Tag Archives: gear and gadgets

Happy Garmin Day!

Had you stopped by my apartment yesterday, you’d be forgiven for thinking I was some sort of overgrown child, tearing open a Zhu Zhu or a Call of Duty II on Christmas morning. Truly, it’s almost embarrassing to admit how quickly and voraciously I dismantled the package that arrived at my doorstep yesterday morning to get to my new toy inside.

This exciting package arrived at my door yesterday.

But this was way cooler than any toy hamster or video game. After years with the cheap but finicky Nike + with my iPod Nano to determine distance and pace, I decided late last year it was time for an upgrade.

That’s right: My Garmin Forerunner 305 had arrived.

This was, in fact, partially a Christmas present from my brother-in-law (thanks, Frank!), and I wish he could have been around to see just how excited I was to actually receive it. I’m typically very orderly in my gift-opening, taking care to separate the recyclables from the throw-aways, and the throw-aways from the essential parts. That didn’t so much happen yesterday …

Childlike excitement=my coffee table in total disarray.

I ran on Wednesday morning, and my beloved FIRST training schedule had me cross-training yesterday. Oh, right. Just wait a day before you try out the coolest running toy ever! Thankfully, the Garmin needed to be charged before I used it, so I was forced to at least squeeze in a couple hours of work before I took a mid-afternoon run break.

I chose one of our usual Pacers Silver Spring Fun Run routes, the Alaska loop, thinking it would be a nice, flat route for a test run. I had no idea that a) this route was so hilly, and b) that my pace fluctuates so wildly on hills! I spent a short period of time demoralized by the knowledge that, while I run an even 8-minute-mile pace or faster on flats and downhills, my uphill pace often rises to more like 9-minute miles or slower. Who knew?

I was so annoyed by my performance on the last big hill on Portal Drive, a half-mile doozy I slogged up at 9-minute-mile pace, I turned around and ran it again. And then again. I got faster each time, buoyed by my decreasing pace as announced by my new training partner.

Did you get that? My Garmin made me do an unplanned hill workout. This is a little bit like reaching out for a chocolate bar, but having a tool that makes you want broccoli instead. Based on this run alone, the Garmin’s already worth every cent. Final tally: 5.18 miles in 44:14, 8:32 minute-mile pace.

My Garmin-photographing skills are apparently still subpar. Trust me: It was a great run!

My Garmin-photographing skills are apparently sub-par. Trust me: this was one great run, blurry photo or not!


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Product review: Trigger Point’s Quadballer

A Running Times story comparing some popular self-massage tools for runners says

The Quadballer: My newest abusive relationship.

The Stick is known as the toothbrush for muscles. The Quadballer, on the other hand, is like a dental tool.

I got turned on to the Quadballer only recently, when searching for a step up from my beloved/much-hated (it’s one of those relationships) foam roller to soothe my often-sore IT band. As soon as I started reading about its hurts-so-good powers, I had to have it. Thanks to a friend with a Trigger Point discount, I bought a Quadballer for a price that fits my race-registration-depleted budget, and it arrived at my front door last week.

The patented material the Quadballer is made from aims to simulate the feeling of an actual massage, and man, does it ever! The diagrams show its usage to be very similar to a foam roller, but this baby ain’t no comfy, cushy foam roller. There’s a reason why the instructional materials note that runners should only spend three to five minutes on each exercise — any more, and you’ll risk bruising.

For that reason, my first night with the Quadballer was kind of difficult.  I didn’t seriously overdo it; I just didn’t realize the extent to which a little goes a long way. I used to spend a good 30 minutes lolling around on the foam roller to work out post-run kinks. With the Quadballer, it’s more like five minutes, which is yet another reason to invest in one. It’s too soon to tell whether it’s the definitive cure to my IT band problems. But I can already tell it’s helping, and can a runner ask for anything better than that?

Have you tried this magical little instrument of torture? Any tips, praise or warnings to pass along?


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Carrot and stick

An assignment took me to the mall the other day, where my job was to talk to shoppers about why they like that particular mall,


One of the "carrots" I'm dangling in front of my nose.

then get out of there.

Instead, I found myself wandering through Sephora, lusting after a Philosophy bubble bath that would be the perfect addition to my recent addiction to Epsom-salt baths. But since I’m saving up for several big-ticket items — new ski boots, a $250 race registration for the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim in June that’s seriously making me think about doing the cheaper 1-mile swim instead, $90 for the National Marathon — I held back.

After safely driving away from the temptation, it occurred to me that I have a golden opportunity to bribe myself. Losing my regular pool has left me unmotivated to go through the annoyance of finding a new place to swim, then actually making that first workout happen. But here’s my new promise to myself: After logging five good swims, I can buy myself the $12 bubble bath.

This got me thinking: I can do the same thing with the other stuff I want, using my wish-list items as carrots dangling in front of my nose as motivations to work out. Here’s the short list:

A few new sports bras — maybe two cheap ones from Target and one of my favorite Mizuno-brand ones. I’m letting myself buy the Target sports bras, about $15 a pop, once I log five good core workouts.

The Quadballer is apparently a hard-core version of my beloved foam roller. It’s $68.63 with shipping costs, but apparently, the Chevy Chase Running Company sells it locally. This might just be a reward for holding off on actual massages, which I love but really can’t afford.

