Ten Gadgets for Fun on the Run

Fri, 4 Nov. 2011 - 7:01 p.m. MT
Credit: ARA Staff - American Running Association

One thing most of us cherish about running is that it is simple. Increasingly, though, there are a wide range of devices, applications, and other tools that you may find fun, pleasantly distracting, or downright useful for improved performance. Here are 10 of them, and they offer everything from virtual training partners to calorie and heart-rate calculators, plus elevation mapping, music for mile pacing, and more. So, here’s to complicating matters!

  •  SmartCoach, the online training tool from Runner’s World, has gone mobile. With their recently released free application for the iPhone and Android, you can keep your day’s workout in-hand as you train. SmartCoach was designed so that the user answers a few questions about fitness level and goals, and then receives a training plan tailored to their needs. The overall plan is then saved within the app, so you can view each day's workout immediately when you launch it.
  • For an app that delivers more than just a workout, RunKeeper has devised a virtual trainer for smart phone users. The application, available for iPhone or Android, tracks your location using GPS, calculating your splits and mile pace as you go. When the data is uploaded to runkeeper.com, you can share your running routes with others and explore additional nearby routes on a Google Map, which also features elevation data overlaid with your pace to help you understand how your running is affected by uphill or downhill stretches.
  • If you prefer a more traditional wristwatch-style gadget with many useful features, Garmin continues to make newer generations of GPSs that keep pace with all of the 4G smart phone apps. The Forerunner 405 ($250), for example, continuously monitors your time, distance, pace, calories, and heart rate (when paired with a heart rate monitor). Each run is stored in memory so you can review and analyze the data to see how you've improved. You can also download recorded courses to compete against previous workouts or race a virtual training partner. Garmin devices lock onto satellite signals to tell you your whereabouts, which is ideal for adventure running. Just keep in mind that any device is only as good as the availability of satellite data, and so it’s always best to have a planned route when going “off-roading.”
  • Directly related to these self-monitoring running devices is Fitbit, an innovative gadget that tracks your daily caloric burn, including overnight while you sleep. For around $100 you get a small portable device and a base station that as you walk by uploads your data to www.fitbit.com. The tracker works with a motion sensor much like the one used in Nintendo Wii, sensing your motion in three dimensions, figuring out what you are doing, and providing useful information and advice about these daily activities. On the website, you can detail everything you eat in a kind of virtual food journal, and ultimately compare your daily calories in to calories out.
  • Rather than downloading a bunch of separate apps to your phone, the solar-powered PUMA Phone is already fitness oriented, with a built-in “Sports Tracker” to monitor your distance, pace, and location. The phone works like a combination of RunKeeper and FitBit, counting calories, monitoring activity, and providing maps and compasses, as well as an MP3 player.
  • If you possess older technologies like the iPod Nano and are simply looking for a way to integrate more training guides and speed/distance info into your run, consider the Nike + iPod Sport Kit, available at www.apple.com/ipod/nike for $29. The kit consists of a shoe-mountable sensor and a transmitter for your iPod. The two pieces communicate wirelessly to collect data about your speed, distance, and more. You can choose from several different types of workouts or just opt for basic. Your data is then sent via iTunes to nikerunning.nike.com. There, you can open a free account and analyze your data, track your progress, and communicate with other members.
  • However you choose to deliver your music to your ears during a workout, you’ll benefit from the services provided by the folks at Jog.FM. This website offers you playlists to suit your running pace, organized by searchable databases that convert mile pace to beats per minute. There are links to iTunes and Amazon to download the music you find suitable right away. You can download their mobile app for a dollar at jog.fm/app.
  • If all you really want is a dependable heart rate monitor, ConsumerSearch has compiled reviews and sorted them from best to worst. The truth is, you can spend as little as $50 or as much as $400 for a heart rate monitor these days. However, the $120 Timex Ironman Race Trainer received the best reviews for price, including recommendations from Outside magazine and Women’s Health. The chest strap transmits wirelessly to the watch display, and it provides a continuous heart rate reading based on beats per minute or a percentage of your maximum heart rate. The monitor also tracks calories burned and average heart rate on a per-lap basis. Other features include target workout zones, lap and interval timers, and 10 saved workouts of 50 laps each. The monitor comes in two sizes and for around $50 more you can get a USB Data Xchanger, which wirelessly uploads workout data to a PC or Mac.
  • Need a place to store your gadgets? Designed by a distance runner who found storing her house keys in her sports bra to be the best option, SPIbelt—Small Personal Item Belt—offers belts, bands, and even dog leashes that keep your run hands-free, your personal items safe, and your sports bra left to the task it was initially designed to do. For dog owners, the SPIleash (around $30) deserves special mention. As with the SPIbelt, runners can store personal items (and doggie accessories) snugly around their waist, but now also have your dog’s leash securely clipped to the waistband to free up your arm swing and stabilize any sudden jolts forward your dog may attempt (www.spibelt.com).
  • Finally, it’s always a good idea to think safety out on the roads. Road ID has been making a variety of products for decades, but the basic Wrist ID is all you really need. This band fastens around your wrist and contains any important information you want it to—name, emergency contact, medications, etc. You can direct the person who finds you to www.RoadID.com, where you can update your information regularly (there is also an 800 number option).

These and dozens of other gadgets and applications emerging every day can spruce up tired workouts and put fun back in the run. Stay excited, stay experimental, and stay healthy!

Runner’s World Electronics, 2011, http://www.runnersworld.com/topic/0,7122,s6-240-321-0-0,00.html

Mobile Geo Social, “5 Gadgets for Running” by Bob Hitching, 2010, http://hitching.net/2010/09/19/5-gadgets-for-running/

 PC Magazine, “Gadgets for Running” by Molly McLaughlin, 2006,  http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2050469,00.asp

The Fitness Motivator, “Great Gifts for Runners,” 2008, http://www.the-fitness-motivator.com/gifts-for-runners.html

ConsumerSearch, “Best Heart Rate Monitors,” May 2011, http://www.consumersearch.com/heart-rate-monitors/best-heart-rate-monitors

(RUNNING & FITNEWS®  May / June 2011 • Volume 29, Number 3)

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