PRODUCT REVIEW: Garmin Forerunner 220

First up – if you want a super-technical review of the Forerunner 220, go elsewhere. This is very much a standard runner using it for a week type of review.

Strong Sith overtones in the colour scheme...
Strong Sith overtones in the colour scheme…

So just over a week ago I took the plunge and bought a new running watch, the Garmin Forerunner 220. The first GPS running watch I ever used (before that I used mapmyrun and an adidas wrist-stopwatch) was a Garmin Forerunner 110. After that I was given a Timex Runtrainer for free as part of being a volunteer pacer for the London Marathon in 2013, and as that had a higher price tag and a heart rate monitor, I switched to using that. For various reasons I wanted to move back to a Garmin model, and as I was able to sell my Timex and get some bonus cash for doing a magazine focus group, I didn’t feel too bad buying the Forerunner for £189 (without HRM, with club discount) from Up and Running Leeds Central.

In this review I’m going to go briefly over the reasons I switched back to a Garmin and whether it has so far lived up to those, and also run through a few extra things which I’ve liked about using the watch.

My first main reason for switching – and I’m sure that this is something that everyone looks for – is how good the satellite reception is. I always remembered the Forerunner 110 not taking very long, but the Runtrainer would always take a few minutes, normally asking me ‘whether I was inside’, and ocassionally complaining of weak signal and sometimes losing it – sometimes under a short tunnel but also just when it was a bit cloudy. I also have a Garmin 510 for cycling and that picks up sattelites in under a minute. The Forerunner 220 didn’t dissapoint on this front – every run so far I’ve had near immediate access to GPS signal. This might sound like top rate whinging, but especially when it’s cold and wet you don’t want to be hanging around shivering while you wait for the watch to whirr into life.

The second reason I wanted to switch to a Garmin was for ease of use with Strava. I use a Garmin 510 for cycling, and I find Strava the best site for posting activities to from a social point of view and for the innovative segments system, allowing you to challenge yourself an others over particular hills or stretches of road. Timex does have some compatability with Strava, but it involves a very convoluted system of uploading individual files once they are saved to your computer. With the new Forerunner 220, I moved away from manually uploading rides to Strava, and tried out the new ‘automatic sync’ function. This means that when you upload an activity to Garmin Connect, Garmin’s activity review tool, it will automatically appear on Strava in a minute or two. This function works very well, although it would be handy if it would carry across the name of the activity as well. This made me revisit Garmin Connect as well, which since I left for the frankly baffling Training Peaks courtesy of Timex, has gone through a massive overhaul. It looks much better now, and has the ability to have different pages with customisable panels, and the ability to set goals – something that is currently a premium feature in Strava.

One of the interesting functions of the Forerunner 220 is the ability to put workouts onto the watch. I wasn’t sure how good this system would be, but it proved to be pretty easy. At lunchtime at work I went on to Garmin Connect, put together a workout – a 10 mile run with 800m intervals and 400m recoveries, the standard Yasso Test. This was then very simple to load onto the watch when I got home, select the workouts menu, and then off I went. Based on how different intervals are selected when you prepare on Garmin Connect, it will come up and indicate ‘Run 1/8’ when the interval starts. One of the nice functions of the watch is that when it indicated an interval, or indeed any autolapping, it will vibrate, make a noise and come up with the backlight, which is useful for keeping track of your performance. I’ve only done a simple workout with fast/slow/fast etc., and it may well be more complex on workouts that gradually speed up, or ones that involve heart rate rather than distance, but I found the workout tool a lot easier than I expected.

The Forerunner 220 has a ‘personal records’ function – at the end of the run it will pop up with a few things such as estimated fastest time over a range of distances, furthest run etc. To me I find these slightly superfluous – the majority of runners I feel will know if they have hit a PB in a race, and for runners who are interested enough in their sport to spend a reasonable amount of money on a watch, there main goals are unlikely to be furthest distance. Also for myself the majority of these records are wrong, as the watch isn’t loaded with my previous running history.

So far a week into using it I’ve been incredibly happy with my decision. It’s lived up to all of my basic requirements, the ability to share all of my activities socially and seamlessly in one place is incredibly convenient and workouts have been a useful tool that I will explore more. As a footnote, the charging clip is a major step up from previous Garmin and Timex models with fairly loose clips for the charging pin. The new model clips firmly around both edges of the watch face, ensuring charging and syncing contact is solid. The new colour screen is very good as well, and it is very simple to switch between the main page – usually showing distance, time and pace, and the second page with heart rate and cadence (not that I have any idea why cadence is useful).

Garmin have really stepped up with the Forerunner 220 – so far definitely not an investment that I feel I will regret!

