Building the Half-Marathon Training Plan

Back when I signed up for the Chilly Half Marathon, the only goal I gave myself was to make sure my running mileage was on the rise.  Let’s see how I did…

Not great, but I seem to be OK with 15km a week, which has been the starting point for a lot of half-marathon plans I can remember seeing in the past.  Though I couldn’t think of any specifically, and I wanted lots of room for strength training or other triathlon cross-training, I started with one I came across from Mary-Liz Johnson of Oh To Have The World On A String seen below:

Her Wednesdays have a mile of Warm-Up and Cool Down (WU & CD) along with a tempo run.  Also, 2 days a week of strength training.  Nice, but it’s in miles!  Metric system please!

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Total
1.5KM WU & CD
4.8 6.4 X 6.4 X OFF 6.4 24
4.8 6.4 X 6.4 X OFF 8 25.6
5.6 6.4 X 8 X OFF 9.6 29.6
5.6 7.2 X 1.6 X OFF 11.2 28.6
5.6 7.2 X 2.4 X OFF 12.8 31
6.4 7.2 X 3.2 X OFF 14.4 34.2
6.4 7.2 X 4 X OFF 16 36.6
6.4 7.2 X 4.8 X OFF 12.8 34.2
5.6 8 X 4.8 X OFF 16 37.4
5.6 8 X 6.4 X OFF 19.2 42.2
5.6 8 X 3.2 X OFF 8 27.8
4.8 2.4 X REST 30MIN 20MIN Rest 7.2

Ah, that’s better.  I’ve replaced “Strength” with ‘X’ for cross-training.  Here, X can be:

  • Swimming
  • Yoga
  • Rowga
  • Strength Circuit (especially the Matrix!)
  • Bootcamps/Exercise Classes

You’ll notice that Tuesdays are primed to be Trifecta Tuesdays with cross-training.  The plan is starting to take shape.  When I attended the TRX class with Ignition Fitness, Tommy Ferris advised me that the best thing I could do to improve running (with a view towards increasing mileage to the half-marathon level) given a family man’s limited schedule would be to have easy runs every, single, day.  Which was pretty much the opposite of what I wanted, but still, the idea stuck in my head.  What I would like to try to do is add 10-20 minutes on the treadmill after every cross-training/strength session I do at the gym.  This will mean having to be efficient in my strength sessions (which I’m all about anyway) and this kind of ‘brick’ structure to the workout comes naturally for a triathlete anyway.

Still, the program isn’t right yet.  Taking Fridays off doesn’t make a lot of sense, and weekends with the kids sometimes interferes with long runs.  Then I read Fitness Cheerleader’s training plan and she points out there’s only 10 weeks left, not 12!  After shuffling and croppiing out the first weeks:

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Total
1.5KM WU & CD
12/30/2012 11.2 5.6 X 7.2 X 1.6 OFF 28.6
1/6/2013 12.8 5.6 X 7.2 X 2.4 OFF 31
1/13/2013 14.4 6.4 X 7.2 X 3.2 OFF 34.2
1/20/2013 16 6.4 X 7.2 X 4 OFF 36.6
1/27/2013 12.8 6.4 X 7.2 X 4.8 OFF 34.2
2/3/2013 16 5.6 X 8 X 4.8 OFF 37.4
2/10/2013 19.2 5.6 X 8 X 6.4 OFF 42.2
2/17/2013 8 5.6 X 8 X 3.2 OFF 27.8
2/24/2013 REST 4.8 X 2.4 X REST OFF 7.2
3/3/2013 RACE

Uh-oh.  I should be getting in almost double the mileage I currently am (I wish ‘kilometrage’ was a word) doing weekly  While these workouts don’t have much in the way of designated structure (speed work, hills) that’s OK  because those objectives can be tough to achieve in snow and ice anyway.  Knowing me I’ll incorporate small amounts to keep myself entertained whether it’s Fartlek (speed play) during the weekday runs or taking on an extra hill here or there.

Caitlin at Healthy Tipping Point advocates a flexible training plan.  I’ll need elements of this, because the demands of the kids and work (never mind my own health being under threat of cold and flu season) will cancel some workouts.  Shifting them around from one day to the other will help, and any extra distance I rack up on the treadmill on ‘X’ days needs to count.

