Running Data: Why Is it an Uphill Battle? – Part 1

I originally started writing this post in October 2015. Life has been quite hectic since then, so I didn’t quite get around to publishing it. Recent events have caused me to revisit it, and I think some of it may still be interesting for people to read. I will be following this post up with an up-to-date rant and a couple of other running-related posts.

I have the attention span of a gnat, and as a result I am abysmal or at best mediocre at most of my pursuits. However, two anomalies to this trend are running (inexplicably) and data analysis (pretty much my job while working at Uni).

I picked up running about 5 years ago and when I first started I neither followed a training plan nor logged my workouts. However, after a few years I was becoming more and more addicted to the endorphins and began to get more serious. On the recommendation of a friend, I started using Runkeeper with my phone to track runs. At the time, its popularity stemmed from its integration with Facebook, which made it really easy to find friends and quietly judge them for not running enough.

Image of a Woman Being Judged

What silly clothes to run in too. Source

My training plans up to 2013 had always been pretty much, “run lots”, and I was getting faster mostly because I was building the muscles used in running, which up to this point I’d never really developed. Another friend recommended Endomondo to me, and I was intrigued by its offering of a dynamic, “smart”, training plan. I paid for the premium service and had a plan that gave me pacing indication, distances and structure to my training runs. It would also adapt my workouts if it found I was maintaining faster/slower paces to what it recommended.

As smartphones counter-intuitively increased in size, I could no longer tolerate running with mine (a Samsung Galaxy SII) and switched to a Nike GPS watch for tracking my runs. I’m really happy with the change and if you’re serious, I highly recommend investing in a decent watch. It beats lop-siding your gait by strapping a brick to your arm or the struggle of fitting it into a waist belt. The workout data from my watch is manually synced to Nike+, a platform that stores activity data from all of Nike’s devices and Running app (which gives the same experience as the watch but uses a phone’s in-built GPS).

I continued using the Endomondo training plan with the Nike+ watch, and herein began my initial foray into the war of fitness data platforms. It seems to be that most platforms, in addition to the ones I’ve used, such as Strava and MapMyRun, try and force user loyalty by making it either impossible or incredible difficult to move data around platforms. This meant that the data from my Nike watch could not be easily taken out and uploaded into Endomondo to contribute to my training program tracking.

In fact, Nike+ has no option to export any data. I was enraged, because it’s my data! It appears that many others shared my feelings and as such, have made tools* to export the data through the Nike+ API (which is primarily made available to Nike partners). Using these tools, I was able to keep my training plan up to date.

Image of locked folder

I wish this was how my run data was locked… so secure. Source

More recently, I have discovered other apps, such as SyncMyTracks, which are designed specifically to sync data across multiple fitness platforms – but these usually come at a cost. They’re also vulnerable because they’re not partnered with platform owners and changes in their code or interface could easily shut them out.

Endomondo’s training plan served me well for a couple of years, but I didn’t really like the unpredictable changes it would make to my program. For example, tell me I have an 8 km run the next day, but on the day change it to 18 km. I also began to feel like I had gotten the gist of the training it was trying to get me to do. I figured I could design and follow my own program and cancelled my subscription to Endomondo and retained a free account. What I didn’t know, was that I would also lose access to much of my previous run data and this is what infuriated me the most.

Endomondo would allow me to view distance analytics over the history of my runs, but any other information, such as pacing, speed, elevation, heart rate, and even number of workouts, required a premium subscription. I can kind of understand their stance from a commercial perspective as it must be very costly to calculate the average pace over distance data I provided them (!), and I therefore must pay USD30 a year to see it… The data is there! It’s been calculated! So it really pisses me off that there is no real additional cost to them to show me my data.

And to top it off. What if I think screw Endomondo, I’m going to take my data elsewhere? Is there an inbuilt export tool I can use to take the data that I provided back out? Of course not. I have to rely on another tool created by a third party that could again, stop working at any moment.

Furthermore, what happens if I switch out my Nike watch for a Garmin, TomTom, Timex or Polar? These have their own platforms too so am I just going to have to cross my fingers and hope that these third party tools exist for them all? I’m not sure what the answer is but I’m hoping to mitigate it by putting all my data into a single platform: RunningAhead. This is absolutely free for tracking all kinds of workouts – not just running. No tricks or gimmicks and analytics are provided to you in detail comparable to all the other platforms. You can import a whole range of training files and store as much data as you want. If you want to backup or export your entire training history, you can. The only downside is the design is a bit dated but that’s of little concern.

Image of a RunningAhead screenshot

Form follows function, just the way I like it.

I’ve already uploaded all my workouts from Runkeeper, Endomondo and Nike+ into RunningAhead. I’ve also tried to streamline future uploads as I continue to use my Nike watch so that I don’t have to manually upload a run each time. If you’re interested in how I am trying to do this see my follow-up post. I’m also planning to share a bit more about the current tools I’m using for training and managing my running data.

 

* Due to changes in the Nike+ API, many of these tools no longer work. See upcoming post for the rage this has induced.

 

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