Gear Review: Anker Soundbuds Sport Earbuds

My previous experience with wireless, Bluetooth earbuds was not great. I was given a pair of Powerbeats wireless last year and loved the sound. After a few months, though, the inline controls became unresponsive and I could only control them through the phone. Soon after, they became completely unresponsive.

Beats is now owned by Apple, so I got wonderful service since they were still under the one year AppleCare warranty. They shipped me a new pair, which performed (and died) along the same timeline. When I inquired about the second pair, I was told there is no warranty on the replacements and that I would have to pay for a repair. For the last few months, I’ve been running and riding with wired headphones.

A technology blog I followed posted a deal of the day last week, hocking a pair of Bluetooth, water-resistant earbuds for less than $20. I had to take this risk.

Yesterday was my first ride and I had a positive experience with this new pair.

Unboxing was definitely a different experience than purchasing an Apple product. The box was small and crammed full of the provided accessories, and there was no wow factor in opening the product. It only cost $20, though, so I can absolutely live with that!

Anker Soundbuds Sport EarbudsAs you can see in the accompanying photo, the set included a charging cable, carrying bag and even three sets (in varying size) of ear hooks and ear pieces. It took a while to figure out how exactly to get these ear hooks to work because, unlike the Powerbeats, these hook inside the fold of your ear instead of wrapping around the outside.

Before leaving the house, I had a somewhat questionable reaction. Once I had put the smallest size ear piece on the speakers and inserted into my ear, I could actually hear the impact of my steps walking across carpet. I couldn’t hear anything besides that and the music I was listening to. Other headsets and earbuds do a better job of allowing some degree of ambient noise in to allow you to maintain situational awareness. I did, however, like being able to listen to the music at a much lower level and not being annoyed by wind noise.

The unit advertised battery life of up to 8 hours, but the Bluetooth drain from these earbuds and my Garmin killed my phone just over three hours into the ride. I should note that I have the Apple iPhone 6 Plus and had around 57% of a charge before leaving the house. The Garmin drain is minimal so I’m curious how this actually happened.

The sound wasn’t as crisp and defined as Powerbeats, but this set literally cost 92% less, and never lost connection during the three plus hours I listened. The Powerbeats would lose connection under a bike helmet and the Anker set did not.

The in-ear hooks required attention several times during the ride, which was a minor annoyance. I’m questionable how the earbuds will perform during a run, where the impact will most likely jar them loose. That test should come later this week.

I did a fair amount of sweating on the ride, and left the earbuds in for the 30 minutes that remained in the ride. I popped them back on a charger today and believe that they will still work without issue. Pending the run test, I’m sold on these. There is definitely some room for improvement, but at $20 I will be greatly satisfied if I get anything more than a year out of them!

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Chasing the Unicorn

The Boston Athletic Association, the group that operatesbaa the famed Boston Marathon, uses a Unicorn in their logo. This is not without a degree of irony.

BAA has built the most famous marathon in the world. No matter the course, the weather or the time, the gold standard for distance runners is a Boston Qualifying (BQ) performance.

I’ve been chasing the unicorn for several years now… unsuccessfully.

Year Location Time Pace
2010 Little Rock, Arkansas 3:55:45 8:59
2011 Austin, Texas 3:46:28 8:38
2012 New Orleans, Louisiana 3:20:58 7:40
2013 Little Rock, Arkansas 3:26:50 7:53
2014 Little Rock, Arkansas 3:16:46 7:30
2015 New Orleans, Louisiana 3:15:41 7:28
2016 Houston, Texas 3:18:36 7:34

I talked last month about just one of the changes I had made to my lifestyle in preparation for the 2016 race. From October to race day, the marathon was my only focus. As in previous years, it dictated my sleep schedule, nutritional needs, social calendar and travel plans.

I arrived in Houston in my peak physical condition. I was calm. I was rested. I was healthy. I hadn’t even had as much as a sniffle in the months leading up to the race. Training had produced exactly the results I had set out for. This was my time.

I was really excited about how the stars had aligned themselves for this run for one particular reason. I went into training with the knowledge that this would be my last attempt at BQ. Assembling the effort required to secure that puts the body through a strain that I don’t believe is sustainable for me. Everything that goes into race preparation went as perfectly as I could have ever hoped. My last attempt would come with the culmination of heath and ability.

