Review: Q Energy Drink

Like most runners, I drink a specialized energy drink while I run instead of plain water. But unlike most, I don’t drink Gatorade, Powerade or any of the other big name energy drinks.

Instead I carry Q Energy in my bottle. I first started drinking Q back in 2011 (after my bike crash) and found it to be a great alternative to the sugary concoctions that the big sports drink makers peddle. When you consider that Powerade and Gatorade are made by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo respectively, you’ll get an idea of what you’re really drinking. It’s basically high fructose corn syrup and water, with some salt, potassium and a ton of marketing.

Q Energy, on the other hand, is an all natural product developed in Vancouver, Canada. It’s Health Canada approved and scientifically tested. 4 grams of natural cane sugar and a bit of stevia provide the sweetness, and there’s also a bit of caffeine added for that little boost during exercise.

What’s in it? And what’s not?

The Q stands for quercetin, a natural antioxidant that helps deliver energy at the cellular level. Along with that, Q also contains herbal extracts, vitamins and electrolytes. The flavour is mild, and they make lemon-lime, wildberry (my fav) and orange.

A good bit of scientific study has shown that quercetin provides proven performance improvements. I’m no scientist, but I do know from using Q for a few years, that it provides everything I look for in an energy drink: good taste, thirst quench and additional energy.

Compared to Gatorade and Powerade, Q is missing a few things: that oily texture, overly sweet taste, and gut-rot inducing levels of carbs. It also lacks things like chemical anti-foaming agents and preservatives.

Q comes as a powder in a single serve packet and you mix it with water yourself. Because it lacks those anti-foaming agents and chemical dispersants, Q has a cloudy look and sometimes foams up a bit. I don’t notice either of those things when I drink it from the bottle. Even the colour of Q is natural, derived from sweet potatoes.

Online, or in stores

I get my Q from the Q Drink Healthy website since it’s not available in too many stores in the Toronto area. Thanks to the Q Drink Healthy Club, they automatically send me a six week supply every six weeks or so. When I’m between training cycles, it’s easy to delay a shipment or change the timing if needed. If you live in Western Canada, you can find it in local health food stores.

If you want to give Q a shot, you can get a free sampler pack from the website. Normally they charge $3 to cover shipping, but if you use code “Koole” (that’s my last name) on checkout, you’ll get the shipping for free too.

Disclosure: I use Q Energy Drink on pretty much every run and have for years. Once or twice they’ve sent me some extra Q free of charge to share with friends.

Why You Should Archive Your Run Logs and Data

If you have a GPS running watch, you’re creating a ton of valuable data that you don’t want to lose.

Services like Strava, Garmin Connect and others do a great job helping you analyze the performance data that a fitness watch or tracker creates. But don’t think of those sites as archives or backups of that data.

Training Center → MotionBased → Garmin Connect

I bought my first Garmin GPS watch in May, 2008. The first run with that watch was on May 10, 2008. I know this because there is a .tcx file in a folder in my DropBox and on my Mac with all the data from that run. Garmin used to provide an application for Mac and PC called Garmin Training Center and that’s what you used to see how you did on the run.

Garmin-205Back then there was no Garmin Connect. Instead, you could upload the data file to a service called MotionBased (which Garmin eventually bought and which became Garmin Connect). Keeping those .tcx files safe was important to me because I wanted to have a full historical record of all my runs.

First there was Dailymile which eventually sort of handled Garmin .tcx files. Then a few years later Strava came along. It’s a great service that offers a community for athletes regardless of which specific brand of GPS watch or device they use. I signed up, but that meant starting from scratch with all my stats and metrics…except it didn’t because I had all that data!

Rather than starting at nothing, I bulk uploaded all the .tcx files I had safely stored away and within an hour or two, all my run data was in Strava too. Awesome! As of today, that’s 1080 runs and 11,254.6km. Here’s that first run I ever did with a GPS watch.

Why does it matter?

Training Center and MotionBased are gone. Dailymile is all but forgotten. If you only used a single service to track your runs and didn’t bother to save or archive the raw data, you’d be in big trouble right now. Services come and go and in many cases, there’s no way to get your raw data out. Dailymile, for example, gives you a sparse .csv with almost no useful info.

stravahistoryIn my case, because I archive all of my .tcx files outside of the services I use, if another service comes along that’s better, assuming they support the Garmin .tcx standard, I can bulk upload and push nine-plus years of running data into it on day one.

