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With Nike+ included with the latest iPhones and iPods, it’s hard for an outsider to compete in the gadget-aided exercise race. But Adidas leaps past Nike’s and Apple’s home-court offering in one big way: heart rate tracking. The miCoach requires more hardware--annoying, especially for runners--but heart rate data allows for more specific workout instructions. That level of detail and the comprehensive online training tools win in a sprint, but some visual feedback would help miCoach to go the distance.
Like its pedometer rivals, the Adidas miCoach Pacer includes a wireless sensor that attaches to your shoe. Unlike Nike’s device, the miCoach attaches to any shoe’s laces, although it’ll slip inside special Adidas kicks. We like this more open-ended approach since--like many of you--we already have a favorite pair of running shoes.
This gadget menagerie is worth toting on runs; sometimes its prodding is the only reason we go at all.
MiCoach tracks running and walking stats, transferring data online automatically when you sync it, a process that works well. Heart rate tracking is done via a chest-strap heart monitor that, like the shoe sensor, talks wirelessly to a stone-sized receiver. The system constantly calculates your pace, distance, calories burned, and other stats. Connecting an iPod and headphones mixes your iPod music with audible feedback and running instructions from miCoach. While we like this compatibility--it works with any media player--strapping on multiple devices can be cumbersome.
The first time you head out, the miCoach instructs you to run at various paces, such as half of your capacity. It fades down your music volume whenever it speaks up, and we could always clearly hear the directions. This calibration run matches your heart rate to various zones that represent intensity levels.
After that’s done, you’ll pick workout goals on the miCoach website, such as increasing endurance, weight loss, or training for a race. The elegant site then programs a schedule to help you reach your objectives, varying the durations, running distances, and exertion levels. The miCoach calculates workout regimens with data from a professional training firm, Core Performance. Routines are designed to make sure you’re pushing yourself in the right way for your goals--an aerobic workout burns more calories, but harder training builds strength.
Workout plans transfer over with a sync, and you’re ready to hit the pavement. During your run, the miCoach will tell you to stay in a certain heart rate zone, guiding you as needed. But too often, the directions lack clarity. When miCoach told us to “maintain blue zone,” we felt like a Woody Allen caricature. How fast am I going now? Am I near the blue zone? Is the blue zone faster than the green zone? We learned some of the system’s nuances--green is faster than blue--but there’s no way to tell if you’re on track at a glance. A button press will recite stats, but you have to hear everything all at once--pace, distance, heart rate, heart zone, and more. You’ll always have to listen to more than what you want to hear.
When your workout is done, the miCoach syncs and graphs all of your stats online, which helped us stay motivated as we watched our numbers improving on the miCoach website. And even beyond these tools, the site’s great articles and videos offer help for any runner. We learned some new warm-up tips and ways to prevent injury.
The miCoach occasionally stumbled beyond the audio feedback’s limitations. The device includes an atypical headphone jack-to-USB sync cable, which will be hard to replace if we ever lose it. We also found a few minor software bugs, and the voice recordings often sounded a little fuzzy.
Runners at any level will jump for heart rate and goal-oriented training. But mediocre in-run feedback trips up the miCoach before it fully reaches its potential.
REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 10.4 or later; USB port; web browser
Scripts specific workouts based on your long-term goals. Tracks heart rate. Stores and charts data on an excellent website. Includes instructional articles and video. Works with any media player and any pair of shoes.
Requires separate media player to hear music. Lacks visual feedback, and audible directions can be confusing. Can’t program a run on the device without a computer. Uncommon sync cable. Minor software bugs.