Running Tech – The Polar M430 and Polar Flow

I know a thing or two about activity tracking technology. For the last year I have been completing my newest master’s thesis on the impact it has on our running community. I am also acutely aware of my own personal need. My tracking need has evolved over time, and so has my activity tracking technology.

Back in the mists of time I started with a pedometer that was pretty dire and was used primarily to track my steps home from the City to Clerkenwell. Not all that inspiring I know, and akin to cro-magnon man smearing his hunting successes on his cave walls using crushed berries and his own feces. Poor Ogg, he knows not what he does.

Ugg. Recovery Run. Saw big Buffalo. Poop Smells nutty.

This was was soon superseded by the Nike+ running watch. And, to be fair, I loved that watch and I loved the app. It lasted years but, as is the case with many things, it started to fail. First, the cockwombles decided to take the website down on a Sunday morning in the US for weekly maintenance. This is the prime time runners in the UK are trying to upload they race data. Utter arsebadgers. What sort of person would make that call?

I shall ruin their uploads, and their Sundays. I shall announce it wearing a black rollneck and a headset like Steve the Jobs.

On top of that it would take FOREVER AND A DAY for the GPS to connect outside my new home in St Katherine’s Dock, the battery life dwindled on the flight to Dublin for the Rock and Roll half 2014 and died in the start pen (IN THE START PEN!!!!) and then, just before Race to the King last year, moisture got into the housing and it was game over man.

But it wasn’t completely over for Nike for me. I bought a second watch, a refurbished one from the Bay of E. It lasted a week. And then they upgraded the app (now named Nike Running Club) and lost all my contacts and virtually all of my history. And so Nike is on the naughty list.

Like the Ghosts of Christmas past

I needed something new and so, for RTTK, I purchased the Garmin Vivoactive. It seemed to do what I want. There are features I like. Garmin Connect, the app and website, is very easy to use. You can add and remove applications using the app, and people write their own, so you can pretty much find whatever you need. It is wearable as a watch too, not looking too dissimilar to the Apple Watch.

It did a great job for the three marathons in a row (Manchester, Copenhagen and RTTK) but unfortunately, during Race to the Stones, it died after 7 hours and clearly was of no use to me for ultra-marathons. I would need to find something else and so the Vivoactive was sent to my younger brother along with all the kit he needed for VLM17 (not that he could work out how to use it).

And so, being burned at RTTS,  I needed to find something that would last longer than 7 hours, preferably 12 hours or more. I had Comrades booked and so would need something (in theory) that could track my GPS position all the way from Durban at 5.30 in the morning to Pietermaritzburg at 5.30pm. Many options were open to me  and so I got the Suunto Ambit Vertical 3. It allows you to amend the Fix Rate (the ping frequency that checks for your GPS position), which I thought was pretty cool. It was easy to set up interval training manually too, and is a good watch WHEN/IF I can work it. Indeed, I needed help to start it when I was in the pens at Beachy Head Marathon as it was stuck on the elevation screen.

I used the Sunnto at Comrades in the end, and for the first 6 marathons of the year (or until my brother gave back the Vivoactive), but then I was asked if I wanted to test the Polar M430. Me? And so I was….

I went to the #POLARLIVE event in Regents Park and we sat through a presentation where we were told about the features of the watch and, more so, using it in tandem with the Polar Flow website.

And there is a lot on there. I have barely scratched the surface of:

  • Training plans
  • Activity Calendars
  • Activity Tracking
  • Sleep Tracking
  • Oh, and it is one of the watches that links to Vitality. So I am massing the points twice as quickly as normal.
Bazinga!

SLEEP TRACKING

Now this is something new to me. And really, I am not an elite athlete checking how deep my sleep is and for how long, but I do like the stats.

Damned owls! Interrupting my sleep!

ACTIVITY TRACKING

With the added bonus that the watch links to Vitality, I am looking more and how I can use it, rather than just as a watch tracking training runs and races, aka my normal usage. There are three settings I use here:

  • Outdoor Running
  • Outdoor Other
  • Indoor Other

 

The Beat the Boat 10. The dips in pace were beer tables

Outdoor running speaks for itself and, after uploading via your phone to the app via Bluetooth or directly to your laptop via the cable or Bluetooth, your activity calendar updates and when you look at it you see the breakdown of the GPS route, the elevation, your cadence and pace all in the charts you can see on the Garmin, Nike and Suunto sites. The difference here being the heart rate zones, something I have never used before and am now a little obsessed with.

Outdoor other, again tracking distance, pace and HR is used for walking for me. I do walk a lot and this is a good way of tracking that for further Vitality points, as well as keeping track of time of feet for longer races.

And Indoor Tracking means I can track HR when at the gym, or one of my favourite HIIT workouts, legging it up the steps at Belsize Park or Hampstead tube stations.

I am still assessing how to best use the Polar M430 in conjunction with Polar Flow.  I just signed up with a running coach, who has not used it before, so hopefully he will help me make the most of it. But, for it’s ease of use, functionality, Vitality linking, and not so much it’s aesthetic as it is stuck in the 90s, I am going to persevere and see where the M430 can take me.

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