Well I never. I’ve long been a fan of heading out into the unknown, making it up as I go and then retracing my steps on Google earth. Annoyingly – this often leads to problems. Firstly, I’ve ended up clawing my way through dense vegetation, loning it across vast expanses and exploring what seems to me (in my own very naive little way) undiscovered lands, just outside of Hillsborough, Sheffield. Only to find upon my return, that the images from Google earth are in fact so out of date that none of what I’ve discovered looks anything like the stuff on screen, or worse still – I can’t even work out for the life of me, where it was I’d just been??
It has then, been a voyage of discovery to accept the whole GPS thing, and start running every step of the way with a device strapped to me like some car thief. I’ve already switched from the MOTOACTV to a Suunto Quest, and now I’m using a second device at the same time – in the form of the Suunto GPS Track Pod.
So what is it that makes these gadgets so much fun?
The Quest (and MOTO before it) was essential in order for me to train to HR (Heart Rate). That’s already proven to be a major success and answered the question I always asked myself at the end of any race, “How much better would I have been able to do, if I had actually trained for this?”
The benefit of having the GPS unit along for the ride is simple, information. Whether I’m making it up, time trialling or deliberately increasing my mileage as endurance training, I can see what I’m achieving as I go. Post run – I can just connect to the laptop and before I’ve made myself a well earned cuppa – my run is on screen, broken down into graphs, charts, maps and statistics. No shortage of detailed analysis, all revolving around the fun I just had out and about.
I can see accurate maps of my route that are up to date, and the HR, speed, altitude at every stage. I just have to move the cursor across the route and it’s all there. The pod tells me the total climb, max height, time spent going up, time spent going down and along the flat.
Now – so far these are fairly standard features, but the difference is in the details. Movescount (the online resource for all Suunto devices*) allows for you to examine the details in a clear and easy to use fashion, which means as soon as you sign up – you’re making good use of all that’s on offer. While on Movescount I can determine the information I want to have on the watch while in use, which means I can see live data re: distance, pace, GPS altitude, speed,
There’s plenty of reason to stick with this arrangement for the time being, since the battery life on these things far outlasts that of the previous watch, which means I can wear them during a race and monitor my performance, rather than training with them, then guessing throughout the big event I’ve been working towards. The pod will actually last 50hrs when updating position every 60secs (if it takes me any longer than that, it’s gone wrong). Safe to say I’ve been converted. Now there’s even more truth to the notion that you don’t race others on an ultra, you race yourself. With the equivalent of a personal trainer strapped on for the duration, I’m always aware of exactly who’s winning! There are of course, more expensive and even more capable devices available from the Suunto range – but I don’t feel they apply to me just at the moment.
Bonus: The fact I’m using two devices which can be used independently, means I can pick one and leave the other at home. I can share one with a running buddy, or compare results with a partner after spending time on separate activities. The way the pod itself clips into its own plastic ring allows you to mount it on a shirt or pack without need for a strap (supplied in any case). It’s not much – but it makes me feel like I have a GPS t-shirt! How cool is that? My girlfriend says it looks like I have a pacemaker, but hey.
*Not all Sunnto devices are compatible with Movescount, devices such as the Suunto Vector (an old school navigation based – watch). For some this is still a lot simpler and less time consuming.