Friday, November 28, 2014

The mystery of the missing Strava Premium feature for runners

I had a Strava Premium free trial available to me for about a month up to mid November - and I took it up as I do find knowing a suffer score some source of amusement. But that is it - I really don't find that Strava Premium offers that much to runners. The pace bands are nice, but I can replicate that very easily in Sport Tracks. The 25% splits in the race analysis are handy, but it's not to difficult to calculate 25% of your run distance and do a little subtraction to figure out those splits.

Strava bases its pace bands on the best 5km, which I set as the best GPS-recorded 5km.

Sport Tracks uses pace bands set by the user - both in terms of quantity and the pace categories.

The only problem I have with Sport Tracks is that there is no Mac version. Each time I want to use it, I need to start a Windows partition on my Mac and lose 4GB of RAM. Just opening that partition slows my whole system down - so while I love Sport Tracks for a variety of reasons (check out DC Rainmaker's great overview here), it's annoying to use. So I'm always on the lookout for web-based logs that offer something useful.

I use Nike and Garmin GPS watches - I prefer the simplicity of the Nike, but I need the Garmin if I'm on my bike (very rare these days) or wish to set up intervals. I can easily export the data from both devices (to upload to Sport Tracks), although uploading activities to Smashrun or Strava is a much easier process that just requires a few clicks and no downloading/uploading.

But I persist with Sport Tracks because I love the Training Load plugin, which I can use to monitor my fitness and fatigue.

Yellow bars show the Training Impulse (TRIMP, read more about it here) for each day's activities, blue is the fitness and red is fatigue.
At the moment I'm trying to find a sweet spot for an easy run - the shortest distance at an easy pace that doesn't reduce my fitness score. Although I'll point out that the distance/time will increase as my fitness improves. But it means that I am opening up Sport Tracks (and thus Windows) each day. It is not an instantaneous process.

So imagine my annoyance when this little critter turned up on my Strava feed a day after my Premium Trial expired!

After a bit of digging I found a Premium Trial offer online, so I signed up again and tried to find out where this pot of gold was and what my data looked like. To say I was disappointed is an understatement.

Look at how unfit but fresh I am - because it's a feature for cyclists only!

Historically this "Fitness & Freshness" feature only used power meter data, and now they have enabled it to use heart rate data too. So now that this has happened, why can't this feature be opened up to those of us who run! Or swim (possible if you use an optical heart rate monitor), or do any other activity that can be uploaded with heart rate data? Of course, if the fitness/freshness feature was something some wanted to check in on, they could change the activity type to be bike rides, but that'd really annoying. And you'd fall off the appropriate leaderboard (which is what Strava is really about).

I changed the activity type for the last two days of last week from run to ride, and it did come up on the plot... so that's an option for Strava Premium subscribers who are desperate for this feature.
I do like Strava - it's a great way to see where your friends (and rivals) are running (or cycling, swimming, kayaking, etc), and how their chosen activity is going. It has the best privacy feature of all the web-based apps, allowing you to share runs without divulging the specifics of your home address (and/or other addresses, as required). But there is nothing in the current Premium subscription that I value. The goal-setting for specific segments is nice, but it's not something I'm interested in. At least not right now.

Despite all the segments and friends I have on Strava, I place a lot more value on the data I get from Smashrun. I even upgraded to Smashrun Pro because I really enjoyed the site, but now love all the Pro features! Plus Smashrun is just plain fun, albeit disguised as an easy way to keep track of your running. The notables are what do it for me - Strava may have something similar when it identifies top-three performances, but Strava Achievements are based on overall PB while Smashrun detects overall, quarterly and monthly PBs! You can be on the comeback trail and it will let you know when you're improving. Strava only let's you know after you put all the hard work in again.

So, for the moment, while I am exclusively a runner, I just don't see the point of Strava Premium.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Westerfolds Wednesday: a hit out

It was yet another lovely morning at Westerfolds parkrun on the weekend. The sun was out but it was still cool enough to be classified as "PB weather" - according to Smashrun it was 15℃ with a relative humidity of 84% although The Prof had 17℃ and 59%. The relatively good weather is definitely encouraging some to return to parkrun - one of our First Timers hadn't actually been to parkrun for over 18 months! Well, strictly is was their barcode...

Image from the Westerfolds parkrun Facebook page, taken by Cormac McCarthy.
We had 92 parkrunners, of which 23 ran a personal best time (including 4 of our top 5 finishers)! We had ten were first timers to our course; seven were new to parkrun while three had had some parkrunning experience - Senny from Brockwell parkrun in the UK, with Mark and Max from both Albert parkrun (I'll let you figure out which one had been away from parkrun for the 18+ month period...)

