Like most runners, I drink a specialized energy drink while I run instead of plain water. But unlike most, I don’t drink Gatorade, Powerade or any of the other big name energy drinks.
Instead I carry Q Energy in my bottle. I first started drinking Q back in 2011 (after my bike crash) and found it to be a great alternative to the sugary concoctions that the big sports drink makers peddle. When you consider that Powerade and Gatorade are made by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo respectively, you’ll get an idea of what you’re really drinking. It’s basically high fructose corn syrup and water, with some salt, potassium and a ton of marketing.
Q Energy, on the other hand, is an all natural product developed in Vancouver, Canada. It’s Health Canada approved and scientifically tested. 4 grams of natural cane sugar and a bit of stevia provide the sweetness, and there’s also a bit of caffeine added for that little boost during exercise.
What’s in it? And what’s not?
The Q stands for quercetin, a natural antioxidant that helps deliver energy at the cellular level. Along with that, Q also contains herbal extracts, vitamins and electrolytes. The flavour is mild, and they make lemon-lime, wildberry (my fav) and orange.
A good bit of scientific study has shown that quercetin provides proven performance improvements. I’m no scientist, but I do know from using Q for a few years, that it provides everything I look for in an energy drink: good taste, thirst quench and additional energy.
Compared to Gatorade and Powerade, Q is missing a few things: that oily texture, overly sweet taste, and gut-rot inducing levels of carbs. It also lacks things like chemical anti-foaming agents and preservatives.
Q comes as a powder in a single serve packet and you mix it with water yourself. Because it lacks those anti-foaming agents and chemical dispersants, Q has a cloudy look and sometimes foams up a bit. I don’t notice either of those things when I drink it from the bottle. Even the colour of Q is natural, derived from sweet potatoes.
Online, or in stores
I get my Q from the Q Drink Healthy website since it’s not available in too many stores in the Toronto area. Thanks to the Q Drink Healthy Club, they automatically send me a six week supply every six weeks or so. When I’m between training cycles, it’s easy to delay a shipment or change the timing if needed. If you live in Western Canada, you can find it in local health food stores.
If you want to give Q a shot, you can get a free sampler pack from the website. Normally they charge $3 to cover shipping, but if you use code “Koole” (that’s my last name) on checkout, you’ll get the shipping for free too.
Disclosure: I use Q Energy Drink on pretty much every run and have for years. Once or twice they’ve sent me some extra Q free of charge to share with friends.
If you have a GPS running watch, you’re creating a ton of valuable data that you don’t want to lose.
Services like Strava, Garmin Connect and others do a great job helping you analyze the performance data that a fitness watch or tracker creates. But don’t think of those sites as archives or backups of that data.
Training Center → MotionBased → Garmin Connect
I bought my first Garmin GPS watch in May, 2008. The first run with that watch was on May 10, 2008. I know this because there is a .tcx file in a folder in my DropBox and on my Mac with all the data from that run. Garmin used to provide an application for Mac and PC called Garmin Training Center and that’s what you used to see how you did on the run.
Back then there was no Garmin Connect. Instead, you could upload the data file to a service called MotionBased (which Garmin eventually bought and which became Garmin Connect). Keeping those .tcx files safe was important to me because I wanted to have a full historical record of all my runs.
First there was Dailymile which eventually sort of handled Garmin .tcx files. Then a few years later Strava came along. It’s a great service that offers a community for athletes regardless of which specific brand of GPS watch or device they use. I signed up, but that meant starting from scratch with all my stats and metrics…except it didn’t because I had all that data!
Rather than starting at nothing, I bulk uploaded all the .tcx files I had safely stored away and within an hour or two, all my run data was in Strava too. Awesome! As of today, that’s 1080 runs and 11,254.6km. Here’s that first run I ever did with a GPS watch.
Why does it matter?
Training Center and MotionBased are gone. Dailymile is all but forgotten. If you only used a single service to track your runs and didn’t bother to save or archive the raw data, you’d be in big trouble right now. Services come and go and in many cases, there’s no way to get your raw data out. Dailymile, for example, gives you a sparse .csv with almost no useful info.
In my case, because I archive all of my .tcx files outside of the services I use, if another service comes along that’s better, assuming they support the Garmin .tcx standard, I can bulk upload and push nine-plus years of running data into it on day one.