Philip Goose

The Reading Miles (Part 2)

This is the second part of The Reading Miles, my post Christmas sports book review project. The first part (David Millar’s ‘Racing Through The Dark’ v. Tyler Hamilton’s ‘The Secret Race is here.

McDougall’s ‘Born To Run’ (2010)
v.
Finn’s ‘Running With The Kenyans’ (2012)

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The book starts with a teaser of the big race at the end, before flashing back to the start of the story. A self-confessed out of shape western runner travels to a different running culture to find out what makes them tick, with the tale winding up towards a key race at the end, in which some sort of truth is discovered.

This describes both books, which you think might make them very similar books, but they are very different in texture. I read ‘Born To Run’ first- published earlier, but also a book which many people have responded to, and I’m sure Finn would. The central conceit of it is an exploration of why we run, and why some of us find it so hard. McDougall discovers an idea that we were actually born to run- we are designed to be able to run long distances so as to be able to chase down deer, literally tire them to death. This is why if you ever run with a dog it will get tired after a short while, but can sprint for a ball way quicker than we can. For a much better explanation of the science, read the book. To explore this McDougall travels to Mexico to find the Tarahumara, a ‘lost’ tribe of barefoot distance runners, who live a simple lifestyle but never seemed to have lost the childish love of running. He tracks down the mysterious ‘Caballo Blanco’, the white horse, a man from ‘our’ world who had become one of the Tarahumara, the Raramuri.

McDougall’s book is certainly interesting in the revelations and an important book for that, but I had a few problems with it- not as many as Hamilton. The book wanders all over the place, it flits from story to story and back and forth in time so quickly it is hard to keep up, or piece together where exactly we’re going. I don’t think the short chapters help in this, but it was slightly confusing. It’s good in the sense that I came out of it with my brain immersed in the history of running, the evolution of the running shoe and so forth, but it sometimes felt like the book lacked drive, and that the framing narrative of the travel and the race was just a box within which to put some stories the author wanted to write. I also felt that the lessons were too monolithic and unacheivable, and that the narrator was somehow to distant for me to wonder whether or how you would put any of this into practice.

But then again, maybe this book wasn’t written for me. It has more of a travelogue style, and I just don’t get the concept of ultra-running, that is any distance longer than a marathon, 26.2 miles. Finn’s ‘Running With The Kenyans’, a quest for the sub 3 hour marathon via getting a few tips from the Kenyans.

I don’t think this needs saying- but the Kenyans are fast. Like really fast. They’ve dominated in such a way that the mens marathon world record holder didn’t get selected for the Kenyan team for London 2012- such is their strength in depth. A lot of distance runners including Radcliffe and Farah also go and train with the Kenyans at Iten. And so the question is- why?

Adharanad Finn is someone you can relate to. He has a family, he has everyday concerns “how do I fit in a run during my lunch break” but is also an ambitious runner. He ends up relocating his (young) family to Iten – daily life is the undercurrent of the book- and lives and trains in Iten to find out what makes Kenyans the best distance runners in the world. Finn’s approach to this is very different from ‘Born To Run’. As he lives in Iten as a mzungu, he literally has a notebook which he writes down different things that he discovers in a list, and finds that it is lots of different things added together which makes the difference. He doesn’t tell me what the lessons to take are- he lets me know what he has learned, and then I am free to take what I want from it. The eventual ending- the double race, a 3h20m marathon in Lewa, Kenya, and then a sub 3h marathon, is a lot more triumphal and significant than in ‘Born To Run’. With the Sub 3h being my major goal, it was fantastic to read the emotional impact of that race on the author of the end of that race.

The reassuring rhythm of the everyday is what separates this from McDougall’s book- which although is more revered and more seminal, appears to be a lot more manic and disorganised. Finn was always the centre of the story in a way that McDougall never is, and his success- if he is able to improve and learn as a runner- is much more contingent to the story. The jeopardy is linked to a human we have interest in, in ‘Born To Run’ the majority of this is is externalised to characters who flip and burn across the pages in a blur of swift, short chapters.

As a running geek it was also great to read all of the names dropped in – Keitany, Mutai, Kiprotich – are great fun, Finn is clearly excited at meeting these people. That is what makes the book so good- Finn is a pleasant conversationalist, one you feel would be good chat on an easy run. It has also spurred my interest in going out to Iten one day, and also serves as a great guide- unintentionally- for how to raise your children as potential Olympians.

Both books have affected how I feel about running and how I approach it, but with ‘Running With The Kenyans’ having more of an impact. I have different thoughts about running now, but mainly they’ve affected me practically. I know consciously aim to run with a forefoot style. I learned that we’re not designed to run striking our heel, and that modern shoes are naughty in letting us do this. This was more effort than I thought it would be as Finn recounts, with my calves burning for those two weeks as I adopted it. Whilst in St Andrews I’ve been doing all of my sessions on grass or the running track.

