31 Mar 2014

Gear: My Fitbit Force Got Recalled So I Got a Fitbit One

First, let me state that I loved my Fitbit Force (click here to read my initial post about it).  However, it seems that an increasing number of people have been having issues with skin irritation.  While it is not entirely clear what the cause is, it seems that it could be anything from an allergic reaction to the nickel in the metals or to the adhesives or even something to do with battery fluids leaking.  The message, according to the recall notices, seems to have shifted from being if this happens to when.  In the most recent email that I received from Fitbit on March 20, 2014, it states very clearly that "consumers should stop using the Fitbit Force Activity-Tracking wristband and return the product to Fitbit for a full refund."  Prior to this email, I thought the recall was at my discretion or specifically for users that had experienced symptoms.  However, it is now clear that they are pulling all Fitbit Forces back (dlick here to read the letter from Fitbit CEO, James Park).  So the time has come to say goodbye to my Force.

Over the last couple of months, I have grown really attached to my Fitbit.  I enjoy being able to track my activity.  I like having my data available at my fingertips, on my phone, on the device itself, and on my computer.  On days I run, I hit my step goal without any problem.  However, on my off-run days, I have to find other ways to make sure I keep my activity levels up.  As a result, I have changed my way of doing things.  I always take the stairs as opposed to the elevator.  I force myself to walk around periodically to avoid sitting still for too long.  At work, I use bathrooms farther way and on different floors.  At home, I do more errands by foot or bike rather than car.  And if all else fails, I go for a long walk in the evenings once everyone else in my house has gone to bed.

While some of these changes I could easily do with or without a Fitbit, I like the added accountability.

I researched alternatives to the Force again, such as the Flex and the Jawbone Up - both of which are also wristband trackers.  The Flex, however, does not have a display or a have built-in altimeter.  No display means you have to sync to your phone before you can review your data.  No altimeter means that it cannot count flights of stairs climbed.  The Jawbone Up and Up24, for whatever reason, just do not appeal to me.  They also have no display and I have heard that their accuracy is not as good as the Fitbit devices.

So I looked at the Fitbit One.  The One is not worn on the wrist; it comes with a belt-clip.  And even though it is older than both the Force and the Flex (it was released in the fall of 2012), it has all of the features of the Force.  It has a display and the silent alarm.  It tracks steps, distance, calories, sleep, and stairs climbed.  The one feature it does not have is that it does not calculate active minutes on the device itself.  It does, however, calculate them in the Fitbit app once you sync it to either your phone or computer.

The one major change is where the One is worn.  Because it has a clip and is not a wristband device, finding a comfortable location for it takes some trial and error.  It can be clipped onto a belt, pocket, shirt, or anywhere else you can think of.  I have moved it from the high part of my pockets to the low part.  I've tried it on my belt and waistband.  Typically, I prefer wearing mine clipped to my pocket facing in (clip facing out) although some of my pants have the pocket seam too thick for the clip so I occasionally have to use another location.

The device itself I find to be far more accurate than the Force.  The One is less susceptible to counting missteps because it is closer to my body than at the end of my arm.

The sleep wristband is exceptionally comfortable.  However, it is an added step to remove it from the clip and place in the wristband each night and vice versa in the morning.

One initial problem I had was that, as a lefty, every time I picked up the device with my left hand, the display was upside down.  However, I was pointed to a setting on the Fitbit Dashboard to change the display to a left-handed setting.  Note that this setting is only available from the Fitbit Dashboard and is not available in the mobile app (at least not in the Android version at the time I write this).

One feature I would like is, similar to on the Force, the ability to re-order the display of the different functions on the device itself.  You can re-order and hide functions in the Fitbit Android app but not on the device itself.  Further, on the Force, when you pushed the button it would start at the Clock and then cycle through the functions in the determined order.  The One remembers the last function viewed and starts there.  I would personally prefer to start at the beginning each time and cycle through from there.