I needed a 3:10 finish (7:15 average) to say I’m Boston Qualified or a 3:08 finish (7:10 average) to actually be able to register. The Chevron Houston Marathon provides a pace group for the 3:10 finish group, so I elected to run with this group to secure a solid pace.

The last weeks of marathon training are referred to as ‘the taper’. That’s because you work over several months to gradually increase your distance until maxing out two weeks before the race. You significantly reduce your mileage over those last two weeks, tapering off to minimal distance runs to allow your body to heal and prepare for the race ahead.

Marathon runners often arrive at race day feeling better than they have in recent memory, and run the first miles of the race too quickly because they feel good compared to how they felt two weeks prior. That’s why pace groups are a great idea. They are led by runners experienced at completing the distance at the desired pace. They stress consistent running and are an invaluable resource.

I spoke with one of the two pacers for my group at the marathon expo, the day before the race. He stressed consistency. Rather than digging a large hole (starting out too slowly, which requires mile times significantly faster than the average pace at the end of the run) he stated the group would strive for consistency, averaging not less than 7:20 and not more than 7:10.

This plan would put me in striking distance of both potential goal times near the end of the race, and I could make my decision about how to proceed before hitting the wall. I typically hit the wall around 21-23, so I would know what I was working with well before then.

Our first mile was 7:19. He called it! We didn’t dig ourselves a hole. We would surely make this minimal gap up over the next three or four miles and keep that pace. This would allow us to lose a few seconds at the end of the race, when the legs hurt and the motor just doesn’t want to run anymore.

Our second mile was 7:07. This was a little faster than what we had prescribed, but not overwhelming. I felt good, and this was putting even more time in the bank. Maintaining this would put me in reach to hit 3:08, or come close to securing the 3:10!!!

Our third mile was 6:59. I was not alone in protest when my Garmin beeped. Another runner and I compared times to our disbelief. This was not, in any way, what we had trained for. We crossed an overpass and the pack accelerated on the downhill. I sped up to catch them, but our group was broken. About half of us fell off, slowing our pace back to 7:07 for the fourth mile.

I consistently lost ground to the pace group from that point forward. I ranged from 7:00 to 7:14 between miles five and 15. The advanced pace and failed attempts to keep up with the pace group gave me feelings in my legs at mile 15 that I normally don’t get until mile 20.

At mile 16, my pace was 7:23. I had averaged 7:05 through the previous 15 miles. I had 45 seconds in the bank to attain my 3:08 and two and a half minutes to spare in my attempt to reach 3:10. I knew immediately that I couldn’t make the 3:08. A 3:10 was still possible if I could get back to the 7:15 average. I knew within the next mile that I was out of contention for even that goal.

I ran my first marathon in Little Rock with almost no guidance or formal training plan. I just went and did it. I vividly remember the desperation that I felt in the waning miles of that race in 2010. I honestly believed I was going to die before I finished. I was feeling that again seven years later, made worse by the realization that my efforts would fall short and I still had ten miles to go. If you’ve never run a marathon, the first hour or so seems like ten minutes and the last hour feels like an entire week.

The end result of this race was my third fastest marathon; a 3:18:36 finish for a 7:34 average. I could be proud of that, even if I missed my goals by more than eight minutes. This, despite the number on my watch, was still a victory.

I mention the pacers above simply to explain why I went at the pace that I went at. I have no idea what they actually averaged in the end or how many runners were able to hang in and make their BQ. I, in no way, place the blame on them for my results. I knew early on that we were going too fast for me, but I made a rookie mistake and kept going.

I was able to cross the finish line and meet my amazingly supportive wife in the reunion area. Aside from a limp and a lactic acid hangover, I’m no worse for wear and feel like I’ll be back to normal activity in a week or so.

I had told a few people that this was my last stand. I would continue distance running, but I would no longer subject myself to the rigors of racing a marathon. Running distance will still be a challenge, but I won’t be operating on the edge of the envelope anymore.

On the ride home, I received a Facebook notification from Jason Cooper. He posted this on my wall with no explanation.

dont_give_up_jimmy_v

For those of you familiar with Jimmy Valvano, you get it. For those of you that aren’t, watch the YouTube video below.

This is about the only thing that anybody could have ever done, so simply stated, to encourage me beyond what my wife, my family and my friends have already done.

There are new challenges ahead. There are other goals that need to be addressed. And, of course, there are thousands more miles in front of me that I won’t abandon. Running from this point forward, takes on a different meaning.