A Garmin Forerunner. Not the new fancy one, just a trusty old 205 or 305, which retails around $125-$150 right now. My Nike + only cost $30, but after the latest malfunction (it told me I ran 2.5 miles at 14-minute-mile pace), I’m beginning to realize you get what you pay for.

And finally … a race registration for the YMCA Bethesda-Chevy Chase Turkey Chase on Thanksgiving. This, along with other holiday races in the Washington area, will serve as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy: I’ll reward myself for workouts by registering for the race, which will motivate me to work out to train for said race. Come to think of it, all of these wish-list items will motivate me to work out. What sweet rewards! I’m hoping these motivate me sufficiently, so I don’t have to resort to a stick (not to be confused with The Stick).

What’s on your training wish list? How do you reward yourself for completing tough workouts?



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A fix for Garmin lust

Long runs are tough. They’re even tougher when you’re not exactly sure how long you’ve run. Tools like mapmyrun.com are nice, but the distance measurements aren’t always dead-on. With a three- or five-miler, a tenth of a mile deviation per mile isn’t such a huge deal. On a 15- or 20-miler, that can mean a difference of almost two miles. If you’ve ever embarked on a run this distance, you know how maddeningly unacceptable that is.

When I trained for my last marathon, I avoided this uncertainty by running the Jacksonville Marathon route for every long run. Think it’s boring running 20 miles straight all by yourself? Try doing it several times over. You truly start dreading every too-familiar street corner. The worst part: It was an out-and-back course. I’m getting the chills just thinking about it.

I decided there would be none of that this summer, when I start training for the Marine Corps Marathon in earnest.

The obvious fix is the Garmin, that brilliant mini-GPS the size of a regular watch that tracks your distance and pace.

My cheapo fix is the NikePlus, a neato little tool that hooks up to my beloved iPod Nano to track distance and pace. The NikePlus costs about $30, plus $5 for a little Velcro doo-dad to attach it to my shoe. Given my propensity for registering for expensive races, this a whole lot more realistic than a $300 Garmin Forerunner. But the NikePlus isn’t so accurate when you get it; even though I felt sluggish and nasty while running yesterday morning, it told me I was doing 7-minute miles. Thanks for the ego boost, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t just run my PR for a 5K on a slow run through my neighborhood.

So I headed to the track to try to calibrate it. I tried a neighborhood track just over the DC-Maryland line in Shepherd Park. Nice neighborhood, non-regulation track. Again, my plodding was charted as 7-minute miles, which would be ego-boosting if it weren’t so impossible.

Frustrated, I drove — yes, drove — to the track at Montgomery Blair High School, located a couple miles from my house. It was glorious. I was the only one there, and I think I nailed the calibration on my first 400-meter loop. I ran two half-mile repeats to test it, and each one came in at .5 miles, on the nose. And for the first time that day, since I was running half-mile repeats and not doing my standard neighborhood slog, the 7-minute miles were roughly correct.

I’ll withhold my final judgement until I test this on a longish run this weekend, but I think I’m in love.


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A spring in my step

When I got dressed for my Thursday-night run with Pacers last night, I realized something big: Gloveless season is here again! For what I’m pretty sure is the first time since moving here in November, it was too warm to wear my nifty Mizuno running gloves. Spring!

My excitement was balanced by the realization that warmer weather means I’m back to being the sweaty mess I was for four straight years running in Florida. Truly, I’m the sweatiest person I know, male or female. If you think you can compete with me on this front, you’re wrong.

But I digress. This is a celebration of spring, and sweaty or not, it’s a lot easier to run when you’re distracted by the pillowy pink and white blooms blanketing the Washington area right now. For those of you in colder climes, I’m including some photos of my block so you can share the pretty, pink love.

I’m also including a photo of the other thing motivating me today: new shoes! And not just any new shoes: free new shoes! Once a month or so, a sales rep from a major shoe company visits our Pacers fun runs, offering the chance for every runner to test-drive a pair of new shoes. At the end of the evening, one pair of shoes is raffled off.

Last night, I test-drove a pair of New Balance 769s on Pacers’ 5.2-mile Alaska route, and fell in love. My orthotics fit into the shoes perfectly (no small feat), and the shoes are just as supportive but more cushiony than my beloved Brooks Adrenalines. If I hadn’t won the shoes, I would have been seriously sad to give them back. As my Pacers buddies, who saw me jumping around like a child who’s been given a free bag of candy upon winning, can attest, this totally made my week.

Happy running, and good luck to everyone who’s running the Cherry Blossom 10-miler!

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iPod battery dead? Here’s a fix.

I reunited with an old friend this week, and it was glorious.

I’m referring, of course, to my first-generation iPod Nano, which I sent to a San Antonio, Texas, company called Milliamp on March 10.The company promises to replace your iPod’s failed battery for $20. All told, I spent about $50, including shipping and other random fees. But that’s a lot better than the $120 I would have spent on a new Nano, which Apple oh-so generously offered a 10 percent discount on if I traded in my old one.

Milliamp’s Web site says that “we typically replace the battery in your iPod on the same day that it is received. In most instances, your repaired iPod is shipped back to you the next business day.”

The Milliamp people e-mailed me saying they’d received my iPod March 13. They sent it back March 20, and it arrived back at my front door on Wednesday, March 25. It’s a little longer than I thought I’d have to wait, but my iPod has new life, as promised. The best part: The battery is guaranteed for 10 years.

I would definitely recommend this as a fix if your own battery dies, especially if your workouts are as music-dependent as mine are.


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