Overall, I love the One.  Even more so than the Force.  I appreciate that it is a little bit more discrete.  And while it is an older device, it has all the features and functions that I want and use.  Further, while Fitbit has promised a successor to the Force, there is currently no indication as to when that will happen.  While it could be soon, I feel that the One is not so much of a compromise because all the features are still there.  So if you have to return your Force and don't want to wait for its successor, I recommend the Fitbit One.

18 Mar 2014

Going Outside In Any Weather

I like to think I'm fairly committed to my running routine or my bike rides.  But I also live in a city called Richmond, which is directly south of Vancouver, BC.  And it rains here... a lot.  From growing up here, I have a bit of a motto when it comes to the rain: if you're not willing to do it in the rain, it'll never get done.

A lot of people rarely go out in the rain and constantly adjust or reschedule plans when the inevitable rain is forecast for their weekend activity.  Instead they choose to remain indoors and wait out the rain.  But I refuse to let the weather dictate my schedule, so rain or shine, I try to follow through with any activity that I have planned.  I also have a three year old son who has far too much energy to spend an entire day inside.  He wants to play outside regardless of the weather and doesn't mind getting a little wet.

Granted, it doesn't get nearly as cold here on the wet coast as it does in the rest of Canada.  Yet, even when it snows, I stick to my running routine.  And I'm never the only one on the trails; there are dozens of other people out there doing the same thing every time I'm out on the trails, regardless of the weather.

So in order to stay warm and somewhat dry, we try to dress accordingly.  Here is what I wear, depending on the weather:

  • Cold - I wear a top and bottom base layer under my shorts and shirt.  I like the MEC T1 long johns and long-sleeved shirt.  If it's closer to or even below 0C, I'll also through on my Saucony Kinvara Nomad jacket.
  • Wet - I wear a waterproof jacket and warm socks.  I've got my Saucony Kinvara Nomad jacket and I usually also wear a hat to keep the rain away from my eyes.
  • Windy - My Saucony Kinvara Nomad jacket has a wind resistant front and keeps my warm.
  • Riding my bike in cold or wet - I like to wear my waterproof cycling pants (I have MEC Secteur Pants).
  • Sunny - I like to feel the sun on my head so I prefer sunglasses to a hat.

And my runners, Saucony Powergrid Triumph 10 shoes, while they get wet fast (they are not waterproof), they dry overnight and are always ready by the next morning.

I am not trying to say I am more committed or more hard-core than anyone else out there.  I am simply trying to say that with the right equipment, the rain or the cold isn't so bad.  Every time I run, I feel better.  I run to be free, to breathe the fresh air, and to clear my head.  And sometimes, running in rain is even therapeutic.

13 Mar 2014

Dogs Off-Leash on Trails

I struggled a little bit to write this post because reading it could really go many different ways.  Let me start by saying that I like dogs.  I had one growing up but that didn't go over well (my dad and the dog just didn't see eye-to-eye).  When I first moved out of my parents house, I got a dog (a black lab mix).  I loved that dog and had him for quite a few years.  However, my circumstances changed and I had to give him up.  While that was a really difficult decision for me, I acknowledge that it was probably harder on the dog and so I accept that I shouldn't have gotten him in the first place.  As such, I am a big proponent of responsible pet ownership.

For the time being, my wife and I have decided not to get a dog.  We like the flexibility of not having one and admit that we are simply too busy to properly care for one.  But I also accept that when my son is older, he may ask for one and so that is a decision that we have put on the shelf for a later date.

So I tell that story to give what I'm going to say next some credibility: if you don't have complete control of your dog, it should not go off-leash in a public area.

I run a lot on trails and natural areas.  These trails happen to also be very popular areas for dog owners and their dogs.  And understandably so - they are beautiful, natural areas with plenty of room to run, walk, and play.  Despite the fact that most of these trails are not off-leash areas, the majority of dogs I see on the trails are off-leash.  In theory, I have no problem with this.  I like to see dogs running around, playing, and enjoying the public space as much as I am.  And the large majority of dogs are perfectly capable of doing so without any problems.