I want to finish in two hours (2:00:00) so according to this handy pace calculator, these should be my paces:

Your easy run training pace is: 6:35/km
Your tempo run training pace is: 5:30/km
Your VO2-max training pace is: 4:58/km
Your speed form training pace is: 4:36/km
Your long run training pace is: 6:35/km – 7:25/km
Your Yasso 800s training pace is: 4:06 / 800m

The easy and long run paces are the only ones of real interest.  Wednesdays I can either use the ‘Tempo’ run pace or my actual planned race pace which would be more like 5:42/km; it’ll have to depend how I feel.  If we get any cross-country skiing done on weekends, I’ll have to count that as an ‘X’, get some kilometers in on a Tuesday or Thursday instead (see? Flexibility) and then hope for the best come race day.

Whew! Figuring that all out before the new year felt like more work than actually running the plan!  Maybe not…

Do you like using a plan that someone else has figured out for you, or customizing? Or are plans for chumps?

Achievement Unlocked: Ski-Commute

The Greater Toronto Area was hit with a snowstorm the night of December 26th.  Now, I’ve biked to work, and I’ve run to work, and I’ve even in-line skated to work.  The white whale of active living commutes for me though, has been the idea of cross-country skiing to work.  It would take a lot of special circumstances, most importantly a fresh snowfall.  I figured it was still holiday time and the office would be less than bustling so those circumstances were going to line up perfectly today…

Well, not quite perfectly.  I had brought my laptop home for the holidays.  Luckily, I brought it in a backpack rather than the typical shoulder bag laptops come in, so I could carry it, if I was willing to haul the extra 10lbs or so.  I also had to shovel the driveway before leaving (I got some help from Shark Boy).  Life (especially as a family man) has taught me that things are never perfect, and unless there’s a serious, serious obstacle –

if you want to do something, the time is now.

Going to cross at item off my #BucketList today… Can you guess? #fitfluential
— Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) December 27, 2012

I couldn’t resist the tease…

So, though I got a late start after my wife took Shark Boy to daycare (with the Lightning Kid along for the ride), I got suited up to go.  I couldn’t find my Garmin heart rate monitor, so I just used Endomondo to track the trip.  I also decided to live tweet the whole thing.

OK… Ladies & Gentlemen, boys & girls of all ages, coming to you live via Twitter… The #SkiCommute!
— Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) December 27, 2012

Backpack (with laptop) #SkiCommute
— Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) December 27, 2012

#SkiCommute Facemask
— Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) December 27, 2012

Hoorag on display

#SkiCommute skis
— Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) December 27, 2012

And off I went.  I actually skied on my own street to avoid the side-walks that my more industrious neighbours had already cleared.  I also skied across a few lawns, just to be able to spare my skis from cement, salt, or whatever.  Still I had to take them off and walk for a bit (though it gave me a chance to joke with an elderly lady shovelling her driveway.  Once I hit the park, I was good for a long ride on my skis.

Of course, I hadn’t thought the whole route through…

#SkiCommute have to take ’em off for this part
— Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) December 27, 2012

This would be the first of two bridges I had to go under…

I became aware of just how little snow I was skiing on by the fact that instead of the usual satisfying ‘crunch’ the poles make as they crush snow beneath their tips, there was a startling ‘knock’ as they hit the gravel or pavement just under the snow.  I got used to it after a while, but it rattled my nerves a little.

#SkiCommute kept the skis on for this part; didn’t think it would work.
— Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) December 27, 2012

 This part was real ‘bush-whacking’… I enjoy it when I’m running, but even I’m less agile with planks stuck to my feet.  Still, I managed not to fall (especially not into the neighbouring river), and I was really enjoying myself.  I was just about done…

Last effort…uphill #SkiCommute
— Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) December 27, 2012

After I took that picture, I think I put my Blackberry back in my pocket.  I took my skis off at the top of the hill, because it was all side-walk from there on in.  I wanted to terminate the Endomondo session and tweet victory, but I noticed the Blackberry was not in my pocket, and the pocket was unzipped.

I figured it fell out as I bent over to take off the skis, but I couldn’t find it at the top of the hill.  I retraced my steps to where I took the picture and couldn’t see a sign of it.  I dug through the snow, I looked at every suspicious hole in the snow.  I eventually ran inside, asked to look at Endomondo on someone’s computer.

