The following is the first in a new occasional series about using your Mac and other technology to maintain your health and fitness.
Recognize the title of this article? It’s from the opening sequence to the old Six Million Dollar Man TV show. Lately, I feel like a bionic man as I use technology – an iPod, my Mac, the Internet – to get back into shape. I used to be a dedicated runner (though not nearly to the level of Adam Engst), but stopped running for a number of reasons. Recently, however, I rediscovered my affection for the sport when I went on a random run a couple of weeks ago.
Also, as I get older, it’s getting more important to strive to stay in shape. Turns out sitting at a computer all day – even a Mac – does not magically confer fitness.
A couple of years ago I ran the KeyBank Vermont City Marathon in Burlington with a friend and profoundly enjoyed it. I didn’t train much for that event, but I made it to the finish line in fine shape. For 2009, I’ve decided to again run the marathon – this time, with proper training.
I’m using the Nike+ system to keep myself motivated and to track my progress. Nike+ is composed of a small radio transmitter (about the size of a pinto bean) that attaches to you’re running shoe (or can be used in the built-in pocket of Nike+ running shoes). It communicates with a small radio receiver that plugs into the bottom of any iPod nano. The receiver is built into the 2nd generation iPod touch, but still requires the transmitter on the shoe.
Since I almost always run with my iPod, this system is easy for me to adapt into my running routine. Indeed, I find music sounds and feels best while running through an interesting landscape.
As you run, the iPod vocalizes your time, distance, pace, and calories burned through your headphones. It also gives feedback at the halfway point and in the final lead-up to your goal, which you can set up before your run. You can also see the details of your workout on the iPod’s screen. You can also program a PowerSong to play when you need instant motivation.
When your run is finished, connect the iPod nano or iPod touch to a Mac or PC, and the workout data automatically syncs to Nikeplus.com (though iTunes). Login at Nikeplus.com to view and analyze your time, distance, overall milage, and approximate calories burned by run, by week, or by month. You can also view Google Maps with an overlay of your routes, view popular running routes in your region, and create new routes for future reference. It’s not a GPS, but still useful and fun.
Via Nike+, you can share your stats, routes, and goals, or simply keep your information private. I’ll share my info in February, when marathon training really begins.
There are a couple of weaknesses with the system. First, while the Nike+ website looks great, it’s also a rather slow-loading Flash blob. Second, on the Nike+ website, the window for creating your running maps is too small. Finally, some have complained that the Nike+ is not 100% accuate in tracking milage. For my fitness / fun needs, the information provided will be very useful.
Also, I wish there was a Nike+ empowered iPod shuffle. I actually prefer to run with the shuffle, because it’s so small and has the built-in clip.
One extra gadget I’m getting is the Amp+. It’s a wristwatch-based remote control for iPods equipped with Nike+. With the remote on your wrist, you can browse through your song library, choose new tracks to listen to, and view your running times. Pretty cool. If it works well, I expect to use it to control the iPod in other activites such as snowboarding (though I generally don’t listen to music while actually riding.) As far as I can see, this watch is only available via the Nike website.
Like they said in the 6 Million Dollar Man, I hope to use these tools to get better than I was. Better. Stronger. Faster. Cue the wah wah music.