I find myself going back and looking at past runs fairly frequently. Sometimes its for sentimental reasons like looking at the first 10km I ran, or seeing when I first exceeded 21.1km. Comparing present-day performance to past performance is only possible if you have past performance data.

Save, store and backup!

So…how to make sure you are saving your data. There are a few of ways to do this.

  1. Back them up manually (and make backups) – this is what I did initially. I would copy the .tcx file off my watch, and into a folder on my computer. Every. Single. Time.
  2. Use a service that has proper export capabilities – while Strava offers a way to “download all your activities” from the settings page, what you get is .gpx files, not .tcx files which means some of the data is missing. Garmin lets you export single activities, but not all of your files at once.
  3. Use a service to do it automatically (the best option) – I use a service called Tapiriik that interconnects various fitness tracking services automatically. With Tapiriik, you have the option to link Garmin Connect to DropBox. For a mere $2/year, Tapiriik automatically pulls the .tcx files from Garmin Connect and puts them into my DropBox whenever I upload them. I don’t even think about it. Tapiriik will also go back in time and get all of your Garmin files back to day one, if you want (and you do).

Own (and save) your own data

It’s my preference to always have all of my data in my own hands. While it’s tempting to assume that you’ll always be able to get your files from Garmin Connect or Strava, the truth is that services come and go, and features come and go.

At this point, Tapiriik has me covered, but I also know that Garmin could pull the plug on their API access at any point and I might have to go back to manually archiving them.

Whatever your chosen solution, make sure you are saving off your GPS run data somewhere so you will always be able to look back on your running history. And if you do store them yourself, remember, two places or it doesn’t exist! DropBox is good because it stores a copy in the cloud plus a copy on your computer.

Garmin Forerunner 235 First Impressions

It used to be that Garmin made the advanced fitness devices to track your workouts, and Fitbit covered the daily steps. But there’s no need to wear two devices anymore as the latest generation of Garmin Forerunner watches bring both together in a really tight package.

I picked up a Garmin Forerunner 235 the other day to replace both a Fitbit Flex and a Garmin Forerunner 620. The Fitbit died recently and while this particular one lasted me over a year, a dead Fitbit will be nothing new to the average Fitbit owner who has most likely had one or more of their devices fail early.

The Forerunner 620 on the other hand was bulletproof and continues to work like it did the day I bought it a couple of years ago. It’ll be handed down to Lindsey who is looking forward to having a GPS watch of her own with an easy to use interface and nice form factor, even for smaller wrists.

Familiar form factor

Speaking of the form factor, the 235 is pretty much the exactly same size and thickness as my older 620 and feels similar on my arm. The screen is a significant upgrade in size over the 620 with a smaller bezel on the newer 235. The screen is still a bit on the dim side indoors – this is not an Apple Watch screen by any stretch – but outdoors in daylight it’s plenty readable. Indoors the backlight seems a bit weak to me, but I’ll trade that for over a week of battery life every time.

Bigger screen in the same size package.
Bigger screen in the same size package.

The touchscreen of the Forerunner 620 is gone on the 235 in favour of up/down nav buttons on the left side. The adjustment from the tapping on the screen of the 620 took me a bit to get used to, but I’m finding the user interface on the 235 to be quite good. The software is instantly familiar to Garmin users and I got very comfortable with it within a few hours.

Long presses of the up button brings up menu options for the screen you are on (for example, changing the clock face). And getting to the main menu is as easy as clicking the activity button on the upper right side, then the down button.

Heart rate on the wrist plus more

Did I mention the Forerunner 235 has an optical heart rate monitor (HRM) built in? Similar to the tech used on the Mio Link and Apple Watch, this uses green LEDs an a small camera sensor on the back side of the watch to read your heart rate without the need for an uncomfortable chest strap. I’ve used a Mio Link wrist strap in the past and found it very accurate and the 235’s HRM is no different showing heart rate throughout the day and on the run. Runners looking to save a bit of money can opt for the Forerunner 230 which is the exact same watch minus the optical HRM.