You can see almost exactly where it must have been.  I ran back outside, and searched a 25 square foot area for a good 20 minutes, digging with my hands, kicking snow with my boots… nothing.  The mishap put a  damper on my mood… I can’t say it ruined the day since I’d accomplished something I’d been fantasizing about since we moved into our house.

And so the great #SkiCommute comes to an ignoble end… with a lost cell-phone.#Fitfluential.
— Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) December 27, 2012

I got out of my ski clothes in the change rooms, and treated myself to a hot shower.  I think everyone is still in holiday half-sleep, since the sight of me walking around the office carrying skis didn’t raise any questions at all.


The Blackberry was gone, and I had to report it as such, but the good news is I had my new Samsung Galaxy S3 waiting in the wings (as described here).   This gave me the excuse to embrace change and get it activated; I’m still getting used to it, but Endomondo was the first app I installed so that I could make the trip back home.

On the way home, I didn’t live tweet, I didn’t take pictures.  I figure all that goofing around was what led to me losing track of the old phone.  I just concentrated on skiing.  Due to that focus, and the fact that the snow had been tramped down by hikers, toboggans, bikes, and I don’t know what else, it was much faster going; almost like skiing on a track-set trail.  The stats from Endomondo seem to back that up:

I got home and squared away most of the gear, then started preparing dinner – Chili! What every good ski commuter eats for hisher reward meal when he/she gets in from the cold.  I guess I should invest in snow-shoes so I can do another wacky commute… after all, a snow-storm is no excuse to miss work!

Can you turn a ‘bad’ weather day into an opportunity?  Let me know!

Looking Back on 2012: New Weight Categories

Earlier this year, the esteemable Swim Bike Mom helped draw my attention to the new rules for the weight categories (as dictated by the USA Triathlon).  As of 2013, Men weighing over 220 lbs could compete under a separate category ‘Clydesdales’ while women over 165 lbs could choose to compete as ‘Athenas’.  The old weight limits for these categories were 200 and 150 lbs respectively.

The purpose of these weight categories was to acknowledge that regardless of individual fitness, some people just don’t have the build to finish with times comparable to elites (even within age groups), and they should be recognized for their achievements relative to others with similar builds.  Which I found to be a noble sentiment.

Jan Frodeno in front; Simon Whitfield behind.  2008 Summer Olympics, Beijing

I’m just  “a few donuts away” from the old Clydesdale limit (in fact, thanks to the holidays, if they held a triathlon today, I could jump right in).  Yet, I never felt that tempted to enrol as one.  Regardless of how much I’m carrying around the middle, my build skeleton isn’t the one of a typical runner/triathlete; I’m broader in the shoulders for one thing.  Still, look at the difference between a Jan Frodeno and Simon Whitfield.  Frodeno’s a bigger guy too.

That’s probably a reasonable comparison to my build (minus plenty of body fat, of course), and Frodeno didn’t need a different weight class; he won the Gold!  The Clydesdale weight class should be more for men built like linebackers, and I think the 220 lb limit is more in line with that.  It could even be increased from my point of view.

Competing in these weight classes enables people to get a little closer to the top ten (albeit an arbitrary one) or even a podium spot.  That’s not really why I participate in triathlon though, and I doubt I’m alone in this sentiment.  I’ll be leaving the Clydesdale category alone; the donuts will have to wait.  Well, maybe just one…

Gear Corner: Bye-bye Blackberry, Hello Samsung Galaxy S3 (Android LTE)

It’s just about time to retire my Blackberry Bold 9900; my boss has upgraded most of our team to the Samsung Galaxy SIII.  I haven’t found the time to get it setup and activated yet, but the day is coming.  The new phone is LTE which means faster data, but that’s not the only thing I’m looking forward to in the upgrade:

  • Better accessories I hope.  It always boggled my mind how Blackberry supposedly wanted to conquer the consumer market, but somehow always seemed locked into use scenarios that could only really to a business executive.  I never found a running armband that would let me use the Blackberry while running; even if I tried to stuff it into a larger armband (like one intended for an iPhone), it might fit, but push all kinds of buttons on the way in or out, and inadvertently pause the music or something.  I’d end up using the belt holster with a water bottle belt… that was about the only solution I could live with.  The S3 is a touchscreen format, so hopefully it’ll work better for this sort of thing.  I’m looking at this Otterbox case, though I’m also intrigued by SPIBelt/SPIband.  Maybe I’ll get a working heart rate sensor even…
  • Better Apps.  The selection of apps on Blackberry was always meager.  The major social networks were there, but things like Instagram (even if that’s a dirty word now) were either absent, or only supported through the browser (Google+).  I still love Endomondo as my exercise tracker, but there’s tons more fitness apps (like Zombies Run!) that I could use to round out my training.  Music streaming, chat/video/VOIP (Skype), Blogging tools, I’m getting intimidated just thinking about the selection I’m about to experience.
  • Better Bluetooth.  Pairing the Blackberry with the handsfree in my car was always a crap shoot, maybe the Samsung will work better.  We’ll see.

That said, there are a few things I’ll miss about the old Blackberry.

  • QWERTY Keyboard Buttons – I don’t think I’d ever be able to type as well with a touchscreen.  Some of my blog posts were written (about 90%) on my Blackberry while I was killing time.  I’d email them as a draft, polish them and insert links then publish.  Typing out reams of text for a blog (or writing lots of emails) seems like it would be tedious on a touch screen (based on my experience with my iPad), though there are apps that supposedly make touchscreen typing more efficient.
  • Blackberry Messenger.  BBM is very cool; I seeing that the message has been a) delivered and b) read, plus group chats, sending pictures and files is no problem.  I didn’t use it so much for status updates and the kinds of automation on said status, though.  There’s plenty of chat apps, but at least everybody I knew who had a Blackberry, I could contact through BBM.
  • Supporting a Canadian Company.  I’ve got several friends and ex-colleagues who work for RIM, the company that makes Blackberry.  The last Canadian Tech Giant is fallen on hard times, and now I’m part of the problem.  Who knows?  Maybe they’ll bounce back and they can be my next  phone.

How important is your smartphone to your fitness?

Trifecta Tuesdays!

I like Tuesdays.  They’re not Monday, so they don’t have that back-to-work sting, and yet you’re not far enough into the week to realize how far behind you might be at work.  Due to our circumstances vis-a-vis daycare and babysitting help from visitors, it’s a good chance for me to get out of the house early for some extra exercise…

And thus Trifecta Tuesday was born.

My basic premise for Trifecta Tuesday is to get 3 different forms of exercise done in one day.  I’m a triathlete… I like threes… three is a magic number after all!

Some examples so far:

  1. Dec 4th.  I hit the pool in the morning for a workout, then at lunch I had the two-fer workout that I have dubbed ‘Rowga’.  Swimming, Rowing Machine, Yoga.
  2. Dec 11th.  Another morning Swim.  Then the 3-2-1 workout: 3 cardio sessions, 2 whole-body strength circuits, 1 session of ab/core work; 10 minutes each for a (theoretical 60 minute workout).  I ended up short on time and skipping the explicit core work, but since I used the Spartacus circuit and the Matrix circuit for strength, my core was adequately addressed.  The cardio sessions were Rowing (again), Spinning, and a combination of skipping rope and the heavy bag.  I lost count somewhere in there, but it’s more than 3!
  3. Dec 18th.  Hey! That’s today!  I’m swamped with year-end stuff at work, so getting 3 activities in would take not only creativity, but… creativity in the interpretation.  I wanted to try a new elliptical trainer that has lateral motion (spoiler alert: upcoming post!) for warm-up, and use the treadmill for a post-workout cardio burn, but others like to use that elliptical/cross-trainer, so I opted for a rowing warm-up.  My weight/strength session had the upper body push (chest), legs, upper body pull (back) structure, but I focused more on tradtional moves with heavier weights like a barbell bench press.  I ended up snagging the lateral ellipitical/cross-trainer for my post-workout cardio burn.

Stay tuned every tuesday for tweets with the hashtag #TrifectaTuesday.  You do follow me on twitter, don’t you?  See if you can get your own 3 activities for your own Trifecta Tuesday!

A Winter 10k Race

I’ve mentioned before on the blog that I participate in a running group at work.  Each season’s session ends in a race, meant to be the culmination of the now-complete training regime.  I was looking forward to the race just as much as I always do, though I knew I’d missed more training runs than I would have liked.

