Back in November, I got my hands on the Timex Run Trainer and I’ve been using it everyday since then. And not just for its functionality as a GPS-enabled fitness watch but as an everyday watch as well. So now I’ve got over five months of experience of using this and I want to provide an update to the previous review, which was only based on having it for about a week.

DISLIKES:

I still think the watch is literally huge and at least 20%-25% of size could easily be shaved off to make something less unwieldy. Again, my Garmin FR210 has 90% of the same software functions and is half as large. Just to give you an idea of the size difference, here’s a shot of the FR210 on top of the TRT itself.

Size comparison: Garmin FR210 on top of the Timex Run Trainer

Size comparison: Garmin FR210 on top of the Timex Run Trainer

If they make a 2012 or 2013 version of this watch, they need to seriously shrink it down. Size aside, the weight is hardly noticeable once you wear it after a while, I hardly ever notice it on my wrist unless it gets caught on something because it’s so damned large; I can barely put my motorcycle jacket on without either taking the watch off or undoing the cuffs to their largest diameter first. But enough about its mammoth girth.

This thing seriously needs a new strap design. The stiff rubber doesn’t conform to any wrist shape I’ve ever seen in my entire life, but it’s perfectly round enough to fit around a bottle with no issue. Conversely, the Garmin FR910XT makes use of an ingenious design: make one arm of the strap swing freely like an actual watchband. Imagine that, a technology company using a piece of design tech from a regular watch, something Timex has made since 1854. Seeing this literally blows my mind, they got scooped at their own game. I cannot decide if Timex designed the Run Trainer to fit bicycle bars or bottles, but it wasn’t made for a human wrist, that’s for sure.

Indiglo still sucks horribly but I’ve learned when to use it most effectively. It’s truly only useful well into the night, it’s pointless at or around dusk. Fiddling with the contrast helps some but I still firmly believe that a color inversion on the display would work better, something Suunto has done with success. The actual brightness has taken some getting used to as well, but it’s usable. Not great but not bad, but not really good either. It’s there, so you use it or you don’t.

While its functionality is still designed by engineers — you can tell a UI or UX designer never came close to touching this thing — getting acclimated to how it works does not take very long, especially if you read the manual. It still has operational or design quirks that I think would have been normal 5 years ago but should never occur today (e.g. all sensors stay on until you manually turn them off, I don’t know of any fitness watch that doesn’t turn those functions off after X minutes). Luckily, this is 100% fixable through a firmware update but getting Timex to actually fix that is another point altogether. Their support on their Facebook page is extremely responsive but does not always follow through.

To get the data off the watch, you have to use Training Peaks’ Device Agent, which isn’t bad, but it’s another engineer-designed app, just like their website. It’s all about getting data in front of your eyeballs, regardless of format or how it looks. Besides the fact that TrainingPeaks’ website is god awful confusing for most people to use, locking users into using it is a very poor choice, especially for first time users. I’m not saying Timex or TP should debut a site as easy to use as Garmin Connect, but they do need to make strides to make the site (and software) far more usable for those users that aren’t high-level athletes with coaches. Or they need to do something else: allow easy export (in part or whole) of your data into a .FIT file or similar file format. I’ve searched their forums and tried everything in TP’s site but there’s no easy way to export your data to any other service such as Garmin Connect, RunKeeper, Endomondo, or anything else. Instead, you have to rely on exporting the .PWX.GZ file generated by the Timex Run Trainer and then using a 3rd party site to convert to .FIT, .KML or another format for use on other services, which tends to not be the most reliable data output you’ll get. These results tend to be hit-and-miss at best, with data points getting dropped, munged, or other data left out altogether. The worst fun part about this is you have to export each workout data set one-by-one and TrainingPeaks have no plans to offer any type of mass export. They want to keep your data in their analytics package and do not want to let you have data portability. And if you want any type of advanced analytics, you have to pay for their premium package, all to get the same results from other services that offer it for free. While this isn’t necessarily a problem with Timex, it is their problem in that they only allow you to have one single data output format and analytics dashboard, but the other problem lies with TrainingPeaks to make getting your data out of their walled garden difficult, much to the dismay of their own users. I have a feeling this partnership came to fruition because Timex has a share in TrainingPeaks and making sure its use grows. Companies need to realize, as end users, we like choice and options to view our data and forcing us to use a single application to view that data is not a wise decision. If I’m paying over $200 for the Timex Run Trainer, the least they could do is pair it with a free year of premium TrainingPeaks access — I realize there is a “special” Timex-branded dashboard account you can get but it only offers up a few free training plans (all of which are only useful for marathoners or triathletes) and one or two extra analytics options, none of which is any use to me. The upside to getting the branded dashboard is that it removes TP’s annoying ads.