Also inside the small package are high-fidelity GPS and GLONASS receivers, plus an accelerometer for indoor run tracking and Bluetooth. The watch connects with your smartphone (iOS or Android) to show smart notifications on your wrist, and to auto-upload runs and activity through your phone’s Internet connection. There’s no need to connect via USB to upload to Garmin Connect or Strava anymore…it’s all handled automatically by the watch and your smartphone’s Internet connection.

First run

I took the Forerunner 235 out on 34km run on Sunday morning to see how it worked. GPS lockup took seconds and starting the run was a matter of tapping the activity start button twice. Once running, the Forerunner 235 allows for a few different screens with up to four different data fields each. I opted for time, distance, average pace and heart rate on the first screen, and swapped out average pace for current pace on the second screen. With dozens of data fields available including ones downloadable from Garmin’s Connect IQ store (for free), customization is nearly limitless.

hrm
Built-in optical heart rate monitor.

The screen is black digits on a white background during activities and in bright sunshine it’s super readable which is one upside of the LCD technology that Garmin utilizes in their watches (the other being better battery life).

The Forerunner 235 also brings a nifty race finish predictor function. You tell it the distance you are running (including the usual race distances, and a custom setting that lets you set any distance you want), and it constantly updates with an estimate of your finish time. I’m looking forward to using this in my upcoming marathon so I know exactly how I’m doing against my goal and PB times.

Battery life was excellent as it is with all the Garmin watches I’ve owned. Garmin promises 9 days of battery life for activity tracking (with HRM and notifications active) and 11 hours with the GPS enabled when tracking a run. That’s plenty of time for me, and my 3.5 hour run on Sunday with GPS and HRM active throughout left me with an exceptional 75% battery left at the end. Try that with your Apple Watch.

Activity tracking features

I’ve also been wearing the watch for a few days now to track my steps and sleep and it has been excellent in that regard as well. The Fitbit I wore for the last two years was fine, but the Garmin feels like a huge step up. The screen on the watch is easy to access with just a click of the down button. And the metrics graphs and data in the Garmin Connect app and online at the Connect website are really well done.

garmin-activity.png

A few badges have already for meeting various goals and Garmin Connect also includes challenges and a friends leaderboard for those with a competitive streak. While the Fitbit is more popular with the general public meaning I had a good list of friends to compare myself to, the Garmin seems to be aimed more at the serious athlete. That said, I’ve got five runner friends to go up against and that’s fine by me.

Wrap up

In short, the Garmin Forerunner 235 is a fantastic watch for the avid runner who is also looking for daily activity and sleep tracking that feel far more advanced than what Fitbit offers. It has the right amount of smartwatch features with notifications and music controls to satisfy those who might have been considering an Apple Watch.

As you’d expect from Garmin, the Forerunner 235 is a GPS watch first, an activity tracker second and a smartwatch third. For the runner, that’s the right order.

Here’s Garmin’s promotional video for the Forerunner 235.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTp63x1-XCM&w=560&h=315]

Review: Pace! – Running Pace Calculator by Endorphin Apps

Looking to track your personal bests, or calculate target pace for your next race? Pace! – Running Pace Calculator by Endorphin Apps has you covered.

paceThis iOS app from the makers of Runcast lets you keep track of personal bests, and make a plan to set new ones. The app was recently updated to version 3.0 which brings metric and imperial measurements (automatically set based on your location), as well as a new design that makes it easy to enter new pace goals.

Easily plan, share and calculate

Once you’ve entered your race distance and goal time, you can call up splits for the race so you can make a pace band. Or share your goal on Twitter or Facebook with a neat image to make it official.

The app also includes a handy Boston Marathon Qualification calculator. Enter your birthday and gender, and the app will tell you your BQ time and pace.

Made by runners, for runners, the Pace app is a nice addition to your running toolkit.

Pace Screenshots

Available for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad

Pace from Endorphin Apps is available in the iOS App Store for $0.99 (USD) or $1.39 (CAD) App Store Link.

Getting the Most Out of Strava

strava-logo-350There are a bunch of different run tracking, social fitness websites out there, but Strava does a nice job creating a real community regardless of which GPS device or app you use.

I’ve been a long-time user of Dailymile over the years, but a lack of updates of late, and a bunch of missing features like segments, goals and easy uploads from my Garmin had me looking elsewhere this fall.

