I drove my second half marathon run on Saturday with Apple Watch, and the overall experience was amazing – except for a few quirks. I practiced much more ahead of time and used experiences from the experience a year ago. Apart from better training that resulted in shaving of nine minutes beyond my time, battery life optimization in the long run has made the biggest difference in improving the experience this year.
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The course itself was interesting: a NASA rocket test facility located in the middle of a largely rural area. Driving 13.1 miles around John C. Stennis Space Center – which requires the government of I.D. for entry – meant many visualisers of fascinating buildings and equipment that I could not access.
The route was also generally flat, but markedly increased more than the course I drove last year, and the weather was a bit more challenging at 60º F to 30º F and 60% humidity. Last year I finished half marathon in just over 2 hours 27 minutes and felt every second for the past five miles. This year I shaved off nine minutes after completing the race in just over 2 hours 18 minutes and felt I had more fuel in the tank.
My gadgets also had more fuel at the end of the race – not just because I was a bit faster this year. Last year I drove with Apple Watch Series 3 and AirPods using the Nike Run Club and the built-in heart rate monitor. Some music was stored locally at the time, but I used Siri to play something that was not in my library for part of the race. I use AirPods when I exercise or drive alone 95% of the time, but they never worked high enough for half marathon last year. As a result, both Apple Watch Series 3 and AirPods fought to keep through the finish line.
This year I did not have to think about battery life during the half marathon.
Apple Watch Series 4 touts longer battery life for outdoor training than Apple Watch Series 3. The difference is actually easy to remember: Up to four hours of outdoor training with streaming audio, GPS and LTE with Apple Watch Series 4 and up to three hours of outdoor training with streaming audio, GPS and LTE with Apple Watch Series 3.
I also used an external pulse monitor (Polar OH1) that connects Bluetooth to the clock. This keeps the built-in heart rate monitor firing during the exercise that lasts a lot of battery life.
I also switched from AirPods to Bose SoundSport Free music and voiceover feedback from Nike Run Club on Apple Watch for the sole purpose of this race. SoundSport Free is truly wireless as AirPods, and promises the same 5-hour battery life at 50% volume, but the in-ear design makes music higher and more immersive without soaring the volume so high. No low battery level alerts on any device. SoundSport Free does not want to replace my AirPods for daily use, but I keep them too long as future half marathon races.
I also thought about creating an Apple Music playlist with three hours of music (just in case) that I synchronized with Apple Watch the night before the race. I only stream music over Wi-Fi or LTE and let the clock synchronize my black rotation and playlist, but I wanted to minimize mobile usage over the course.
Cellular on Apple Watch Series 4 was still useful for sharing placement with friends and family tracking my progress with Find My Friends and I enjoyed receiving encouraging messages throughout the course (and even using a response to respond on a).
Using an external heart rate monitor and playing locally downloaded music helps maintain battery life but turning off the mobile would go even longer if you needed even more power and did not want to tie an iPhone to your arm . The ability to easily switch mobile back will still be useful if you need it in an emergency.
Taking steps to optimize battery life for long training is especially important with older hardware. My running partner ran with my year-old Apple Watch Series 3 (the same from my first half marathon) with an external heart rate monitor (Polar H10) and Beats Powerbeats 3 headphones, but his watch fought to last through the finish line in just over 2 hours and 20 minutes.
In theory, the clock would have been much longer with an external heart rate monitor this year since the same clock got me through just over 2 hours 27 minutes last year with the built-in heart rate screen was kicked up. The difference may be in software (watchOS 5 versus watchOS 4), but my suspicion is just that it's the difference in a year of battery wear. We'll be driving again in two weeks, and my recommendation to my friend is to just turn off the mobile.
The other knowledge of the experience is how distance is tracked. My Apple Watch Series 4 logged my half marathon figure in just over 2 hours 13 minutes, but I did not complete the course for 2 hours 18 minutes. Even with mobile and GPS, the clock logged consistently every kilometer about a tenth of a mile before the cursor markers were laid up. This reflects my experience a year ago with Apple Watch Series 3 almost perfect with a five-minute difference at the end.
It's almost enough to make me judge a GPS watch like the Garmin Forerunner 235, but I'd like to troubleshoot the problem a bit more for now. GPS connectivity problems (along the beach last year and near giant satellites this year) caused by interference may be blaming.
I also like the Nike Run Club as my race track because my running friends use it and we compete, and it automatically captures personal information for distances like fastest miles, longest races and fastest half marathon. I'm curious about learning whether Apple's training program or another third-party app would log more accurate distances.
I'm not sure I'd ever run if it was not for Apple Se. It was Apple Watch Series 2 who added GPS and pushed outdoor training without iPhone that pushed me to drive. I love how to mix physical activity and health with music and technology when driving with Apple Watch. And if you have a mobile phone, running with Apple Watch, it's a great way to disconnect your iPhone without going completely disconnected if it's an emergency.
For this year's half marathon race, I am pleased with the experience and proud of my progress from a year ago. My goal for both races was just to complete; It was a nice bonus this year when I realized early in that the long run training would reward me on the finish line. It was also very nice not to worry about the battery life of my devices or feel my music had to be higher. I take it easy the next few days, and then I go back to the flatter course with cooler weather along the beach in two weeks to another half marathon.
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