I find myself going back and looking at past runs fairly frequently. Sometimes its for sentimental reasons like looking at the first 10km I ran, or seeing when I first exceeded 21.1km. Comparing present-day performance to past performance is only possible if you have past performance data.
Save, store and backup!
So…how to make sure you are saving your data. There are a few of ways to do this.
Back them up manually (and make backups) – this is what I did initially. I would copy the .tcx file off my watch, and into a folder on my computer. Every. Single. Time.
Use a service that has proper export capabilities – while Strava offers a way to “download all your activities” from the settings page, what you get is .gpx files, not .tcx files which means some of the data is missing. Garmin lets you export single activities, but not all of your files at once.
Use a service to do it automatically (the best option) – I use a service called Tapiriik that interconnects various fitness tracking services automatically. With Tapiriik, you have the option to link Garmin Connect to DropBox. For a mere $2/year, Tapiriik automatically pulls the .tcx files from Garmin Connect and puts them into my DropBox whenever I upload them. I don’t even think about it. Tapiriik will also go back in time and get all of your Garmin files back to day one, if you want (and you do).
Own (and save) your own data
It’s my preference to always have all of my data in my own hands. While it’s tempting to assume that you’ll always be able to get your files from Garmin Connect or Strava, the truth is that services come and go, and features come and go.
At this point, Tapiriik has me covered, but I also know that Garmin could pull the plug on their API access at any point and I might have to go back to manually archiving them.
Whatever your chosen solution, make sure you are saving off your GPS run data somewhere so you will always be able to look back on your running history. And if you do store them yourself, remember, two places or it doesn’t exist! DropBox is good because it stores a copy in the cloud plus a copy on your computer.
It used to be that Garmin made the advanced fitness devices to track your workouts, and Fitbit covered the daily steps. But there’s no need to wear two devices anymore as the latest generation of Garmin Forerunner watches bring both together in a really tight package.
I picked up a Garmin Forerunner 235 the other day to replace both a Fitbit Flex and a Garmin Forerunner 620. The Fitbit died recently and while this particular one lasted me over a year, a dead Fitbit will be nothing new to the average Fitbit owner who has most likely had one or more of their devices fail early.
The Forerunner 620 on the other hand was bulletproof and continues to work like it did the day I bought it a couple of years ago. It’ll be handed down to Lindsey who is looking forward to having a GPS watch of her own with an easy to use interface and nice form factor, even for smaller wrists.
Familiar form factor
Speaking of the form factor, the 235 is pretty much the exactly same size and thickness as my older 620 and feels similar on my arm. The screen is a significant upgrade in size over the 620 with a smaller bezel on the newer 235. The screen is still a bit on the dim side indoors – this is not an Apple Watch screen by any stretch – but outdoors in daylight it’s plenty readable. Indoors the backlight seems a bit weak to me, but I’ll trade that for over a week of battery life every time.
The touchscreen of the Forerunner 620 is gone on the 235 in favour of up/down nav buttons on the left side. The adjustment from the tapping on the screen of the 620 took me a bit to get used to, but I’m finding the user interface on the 235 to be quite good. The software is instantly familiar to Garmin users and I got very comfortable with it within a few hours.
Long presses of the up button brings up menu options for the screen you are on (for example, changing the clock face). And getting to the main menu is as easy as clicking the activity button on the upper right side, then the down button.
Heart rate on the wrist plus more
Did I mention the Forerunner 235 has an optical heart rate monitor (HRM) built in? Similar to the tech used on the Mio Link and Apple Watch, this uses green LEDs an a small camera sensor on the back side of the watch to read your heart rate without the need for an uncomfortable chest strap. I’ve used a Mio Link wrist strap in the past and found it very accurate and the 235’s HRM is no different showing heart rate throughout the day and on the run. Runners looking to save a bit of money can opt for the Forerunner 230 which is the exact same watch minus the optical HRM.
Also inside the small package are high-fidelity GPS and GLONASS receivers, plus an accelerometer for indoor run tracking and Bluetooth. The watch connects with your smartphone (iOS or Android) to show smart notifications on your wrist, and to auto-upload runs and activity through your phone’s Internet connection. There’s no need to connect via USB to upload to Garmin Connect or Strava anymore…it’s all handled automatically by the watch and your smartphone’s Internet connection.
