Monday, May 1, 2017

My Runtastic Experiment - The Beginning

Why Runtastic?
First off, I need to declare that this experiment is completely of my own volition.  I am not being rewarded financially or in-kind by Runtastic or Adidas.  Apart from receiving the one-year premium subscription for free, the only benefit I will receive from this is from my own sweat equity.

I was musing a few years ago about switching to a new device and was doing a lot of reading about the Adidas mi Coach.  At the time I was doing a bunch of reading and research about run cadence and wanted something with a foot pod.  I had tried the Nike+ system and was reasonably pleased with it.  I had a bunch of Garmin Forerunners - all of which I liked - and thought about picking up one of the Garmin SDMn (n = 1, 2, 3 or 4) models.  All were compatible with the Forerunners I had at the time.

I was surfing Kijiji and found a Garmin SDM4 for sale, as well as a miCoach wrist unit and footpod for nearly the same price.  I created a miCoach account, downloaded the app and poked around the app and website as extensively as I could without having the devices connected, and I was pretty impressed.  What drove me to buy the Garmin footpod was the fact that I didn't want to have to start over with w new system.  I had already done that years ago when I switched from Polar to Garmin, and partially so when I received a TomTom Runner as a gift.  Once I had the new (to me) footpod, I didn't give miCoach a second thought, that is until I received a message from them in February...

In February Adidas replaced its miCoach service with Runtastic - a €220 million acquisition they made in August, 2015.  Apparently, everyone with a miCoach account received a one-year premium subscription to the Runtastic system.  Now I'm a guy who gets a lot out of the free subscriptions to fitness services (Strava, RunKeeper, DailyRunner, etc.), as well as the services offered by the device manufacturers (Garmin Connect and TomTomMySports), and have not really considered signing up for any service as a "Premium Member."  That being said, now that I had this subscription come to me, I didn't want to let it go to waste.

The Experiment
My plan was (and is) to exclusively use as many of the apps/services in the Runtastic system until the subscription runs out.  As I said in a previous post, I am pretty much done with training for running by just running and also want to have better all-around fitness.  This means having a healthy balance of resistance training and cardio.  Since run streak was halted in January due to illness, I had not done any exercise and needed to get busy doing something... anything.  These two realities (premium level fitness offering and complete lack of fitness) were colliding.

The Plan
The first thing I did was download all of the apps and log in with my miCoach credentials (I can't believe that I remembered them.)  I also logged in on the Runtastic web site.  I will admit at this point that I did not have any real method to assess the Runtastic system; my plan was to start with the Runtastic Results app - the one app that seems to be the hub for everything else Runtastic - and then build out from there.  The web site also aggregates all of the data collected through the various apps and presents everything in a common view.  I ran through the premium benefits that are available to me and was presented with an opportunity to build a custom 12-week workout plan, starting with a fitness test. 

As I was completely out of shape, the fitness test was tortuous, but I made it through.  I was put through four exercises and I had the record how many reps I could do.  At the end, I was presented with my plan where I could choose how many days per week I wanted to work out and I could commit to a certain number of minutes of cardio, which is measured through the Runtastic app.  On days when I ride or run, I use the Runstastic PushUps app for a bit of pre- or post-activity strength training.   I plan to install PullUps, SitUps and Squats apps down the road.  In addition, I want to see if I can pair my phone with the Bluetooth heart rate strap that came with the TomTom runner.  If so, I should be able to add heart rate monitoring to all of the Runtastic apps that support it (most likely Runtastic and Runtastic Results).

I just recently noticed that "free" training plans are a premium benefit, something Runtastic has in common with other services.  (They are "free" because you pay for the subscription, hence not really free.)  I just signed up for a half marathon plan that ends on September 17, which happens to be race day for the Army Run.   When I selected the plan, it only presented me with three possible end dates.  I would prefer to select my own race day.  That ought to be fixed.

My Impressions So Far
The thing that impresses me the most is how well the system is integrated.  The apps call home well and work well with each other.  I don't find that I have to go to one app for a particular piece of information and another app for other information.  Results has everything in one timeline.  That being said, it is a bit of a closed system.  I can connect it with Google Fit and Apple Health, but there are no options for connecting to other activity tracking apps outside the system (e.g. Strava).  I can export activity data in .gpx and import it into Garmin Connect and Strava, but it is a manual process.

Another thing I like is that it works with my Pebble watch.  With the announcement last December that Pebble has been subsumed by Fitbit, I know that the writing is on the wall for Pebble and that support has already started to disappear.  Strava hitched their wagon to the Apple Watch and don't offer Pebble connectivity from iOS.  The Pebble connectivity with Runtastic is flawless.

I need to log in to the Runtastic app every time I open it.  I don't need to do this with Results or PushUps, and I have no idea why things are different with Runtastic.  It's not a defect per se, but it is annoying and I think this also ought to be fixed.

UPDATE (May 24, 2017): This has been fixed.  My first ticket with Runtastic support ended when the support agent wrote that the issue has been escalated to the Product Managers and marked the ticket as 'Solved', which was a bit odd since the issue was not 'Solved.'  After advertising this blog post on Twitter, Runtastic replied, asking me to register another ticket.  I did and the helpful agent informed me that the issue was indeed resolved and that I would need to completely uninstall the app from my phone and re-install.  That worked and I can now stay logged in.  Thanks, Runtastic!

I have found many other systems do not allow for mixing strength training with cardio in one place.  In the past, I would go to one app to do strength training and the results would be stored there, and then use other app (or apps) to ride or run or ski or snowshoe and store the results there.  Perhaps there are apps out there that will aggregate the data, but I haven't found a good one.  The upside of a closed well-integrated system is that this is possible and the data is well aggregated and unified in presentation; the downside is that one is forced to completely buy-in to the closed system or manage fitness data in a collection of disparate  (best-of-breed) systems.

Next Steps
The first step is to complete the 12-week program to see where that takes me.  I have committed to 90 minutes of cardio each week (3x30min sessions).  My hope is that I will be leaner and in decent running shape by the August.  I am also considering doing a half or full marathon in late Autumn, but I am remaining cautious on that.

Once I start seeing measurable results, I will post them.  In the mean time, I recommend giving Runtastic a try.

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