Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Overcoming Visual Distraction

When I don't have a lot of time to run, I find it easier to pop downstairs and get on the treadmill. It is particularly attractive in the cold months, especially since my running clothes are geared more towards the summer season.

And I enjoy listening to audio books and podcasts while running. But standing on the treadmill (which is in our furnace room) and staring at the wall only lasts so long in terms of keeping my mind stimulated.

Which means that I rarely run more than 5K in a single session.

But this past weekend, I thought I'd try to find some visual distractions that would allow me to "remain amused" while on the treadmill for a longer period. Yes, listening to books or podcasts keeps part of my mind occupied, but I needed something different visually as part of the experience.

So I checked out a few iPad apps.

On Saturday, I downloaded and tried TreadmillVR max. There's a free version with limited routes and a $2.99 version with extended routes. After toying with the free version for a few minutes, I bought the pro version to give it a whirl.
It allows you to pick a route and run it and puts you in the POV of the route itself, with the option of picking the speed. You can also chose from a variety of running companions, and download more as well as download more free scenes. While running, you can listen to music from your iPad.

I must admit that the visual distractions worked quite nicely. It was great to get some visual imagery rolling past as I ran. And, running for more than 1 hour, I was able to see many different scenes, run through various locales such as a beachfront, a wooded park, a forest path and even through a department store (which was, admittedly, the most fun and distracting - seeing so many overweight WalMart shoppers is plenty of motivating to keep running and stay in shape)

There was an additional route (computer generated) that takes you on a roller coaster, through a cgi city and through subway tunnels. It was fun and decidedly interesting.

This app also features something called "Mental Boost" which is geared towards mind and soul conditioning - music, motivational blah blah and subliminal messages. Blah, as you can tell that didn't interest me.

This was an amusing and distracting app to use - however, I was frustrated that most of the routes didn't feature a single end to end experience. Rather, as you ran, perhaps after even as little as 30 seconds, the scene would blur and fade to a different spot on the exact same trail. That was frustrating, because I would have preferred the sense of getting from point A to point B without the "time-lapse" fades involved. That was my biggest disappointment. That, and the fact that no single run allowed me to go more than a few kilometers.

This meant that for the 10 K that I ran on Saturday, I repeated the same route multiple times (started to get boring) and went through half a dozen different routes.

The other one is called Fun Run Trainer. There's a free and Pro version available.

It basically stimulates a GPS and allows you to run one of hundreds of pre-set courses or to even map out your own route. You set the pace on the device to match the pace you're running on the treadmill and it tracks you along the route. It even tells you the incline you're running so you can adjust the treadmill accordingly.  While running you can listen to the music stored on your iPhone or iPad, and get audio feedback at 1, 2, 5 minute or longer intervals that tell you your average pace, the current pace and how long until the end of the race.

On Sunday, I tried out the Free version and used it to run a leg of the New York City Marathon. I ran 11.1 K (about the 1st 1/4 of the race) and found it fun. (I loved the fact that, while running across the 2 K bridge, I didn't experience the nasty wind-chill that would normally likely occur there)

Even though I much preferred the visually appealing concept of POV scrolling scenery, the more realistic experience of the virtual GPS, the feedback and the sense of starting at point A and actually slowly making it to point B was more, to me, like a real run.

It was such a good experience that I'll likely purchase the Pro version for $3.99.

But in any case, when I might normally run perhaps 10 K on an average weekend when I make time to run, this past weekend I clocked a little more than 21 K. Seems to me these apps did the trick.

It'll be useful because Francine has signed us both up for Hamilton's Around The Bay in March, which is the oldest road race in North America, which goes 30K We're splitting it to 15 K each. (Fortunate for me, I'm taking the flat first half, and she's doing the more challenging and hilly 2nd half) I've never run more than 10 K in a real race. This should be fun. And with Fun Run trainer, I can actually map out the route I'll be doing and trying that out.

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