However, there are a small percentage of dogs that simply should not be off-leash in a public area.  Most owners of those dogs know that and leash their dogs accordingly.  But there are a very tiny few that do not.  Over the years, I have been bit, nipped, gnarled at, growled at, and snapped at.

As such, I usually slow down around dogs, keep a steady line and pace, and try not to startle dogs.  Most dogs barely pay me any attention.  But a very small few inevitably run, chase, and snarl.  The owners almost always chase their dogs and apologize profusely for their brief lack of control.  I accept that I wear bright clothing which may startle or attract a dog's attention, but I am not unique in that regard.

Some dogs wander aimlessly all over the path and I have almost tripped over numerous dogs but this doesn't bother me.  What bothers me is the aggressive dogs that are still off-leash.

So my argument is simple: if you do not have complete control over your dog's behaviour, your dog should not be off-leash in a public area.  So far, in the times I have been bitten or nipped, I haven't needed stitches (luckily all minor).  But I hate to think of the day that I, or someone else, does.

Am I out of line in my thinking?  I don't think that I am.

11 Mar 2014

My Training Plan: Week 11

My goal in my running for the next few weeks is to increase the length of my running intervals while keeping the overall session time around the same as the previous week (week 10).  In other words, I want to schedule one run around 50 minutes and the other two between 40 and 45 minutes.

One interesting thing that I've found recently is that as my run intervals get longer, I find it more of a test of willpower than a test of strength.  Yesterday I completed Session 1 - 20 minute run, one minute walk, repeated twice.  That's not an incredibly challenging run, but the longest interval that I've done so far in 2014.  About half way through each of the two 20 minute intervals, I found myself checking the clock almost ever minute or two.  While I know my legs and my cardio are strong enough to handle it, I found myself thinking about taking a break far too often.  So this run, more than any other run I've had so far in 2014, was all about willpower.

The next two sessions for this week are modest in comparison, yet they are still bigger (in terms of distance) than all of my previous runs in 2014.  In order to accomplish this, I need to focus on maintaining a reasonable pace and not pushing myself to go faster all the time.

4 Mar 2014

My Training Plan: Divergence from the Official Plan

While I have been enjoying the SportMedBC (and Vancouver Sun) Learn to Run 10K program, at this point in my training, I am making a choice to diverge from the Learn to Run 10K program.  I am doing this for one simple reason: time.

The Learn to Run 10K program is excellent and I enjoy it.  It has taught me how to build natural progression into my training rather than simply running farther and longer every day.  It has taught me that every week I should have a big run, a rest run, and a moderate run.  It has taught that intervals are good and established runners use them too.  All of these things are important lessons to any runner, whether you're training for a marathon, half marathon, or even a 5k.

However, I am busy and I am not training for anything in particular.  My goal, ultimately, is to teach myself to run and to increase my overall physical health.  So with my current schedule that I run during my lunch, I need to limit my runs to 45 minutes.  On the weekends, I can treat myself to a longer run but, in general, my runs will be 45 minutes.  So when I was looking at the Learn to Run 10K program for week 9, I realized that the time is just getting too long for what I am able to commit to on a regular basis.

So from this point forward, I am going to develop my own training plan using the same methodology as the Learn to Run 10K program, but with a soft 45 minute time limit in mind.  For this week (which is my week 10 because I repeated week 3), I am going to use the following training sessions:

On Monday (yesterday) I completed Session 1 and it was a great run in the rain.  I finished at 9.02km with an average pace of 5:36/km, which I am quite happy with.  Wednesday (tomorrow) it's on to Session 2.  And based on my results up to this point, I am confident that I can still be training for a 10km anyway.  I believe that if I increase my pace slightly and eventually work out the walking intervals, I can achieve 10km within this time.