Exercising Under the Influence

Alcohol introduces a significant amount of empty calories into your diet. Even casual consumption can add up, making that post-ride beer something you should think twice about. 

I won’t, in this space, argue the merits of rehydration or the social aspects that come into play. I’m simply going to talk numbers.

Here’s the background information. I enjoy cycling and running together in the spring, summer and fall. I reserve the winter months for marathon training. While in marathon training, I have managed to gain 18-25 pounds for each of the past three years. I chalked this up to a variety of factors, but decided to check out just how much of a factor alcohol was playing into the weight gain.

Starting October 17 of this year, I began a 90-day period where I would not consume a drop of alcohol. While I’m just over 2/3 through the experiment, the results cannot be denied.

I’m currently three pounds over my summer weight. That’s a serious reduction from the last three years. By February of last year, I was a stunning 25 pounds heavier than my summer weight. While I am automatically experiencing a lower caloric intake by subtracting alcohol, Tana has noticed that I am also eating smarter. Beer gives me the munchies, quite literally.

The halfway point of the 2015 Sylamore 50K (185 pounds)

The halfway point of the 2015 Sylamore 50K (185 pounds)

My recent wellness exam revealed the effectiveness of the experiment. I’ve documented in previous posts before about how my diet and exercise helped me avoid diabetes, high blood pressure and other lifestyle-induced ailments. One metric that was never ‘perfect’ was my liver enzymes (AST + ALT). They were always slightly elevated since I began working on my fitness program in 2008. This is the first year in my adult life that I had a normal reading on these two metrics.

My training is going better, as well. A runner will naturally perform better when carrying less weight, but my perceived effort is also lower. I ran my third fastest half marathon time ever this weekend, without planning on doing so. I haven’t done speed work in six months and am literally in the middle of the hardest component of my training schedule. My 20-mile runs are dramatically faster (and easier) and my recovery seems to be faster, as well.

My next event is the Chevron Houston Marathon on January 17. This is my final attempt at qualifying for Boston. I need to run a 3:10 (7:15 average) simply to say I’m BQ’d. I need a 3:07 (7:08 average) to increase my likelihood of actually being able to go to Boston.

I’m not 100% certain that my dietary changes (sobriety) and training plan are enough to make up the almost six minute gap from my PR to the qualifying standard. I do know, however, that I’ll probably celebrate either outcome with a cold beer.

Motivation

It’s been a while since I last wrote on this blog, for a few reasons.

The first reason is that it’s summer and that means the weather is right for running and riding. I have the same 24 hours in my day that I have during the winter, but now the afternoons are favorable for riding a bike.

Secondly, I began to question what basis I had to be doling out advice. Honestly, I started doing it to answer questions that friends and coworkers asked me.

I backed off of my sharing for a while because I lost a little bit of confidence in what rights I had to tell people those things. I’ve thus far been unable to meet qualifying standards for the Boston Marathon, I don’t have six pack abs and I eat cheeseburgers and French fries every now and then.

Despite all that, I’m sitting at 160 pounds today. That’s 80 pounds less than my maximum, way back in 2007. I have to have done something correctly. I know what I want for myself and have realistic expectations. I back off of my goals when my body needs me to and pour gasoline on the fire when everything is working the way it is intended.

This brings me to the focus for his post; motivation.

A good friend asked me at dinner last week about finding motivation. I thought about this topic a lot in the days since her suggestion. I still am not sure I’ll be able to sell my concept here in words, but believe I am prepared to attempt to shed some light on my personal motivation.

When I first decided to do something about my body, my self-esteem and overall health were in a pretty bad place. Not only was I tipping the scales at a number far too high for my height, but my last physical exam yielded numbers for blood pressure, cholesterol and other factors that were approaching the warning zones. My physician gave me an ultimatum. I could either do something about my overall health, or I could prepare to take daily medication to regulate blood sugar (diabetes), blood pressure (hypertension) and other factors that I couldn’t even begin to understand. Also, I looked like shit.

I previously had accepted that being fat was my fate. I didn’t like healthy foods, and didn’t think that one should spend their life eating things that they do not enjoy. I didn’t believe in moderation or have the ability to fathom why someone would wake up before 7:00 am to exercise before work. All of those things led me to believe that the people that did them were complete psychopaths.

