Gear Corner: Running Wirelessly

Usual disclaimer: I don’t get any compensation or consideration for writing this; all products were purchased with my own money.

I started running seriously (i.e. more than 2 miles at a time) sometime in 2004. As I got built up to Half-Marathon distance I accrued more and more technology to support my runs.

Shortly before the September race I was doing, a friend spotted me with sunglasses, a Garmin Forerunner 205 strapped to my wrist, and a Palm Treo (one of the first smartphones) on my arm – he referred to me as ‘Robocop’; I found it both cool and funny.  The phone was playing MP3s to a wired headset; it was nice to listen to music but people would get a little scared when I answered the phone huffing and puffing.

Nowadays, smartphones are more commonplace and since both my Garmin (I now use the Forerunner 305) and iPod Touch seem to be lost or missing, it’s as good a time as any to write about running with a Smartphone.

With an iPhone, Android, or even Blackberry you can track and share your workout activity – including distance for many sports using an app.  I use Endomondo (I’ve tracked running, cycling, inline skating, walking, cross-country and downhill skiing and kayaking so far), but there’s Adidas miCoach and many others including Daily Mile and RunKeeper.  It’s a lot simpler when you can combine device functionality like this.

To me, one of the big pains of running to music is dealing with the headphone wires; I either snag it with my hands and yank the headphones out or I have to deal with stringing it under my clothes and through the neck, sleeve or whatever.

I experimented with Bluetooth solutions.  I used to have the Oakley ROKR sunglasses.  These were nice for killing two birds with one stone, as I would have both my headphone and sunglasses needs taken care of.

The problem was that music would skip, almost as if I was running with one of those old portable CD players (remember those?).  It got very aggravating.  I also got reliant on them to be my actual sunglasses, so I had hands-free when driving, and was better able to take phone calls on bike rides (I wouldn’t listen to music, but if a call came in, I could stop, stick an ear-bud in and push a button more easily than fumbling through a pocket), but when racing, they became unusable since earphones are not allowed.  Ultimately, I dropped them on the ground once, and that was the end of them.

Nowadays I use a Bluetooth headset (without shades): the Motorola S9.  I’ve used it with an iPod and my Blackberry and no skipping – now let me tell you why I love using a Bluetooth headset for music.  It actually feels more natural (oddly enough considering it’s a more high-tech option than regular headphones), and I can store the player (iPod/cellphone) in whatever pocket I like once the devices are paired and the connection is made.  It feels like the music is simply present in myears (the S9 seems to grip to my head quite nicely) as I move, and it stays with me even when I’m jumping around or dropping into push-ups.

Bluetooth headsets have a few drawbacks:

  1. They need to be charged.  If you’re forgetful about this sort of thing, you’re going to be left in the lurch when you want to have music to listen to, and the headset battery is dead.  Don’t lose the charger, or find one that can be charged by USB
  2. Pairing challenges.  Getting Bluetooth devices to talk to one another should be straightforward, and usually when you’ve done it once, the devices remember each other like old friends (my car and Blackberry seem to have little spats from time to time, though).  In my experience, if you can’t get them to connect, there seems to be very little troubleshooting you can do with most devices.
  3. Standards confusion.  There’s several different versions of the standard from 1.0 to 4.0.  According to Wikipedia: “Users who need a stereo-music playing Bluetooth headset should look for a headset with the A2DP profile.”  This is less of a problem nowadays, as music playing is pretty standard in a lot of devices, but still it’s worth double-checking before putting your money down.
  4. Breakability.  You already know what happened to the Oakley’s… now look at my S9 headset:

And yet I still prefer it to these Adidas/Sennheiser OMX 680 headphones which were recommended as being one of the best running headphones – in spite of being able to ‘mold’ and adjust the ear-clips to fit, they still pop out when my run gets too bouncy, or I sweat too much.

And if you’re wondering, my #1 favourite running song is Wild Hearted Son  by The Cult.

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