I took the Forerunner 235 out on 34km run on Sunday morning to see how it worked. GPS lockup took seconds and starting the run was a matter of tapping the activity start button twice. Once running, the Forerunner 235 allows for a few different screens with up to four different data fields each. I opted for time, distance, average pace and heart rate on the first screen, and swapped out average pace for current pace on the second screen. With dozens of data fields available including ones downloadable from Garmin’s Connect IQ store (for free), customization is nearly limitless.
The screen is black digits on a white background during activities and in bright sunshine it’s super readable which is one upside of the LCD technology that Garmin utilizes in their watches (the other being better battery life).
The Forerunner 235 also brings a nifty race finish predictor function. You tell it the distance you are running (including the usual race distances, and a custom setting that lets you set any distance you want), and it constantly updates with an estimate of your finish time. I’m looking forward to using this in my upcoming marathon so I know exactly how I’m doing against my goal and PB times.
Battery life was excellent as it is with all the Garmin watches I’ve owned. Garmin promises 9 days of battery life for activity tracking (with HRM and notifications active) and 11 hours with the GPS enabled when tracking a run. That’s plenty of time for me, and my 3.5 hour run on Sunday with GPS and HRM active throughout left me with an exceptional 75% battery left at the end. Try that with your Apple Watch.
Activity tracking features
I’ve also been wearing the watch for a few days now to track my steps and sleep and it has been excellent in that regard as well. The Fitbit I wore for the last two years was fine, but the Garmin feels like a huge step up. The screen on the watch is easy to access with just a click of the down button. And the metrics graphs and data in the Garmin Connect app and online at the Connect website are really well done.
A few badges have already for meeting various goals and Garmin Connect also includes challenges and a friends leaderboard for those with a competitive streak. While the Fitbit is more popular with the general public meaning I had a good list of friends to compare myself to, the Garmin seems to be aimed more at the serious athlete. That said, I’ve got five runner friends to go up against and that’s fine by me.
In short, the Garmin Forerunner 235 is a fantastic watch for the avid runner who is also looking for daily activity and sleep tracking that feel far more advanced than what Fitbit offers. It has the right amount of smartwatch features with notifications and music controls to satisfy those who might have been considering an Apple Watch.
As you’d expect from Garmin, the Forerunner 235 is a GPS watch first, an activity tracker second and a smartwatch third. For the runner, that’s the right order.
Here’s Garmin’s promotional video for the Forerunner 235.
Looking to track your personal bests, or calculate target pace for your next race? Pace! – Running Pace Calculator by Endorphin Apps has you covered.
This iOS app from the makers of Runcast lets you keep track of personal bests, and make a plan to set new ones. The app was recently updated to version 3.0 which brings metric and imperial measurements (automatically set based on your location), as well as a new design that makes it easy to enter new pace goals.
Easily plan, share and calculate
Once you’ve entered your race distance and goal time, you can call up splits for the race so you can make a pace band. Or share your goal on Twitter or Facebook with a neat image to make it official.
The app also includes a handy Boston Marathon Qualification calculator. Enter your birthday and gender, and the app will tell you your BQ time and pace.
Made by runners, for runners, the Pace app is a nice addition to your running toolkit.
Available for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad
Pace from Endorphin Apps is available in the iOS App Store for $0.99 (USD) or $1.39 (CAD) App Store Link.
There are a bunch of different run tracking, social fitness websites out there, but Strava does a nice job creating a real community regardless of which GPS device or app you use.
I’ve been a long-time user of Dailymile over the years, but a lack of updates of late, and a bunch of missing features like segments, goals and easy uploads from my Garmin had me looking elsewhere this fall.
Strava is free to join and use. They also have a premium account level with a few additional features, but up until recently, I’d been a happy free Strava user for a few years and found it pretty suitable for my needs.
Tips and tricks
Here’s some tips to help you get the most out of Strava, if you opt to go that route for your run tracking and community:
Support for 50+ devices
Take advantage of Strava’s integration with various services to automatically sync your uploaded runs. Strava supports more than 50 different devices.
Log into your Strava account and go to Upload Activity to connect your Garmin Connect, Fitbit, Polar, TomTom (and other) accounts to Strava. For many popular devices, whenever you upload a run to whatever service your GPS watch maker provides, it’ll automatically get added to Strava within a minute or two.
If you don’t use or have a GPS running watch, the Strava App for iOS and Android offers GPS tracking. You should probably download it even if you do have a GPS watch as you can give kudos (likes) and comment on your friends runs and view the details on your own when you are away from the computer.
