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Race perfect way to test new gear

Posted by Matt Pepin, BostonGlobe.com Staff  March 22, 2013 02:43 PM

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100scroth.jpg Katie Schroth is one of six Boston Marathon entrants testing Polar personal training gear and blogging about it for Boston.com
On St. Patrick's day, I ran the New Bedford half marathon. New Bedford is a popular race among the local runners, partly because it's approximately a month from the Boston Marathon and partly because it's a New England Grand Prix road race.

As a result, all the running club teams are competing, and because of the fierce competition, New Bedford is an excellent race to attempt a personal record. If you're interested you can read my race report at Experimental Running.

The short version is that I had a great day and ran a PR (1:25:59). The race also gave me a unique opportunity in which to use the Polar RC3 GPS, and note a few observations.

Positive Polar observations:
Over the last few weeks, I've been using both the Polar RC3 GPS and my normal Garmin. As far as the hardware is concerned, the Polar is a nice GPS watch. It acquires the GPS satellite as fast (and sometimes a little faster) than my Garmin. The Polar watch is the thinnest GPS watch I've seen, and I have to admit that it's a lot more comfortable to wear than my Garmin, which can sometimes bruise my wrist. The distances that each watch reports during a run are almost identical.

I find the Polar heart rate strap more comfortable than my Garmin heart rate strap as well. For someone who's new to heart rate training, the Polar watch will figure out your heart rate zones, which is neat, and as far as I know the Garmin doesn't do that. I would say if you're serious about training by heart rate and a smaller watch is important to you, then the Polar RC3 GPS is an excellent option.

Areas for improvement:
That being said, there are some user interface aspects of the Polar RC3 GPS that could be improved. Of course, that statement is completely subjective and my observations are based on my own personal preferences. You might disagree with me.

The first item I've noticed is that when you pause the watch you can't see your current running stats. The watch states that the activity is paused, and doesn't display anything else. If I'm on a training run and I have to pause the watch at a stop light, I like to check out how far I've run and what my average pace is.

My second observation deals with splits. I like to set my watch to automatically record mile splits, which the RC3 will do. The difference between the RC3 and the Garmin is that the Garmin only shows the mile split time, and nothing else during the run. The Polar watch shows a number of stats.

One might be inclined to argue that more is better, but I realized while racing on Sunday that when I'm running I only want to see my time. My goal is to look at my watch as little as possible while I'm running, especially when I'm racing. I want to be focused on the race and keeping my arms swinging by my side. As a result, during the run I only want to see my time for the mile splits.

And here's where I'll sound like a complete crazy person ... immediately after my race I often like to go through my splits and check the times and heart rate. The Garmin will let me go through the splits and see the time, average heart rate and max heart rate without connecting it to a computer. The Polar watch, while it will display your heart rate for the split while you're running (when I'm simply not in the right frame of mind for the information), it only displays the time and not the heart rate for each split once the activity has ended (unless you connect it to a computer).

The last observation has to due with what's displayed while you run. There are a few options to choose from, but what I personally like to see on the display when I'm running is the average pace, distance, total time, and heart rate. The Polar RC3 will only display three items, and I could probably do without the heart rate being displayed, but I don't feel comfortable without the other three items. The option closest to my preference is to display the instant speed, distance, and total time. To be fair, I know a number of runners who prefer to see instant speed, but I want to see the average pace. The way I see it, when you run a race, in the end, it's the average pace that you're looking to hit. Again, these are just my own personal preferences.

Conclusions for this week:
I've noted some of my preferences, but my preferences might not be your preferences. Also, my observations are minor and could be updated relatively easily if Polar decided there were enough runners out there who wanted to the same thing.

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Look for updates, news, analysis and commentary from the following.
  • Steve Silva, Boston.com senior producer, two-time Boston Marathon sub-four hour runner.
  • Ty Velde is a 16-time Boston qualifier who's completed 12 consecutive Boston Marathons and 25 marathons overall. Ty is now training for his 13th Boston run and will provide training tips for those who train solo and outside, no matter what temperature it is.
  • Rich 'Shifter' Horgan is a 19-time Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team member who runs in honor of his father, who died of colon cancer. He will provide updates on local running events with a focus on the charitable organizations that provide Boston Marathon entries for their organization's fund raising purposes

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