My journey with personal fitness technology

Throughout this post, I make reference and link to DCRainmaker. Ray Maker is an incredibly smart guy who took a hobby of exercise tech nerdiness and turned it into a full time review gig. Spending some time on his site can be really worthwhile.

I first started running in 2010, back when I was still using a Blackberry. Remember Blackberries? Remember how awesome they really were? They only a few things, but did them really well, and had a spectacular keyboard! And with the keyboard came great keyboard shortcuts, which frankly meant I would be more willing to deal with e-mail on that unit than on any phone I’ve ever had since. E-mail on a phone? For reading, perhaps, but if I need to send anything more than an “Ok, I’ll be there” I tend to get on my computer.

All that aside, I’ve really been running with data tracking and logging for several years. This requires three basic components: a device that’s recording some kind of data (at least GPS and time); an app that is capturing that data and logging it, and a web and/or app interface that makes it easy to reach all that data; and if you choose, a data aggregator that is manufacturer agnostic (of a sort, which I will discuss), and allows you to join your other fitness friends no matter their hardware choice. Bonus points if it helps to get you into a sport, like running or general fitness / workouts, etc. So, I’m going to break this down into three sections, I guess: the Hardware, the Software, and the Middleware / Data Analysis sites.

Old School Hardware

Music – Players and Mixes

Creative Zen Music Player

Starting at the very beginning for my technology journey, I had a Creative Labs Zen MP3 players. For you young’uns, an MP3 player was a very popular way of carrying around digital music before the iPod. For the super young, here’s the snapshot: many companies had music players on the market; Apple copied, and refined, what a music player should look like (remember the jog wheel?); this eventually evolved into the iPod touch, and that evolved (keeping things simple) into the iPhone in 2007. Follow? So, I had a Creative Zen (I eventually updated the drive in it to a 64GB unit – these are really cool devices to this day), and could load songs and whatnot onto it. Yipee. I should listen to something when I run, I thought.

Enter something that was very cool then, and is still very cool now – music mixes that are linked to a specific beat per minute (bpm), and even better – ones that are locked to specific intervals. I’ve spoken here and there about the Couch to 5K running program (C25K). It was going to prove to be a pain in the rear (in 2010) with no app to tell me when to start and stop running. It was me, my Creative Zen, and a digital watch which I could sort of program for the walk/run sections.

Early on in my noodling around about the C25K program I found the Podrunner Podcasts, a series of music that was set to a prescribed bpm. Even better, there were interval training mixes, which vary the tempo depending on the intensity of the interval, and then wonder of wonders there are the programs – including the First Day to 5k, which tracks perfectly with the Coolrunning C25k program that I was following exactly. So, my first real hardware was an iPod loaded with a bunch of music mixes from the internet. It worked wonderfully, and started me on a journey that has lead here. The next step was running with my phone and an app.

The Blackberry

Image credit:

Anyway, the Blackberry. Originally I started running with my Blackberry and an app called RoadrunnerGPS. I think the site has gone down as of 2016, but I am pretty sure I have a spreadsheet, somewhere, with the running data. In any event, RoadrunnerGPS was a good app, and was exactly what I was looking for – it was simple, you clicked and then moved on, it didn’t interfere with playing music (something that was a possibility in the way-back era), and it did the job. Like most things, it wasn’t perfect, but it did the job of recording time, distance, and a GPS track to show on a map. Sorted, it worked, and I probably used it for close to three years.

The Fitness Agglomerators.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

I’m sad that this app is now gone, mostly because of losing the data. I know I spent an evening creating a spreadsheet from a data dump from that site. I just can’t put my hands on that spreadsheet at this time either. I would love to in an attempt to consolidate all the data I had, but given that was up until 2013 I’m willing to let it go. Still, it’s interesting to look at progress, and to look at how modern technology parses old data, and I would love to be able to access this. However, like the Blackberry platform itself, it looks like the site was unsustainable due to declining usage. Perhaps if the programmers had ported the program over to Android it could have survived, but it would have been a minnow amongst the great white sharks that themselves have been gobbled up by megalodons.

The Blackberry did a lot. It allowed me to play music while I ran. It allowed me to get the data that (at the time) I was seeking – entry level, rudimentary data. But it wasn’t perfect, and I was so fashionable running with my Blackberry clipped in its holster, on the side of my running shorts, with my headphones plugged in. Yeah, it was a hot look I can tell you. I kept up with that unit until well into 2013. Then, it was time to upgrade. I wanted to have some clearer and more refined data, or maybe I just wanted a new tech toy – probably the latter. I did no end of research into part off it (the running watch), and jumped onto a tech darling bandwagon for the rest (Fitbit was taking off).

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Insurance is my profession, and one of my passions. Motorcyclist, runner, skier, photography newbie. Nerdy tech geek, craft beer enthusiast. Thoughts are my own. Snark is omni-present.

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