GPS-enabled tracker app, but the lack of community means many runners will opt for Strava, MapMyFitness or one of the other fitness apps with Sport Pulse HRM support. Having audio feedback during your run is nice, although more voices would be appreciated. The addition of some fitness tests sets the app apart from others that just track your runs.

Personally, I’d probably opt for the less expensive, but similar Jabra Sport Coach and save the $50-$80, or the Jabra Sport Wireless+ which are $100-$150 less (but with a different, over-the-ear design). The design of the Sport Coach model is nearly identical, and while the focus of those is more on cross-training, they’ll do the job as a pair of wireless headphones.

Pros:

  • No wires to mess with
  • Good sound quality
  • Easy to setup and use
  • Built-in optical heart rate monitor
  • Integration with some popular running apps

Cons:

  • Heart rate monitor function is inaccurate and fussy
  • HRM doesn’t work with Garmin or other fitness watches
  • Pricey if you only use the wireless headphone functions
  • One more thing to remember to charge

 

You can find the Jabra Sport Pulse earbuds (and other models) at BestBuy and London Drugs, or direct from the Jabra website. Retail price is $249 (CDN), or about $200 (USD) south of the border.

Review: Runcast – Weather for Runners by Endorphin Apps

Watching the weather and running go together like popcorn and movies.

Should I run now, or wait a bit for better conditions? What’s it going to be like at 4pm today? When will the rain start (or when will it end).

runcastMost weather apps will tell you this kind of thing, but Runcast from Endorphin Apps (for iOS) will tell you this with a focus on running.

Opening the app, you’ll immediately see this is an app made for runners, by runners. Instead of a focus on conditions, the app tells you in bold letters to either RUN NOW or RUN LATER. That determination is made by combining a series of factors including temperature, winds, precipitation and more.

In addition to the recommendation, the app provides the current temperature, sky conditions, humidity, chance of precipitation and wind speed — all the data you need to know what to expect out on your run.

Along with the current conditions, you’ll get hourly forecasts for the rest of the day and into tomorrow. Pick a time later in the day when conditions look good and you can set a reminder to get out and go for a run. Since weather data is provided by Forecast.io, you can count on it being accurate and reliable.

If the conditions are good now, you’ll get the RUN NOW suggestion including a good look at what those conditions are. But maybe it’s raining now, and it’ll clear up in a couple of hours. In that case, the app will let you know that it’s better to wait and RUN LATER.

Runcast Screenshots

Latest update

In the latest update (v1.3), the team at Endorphin Apps added the ability to choose metric alongside imperial measurements for weather conditions. And you can now also specify the temperature, wind and even time ranges that you consider to be good for running.

If you want to provide some encouragement to your running buddies, Twitter followers or Facebook friends, the app lets you message, tweet or post a current conditions image with the relevant weather data.

Also new is a Notification Center widget so you can see the current run advice quickly and easily which has quickly become one of my favourite features.

Get it from the App Store

Runcast is available in the iOS App Store for $0.99 (US) or $1.29 (CDN). App Store Link.

Review: Tiux Performance Compression Socks

What if something as simple as changing your socks could help you train harder and recover faster?

A plethora of quality, scientific studies done over the last few years suggest that compression socks do work to improve performance during your run by increasing blood flow to the muscles of the calves. Studies have also proven that wearing compression gear aids in recovery thanks to the same blood flow and circulation improvements.

$70 for socks? Uh, no. Enter Tiux!

I’ve used compression socks here and there over the years. Mostly I wear them after long runs to aid in recovery, and also when I travel by plane. They’ve never been a regular part of my training routine, partly because I’ve never really taken the time to see if they made a difference for me, but mostly because the idea of regularly spending $70 on a pair of socks seemed a bit crazy to me.

tiux-logoTiux is a new startup (currently in a pre-order phase via their website at tiux.co) that is looking to shake things up in in the sports apparel business, starting with compression socks. Tiux makes and sells premium compression socks, with all the latest technology, but at a much lower price point than traditional compression gear brands – just $35USD, including shipping.

By selling directly to athletes via their online shop, Tiux can skip the fancy packaging and retail markups that normally go to the retailer, allowing them to sell at a much lower price while still making a high performance product. Tiux also forgoes the big name (and big money) sponsorships that inflate prices and don’t bring any benefit to customers.

Sure they’re less expensive, but are they good socks?