If you like using a footpod, just get yourself a Forerunner 210 or a much more expensive watch. For whatever reason, Timex decided that if you use both the GPS and a footpod at the same time, the watch needs to trust the footpod over the GPS for distance and speed data. That’s right: it uses the footpod over the GPS…BY DESIGN. That’s great if you’re running on a treadmill but then, you don’t even use the GPS anyway, you’re inside. Every other watch will combine the data from both to give even more accurate results or will switch over to the footpod for distance and speed when there is weak or no GPS signal. With the Timex Run Trainer, you get the choice of using the GPS or the footpod, not both. Timex designed it this way on purpose, which is why I’ve never even synced my footpod with the watch.

The watch has different activity modes for stuff like walking, hiking, running, cross-training, and so on. But the manual doesn’t talk about them at all so there’s no explanation of why these modes are there, why you can configure them, or if they calculate the data slightly differently. The only reason I can see for them being in the watch is so that when you import the data to TrainingPeaks, it can be automatically color-coded for that particular activity. Other than that, I’ve found literally no difference in how ‘run’ and ‘crosstrain’ are used or calculated. They could excise this “feature” altogether and use the extra bits to make the backlight time out configurable.

Honestly, most of my complaints 5 months down the road in owning this are almost identical to the ones I had after using it for a week. I’m used to them now, but that doesn’t make them any less annoying or boneheaded. If Timex doesn’t fix such rather simple issues in their next iteration of a GPS-based watch, they should seriously consider not making them any longer. This is a crowded field and is getting more crowded by the year, and while Timex has only made two GPS watches (three if you count the soon-to-be released Marathon GPS T5K638 which removes HRM functionality), they’re getting beaten by everyone else, including the Soleus 1.0 which is the first GPS-based watch from Soleus and pretty much everyone loves it. If Timex is getting beat by someone as small as Soleus, they have little chance of stealing market share from Garmin or people armed with smartphones and Wahoo Bluetooth dongles.

LIKES:

After my first week of using the watch, I hated the mushy, crappy buttons. Well, my mind has changed a little over time, but only a little. I still hate the mushy feedback and the fact that I hit them randomly from time-to-time with the back of my hand, but I’ve come to enjoy the feel of them. They’re huge buttons, that’s a definite plus. The mushy action does help prevent accidental presses sometimes but doesn’t always succeed, it’s a very mixed bag. But this mushiness is a champ when you’re slogging through a mud run or heavy rain and the waterproof rubber under those buttons keeps the watch running. Timex gets an A for the idea, B- for effort. They could have rubberized the outside of the buttons and made them 100% waterproof with a really good functional amount of button travel. Maybe in the future. Perhaps they’ll poach some of Garmins design engineers to do this since they’ve done it for a few generations now.

Last time, I thought the backlight timeout was too short and by default, it is. But I recently discovered that if you hold the INDIGLO button down until it beeps three times in succession, the backlight stays on. WIN! On every night run I do, I leave the light on the entire time now. I just wish it mentioned this in the manual. By measure, you need to hold down the INDIGLO button for about 8 seconds before it beeps three times.

