iPhone Heart Rate Monitors

For the past couple months I’ve been experimenting with MAF training, running at a targeted heart rate with the goal of improving my aerobic base. I’ve been using a simple heart rate monitor (HRM), but I always run with my iPhone and it would be nice to record my heart rate data alongside all the other information my phone collects.

All iPhone compatible HRM sensors work by attaching a dongle to the iPhone.

I’m only looking at Runalyzer and Wahoo because they both work with a wide range of apps. (Runalyzer compatible apps, Wahoo compatible apps) The other HRM options I found, Garmin’s and Digifit’s, only work with their own proprietary apps.

Wahoo uses the ANT+ wireless protocol (2.4 GHz) and requires an ANT+ compatible HRM strap. Runalyzer claims to work with all existing analog HRM straps (5.3 kHz). Runalyzer’s hardware dongle is slightly shorter and wider than Wahoo’s.

Unfortunately, RunKeeper, my preferred running app, doesn’t support anything except the Wahoo Key. But I tried iSmoothRun again and was very impressed with how it’s progressed since I last tried it–enough to switch.

So, I’ve decided to try the Runalyzer dongle with iSmoothRun since I can keep using my existing Omron HRM strap. It’ll be here in a few days.

So Long Nike+

After running more than 1300 miles with Nike+, I’m giving up the sensor.

My main reason has nothing to do with Nike. I’ve just reached a place where I’m more interested in mappable distance and less concerned with counting my footsteps or getting credit for crossing the street. Keeping track of miles does give me a very concrete feeling of accomplishment, I now use RunKeeper on my iPhone, and manually crosspost everything on Dailymile.

“At its heart, running is pretty simple, so I try to keep it that way.”
Anton Krupicka

As I’ve been stepping down to more minimal shoes, I’ve also been trying to simplify what I take with me. Carrying an iPhone and iPod nano (plus Nike dongle) was kind of ridiculous, especially considering I’ve mostly stopped listening to music while running. Worrying about the shoe sensor had also become a mental obstacle to running completely barefoot. (I did spent a moment imagining how I could attach a sensor to my foot with tape or bandages, but quickly realized how insane that would be.)

I’ve never actually owned a pair of Nike+ shoes. Before going minimalist I ran in Asic Kayanos, with the Nike+ sensor sealed in plastic wrap and threaded under the laces. I did the same thing my Nike Frees and even had a sensor attached to the strap on my Vibram FiveFingers Sprints.

Ironically, I switched from Free 5.0s to 3.0s a week before the Nike Free Run+ shipped, another few days and I probably would have gotten a pair. Then, I decided to give up the sensor completely just as Nike (finally) shipped their Nike+ GPS app.

I wish I had nothing bad to say about Nike+. Mostly, it really worked for me and I’m thankful. But Nike has done some really dumb things which mar the experience. The most glaring thing is their apparent disregard for their users. Basically there’s no guarantee that any site feature will be there tomorrow. I’m not alone in this, their Get Satisfaction boards are filled with annoyed users.

Last year they redesigned the website, which is a critical part of the Nike+ experience. While it looks great, it’s a functional trainwreck. The site is horribly slow, by design and from poor execution. Just getting to the login screen — which, after a year still can’t remember a user from one visit to another — either redirects through the iTunes sync landing page (3.4MB) or the main Nike Running main page (4MB) before finally loading the Nike+ page (924k). The site is also all Flash, so even with a fast connection there’s still a mess of gratuitous animation to suffer through. This year Nike finally added a rudimentary non-Flash mobile site, but I found it slow, clumsy and mostly useless.

The most unforgivable incident happened last year. I used Nike’s “resolution” feature to set a goal of 365 miles in 2009. Throughout the year, the site’s progress tracking was a great motivation and despite a mid-year setback, I caught up and was on track to to meet my goal. Then, with a few weeks left in 2009, Nike shut down the old site and failed to transition everyone’s resolution goals over to the new site. Twenty miles short of something I’d been working towards for a full year, all the tools I’d been using to measure my progress were removed. (I met my goal, but I had to track the last handful of miles myself.)

Related to the resolutions was the disappearance of milestone certificates. As a new runner, my first 100 mile certificate meant a great deal to me. The 500 mile certificate was even better. A few months ago I passed 1000 miles and discovered that the certificates had been discontinued and replaced with a meaningless and arbitrary color-levels indicator. Personal triumph, Nike+ letdown (I’m not alone here either). Yes, I could keep going and get to purple, but all I’d get is a different color label and a vapidly snarky notification on the site. That’s assuming Nike hadn’t dropped the color system before I got there.

The last thing that sticks in my mind was how Nike botched the Human Race 10k last year. I ended up receiving two congratulatory emails (two runs counted) but no credit on the site. Things don’t look good for this year either, September’s almost over and there’s been no news of the 2010 race happening at all. The two previous Human Races I knew of were August 31, 2008 and October 24, 2009.

I greatly appreciate what Nike+ helped me do, but can’t help feeling slighted and I no longer recommend it when people ask what I use to track my miles.