Disclaimer: Tiux contacted me recently and offered up a pair of socks for me to test out. As with other reviews where I’ve either paid for or received products at no cost, these are my own opinions and there was no pressure or input from Tiux on the content of this review.

I opted for a pair of Tiux’s standard black, yellow and grey socks in the large size which the sizing chart suggests are good for men sizes 9-12. I wear a size 13 running shoe and they fit my feet and calves nicely. Tiux also has pink/yellow/purple and yellow/blue/black models if you want something with a bit more flash or a splash of colour.

Tiux socksThere’s no skimping on compression technology here, despite the price. The socks feature graduated compression of between 20 and 25mmHg of pressure from the ankle up to the top of the calf. Scientific studies suggest that graduated compression in that pressure range is essential if you want the full benefits of compression socks.

Tiux socks are also anatomically designed which means they are labeled for the left and right foot on the toe so you can make sure you have them on the correct feet. Speaking of the foot, the socks also feature compression through the arch and some additional padding in the heel and midfoot area that I appreciated when walking around the house on our hardwood floors.

Compression for recovery

I first wore them after a hard tempo run and found they did a nice job aiding in recovery. Slipping them on was fairly easy compared to other compression socks and the fit was good. The top band is snug and keeps the sock from falling down really well without being too tight.

The feeling of tightness around your feet and calves feels great after a run, and there’s a bit of tingling and warmth throughout your lower legs that suggests something is happening.

On Wednesday I ran hill repeats and didn’t feel the level of fatigue and soreness that I expected considering the pace of the run on Tuesday. I’ll be adding the Tiux socks to my usual recovery routine after hard runs in the future.

Compression for improved performance

On Thursday I decided to wear the socks during a run. I’m really, really particular about running socks, so this was a big deal for me. I’ve run my entire career in WrightSock Double Layer socks so to slip on something different for anything more than a couple of kilometres caused me a little concern about the potential for blisters or other issues.

Despite my fears about wearing difference socks, I didn’t have any trouble with hot spots or blisters and the extra cushion felt nice under foot. My other big concern was that they would fall down. That also turned out to be a non-issue.

I ran a nice, moderate pace 8km on the treadmill with the Tiux socks on to see how things felt. I could definitely tell something was different in my feet and calves. It’s a weird feeling to try to describe – almost like there was a bit of a disconnect between my legs and the rest of my body. I felt a bit like I was floating, or stepping more lightly. Overall it felt like maybe it took a bit less effort to run the same pace.

The day after and a long drive south

The next day really told the story. Normally on Friday I’ll feel a fair bit of tightness and fatigue through my legs and shins after three straight days of running without a day off. This Friday, which included a 13 hour drive to South Carolina for a family vacation, I found that there was much less of that usual fatigue and my legs felt really good.

tiux-message

A little secret message sewn into the inside of the top band of the socks.

Is it the socks? I can’t say for sure, but I do know that the increased blood flow that compression technology creates is designed to flush out metabolic wastes from the muscles while speeding healing to muscle fibres. I can’t argue with how my legs felt after wearing them both for recovery and on the run.

Studies on compression socks seem to agree. There’s lots of research on compression technology and the benefits to athletes and specifically runners is pretty well proven. The fact that most high performance distance runners including compression socks in their race kits suggests they see benefits as well.

The verdict

Do compression socks improve performance or aid in recovery? My experience is that the Tiux socks provided what I believe to be clear benefits in my training both during and after runs.

Are Tiux as good as other, higher priced compression socks? Again, based on my experience, yes. Tiux provides high quality compression socks that work really well. At $35USD a pair, you can get two pairs of Tiux for what you’d pay for a single pair of comparable socks from other well-known brands.

They are comfortable, provide good compression and they feel very well made. If you want quality socks and you don’t want to pay for sponsorships, fancy packaging and the usual retail markups, then Tiux is worth a look.

I’m super happy to see some innovation both in technology but also in the way running gear is marketed and sold. Reducing the cost of gear allows more runners to add this kind of advanced technology to their training.

You can read more about Tuix socks at their website. Currently Tiux is taking pre-orders with expected delivery of their first batch of socks around the end of April.

Update (May 7, 2015): Tiux is now taking orders for socks in three colours, with immediate delivery.

Collect, Log and Analyze Running Data Without Gadgets

Do you run with a GPS watch? Do you track your workouts? How about a heart rate monitor? Cadence sensor? Fitbit?