I can now say that this thing is certainly water-resistant to 50 meters just like it says. Between a million showers (both in rain and in my bathroom), gallons of sweat, some beer, gobs of mud, and even slogging through saltwater, this thing hasn’t quit and died on me from water exposure. Even when I press those mushy buttons covered in mud, they still function and my watch continues to live. Although, a thorough cleaning of the watch after any activity involving something other than water or sweat is highly advised. So far, it’s built tougher than I am. The thick plastic face doesn’t hurt either, it’s extremely well sealed on my watch.

I know the watch is huge but the biggest upside to that is you get huge numbers on that display. During a run, I have my heart rate displayed in the middle on a 3-line display and there’s no mistaking or mis-reading the numbers because they’re huge. I would say that in a 3-line configuration, the middle data display is approximately one-half inch, absolutely HUGE compared to other watches. Definite plus. This large face translates well to running a 4-line display as well and I use that as my main display during non-running workout sessions. If I could configure it to a 2-line display, I probably would.

Certainly lending to its large size and tough outer plastic face, this thing is built tough. I’ve slammed it countless times against counter tops, bars, barbells, my kettlebell, and other tough surfaces and the body itself shows little to no signs of wear. Let’s just say I think it’s built like a plastic tank, tough but by no means indestructible. When I ran the Georgia Spartan Sprint a week ago, my watch face finally fell victim to a massive 400 foot long mud crawl, it’s now covered in scratches. The face is still readable but the plastic is no longer shiny and scratch-free, but matted and dull. Granted, I think just about any other watch would have given up the ghost, but the Timex Run Trainer is still working. Now I just hope getting a new screen replacement is easy.

I love, love, love the EAT and DRINK timers because, well, they’re super helpful. When I use them, I have them set up for every 15 minutes or so because I know in a 5k race, that will be about the same time we hit the first water/aid station so I can train in a nearly identical atmosphere to an actual race (they’re useless in an obstacle course race though unless you have a hydration belt or pack). But I’ve also used them as alert timers for doing drills such as push-ups or dive bombers during runs, just to kick things up a notch. Really, not much to talk about here since it’s just a timer that goes off at an interval you set.

Conclusions
Now that I’ve used this watch nearly everyday for almost 5 months straight, I’ve got a considerable amount of experience with it, as you can see. I’ve used this watch as both my daily to-wear watch and for every exercise I’ve done since I got it, the only time it has left my wrist was either to charge or after cleaning it from race-related debris. While it’s not the most fashion-forward watch, it’s not a garish eye sore either. The watch is in a tough field with a ton of choices and for the price, it does everything $400-plus watches do at half the cost, which is a definite plus. But the real question is this: would I ever recommend it to my friends as their first GPS-enabled fitness watch?

No

I’d just tell them to get a Forerunner 210. Why? Now, I love the fact that I get most of the functionality from Timex’s own Global Trainer and Garmin’s 400, 600, and 910XT series for under $250USD, but there are drawbacks. It’s rather confusing and daunting to use at first and I think that even my technology-savvy programmer friends would find this tough to use. It’s built-to-last but that makes it big, bulky, and ugly and ill-fitting. I know for a fact that this thing will last me a year’s worth of swimming and mud crawls before it dies unless I do something stupid with it first. INDIGLO could be great, but it’s not, it’s 20 year old technology that functions like it did 20 years ago. The display could use some design enhancements (ref: Suunto’s new Ambit, its display is gorgeous) but it’s infinitely more readable than others on the market. Once you get used to TrainingPeaks and how it works, it provides an excellent way to analyze your workout data, just don’t expect to use that data in RunKeeper. If this watch were Timex’s first foray into the GPS-enabled watch world, I’d say they did a good enough job and have a very stable platform to build on but since this is now their second watch released since 2010, this second generation watch should have been a vast improvement over the Global Trainer rather than acting as an incremental upgrade at a lower cost (albeit, minus much more advanced features as well). If they want to stay in this market, they’re going to have to really step up their game to come close to gaining traction.

Right now, I’ve got my complaints but the Timex Run Trainer serves nearly all of my needs without fail and until something super-ridiculous-amazing comes out to replace it (from any company), I’ll keep using it because its function in obstacle course racing is unparalleled in its price range.

