Week 3: Sophie's Couch to 5K diary

Running tips, tricks and insights from a beginner getting to 5K with wearable tech
Week 3: Sophie's Couch to 5K diary

I messed up.

Things were going so well. In Week 1 and Week 2 of my Couch to 5K diary I was taking my new training regime er, in my stride, happily setting out for half an hour's jogging 'n' walking and returning refreshed, energised and encouraged. Then because of a series of unfortunate events I had to skip Day 3 of Week 2's plan, a blot on my progress.

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Then I decided to do my first run of Week 3. There are three things you need to know about this run. One: I was a little big hungover from some wine and fizz consumed at a dinner party the night before. Two: I had a Byron burger and courgette fries for lunch. Three: both my Moto X which was running the Couch to 5K app and my Microsoft Band (more on that in a minute) were low on battery by halfway through the session. So obviously it was terrific.

Let's rewind. I'm still using the official Couch to 5K app for my training plan which means that any wrist based wearables and running watches I test out will still be accompanied by my phone when I'm out on the move. Plus I don't really enjoy jogging without music.

Then there's the Jawbone UP Move which I've continued wearing every day because it's useful seeing how many hours I've been inactive and its estimates of calories burned. But for the purposes of this Couch to 5K it's been abandoned.

Giving the Microsoft Band a chance

The new bit of wearable tech kit on my person is the Microsoft Band, which I wanted to try out for a couple of reasons - the fitness tracker has been getting bad press, including our own 2 1/2 star Microsoft Band review but Wareable's editor in chief Paul Lamkin is a fan of Microsoft's Health app, and it has 24/7 heart rate monitoring which I was keen to try out. And well, I was just curious to test a fitness band with built in GPS since I'm on the look out for a long term wearable to run with.

Since my Wahoo Tickr X strap is on the way and intriguing devices that combine music playback, audio coaching and heart rate tracking such as the Bragi Dash and Sony's Smart B-Trainer prototype aren't ready for testing, I'm beginning with something smack bang in the middle of good old-fashioned accuracy and crazy sci-fi designs. The optical heart rate monitor on the Microsoft Band is huge and starts glowing green at me when I'm pairing the tracker to my Android phone. It just can't wait to get going. Side note: I did have to download the Microsoft Health apk as it's not available in Google Play in the UK, if you're in the US you're fine.

Hearts and zones

What's nice is that any time you want to see your resting heart rate you can tap and swipe to see it. Mine's been between 60 and 75 - told you I wasn't fit. I entered my age, resting heart rate and my lower and upper training zones into this helpful website to see my maximum heart rate in BPM and what I should be aiming for to hit the lower and upper zones. Lower and upper what? Basically, as Kieran explains here, there's four heart rate zones starting at recovery (60 - 70%) all the way up to the max aerobic zone (90 - 100%). Training within each zone has different effects on your body.

Read more: Burn fat and run faster using heart rate training zones

I entered 60% for my lower zone (recovery which develops endurance and aerobic capacity, sounds about right) and 80% for my upper zone - this is the higher end of the aerobic zone where all the good cardiovascular and fat burning benefits kick in. Hello, aerobic zone. This gave me a maximum heart rate of 195 BPM, a lower training zone heart rate of 143 BPM and a higher training zone heart rate of 169 BPM.

I also had a quick peek at my guide, my bible, my new favourite weekly read - Kieran Alger's Couch to 5K with wearable tech how to - where he recommends taking a break if you hit 175 BPM during an early running and walking session. With these various numbers in my brain, I grabbed my now trusty Mizunos and strapped the Microsoft Band to my wrist...

A onesie full of bees

And as soon as I did, I wanted to take it off - this is not an ergonomically designed wearable and I could feel it dig in every time I turned my wrist. The Band is about as comfortable to wear as an armoured onesie full of angry bees - but considering my need for heart rate stats it was also just as likely to make me want to move about as quick as possible. So I did.

I ran-walked 2.92km (the distance seems to be decreasing every time I set out) in 28 minutes but again the Couch to 5K app messed up my running pace claiming I ran 1km in 1.30 minutes. In one of my Week 2 runs my pace was an incredible 00.26 minutes per km according to the app. Of course, the Microsoft Band lumped in my running and walking pace together so that isn't much use either at this stage.

How about that BPM then? With the jogging and walking instructions in my ear and the time, calories and heart rate on the Microsoft Band screen, I left my Moto X in my pocket almost entirely for the first time and instead snuck glances at the Band's 1.4-inch colour touchscreen. The UP Move is great as it's so damn affordable but when you're out running you want to see some numbers to show your progress when you're actually out pounding pavements.

Read more: Microsoft Band review

There was a slight delay but I was able to see my heart rate move up and down according to my running and walking intervals - now increased to three minutes of jogging at a time from last week's minute and a half. As someone who hasn't paid a great deal of attention to how my body feels over the years, it's interesting to see what 150 BPM feels like compared to say, 63.

Some lessons

At the end of my run, which I started on the Band with a quick press of the smaller activity button, I was shown my stats - I averaged 122BPM and maxed out at 157 which is just in my aerobic zone. That means next time I can train a bit harder while sticking in aerobic city. The Band also calculated that I had burned 252 calories which is on par with the Jawbone app which had 346 calories actively burned by that point in the day. That probably worked off about half the courgette fries I ate at Byron earlier in the day.

Overall, I also learned not to do the first run of Week 4 hungover and that repeating the sessions really does make it easier. As the intervals change each week, you never really get too set in the patterns so it keeps you alert too. It's not just the Jawbone app that has emoticons to track moods, this week I gave the Couch to 5K app a squiggly-mouthed face.

Still, I'm sure I can do better than the Microsoft Band. I'll go on another couple of runs with it and report back next week but this just isn't a fitness tracker I want to wear 24/7 to track my overall steps and distance. For one thing, the battery plummeted from 60% to 10% in the course of my session. The TomTom Runner Cardio looks friendly and reliable enough for a beginner like me and as I mentioned, I'll be trying out Wahoo's Tickr X heart rate monitoring strap too.

One thing before I sign off - I said in Week 1 that I wouldn't sign up to a 5K run as there's one I can do every Saturday in a park near me. But I've only gone and signed up to do the Pretty Muddy 5K in Heaton Park, Manchester for Cancer Research with 15 other girls and counting (this one's women only). It's in July, which is four months after I plan to finish this Couch to 5K challenge at the end of February. Throw in the mud and a few Tough Mudder-style obstacles and I'm still a bit worried. But not much.

Sophie's Couch to 5K diary

Week 1 - it begins

Week 2 - Jawbone UP Move

2 Comments

  • caraman123 says:

    Great article, I use the Epson Pulsense PS-500 and whilst it doesn't turn heads it is fantastic for tracking HR both when out running and during the day. It also counts my steps :) Would be great to see how well this HRM benchmark against each other too.

    • s.charara says:

      Thanks - yep the Pulsense is one of the devices I'm calling in at the moment. On my next run, I'll have at least one HRM watch/tracker on each wrist plus the Wahoo Tickr X which just arrived for some benchmarks/comparisons. 

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