The guy on the right exercises (2013). The guy on the left did not (2007).

The guy on the right exercises (2013). The guy on the left did not (2007).

Accidental Success

I experimented with my diet. By that, I mean that I stopped drinking sodas. I was drinking around 3-6 sodas per day, followed by a six pack or more of beer each evening. I ate chips by the bag (not fun size). I made sandwiches that required support beams. Eating an entire large pizza was normal. I was never tired, believe it or not, but I had only exercised in the form of walking for a few weeks.

Remove sodas from my diet and cutting my portion size in half removed 20 pounds from my frame almost instantly. It was beyond noticeable. You couldn’t look at me and not see it.

The constant comments from friends, coworkers and people in the community served as a gold star. I wanted more. I can’t tell you how amazing it felt to have people notice what I was doing. In truth, I may have started to do more for some of the wrong reasons. The outcome, however, has been worth it.

The changes in diet continued. I found myself able to tolerate, and later enjoy, salads and vegetables. Though my brain still wants the entire pizza, I stop when I have had enough.

I bought a bike (you know that already). I started running (you know that already). I began to work on the basic math that affects your size and shape. I learned about counting calories and balancing plate portions to ensure that my body was actually getting what it needs. I started tailoring exercise plans to my own needs, and making exercise a priority in my life planning.

The whole time that my daily routines evolved, one constant held true. The pounds kept falling off. In most cases, I kept getting faster on the bike and running. My full disclosure is that I am recognizably fast on neither.

One Word

My goal was to create a closing thought here that would make you lean back in your chair and think about one single word. There’s not one, though.

I started with progress. Then I thought about commitment, lifestyle, drive, determination and a litany of other words that you’ve seen on motivational posters in your breakroom.

I am addicted to progress. I like numbers and charts/graphs. I commit to events, because they require training. I’m driven to achieve goals, and I’m determined to never be the guy looked like me in 2007.

Of all the words I thought about, though, lifestyle seemed to fit the best. My fitness journey started in 2008. There have been highs and lows, but there has never been a point where I walked away from the new commitment.

Each time I met a goal weight, or exercise milestone. I caught my breath and looked for the next one. Your journey, your lifestyle, doesn’t have to be about marathons or 300-mile bike rides. If your journey is about overall health, then make that your lifestyle. Commit to it on a long-term basis. You can’t set a dietary plan, reach your goal and then expect not to return to your previous picture of health if you abandon it.

In the same regard, you can’t run a six minute mile for the first time after training to get there, and then expect to keep running that pace if you never train for it again.

This is why my motivation has become my lifestyle. I want to be able to keep doing epics things and constantly improve. I believe my short distance PRs (personal records) are behind me as I get older. I think I am capable of things at the age of 36 that I could have never imagined myself doing at 26.

I weigh less than I did when I graduated high school. All of my personal health metrics are exactly where they need to be. My resting heart rate is below 40! I’ve kicked addictions, learned things about myself both physical and mental and even accomplished almost every goal that I’ve set along the way (I’m looking at you, Boston). Each one of us can do exactly what I’ve done. Why not start today?

Strava’s Calorie Count

Numbers can be fun and/or useful. They can also be inaccurate. Both my running and cycling metrics are compiled through Garmin GPS devices. I am able to sync each to my iPhone and utilize the Garmin Connect app to store the data online. I have the account synced with my Strava profile to automatically detect new runs or rides and import the data from Garmin Connect.

I get my really useful data from Garmin Connect about heart rate, splits and elevation. I can also gather that same information from Strava after the upload. In addition, Strava has the popular segments feature that allows you to compare efforts with other individuals in a sometimes-unhealthy competition.

In my opinion, that’s about all Strava is good for. Think of it like Facebook for the fast. Several times a day, I catch myself pouring over data from a friend’s Strava feed to determine what kinds of efforts or progress they are making. This is sometimes helpful for determining what one’s strengths are, but is usually just good conversational material for the next time you see them.

I left one metric out of the list above. Both Strava and Garmin Connect display calories burned for workouts. They arrive at the number in a radically different fashion, however. Garmin takes your heart rate into account, assigning a higher caloric burn to efforts with elevated heart rates. Strava uses your weight and elevation profile data to perform a more traditional (read: less accurate) measure of caloric expenditure.