While some runners write all this stuff off as meaningless gadgetry, smart runners know that collecting and analzing data can help improve performance.

You can’t analyze if you don’t collect

If you aren’t collecting data about your workouts, then you aren’t able to track your progress over time and you won’t be able to measure whether you are improving.

That’s not to suggest that every runner should rush out to get one of every sensor known to man. But at the very least, every runner should be doing some basic data capture and tracking.

notebookThat might be as simple as a pen, a paper runner’s log, and a watch. You can learn a lot about performance over time with the most basic of tools.

The pen and paper combined with a watch can be used to track date, distance, time and (with a bit of math) your pace. You can also note how you felt, the weather and anything else that’s worth capturing like what you ate prior to the run.

Going beyond basic metrics

I’ve been logging all my runs, including the distance and time plus some notes since I started running in 2008. That’s 966 runs, totalling 9,221 kilometres. Looking back at the data, I can see that I’m a faster runner now than I was in 2008. The notes with the runs and my race reports provide reminders of lessons learned and good runs.

Recently, I’ve noticed a dramatic difference in my running since I started collecting and paying attention to both cadence and heart rate data. Prior to that, I only looked at pace and distance when measuring performance over time.

Cadence

Adding cadence tracking in the summer showed me that I run with a reasonable turnover, but that there was room for improvement. For the pen and paper trackers, cadence is another metric you can fairly easily measure without the need for an electronic gadget.

Grab the watch and count your steps over 20 seconds, then multiply by three. You can do this a few times throughout the run, but make sure you take into account the pace you were running at when you measured.

Heart Rate

Adding a heart rate monitor showed me that I often ran too fast, especially on Sunday where a slower run that helped build endurance would have meant higher quality training. As with cadence, you can also measure your heart rate from time to time on the run without a fancy heart rate monitor.

pulsecheckTo calculate your heart rate you’ll probably need to stop running for a minute or two. Find your pulse on your neck or wrist and count it for 20 seconds, then multiply by three to get a general sense of your effort when running.

It’s not super accurate since your heart rate will naturally slow fairly quickly as soon as you stop running, but it’s better than measuring effort solely by feel.

Log, learn and improve

Whether you opt for the sensors, gadgets and gizmos, or go old school with a watch and a notebook, it’s important to do more than just measure. Without some analysis, the data is just numbers in a book or on a screen.

Looking at the data over time lets you find trends that reveal where you’re doing well, where you have work to do, and best of all, where you’re improving.

When your only measure of improvement is your pace or race results, it’s really difficult to see incremental improvements in things like efficiency or endurance.

Bring able to quantify improvement (or lack of improvement) in areas other than pace or distance means that your training focus can be on something other than just speed. That, in turn, means that you won’t be heading out on every run trying to beat some previous personal best.

The net result? Higher quality training that will pay off on race day.

Improving Treadmill Accuracy on the Garmin Forerunner 620

Does adding a foot pod to the Garmin Forerunner 620 improve treadmill accuracy? Yes.

I’ve had the 620 for about 8 months now and I love it. The size is great, the touchscreen works really well, the GPS is accurate and the watch locks on to the satellites quickly. The HRM-Run strap that comes with the 620 includes some additional metrics like ground contact time and vertical oscillation for nerding out on data.

Treadmill accuracy? Not great

But the performance on the treadmill has never been what I would consider great. As long as I ran about my usual 5:00/km pace, it was passable. But running anything different than that (slower or faster) didn’t seem to make much difference—the watch insisted I was just running my usual pace all the time.

The Forerunner 620 features an accelerometer in the watch itself that is supposed to handle indoor running. But mounting that sensor on the arm instead of the foot means it just isn’t very accurate.

Adding a Garmin foot pod

Today I added Ginny’s standard Garmin foot pod to the mix to see whether that would help. I did some basic testing on the treadmill, altering the pace either up or down for a minute or two, and also running everything from 6.8mph right up to 8.0mph to see if I could fool it.

The good news? It tracked all the speed changes beautifully, and even after the 6km run, it was still bang on accurate compared to the treadmill distance display.

Note the stair step showing that the foot pod tracked the changes in pace (blue line) perfectly over the run, right up to 8.0mph near the end.

I’m really happy that I’ll be able to make better use of the watch for indoor runs now, and not have to worry about whether the distance and pace are accurate.