He wore little more than a piece of leather with nails in it

Jesse Owens, one of the greastest runners the world has seen

In today’s running world, running form is becoming a hotly debated topic. What’s right, what’s wrong, what you’re doing wrong and how you can fix it, is it all rubbish, and so many other topics fly across the blogosphere and magazine pages. Yesterday, I was reading Pete Larson’s excellent discussion of good running form (one of many he’s been writing lately) and while the entire thing is very interesting from a scientific perspective, I found the quotes from ASICS International Research Coordinator Simon Bartold (about mid-way down the article) more interesting. For a research coordinator of one of the world’s largest shoe companies, there’s some boneheaded information he’s throwing out. And just why is he doing it? Frankly, I see his responses as a CYA/save face approach since his employer has spent 30-plus years making thick, springy, “safe” shoes for people to move around in. There may be real data behind some of his answers but most of it pangs of being backed into a corner. Take this quote:

Sneaker Freaker: Do we really need shoes? There’s plenty of dudes running around the Kalahari in barefeet!

Simon Bartold: I think we do, especially in Western societies. We have been wearing shoes for thousands of years and have actually evolved to adapt to a ‘shod’ situation.

An opinion-based answer from a research coordinator is never an acceptable answer, it means he either has no idea how to really answer it empirically or is simply being defensive from the start. While I understand he may not be an actual scientist doing research and development, he’s got plenty of people who report to him — with fancy reports and information — that are doing research and know these answers. “I think we do” is not an answer, that’s an opinion, straight up.

When he says “we”, I have no idea whom he is talking about, he certainly cannot mean humans in general because “we” have been mostly unshod in all societies — Western or otherwise — up until about a thousand years ago and even then, there are many societies around the globe that are still unshod to this day. Paleolithic humans had no shoes of any sort. When were they around? 10,000 years ago. All human ancestors, from bonobos to cavemen, had no shoes, so where does Bartold get the idea that “we” have been wearing them for thousands of years? Now, it’s a documented fact of history that many historic societies wore sandals, but these can hardly be considered shoes. Why? They were merely pieces of hide or leather lashed to the foot to give protection against being stabbed in the foot, essentially. These leather sandals were flat and thin, they certainly were not shoes. Even the indigenous Indians of the Americas had moccasins that were little more than the same concept with a leather upper that wrapped the foot and possible lower of the leg. However, they’re still not shoes. Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Chinese, and just about every other ancient monolithic society had footwear of some kind and up until the period after the Dark Ages, you can be damned sure they were all the same design: flat leather sole, leather lashing/straps, possible leg coverings for protection/ceremony/et cetera. I’m not an archaeological podiatrist, but this stuff is not that difficult to figure out and offer support for: much of its been documented by those people for thousands of years already. Barthold either does not delineate sandals and shoes as separate entities, or simply views all footwear as “shoes”. In the case of the latter, then I suppose his opinion is wildly correct.

Now, what these shoes were not were supportive. They still allowed our evolving foot to remain flat and develop in a natural way, meaning our bones, muscles, and tendons in our feet strengthened and moved based on our own direct use of them in locomotion. Once the common shoe design everyone is used to today came into fashion (thicker wooden or leather sole, possible appearance of a raised heel box), there still was no real support in them. Our feet were still allowed to be mostly unbridled and allowed to spread out and splay, just as they had evolved to do over the last few million years of bipedal evolution. However, it’s apparent this did little to change our running form drastically as there are many cases documented of runners running basically the same way the Kalahari or Tarahumara do: quickly, lightly, and mostly without injury. Just as the image above shows Jesse Owens winning a race, take a look at his kicks. What do you see? A shoe that more closely resembles a moccasin than a contemporary running shoe that would come to life merely thirty years later. Herb Elliot graced the cover of Sports Illustrated twice and was barefoot both times. He ran record setting paces in the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, he was obviously on to something.

