Week 10: ​Dixons Carphone Race to the Stones diary – the tech

Our final instalment rates the technology that delivered us to the stones
​Race to the Stones diary: Week 10

Now the dust has settle on Dixons Carphone Race to the Stones 2017, Team Wareable have had time to lick their wounds. Paul's Achilles tendon might never recover. Conor's foot has dropped off. Mike's decamped to a Sri Lankan yoga retreat to rejuvenate himself and Sophie is counting the £1,700 of sponsorship she raised for Macmillan Cancer Support.

But enough of the human cost. Now we've had time to trade war stories from life on the Ridgeway, what about the tech that took us to the stones? Each of Team Wareable tested a different sports wearable – but what comes recommended? Read on for our tale of the tech.

James Stables – Co-founder

Week 10: Dixons Carphone Race to the Stones diary – The tech

My training aid was wholly and solely the Garmin Fenix 5 – and as the most experienced of the team for the outdoors (beyond just running), I knew I was picking the top tool for the job. The first reason was battery life. After 20 hours and 40 mins on the trail, the Garmin still had 49% of its battery remaining – mind boggling.

Next was accuracy. Eking out that extra longevity meant switching to UltraTrac for a lot of my training, which is a less battery intense (and accurate) mode of GPS. Spending more time with this feature did highlight how slow pace information can be – and there were a fair few moments of clearly erroneous pace data. But it got me to the finish line and over that length of time, those swings of pace don't make much difference.

Other aspects were also incredibly helpful. The new insights such as Training Effect were great at giving me a kick to keep my training up – although it was a tad frustrating that it's based around intensive heart rate data, and my training was of a very low intensity, preparing for the all-out slog. That meant my Garmin perpetually telling me my fitness was decreasing with a plummeting VO2 Max, which was quite demoralising, as since the event, my fitness has proved to be good.

A quick word on other deck we tried. The GOJI power pack was brilliant, and comes highly recommended. It kept my phone alive for much-needed music between 70km and 90km, in conjunction with the Monster iSport Achieve and Jabra Sport Pulse headphones. They get the thumbs up, too. Also a shout-out to the GoPro Hero 5 which performed admirably throughout our training and the compact form factor is a real bonus. The easy mode switching made capturing photos and videos in training easy and we have plenty to cherish – even if they're often far from flattering.

Also, the Nutribullet came into its own for recovery shakes after strength training and long runs, and is now a firm favourite in the house.

Sophie Charara – Features editor

Week 10: Dixons Carphone Race to the Stones diary – The tech

Take a look at my Fitbit screenshots and you might congratulate me on my 54.12km walk. In actual fact, the Fitbit Alta HR I wore on the day was fairly accurate – 1.3km of that was from faffing about at the start line which makes the Alta HR 2.12km out for the whole race, as the route was 50.7km.

That's not ideal but it only really became a problem at one point. I knew the Fitbit had gone about 1km over from about halfway but somewhere after pit stop 4 – with just 6.9km to go – the Alta HR rose up to 2.1km without me noticing. That really killed me when I found out I was 1km behind where I thought I was, as that last half an hour was tough.

Otherwise, I got on fine with it – checking the time, checking my distance progress to make sure I was actually still moving forward, checking estimated calories burned for a bit of a boost, or my HR halfway up a hill. And of course the step count: 81, 876 in case you were wondering.

If I did something similar again, though (I won't), I'd choose something that can help me on pace as I was doing quite a few calculations on the day to make sure I would make the pit stop cut offs.

Mike Sawh – Editor

Week 10: Dixons Carphone Race to the Stones diary – The tech

I opted for the TomTom Adventurer for Race to the Stones, after being a long-time user of TomTom Sports watches.

It was annoying I had to change to hike mode to try and get the battery life to go longer, which meant I missed out on some running metrics I would have liked to have recorded (you can check my Strava).

I turned off the heart rate sensor as well in the hope that it would go the distance, but came up just short. That's quite annoying, but few watches are made for such extreme endurance.

What the Adventurer excels at is the way it displays the data. It's much more straightforward than a Garmin and more hardcore sports watches and that's something I really appreciated. A quick glance, and I knew where I was at. Whether my average pace was dropping off too much to finish in the 17-20 hour prediction or whether I was making ground on Paul and James.

Would I go with the TomTom Adventurer again? Maybe with an event that doesn't rack up 63 miles. It's definitely built for ultras, just not the extreme distance ones.

Paul Lamkin – Co-founder

Week 10: Dixons Carphone Race to the Stones diary – The tech

My feet (or rather my Achilles tendon) may have let me down on the day, but my tech certainly didn't.

Disclaimer – I didn't use a running watch that's really aimed at hiking or long distances, but given that I just wanted to keep track of how far I had travelled (and roughly what speed I was going at), my combo of the Polar M400 and the newer M430 really did the job – especially the latter with its heart rate tracking tech. In the first 50km, when bursts of running were much more common, the M430 did a great job of reminding me not to overdo it. Anytime I saw anything north of 165bpm, I slowed right down. Slow and steady won't win you the Race to the Stones, but it will help you finish.

The Polar watches I used each boast an 8-hour battery life when in 'high accuracy' GPS mode. Sure, I could have made one last the whole race by opting for 'medium accuracy' (tracking every 30 seconds rather than every 1 second) but, believe me, when you're running / walking 100km you want to know EXACTLY how far you've gone.

My method was to start with the M400 (which charges using regular Micro USB) and then switch to the M430 after 8 hours. The M400 only took about an hour and a half to fully recharge to 100%, sitting in my bag connected to a GOJI Portable Power Bank (which also held enough charge to keep my smartphone topped up), so I then changed back to the M400 after 16 hours. Sure, it meant three different tracked 'runs' in Polar Flow (and a bit of maths in my head along the way) but it was a method that suited me.

Conor Allison – Reporter

Week 10: Dixons Carphone Race to the Stones diary – The tech

With the Apple Watch Series 2 more of an all-rounder than dedicated fitness companion, it was always going to pale in comparison to the Garmin, TomTom and Polar devices the rest of the team had strapped to their wrists.

However, with my plan from the start of training to not overcomplicate things and try and focus on the broad strokes, it did the job from a tracking point of view. When I was in the gym, I was able to keep tabs on indoor cycling and treadmill activities, if a little inaccurately, and outdoor running was a relative breeze thanks to the in-built GPS and music storage, which would see me also syncing up the Jabra Sport Pulse headphones and tapping into more advanced heart rate metrics.

Tracking was never the biggest concern here — it was all about if the battery could last until the 50km pit stop, where we would inevitably be taking some time to pause and charge our devices up with the Goji Portable Power Bank. After seeing the device perform admirably on the practice run in this regard, I was encouraged that the plan would work out.

As it happened, both myself and the Apple Watch faltered. An injury meant that I could only complete half of the 100km epic, and the Apple Watch was looking to tap into power reserves at around the 47km mark. And not only that, but it also switched off before I had chance to end, and therefore save, the entire workout. Disaster.

Thankfully, I was also using the Garmin Fenix 3 as a point of comparison, which, by tracking my location through the power-saving UltraTrac mode for the duration, was very much alive and kicking at 50km – only a third of the battery had been dented. So, aside from the endlessly spinning rings in the Apple Activity app, which is registered continuously, at least I have some proof of the mammoth trek.

Thanks to everyone who's kept up with Team Wareable's 100km challenge.


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