The race was scheduled for Friday, December 7th, and on Thursday night I dreamt of running.  I was going fast, and it felt good… effortless.  Which is a great way to head into a race day, I have to tell you.  I was still struggling with the right way to wear my Jaybird Freedoms, but I did get lucky, and though I was nearly late for the race start, I got them locked in, and was able to focus on running instead of fiddling with electronics.

We started the race, and I got off to a fast start.  Maybe a little too fast, but it’s hard to beat yourself up (even after the fact) because I was having fun.  Around the 1.8km mark (the course is approximately 2.5km out and back performed twice) this unfortunate scene was visible.  Luckily, I had seen the crime scene tape on my commute in, Googled it, and warned everybody that it would be there so nobody would waste time rubbernecking.

Completing the first leg, I still felt good, though I realised my speed would need to be adjusted to keep from crashing. I also took off my hat and gloves and had a few sips of water from the cups provided (I was wearing a water belt, with an empty water bottle – OOOPS).  Off I went on the second half; I soon realised it was only men who were braving the 10k – BOO!  One of our faster runners Mr. N (who recommended me the Jaybird Freedoms) had been acting as a pace bunny for another runner, but apparently that was only for 5k, so he soon passed me; what are you going to do? The guy’s an Ironman!  I had been chased by Mr. B for the entire race.  Mr. B has been faster than me on just about every training run, but our speeds are comparable, and I like and admire the guy because he doesn’t seem like a ‘natural’ runner and has built up his speed through hard work… he’s gone from being a non-runner to 10k in a little over a year (I think).  At any rate, I still wanted to beat him that day.  

For me, being chased is better motivation than being the chaser, so I managed to keep a lead.  Mr. B told me later that he felt like he was 100 yards behind me the entire time – from my perspective the lead varied more than that, still we were both happy to finish around 49 minutes… me just under that, him seconds over.

It was a great day to be outside running, a day when all the little elements you need for a good run (body, music, gear) came together, and the perfect springboard to launch into training for the Chilly Half-Marathon!

TRX With Ignition Fitness

I was really excited to find out that Ignition Fitness was offering TRX Classes for Runners and Triathletes:

  1. I always wanted to try TRX – being suspended promotes using the core and all kinds of stabilizer muscles in way that promotes functional strength, which is what I want to build.
  2. I know a lot of elite triathletes have been using TRX in their training, so again, that puts it right up my alley.
  3. These workouts are specifically designed for runners and triathletes!
  4. The classes are available on a drop in basis, and (like drugs, software and martial arts classes) the first one is free!

I had got in touch with Tommy Ferris, the head coach of Ignition and signed up for a session on a Thursday night.  Due to cold and flu season and its effect on the whole family, I had to cancel at least once, but this past week, I was able make it to Dragon Fitness, where they’re holding the classes.   It’s located in an industrial space in a semi-sketchy area north of Parkdale (technically Brockton Village apparently); but I’m somewhat familiar with the area as the place where I used to train in Jiu-Jitsu was nearby, so I felt a little more comfortable than I might have otherwise.

After entering and greeting one of the owners of Dragon Fitness, I met Tommy Ferris himself.  He explained that there had been some cancellations, and as it turned out, I would be the only one in class that day.  More individual attention for me!  

This meant he had lots of time to get me oriented with the equipment.  In addition to a dry run with all the exercises in the circuit, I also had a chance to practice reconfiguring the suspension straps for maximum or minimum length, depending on what was called for in the exercise.  Two other skills I learned were how to combine the handles for a single gripping point, and how to put them on my feet for exercises where our hands would be on the ground.  That was one that I struggled to do while hurrying through the circuit.  Here’s how the circuit was structured:

TRX exercise Non-TRX exercise
Squat Kettlebell ‘Romanian Deadlift’ (two handed swing)
Core Twist

Ts/Is Alternating Pushups
Mountain Climbers Running Arms
Pikes Jump Lunges
Sprinters Lunges Lateral Jumps
Body Saw Matrix Jumps
Each station was 45 seconds, and we moved from TRX  exercise to non-TRX exercise (left column, right column) without stopping.  At the end of the circuit, we rested 45 seconds, then did it over again for a 30 minute workout.  Here are some notes and illustrative pics (from the Ignition Fitness website) on the individual exercises.