Using data to improve performance

I’ve already order a foot pod of my own to add to my collection of running gadgets. At $75, it isn’t cheap, but having some accurate data about my treadmill runs is always nice over manually logging the distance and time. It’s important for me to run a bit slower pace these days and running with the inaccurate 620 without the foot pod usually ended up with me running 7.5mph (too fast) to get into the accurate zone for the watch.

I’m also going to start wearing the HRM-Run heart rate monitor strap as well to get the full benefit of staying in the proper zones during the various workouts.

It’s easy to take all the data these various gadgets output and not really do anything with it. But things like a heart rate, cadence and even just accurate pace measurement can all be used to ensure that you are running the right runs as part of your training program.

This time around I’ll be paying more attention to the pace I run, whether I’m running in the right heart rate zone, and keeping track of my cadence to continue that focus on proper form. I’m hopeful that better quality training will lead to a better performance on race day, and will also help me reduce the strain on my body that comes with doing the wrong kind of running.

Aggregating Health and Fitness Data

fitbit-flex_5colors_300dpi

I recently picked up a Fitbit Flex to add to the data I’m collecting about my health and fitness.

That means I have some insights into how much physical activity I’m working into each day. It also tracks the quality and duration of my sleep.

simple-b-dis-png-hdcdd419408cf9f7df5eaceaaf679f50a-pack

We also recently added a Fitbit Aria scale to our household. It sends weight, BMI and fat percentage information into the Fitbit dashboard via wifi.

Add in a Garmin GPS and heart rate monitor that I use when I run, and I’m starting to aggregate a fair amount of data about myself.

Silos everywhere

One of the frustrations of this category of devices is that the data generated ends up inside individual silos. Garmin Connect stores my heart rate data along with pace, distance, cadence and other running metrics. Fitbit stores steps, weight and sleep data.

I use a service called FitDataSync to copy the weight data from the Aria scale into Garmin Connect. It also copies a bit of the running data into the Fitbit dashboard.

garminconnect

But there’s not one place where I can bring everything together, and that’s frustrating.

Will Apple’s Health app be the solution?

I’m hoping that Apple’s new Health app that’s part of iOS 8 is a service that brings that data together in a way that allows me to look at everything in one place.

I also hope that it brings some context to the data. Is the sleep I’m getting good? Is my weight healthy for a person of my age? Do I get enough physical activity?

Here’s hoping someone starts taking all this data and starts answering some of these questions.

Taking the Forerunner 620 for a Treadmill Run

Granted it was a treadmill run, but I did get out for 6km with my new Forerunner 620 today.

I’ll probably write up more about this gadget over the next few weeks, but first impressions are that it’s a really nice addition to my pile of running stuff and a huge upgrade from my clunky old Forerunner 205.

As expected, the internal accelerometer is out of whack and, as a result, the distance on the watch was substantially lower compared to what the treadmill reported. That skewed the reported pace and other metrics as a few are based on distance as well. A run or two outside with the GPS active will automatically calibrate it and I’m expecting it to be pretty accurate for treadmill runs in the future based on reviews I’ve read.

So far I’m loving being able to see heart rate. Given that I’ve never looked at anything besides distance, time and pace, the additional data points (cadence, ground contact time, etc.) will be fun to track going forward. I’ll have to do some reading to understand what those metrics mean and how I can use the data to improve my performance over time.

Finding Answers on the Long Run

No matter the question, running has the answer.

I often underestimate myself. It’s probably related to the fact that I’m a pessimist (or maybe it’s the root cause?).

When I get in certain situations, self doubt floods in and I start to question my abilities.

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Early morning runs

Since I started running in 2008, I’ve noticed that the simple act of running has an uncanny ability to offer up the answers to life’s many questions.

I embarked on a journey of craziness over the summer. I took a new job that I wasn’t sure I could do. Around the same time I hatched a secret plan to run a marathon in the fall that I wasn’t sure I could run.

The marathon plan was there to remind me that I could do far more than I thought I was capable of. Turns out that I could go from almost no running to a full marathon training schedule in two months. And I could ramp up to a 32km long run by Thanksgiving.

I know now that I am able to run a marathon near my usual race pace on November 3.

At work, I realized that I could learn the role of the product manager. I discovered that I could understand the needs of the customer and direct the development process.

I know now that I am able to make decisions and drive the business forward.

As usual, I looked to running for help. And as usual, I found it on the long run.