The advent of the iPod age has changed the sport of running. It used to be almost a purists argument, running with headphones was against the very mantra of running: to disconnect, to unplug, and to experience something elemental. There’s no way my dad would’ve ever run with an iPod. He’s of the age where runners, obsessed with their sport, were treated like societal outcasts. But that’s the way they liked it, men were men, runners were geeks, and running made your nipples bleed. Life was good.
I’m a little different. I don’t see anything wrong with zoning out to some good tunes while you run. I don’t do it every time I go out, but it’s nice to know I can get a good shot of M.I.A’s Born Free when I’m feeling sluggish on the nasty hill near my house.
About four years ago, those Emerald City wizards at Nike and Apple joined forces for a venture which has changed the way a lot of us run, again. With the release of the Nike+ system in 2006, Nike shoe users could get surprisingly accurate distance and pace information displayed on their iPod and delivered to them audibly, through their headphones, during a run. That was it for most of us. It wasn’t a question of purity anymore.
For the uninitiated, Nike+ was originally designed to work with an iPod Nano by placing a small oval shaped chip inside a cavity located in the midsole of a Nike+ compatible shoe. The chip is an accelerometer, which essentially means it can measure how quickly your foot is moving, which can then be used to calculate your pace and current speed. The chip transmits to a receiver plugged into the Nano’s USB dock and there you go, instant pace and speed info on your Nano.
If you don’t have a Nike+ shoe, no problem, for twelve dollars you can buy a pocket to hold your Nike+ chip which velcros to your shoe laces. When you’re done with your workout, sync your iPod, and your information is downloaded to the Nike+ website which tracks your runs and gives you an easy-to-use interface for sorting and analyzing your basic run info. The technology has since been adapted for each subsequent generation; the Nano, then the iPhone, iPod Touch, and now an entirely new product called the Nike+ SportBand. The SportBand is a sleek little watch with a LCD display that shows your stats as you run and then plugs into a USB port on your computer to download your info.
I’ve had my SportBand over a year now and it is the simplest way I’ve found to keep track of mileage for the price (about $60.00). It may not be completely accurate on my hilly trail runs, but for most everything I do, it has performed very well.
The latest evolution in the Nike+ line is the addition of a heart rate strap to the system. Partnering with Polar this time, Nike has just released their WearLink+ Heart Rate Transmitter for $69.95. The unit is compatible with the SportBand, and 5th generation Nano’s or newer. The addition of heart rate data will give you a much more accurate picture of the calories you’re burning and just how hard you are pushing your body on a run. Monitoring your heart rate, and pairing it with pace and distance data really gives the average runner plenty of information to figure out how they can improve their run times and when to take the day off.
The Nike+ website is great at presenting complex data in an easy-to-understand graphic layout. The addition of heart rate data has been seamless and the Nike+ system truly makes complex ideas like heart rate simpler.
So what makes the Nike+ system stand out to me? For me it is the ease of use and the ability to see the display in such an engaging layout. Nike+ takes the guess work out of your run by showing all the basic stats you need. Sometimes the stats can be gimmicky–throwing in some fun ones like what day of the week you run on most, how many BPM’s you used during a run, or even how many times you ran this week, this month, or even this year.
I do have qualms with the Nike+ Coach feature, which users can use to help train themselves for specific distances or to just loose weight and get active. It is a great idea to be sure, but a little more personalization in regards to how your heart rate and performance could affect your training plan from week to week would go a long way. If the whole idea of Nike+ is to see your individual data, shouldn’t this be reflected and utilized in the training programs? I guess nothing that Nike has come up with yet can take the place of a real life, flesh and blood coach; someone who can see how you respond to training and understand what’s best for you. But don’t think someone in the Emerald City of Beaverton, Oregon isn’t working on it as we speak.
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