  • Squat.  A body-weight/air squat, getting down to where the thighs are at least parallel to the floor.  You hold onto the TRX handles, but more for a balance reference point than anything else.
  • Kettlebell ‘Romanian Deadlift’  – To me, this looked like the regular Kettlebell swings you see people do… the weights were gripped two-handed, and the emphasis was on getting the hips back on the negative phase (lowering the bell) while snapping the pelvis forward (back to a neutral standing position) on the upward swing of the bell.  I have yet to understand why you need Kettlebells to do these kinds of exercises… you could do them with dumbbells in my opinion.
  • Torso Twist – This one was great for working oblique core muscles which should be recruited during the swim.  Most of the exercises were selected for the role they could play in improving performance on the swim, bike or run.

  • Plank – You know what this is, right?  45 seconds worth.  Not easy, but at least a change of pace from the more dynamic exercises that preceded it.
  • T’s or I’s.  The first circuit involved pulling ourselves toward the straps’ anchor point using a reverse shoulder fly with arms stretched out horizontally (so that we formed a ‘T’).  And the next circuit involved pulling the handles overhead so that the arms ended above (and the body forms an ‘I’).  Great for core and shoulders, especially to level off imbalances that would be common for runners and triathletes.
  • Alternating push-ups.  A regular push-up, a wide push-up to the right, a wide push-up to the left.  Tough to finish, not exciting.
  • Mountain Climbers – A common exercise where the TRX adds another dimension.  It was crucial to not have the legs go up and down too much or else the straps would ‘see-saw’ through the anchor point, making an annoying noise.  When the feet were kept more-or-less level, the core was better engaged.

  • Running Arms – Loved this one, and not just because it was a little less demanding than most stations.  Keeping our elbows bent at 90 degrees, we swung our arms as if we were running while holding 10lb dumbbells (a little on the heavy side for this movement, but it worked) while keeping our upper and lower bodies still.  It took more core strength than you might have thought.

  • Pikes – These were really hard.  On the second circuit, I was bending my knees into more of a tuck motion than a pike, and I needed a break or two.  Ideally, you should ‘rest’ with only a plank position, but I couldn’t even manage that.

  • Jump Lunges – Another great runner’s exercise that I’ve always struggled with, at least, to keep them up beyond 30 seconds.  I did them body weight only, because I knew I’d be gassed before 45 seconds were up.
  • Sprinter’s Lunges – I found these fascinating, because they mimic the explosive spring that sprinters have to cultivate, especially for the start, but the muscles are important for every stride.  They look bad, since the knee is past (in front of) the toe, but remember, the weight/load is reduced because the straps are takings some.  You spring up and swing the knee forward, then do the other leg.
  • Lateral Jumps – This one saw us jumping from one side to the other, in a kind of lunge.  The rear foot would cross behind the front leg (which had a nice deep knee bend) resulting in a dynamic hip stretch.  The side to side motion was reminiscent of skating, if you ask me, but with a deeper bend to get more quad and glute work.
  • Body Saw – This one was a favourite.  Once in a plank (elbows on ground, feet in the TRX straps), we’d simply rock back and forth a little.  Ideally we’d keep our heads up looking forward as if we were in aero position on the bike.
  • Matrix Jumps –  Imagine a dial pad; stand on one leg, on the ‘5’ and jump to each button, then back to the ‘5’.  Once (1,5,2,5,3,5,4,5,6,5,7,5,8,5,9,5) then the other way around.  Switch legs

All the exercises had elements that were familiar in terms of motion so they didn’t feel to foreign to me, yet they all had a new dimension that challenged.  Shoulders, core, glutes, hamstrings and other leg muscles are all part of a triathlete’s aresenal so it was great to work them all out in a short, efficient time span.  Furthermore, our whole bodies were being put through motion in 3 different planes: front-to-back (which is the most common dimension for runners and triathletes) as well as side-to-side and up-and-down (which are more neglected).

There’s lots more great information and advice on Ignition Fitness’ website; I’d encourage anyone to give this class a try.  

Have you ever tried TRX?

Gear Corner: Jaybird Freedom Bluetooth Headphones Review

I had bought these headphones as a replacement to my Motorola S9 Bluetooth headphones (seen here) that had long since broken… beyond all repair.  I had worn them once right out of the box and found that they didn’t stay in my ears well.  The guy who recommended them to me further advised me to try some of the ear hook accessories.  