One of the main conclusions that is impossible to replicate however, is that – and I absolutely stress purely from a running sense – a little bit of poverty is good for you, and that western culture will always struggle to produce top distance athletes. This is evident even when Finn travels to Kenya’s capital Nairobi and finds that a lot of runners are just like social runners in the UK, going out to try and stay fit and shed some of the excesses of the ‘western’ lifestyle. But mainly Finn’s book tells you there are no secrets, merely a combination of factors- hard work, self sacrifice, belief.

Winner- Finn’s ‘Running With The Kenyans’.

The Reading Miles (Part 1)

So over Christmas I did a lot of reading, which was nice as I often don’t have a lot of time for it anymore. True I was reading lots of ‘sports books’, but that still counts, right? They were all pretty good or at least interesting, so over the next little while I’ll be reviewing four books pitched against each other in two individual duels –  Racing Through The Dark v. The Secret RaceBorn To Run v. Running With The Kenyans.

Millar’s ‘Racing Through The Dark’ (2011) v. Hamilton’s ‘The Secret Race’ (2012)

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Two books about doping in cycling, but two books that leave very different tastes in your mouth. Firstly, Millar. I knew some of the David Millar story before I started reading. Brit/Scottish professional cyclist who ended up taking performance enhancing drugs, got banned from the sport, and then came back to be a outspoken advocate for a clean sport. From the off, I knew where it was going. But even if you didn’t, reading it there is a continual sense of dread. Hints are dropped as Millar finds out more of the truth that he suspected about the world of cycling. Millar comes across as very likeable, idealistic about his dreams of racing, but cut off from any support network in his upbringing, or his odd nomadic lifestyle in France. As you move closer to the first time Millar receives an injection – initially a recup, a mix of recovery minerals, essentially lucozade straight to your bloodstream, once legal, now banned- you want to stop reading, you want to slow down and take longer to read each page. You feel physically sick at that point, which I felt was Millar telling us when he broke. After he struggles up a climb on a grand tour and drops out, and his team tell him to go home and ‘prepare properly’, there is merely an acceptance, you knew it was coming.

Above all Millar’s book is a fascinating read from the human story – why this could happen to someone. He doesn’t ask for any sympathy, but tells honestly what being caught was like, and what it was like coming back to the sport clean. Parts of it you realise after reading are essay in form. He is arrested for doping with Sir David Brailsford as they were having a coffee together and they suspect he was also involved. Afterwards David picks him up, and Millar tells him everything, and how it happened. You suspect some of the success of Sky and the strong ethos of GB cycling is in part due to what Brailsford learns from Millar. Ultimately it (unlike ‘The Secret Race’) has an arc, and a reason for being written. He eventually struggles up that same climb where he dropped out and made the final decision to dope, but this time he finishes, and leaves us with this idea- “The manner in which one loses the battle can sometimes outshine the victory.” Millar, unlike most other cyclists who got caught came clean instead of making excuses, and his book is similarly open.

‘The Secret Race’ is very different. Some have described it as opportunistic  Nicole Cooke slammed it as she (rightly) pointed out that he’d made more money from the book than she made in her career. The book is all about Lance Armstrong’s doping in the US Postal Service team. It is tangentially about Tyler Hamilton’s doping, but the book is dominated by Lance. His bullying personality broods over it, the way he treated Frankie and Betty Andreu is widely known, but smaller stories are interesting too- on a training camp Lance accidentally eats two slices  of chocolate cake and takes it out on the team with an extra hard day of training the next day. A lot of this about Lance we knew, but it is at least a convenient way to go through for the uninitiated.

What is most striking is that despite the book being written by Tyler Hamilton (well, at least from his viewpoint but ghostwritten by Daniel Coyle) he doesn’t come across well. Sure Lance is a domineering figure, but you never feel that Tyler is particularly sickened by what he does, by what he did in the same way that Millar was. For example after he’d been doping for years he suddenly discovers that interval training (hard effort, easy effort, repeat) could help, he describes how he came back clean but occasionally still took ‘red eggs’ (testosterone), how recently he chased down people wearing ‘dopers suck’ cycling gear and had a go at them (assuming we’d sympathise with him), and then has the gall to detail how he avoided testifying for years but then finishes with a hollow meaningless statement of “The truth will set you free” at the end.

So many times I found myself shaking my head, but continuing to read despite finding myself listening to someone I found repulsive chatting away. It is odd that Lance’s ‘It’s Not About The Bike’ won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 2000, Hamilton’s won in 2012, but Millar was only nominated in 2011. Hamilton’s is an interesting but not good book, ‘Racing Through The Dark’ is an interesting and emotionally rewarding book.

Winner- Millar’s ‘Racing Through The Dark’.