Image from the Westerfolds parkrun Facebook page, taken by Cormac McCarthy.
No course records were set, although the front end of the pack were definitely in a fast mood judging by the amount of PBs. Steven Griffin was the first to finish with a personal best time of 18:18, while a Battle of the Justins occurred for the 2nd and 3rd finishers with Justin Byrne (18:46) getting the better of Justin McFarlane (18:52, also a PB). parkrun may not be a race, but a little rivalry definitely helps those trying to chase down PBs!

Hannah Wearne was the first of the women to finish, also picking up a PB as she completed the course in 23:00. Magdel Mellet finished second with 23:35, while Lorraine Bradbury ran 24:08 (and picked up the highest age grade of the day - 78.18%).

I love photos that show off the course - how lovely is the view of the park is once you get to the top of The Hill? Very.
Image from the Westerfolds parkrun Facebook page, taken by Cormac McCarthy.

Oh no, the photographer! Better start running!
Image from the Westerfolds parkrun
Facebook page
, taken by Cormac McCarthy.
I ended up blowing up at parkrun - I was trying to go for a strong run and I was sitting with Gennine for most of it. But after completing the first 3.7km in 18:06 (I created a private Strava segment that shows it was my fourth-fastest first 3.7km), I just blew up and had to walk up the hill. The whole hill. I only started running again when I spotted our photographer, Cormac.

I knew I had done too much damage too early when I couldn't push the pace again on the downhill - Valerie and Bram caught up and overtook me, and that was more or less it for me. I ended up with 25:25, which was my 4th fastest Westerfolds parkrun according to Strava, but my fastest 5km in a month according to Smashrun (i.e. since the asthma), so I guess that's just where I am right now with running. Strava also picked up some non-segment achievements (2nd best mile 7:24, and 3rd best 2 miles 15:26), so the run wasn't a total bust.

Although the inability to hold pace is a problem right now given I acknowledged the problem in the Sri Chinmoy 10km, and that I had hoped to work on that in the leadup to the Sussan 10km! But I'm not aiming for 4:50/km in that race...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The City2Sea

The weather on the two occasions that I ran the City2Surf was overcast and cold. So it was no surprise to me that the weather for the City2Sea would be similar, although as Melbourne is typically overcast then the weather could only worsen by raining. It doesn't really bother me, but it was a source of amusement as I made the trip into the city for the start of the City2Sea. And while Melbourne may not have the public transport access into the city that Sydney does early on a Sunday morning, you can't beat a spot with plenty of cover!

Plenty of runners waiting in the wings at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
I had been weather watching all night, hoping that the rain that was due on Sunday morning would be the last dregs of the storm that was coming Melbourne's way. MetEye suggested the worst would be at about 2am - and when I suddenly woke up in the middle of the night thinking I had overslept, it was only 1.58am and the rain was heavy at the time. Perhaps it had just hit, so the intensity of the rainfall may have woken me up.

I did have plans to wake up early - a 5.30am start gave me time to make coffee, get dressed, have some toast with peanut butter and pop my contact lenses in before I left at 6am. The race started at 8.25am, and bag drop-off closed at 7.30am, but I left home early so that I could reach an inner city spot with free parking, and have time to (a) guarantee finding a spot, (b) drive out to Plan B (and C), and (c) walk over from wherever I had parked with enough time to make the bag drop-off. I wasn't sure how wet the roads would be, and I wanted to make sure I had dry socks at the finish line!

I ended up finding a parking spot in the first place I checked, so I arrived at the starting line with plenty of time to spare. I have no idea how many times I went to the toilet (the downside of Sjögrens is that I find it difficult to tell the difference between having a dry mouth, and actually being thirsty and/or dehydrated). I spent the final moments before the start chatting to a couple of red-starters and another green-starter about the importance of dry socks, the various free parking spots we each chose, and other running-related chit-chat. The green start chute began to fill, but as it was early days I stayed under one of the wings with many other green starters.

Green starters waiting for the race to start!
Hopefully the Eureka Stair Climbers found their run event's location!

The end of the rapidly growing green start chute, as viewed from the unofficial green starters undercover area.
There was a surge in the green start so I made my way over to them... I walked up the hill (others had started jogging), crossed the timing mats and began to jog... until we came to a complete stand-still. I would later notice via the Strava Labs Flyby that fellow Westerfolds parkrunner Rohan had waited for longer and had a clear run without any bottlenecks. Definitely something to keep in mind for the next event!