I tried the ones that are intended for the middle ear (which is how my friend wears them); I did this the night before my run and needed both the illustrated instructions and a bathroom mirror to figure out how to best implement the correct fit.  I went out the next day for a fairly brisk 8 km in the freezing cold; this meant the Jaybirds had the added advantage of being held in place by a hat!

The Jaybird Freedom was easy to pair with my Blackberry.  I wanted to use Endomondo’s (my running and exercise tracking app) built in access to music to play my running playlist, but the audio option for ‘BT Stereo’ didn’t work, and when I used ‘BT Handsfree’ the sound quality was terrible.  Once I accessed the music from the normal Blackberry Music App, things sounded great.  So this is more of an Endomondo problem than a Jaybird problem.  After mucking about with the controls for so long, I finally got going.  The instruction manual requests that you wear your phone/media player on your arm and not in a pocket for best reception.  This is annoying because tucking the thing away would have been one of the benefits of having wireless headphones.  I compromised and clipped the Blackberry to my belt.

The way out (4km) was blissful.  No skips, and the buds stayed in comfortably – I even liked the pace I was keeping (which is neither here nor there).  Things got a little worse on the way back and not just because I had trouble keeping the same pace due to fatigue.  My current theory is that my ear canals shrink due to expanded blood vessels, because in-ear buds always exhibit the same behaviour – they seem to get popped out like a bar of wet soap out of a squeezing fist.  The ear-hooks (and hat) did a decent job of keeping them from falling right out, but having to mind where they were in relation to my ear and occasionally push them back in to secure them became a minor chore.  I also started experiencing some skips… but I think I can say that on that front their better than any other Bluetooth product I’ve run with.

To make the earbuds maximally secure I decided to add the over-the-ear hooks.  One problem: I couldn’t find the ones that were sent with my original package.  Jaybird sells replacements, but I got lucky in that the friend who recommended these said he didn’t want or use his (in fact, he wasn’t aware he had them until he dug through his gym bag) and so I got his.

The next time I took them out on a run was for a quick 5km.  Unfortunately it was cold, so I wore a hat again, but I did get a lot of confidence in the buds’ ability to stay in.  The other problem was that I had opted to try an armband I found.  This thing was large enough to hold my Blackberry Bold 9900 as it was designed for an iPhone 4, but I had a lot of problems with sound when I wanted to wear the armband; my suspicion is that buttons were being pushed causing the volume to go up and down, the music to skip ahead to the next track (or back to the previous one).  I ended up giving up on wearing it on my arm and sticking the whole mess into my jacket’s back pocket – expressly against the recommended use instructions.  Thus… more skipping.  I would have to try one last configuration on Friday, the day of our company run group’s 10km race – not ideal for experimenting with an optimal set-up  but I want to find something that will carry me through this winter’s many long training runs.

Well, as luck would have it, everything came together on Race Day.  I had the Blackberry in its holster clipped to a water bottle belt, and I experienced no significant skips.  The ear hooks kept the buds in place and I was able to focus on my pace and not have to fiddle with them… much.  One small exception was that if you look at the photo above, the cord connecting the two buds is draped across the back of my neck, which got more than a little sweaty.  This caused the cord to stick to the back of my neck, and put a little pull on the buds when I’d turn my head, which I have to admit, I did more than the regular amount since it was a race, and I was being chased by someone who is usually just a bit faster than me on training runs (I beat him!).  More on that race in a future post; but at the end of the day I found I could have a great run with wireless Bluetooth ear-buds, and I’d even credit them with a better than expected time, since I was *really* feeling the music.

Beyond their performance, I also like that they came with a hard-shell carrying case, which should spare them the fate of the S9s… being smashed up in my gym bag.  And here’s the kicker… my boss just brought me a replacement phone to keep me up to speed with the rest of my team… The Blackberry Bold 9900 will be replaced by a Samsung Galaxy SIII (LTE and Android).  Which is something else I’ll address in a future post.  

Looks like this review will have a sequel once I get the new phone up and running (no pun intended) to see how the Jaybird Freedoms play with an Android phone. Still, with the caveats of a steep learning curve and time spent getting acquainted with the product, I’d recommend the Jaybird Freedoms as a pair of running earbuds for those who want to be free of the wires.