I compared three recent workouts below, to illustrate.

compare

From top to bottom, they are an 11.1 mile mountain bike ride, a 47.3-mile road bike ride and a 5-mile road run. The first column for each grouping shows the distance, the second shows calories expended and the third is a calculation of calories per mile. Before we get too deep, notice how many more calories you burn while running than riding? I owe Joanne an apology.

The left grouping displays Strava’s calculations and the right grouping shows the Garmin Connect numbers. You’ll see that Strava’s numbers are larger, with a whopping 149.2 calorie per mile on the run. That’s 21% higher than the same metric from Garmin Connect, but the road bike calorie calculation was off by 29%.

This is just something to think about for the sake of diet and nutrition. You didn’t necessarily burn off your entire days’ caloric intake on a ride, despite what Strava told you, but you probably did earn extra cheese on your Whopper.

The Importance of Bike Fit

There are many things you can neglect as a cyclist. Having a proper bike fit is one of those.

Bike fitting, not to be confused with bike sizing, is the science of ensuring that all the adjustable components of the bicycle are properly suited for the individual rider. Bike sizing, for clarification, is generally ensuring that the right size bike is selected before the adjustments are made.

I saw pictures of myself from a ride last year and thought that I looked ‘wadded up’ when compared to other riders. I was.

I talked with my local bike shop to schedule a bike fitting, and was surprised to learn that my last fitting was in December of 2009! My body had undergone some changes in that time, and home maintenance resulted in the saddle height lowering over time.

In a normal lunch break, Gearhead Cycle House’s Jason Broadaway ran me through the paces. He measured various aspects of my body, talked about any issues I was having on the bike and then put me on the trainer. Combining several fit certifications and the latest in computer technology, Jason recorded footage of me riding before the adjustments.

We talked about posture, comfort and output before making miniscule adjustments on the bike. By raising my saddle by 2 cm, the position of my head and the arch in my back was corrected. As you can see from the image, this also improved the extension of my legs at the top of my stroke and put me in a position that will be significantly more comfortable on longer rides. This should also improve my performance.

fit

This fit isn’t just for someone looking to squeeze out a few more Watts, however. Proper bike fit is important for any rider. Accordingly, local bike shops like Gearhead have levels of service. This ranges from bike sizing, which will help you determine saddle height, stem length and body position, to the pro bike fit, which delves deeper into the nuances of the anatomical fit.

If a fitting can do anything, it can make your riding experience more comfortable. That can be used as a springboard to accomplish goals such as longer rides or going faster.

The Way

Cycling is a sport that has a lot of history and a deep culture. Some of the universal truths are based on firm logic, and others have their roots in tradition and meaningless snobbery. I really like all of them.

Today’s lesson, and major component of cycling culture, deals with honor and gratitude.

Group rides should be just that. They are group rides. There is no honor is taking someone 30 miles from home to drop them by (a) unrealistically increasing the pace, or (b) not waiting on them in the event of a mechanical failure.

You aren’t beating someone on a group ride, because it’s not a race. Friends on a group ride can have an understanding that they are ‘going to try to hurt each other on the next climb,’ but the group should always reassemble following understood climbs or sprint points.

If you go all-out on these climbs or sprints, don’t expect the group to reduce the average pace to accommodate your physical exertion.

A 20 mph average rider and riding with a 25 mph average group, however, shouldn’t expect the pace to be reduced unless it was previously agreed upon. I’m not discouraging riders from going out with groups that are faster than their comfort level. Doing so will, in fact, improve your overall performance if you can learn from the more advanced riders and overcome mental walls.

Gratitude is probably the first trait that any cyclist should strive to develop.

When someone teaches you something that you didn’t know about shifting or how to temporarily repair a broken spoke, show some gratitude. When a group invites you to ride along, be polite and unobtrusive. Don’t launch attacks or string out the pace line.

When another rider stops in 105 degree heat to change your tire, stop by the bike shop and throw a few bucks on their account. Tubes aren’t free. It will be a pleasant surprise the next time they come in and is Zen-level expression of gratitude. Also, buy them a coffee.

You can also express gratitude when a fellow rider yells obscenities at you for crossing the yellow line. Sometimes, you need to be yelled out. This reinforces good habits because it’s upsetting, embarrassing and something you don’t want to go through again. It’s probably a good idea, though, to wait a few days. You should also buy them a coffee. Beer is also acceptable.

Beer is the dollars and coffee is the change in the currency of cycling.