Strava is free to join and use. They also have a premium account level with a few additional features, but up until recently, I’d been a happy free Strava user for a few years and found it pretty suitable for my needs.

Tips and tricks

Here’s some tips to help you get the most out of Strava, if you opt to go that route for your run tracking and community:

Support for 50+ devices

Take advantage of Strava’s integration with various services to automatically sync your uploaded runs. Strava supports more than 50 different devices.

Log into your Strava account and go to Upload Activity to connect your Garmin Connect, Fitbit, Polar, TomTom (and other) accounts to Strava. For many popular devices, whenever you upload a run to whatever service your GPS watch maker provides, it’ll automatically get added to Strava within a minute or two.

img-mobile-phones-21f956d49fed137ecb6bb9bda90a39e0If you don’t use or have a GPS running watch, the Strava App for iOS and Android offers GPS tracking. You should probably download it even if you do have a GPS watch as you can give kudos (likes) and comment on your friends runs and view the details on your own when you are away from the computer.

Challenges, Segments and Clubs

Make sure you check out Strava’s Challenges to keep yourself motivated throughout the year. Strava has monthly distance challenges each month, along with different virtual races that will get out out to run 10km, 21.1km or more in certain months.

If you are the competitive type, check out Strava’s Segments for more fun. Segments offer little races within your runs and are generally short hills, or specific sections of popular routes.

Strava keeps track of your performance over these segments and also matches you up with other runners so you can see how you rank against everyone who runs the same areas as you do. You’ll see the various segments when you upload your run. You can also create your own if you want to track a portion of your regular route.

If you are looking for more community, then make sure you connect your Facebook account to Strava so you can find your running buddies and connect with them on Strava. You might also want to connect to your Instagram account as Strava automatically finds your Instagram photos taken on the run and adds them to your uploaded activity.

There are also virtual run clubs to create and join with discussion boards, a leaderboard and a way to plan events. The clubs feature is super handy if you want to train together with a group with the same goal race. While many run clubs use Facebook for this, Strava offers similar features in terms of discussions, but also incorporates running data, and the ability to share routes.

Flybys, training progression, suffering and more

Some more advanced options:

  • Routes: Strava has a route maker with a few neat features. It’s a bit finicky at times (pro-tip: turn off “Use Popularity”), but it does a nice job helping you create good routes to run.
  • Strava Flybys: A neat mapping feature that plots your runs alongside anyone who ran either the same route as you did, or who crossed paths with you during your run. Here’s an example.
  • Runs on this route: if you run the same routes often (like a regular neighbourhood loop), Strava will tell you how you are trending over time.
  • Suffer Score: Strava Premium users ($5.99USD/month) get a few extra features including the Suffer Score which uses heart rate data and other metrics to assign a value for how much you suffered during your run. I scored a glorious 217 during the Marquis de Sade.
  • Personal Heatmap: another Premium feature, Heatmaps plots all your runs on a map and the more you run a street, the more red it gets. My 2015 heatmap is here. You can create various different ones for different periods of time. There’s also a Global Heatmap available to everyone that will help you find popular routes when you are running in different cities.

As with any service, the more you use it, the more you get out of it. Find some friends, comment, give kudos and provide enrouagement and you’ll get the same thing back.

Considering the cost (free for a regular account, $5.99USD/month for Strava Premium), Strava offers an incredible service for any runner.

Some screenshots from Strava:

 

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:

 

Million Mile Light (Kickstarter)

I don’t normally get too excited about Kickstarters, but this one I saw today has me really excited. It’s called the Million Mile Light and it’s an LED safety light for runners with a unique twist.

The difference between this light and others is that the Million Mile Light is powered by you. The motion of your running powers the LED lights. No batteries, no charging. Clip it on and run, and the motion of your body is enough to light it up.

Unlike some other Kickstarters, the product is ready to go. It’s been designed, prototyped and is ready to be manufactured. All that’s needed is enough people to get onboard for an initial order. It’s expected that the lights will be shipped sometime in very early 2016.

Check it out:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/millionmilelight/million-mile-light-motion-powered-safety-light-for/widget/video.html

If it’s something you think you’d want to get behind, there are a bunch of different Kickstarter support levels starting from £12 (about $25 Canadian).

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.