This brings me to my conclusion: how can Barthold say we — humans — have evolved to wear shoes? Mountains of evidence point the other way all the way up until modern and ultra-modern times. I know he has to say people like shoes or otherwise, he would probably be out of a job but to say we evolved to like our feet in shoes? That’s just ballsy to say. I know I’ve only owned a single pair of ASICS shoes my entire life and they were my wrestling shoes. I suppose Barthold does not work in that division of ASICS because wrestling shoes are a modern link to the past: flat, zero-drop soles, leather/synthetic upper to lash them to our feet. they serve as little more than friction devices and toe protectors. Based on what Barthold said, I’m sure that my long retired wrestling shoes may be the only pair I own, unless they’d like to reach out and send some test shoes.

What are your thoughts on what Barthold has said? Think he’s right, think he’s wrong, or something else altogether? What do you think about running form?

[Here's the entire article]

I’m one of the lucky 60,000 or so people around the globe that Google graced with a CR-48 Chrome OS notebook and it’s been a pleasure to use. Almost. There are a lot of little annoyances that are going to make this project entirely flop and Google’s been aware of how to fix these issues for months. I cannot remember how many bug reports about the trackpad I’ve submitted or how many I’ve sent in about the stupidly sensitive ambient light sensor integrated into the built-in webcam housing. Today at Google I/O 2011, Google announced new notebooks with redesigned trackpads to rectify one issue, but what about the most glaring annoyance of all, the overly sensitive (and non-adjustable) light sensor? I hope they’ve either fixed this in the new laptops, there will be an adjustable slider in the upcoming ChromeOS update, or both. Since I will not be plunking down another $500 for a laptop to replace the one I received for free, I really hope the soon-to-delivered update will bring some type of adjustability.

Just now as I have been writing this, my screen has dimmed and brightened almost a dozen times, all because I’m either sitting up to adjust my back or my laptop tilts backward or forward. Yes, it’s that sensitive. My screen can move less than a quarter of an inch and I’m up to 90% brightness and I can simply sit up — but not cover the light sensor — and it’s down to ~5%. And there’s no way to change this inside of ChromeOS itself. People have “fixed” this issue by simply dumping into dev mode and installing Ubuntu or Windows 7, but that’s not a fix at all. This is an issue that Google needs to finally address and I surely hope they do. These hardware annoyances will turn people off to the offerings from Samsung and Acer faster than GoogleTV flopped, which took about, oh, two months.

However, there’s a lot to like about ChromeOS. Since it’s just an instance of Google Chrome, everything’s saved to the cloud and there’s never a worry of losing files if the computer crashes. All I have to do is reload ChromeOS and all my data comes back, just like I left it. Of course, there are downsides to that as well. At this time, things like Hulu and Netflix do not work but that’s being fixed in the upcoming mega-update announced today. Then you’ve got the free 100MB/month 3G Verizon account that’s included with every laptop. This literally saved my ass during school last semester as my wireless connection would drop every few minutes and I’d lose all my data in Google Docs (that’s a whole ‘nother downside, you lose connection, you lose the ability to do anyting). But once I activated my Verizon data, I never had an issue again and all my notes were saved in pristine fashion. The keyboard itself is fantastic once you get used to it. It’s a chiclet-style keyboard a la Macbook. I hate mushy laptop keyboards — i.e. 95% of them out there — but this once feels great once I got acclimatized to key travel and distance. This thing has great tactility and I wouldn’t trade it for my old Dell Mini9′s abomination a keyboard. The trackpad stinks but that’s a hardware issue, ol’ Goog just purchased the wrong parts. In function, its multi-touch is OK and response could be a lot better but again, that’s supposedly resolved in the new Chromebooks.

I do hope the new update that will be rolling out soon will do something about memory buffering. Right now, I’m streaming from SoundCloud and the mere act of using the backspace (and loading pages, changing tabs, etc) is causing the sound to jitter because there’s just not enough RAM to go around. That’s really annoying to backspace over a sentence and hear my music sound like a broken record.