Challenges, Segments and Clubs
Make sure you check out Strava’s Challenges to keep yourself motivated throughout the year. Strava has monthly distance challenges each month, along with different virtual races that will get out out to run 10km, 21.1km or more in certain months.
If you are the competitive type, check out Strava’s Segments for more fun. Segments offer little races within your runs and are generally short hills, or specific sections of popular routes.
Strava keeps track of your performance over these segments and also matches you up with other runners so you can see how you rank against everyone who runs the same areas as you do. You’ll see the various segments when you upload your run. You can also create your own if you want to track a portion of your regular route.
If you are looking for more community, then make sure you connect your Facebook account to Strava so you can find your running buddies and connect with them on Strava. You might also want to connect to your Instagram account as Strava automatically finds your Instagram photos taken on the run and adds them to your uploaded activity.
There are also virtual run clubs to create and join with discussion boards, a leaderboard and a way to plan events. The clubs feature is super handy if you want to train together with a group with the same goal race. While many run clubs use Facebook for this, Strava offers similar features in terms of discussions, but also incorporates running data, and the ability to share routes.
Flybys, training progression, suffering and more
Some more advanced options:
Routes: Strava has a route maker with a few neat features. It’s a bit finicky at times (pro-tip: turn off “Use Popularity”), but it does a nice job helping you create good routes to run.
Strava Flybys: A neat mapping feature that plots your runs alongside anyone who ran either the same route as you did, or who crossed paths with you during your run. Here’s an example.
Runs on this route: if you run the same routes often (like a regular neighbourhood loop), Strava will tell you how you are trending over time.
Suffer Score: Strava Premium users ($5.99USD/month) get a few extra features including the Suffer Score which uses heart rate data and other metrics to assign a value for how much you suffered during your run. I scored a glorious 217 during the Marquis de Sade.
Personal Heatmap: another Premium feature, Heatmaps plots all your runs on a map and the more you run a street, the more red it gets. My 2015 heatmap is here. You can create various different ones for different periods of time. There’s also a Global Heatmap available to everyone that will help you find popular routes when you are running in different cities.
As with any service, the more you use it, the more you get out of it. Find some friends, comment, give kudos and provide enrouagement and you’ll get the same thing back.
Considering the cost (free for a regular account, $5.99USD/month for Strava Premium), Strava offers an incredible service for any runner.
Running by Gyroscope lets you take your GPS run data and combine it with a photo to create stunning images to share on your favourite social media service.
GPS data from your runs is automatically loaded into the app via integrations with both Strava and Runkeeper. Once a new activity is detected, the app alerts you with a push notification to let you know that you can create a new image.
There are a number of templates including map views (terrain, satellite and a dark street map) along with overlays that you can put over a photo taken on your run.
Each of the templates is really slick looking. Some, like the bar template, put the key metrics from your run along the bottom of the photo. The route template adds a small map of your run.
There are also a pair of fun images including the Donuts template (how many donuts you burned on your run) and the Elevation template that provides a visual on how much climbing you did on your run.
Post to Social Media
Once you’ve created your image, you can either save it to the camera roll for sharing to Twitter, Facebook or Dailymile, or use the built-in “share to Instagram” feature that makes it easy to post to the popular photo sharing service. You can also share and view it on Gyroscope’s own service, alongside other runners’ pics.
Why I Like It
I’ve used a few other apps to make these kinds of photos including Fitframe, and FitSnap. The images that Running by Gyroscope creates are more visually pleasing to me, and the integration with Strava makes it easy to choose a run to visualize. The addition of a route overlay also set it apart from competitors.
As mentioned, Running by Gyroscope is a free app, available on the App Store for iOS. Learn more at Gyroscope’s website.
Here’s some sample images to give you an idea of what you can create with the app:
I don’t normally get too excited about Kickstarters, but this one I saw today has me really excited. It’s called the Million Mile Light and it’s an LED safety light for runners with a unique twist.
The difference between this light and others is that the Million Mile Light is powered by you. The motion of your running powers the LED lights. No batteries, no charging. Clip it on and run, and the motion of your body is enough to light it up.
Unlike some other Kickstarters, the product is ready to go. It’s been designed, prototyped and is ready to be manufactured. All that’s needed is enough people to get onboard for an initial order. It’s expected that the lights will be shipped sometime in very early 2016.