While the bottleneck and complete stand-still annoyed me, I was quite happy with the cruisy pace of the crowd once we got going again. I then realised I needed to go to the bathroom. Again. I knew that there were toilets at Federation Square so I slowly made my way across to the left side of the course - once I spotted someone else in front of me making the very detour I was planning I reassured myself that it wasn't an unwise decision. I didn't even need to wait for a cubicle! When I went to rejoin the race I saw Rohan go past and I thought I might try to catch him - despite knowing that he's actually a few minutes faster than me at parkrun! But he and his fluoro orange shirt were a bit of a rabbit for me, and helped me make time on the slow start and pit stop.

As we made our way to the underpass to go under St Kilda Rd, I spotted another Westerfolds parkrunner - Wendy, who is easy to pick due to her love of running skirts! I had a bit of a chat with her until the end of the underpass was near and my pace was starting to settle in. The rest of the event was fairly uneventful until we hit Albert Park lake.

Seriously, look at those splits - uneventful steady splits in the middle of the course.

I knew there would be headwinds at some point around Albert Park, but I was unprepared for them to be coming and going. If it was constant, and just for an extended section, I would have been happy to ease off and sit at a slower pace for a period, but instead I became a little frustrated and forced myself to sit at a slower pace until I knew I could commit to the 5:20s again. At this point my right hip and left shoulder (yes, my shoulder) were beginning to be a little sore, so when the final drink stop came up at about 13.5km I picked up a cup of Gatorade, slowed to a walk and had a few sips before exiting Albert Park.

I was confronted with a very slow climb, but one that I knew would make my hip worse so I took a few moments to slow to a walk again, catch my breath and be ready to run the last 1km and a bit. Once the final sharp turn to the right was made I increased my pace knowing that I wouldn't need to slow down again for another turn. I could see all kinds of sponsor flags in the distance and while I struggled to figure out which one was the finish line - I settled on the sole Adidas one and kept running. Although all thoughts about that Adidas flag disappeared once I realised I was in the finishing chute! For once I didn't worry about whether I still had anything left in the tank as I really wanted to stop once the timing mats were passed. I saw I ran 82 minutes according to the watch and then headed down the chute, following the other finishers.

Official time of 1:22:22 looks pretty nice! While the first two splits are about right. I'm not sure about that final one!

I saw some more Westerfolds parkrunners after the finish line - Gennine was the first I saw spotted a bit out of reach, but I did manage to say hello to the super speedy ones who ran the course between 63 to 68 minutes! Simon was the fastest in the Westerfolds parkrun team with 63, while Barney and Scott both ran 68, with Barney smashing his sub-72 goal. Michael was with the group too and must have been standing around for a while as he was feeling cold. As we were about to disband we came across Rohan who must have made a detour after the finish line as he was most definitely ahead of me during the run.

Bag pick-up was quick, and I eagerly threw on a few more layers before making the trip back to the start and to my car. I spotted Wendy's son and asked him if he knew where his mum was - much to his confusion as he had no idea who I was! Ooops! He wasn't sure where she was either, but I later found a photo on Facebook that indicated that Rohan had found her! :) The only Westerfoldian who missed out was Lee - although I did see her briefly during one of my many toilet trips pre-race, apparently I was the only person she saw! Later Iwona (who was chaffeur for the day for Scott and Barney) would say she saw Lee and cheered her on, but Lee was just too focused to notice!

It was a great day, despite the weather. The volunteers were all lovely (except for one who looked like he was not having any fun, and was possibly frozen solid), and bag drop-off was a cinch. The only issue was the bottlenecks - the one at the start forced a complete stand-still, and others during the run forced some onto footpaths. I think this is why some missed out on the split times. And speaking of those split times - the distance for that last timing mat must have been short as I know that I didn't run 4:18/km for 1.5km!

Next major run is the Sussan Women's 10km. My best 10km today was 53:38, so hopefully I can pick up another 10km PB in December. Also I am definitely feeling better about my fitness post-hayfever-asthma as the Smashrun SPI score for the City2Sea 15km was 563!

Boom! Back above Smashrun's Pace Trend band!
I was hoping to have a hit out or two at parkrun today and/or next week to see what my speed is like at the moment. I didn't end up following through on the 10km training program due to the Asthma From Hell, so I really had no idea how my legs were going to  feel on a quick parkrun! Answer: fine with 14:28 for the first 3.5km 3km, and then I blew up on the hill (but SPI of 547!).