Friday, October 23, 2015

Running injury management

I have been battling a running injury for the last 40days, it's a recurring injury, something which happpend mid last year. It was diagnosed as compartment syndrome, on the inside of my right shin.
Last year I managed to get rid of it by dry needling and deep tissue massage, to release the stress/pressure from that point and within a week, combined with icing I was pretty much back to normal.
I have more or less avoided running injuries all through my 15years of long distance running, by keeping my weekly mileage at 50km level, and taking it up gradually for short duration in preparation for some marathon or ultra marathon. All my runs tend to be in the 10-15km range.
After resting for nearly 35days, I had to restart running post some basic deep tissue massage from the physio as I could not wait any longer, I am registered to particpate in a race on Nov 8 and Nov 15, and both of them are back to back full marathons, so there was no way i could complete them within 6hours without building my running mileage base before the two races. So I am back to running again, trying to ice as often as possible, atleast 4 times a day and using a hand held foam roller to help release the pressure points (to the extent possible), things have not improved but the good thing is that its not deteriorated either, even after putting in a good number of 10k runs over the last one week.
I am keeping fingers grossed and managing with this work around, will share my results post race ;-)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Fitness apps on Apple Watch

I have been using the Workout (native app) and Runkeeper app on the Apple watch for the last five weeks (4runs a week). Workout app is a full feature running app and logs every possible parameter of your run. And the best thing about it is that it can log your run accurately even if you are not carrying your phone for the run (but you do need to initially pair and train the workout app to work independently). The huge negative about the app, its a battery guzzler, so if you have a three hour plus run planned its best to keep the HRM feature switch off (i wish they build a feature to manage the frequency/intervals of HRM logs, to preserve battery life, instead of having just an on or off button).

Runkeeper on the other hand is an absolute embarrassment, other than start and stop and yes save feature there is nothing to it. And it obviously cant be used without the phone (independently), so I don't really see any real compelling reason to use it. Another issue, if you start the app through the watch, you can't stop or pause it from the phone, which is very weird and inconvenient. So its best to not operate the runkeeper app from the watch, atleast that way you will conserve some much needed battery life on the watch.

I have been reading a lot of good things about Apple watch OS2 wrt fitness apps. You will soon be able to request Siri to launch workouts by instructing to start a 10km or 30minute run. Also 3rd party apps will be able to use some of the other data collected by your watch. 

Third party apps on Apple Watch

I have been experimenting with a lot of native and 3rd party apps on the Apple Watch, over the last two months. And I have been disappointed with most of the third party apps, including those from bigger digital brands, most seem like lame attempts, very basic with start and stop features on the watch extension of the app. I hope to review different third party Apple watch apps in the coming weeks, I will start of with banking apps first.

Most Indian apps (pure play and mainstream brand apps) have stayed away from Apple watch extensions. This is quite understandable, especially given the fact that Apple has not even bothered to officially launch it in India. Utility app category has seen maximum noise, some banks have already made announcements, about their intention to launch wearable banking extensions. HDFC bank has been the first off the block, but I am sure Citi, ICICI and Axis won't be too far behind. I can only review the HDFC app as I already have a banking relationship with them. And there is no way I can genuinely test/review other bank apps (as no banking relationship with the other two banks), just going through a presentation deck with screen shots does not cut it for me.

What I liked about the HDFC bank apple watch app is that it's not a mere (view) extension of the bank account, it does a whole lot more. It already allows one to connect & view all my relationship with the bank (credit card, mutual fund, savings account, FD and more) but also pay for your mobile & DTH recharge and soon they will launch bill pay directly from the phone. Personally the killer feature is something totally unintentional from HDFC bank, it's the fact that I can access my bank account with just one 4digit passcode, instead of a painful customer id plus alphanumeric password for the mobile banking app.
I would like to see a few changes in their next update, password input currently is with full screen digital numeric keypad (ref. Picture) which is quite painful to feed into, it needs to be replaced by four + & - keys each to input 0 to 9 numbers. And I would like them to start notifications on the watch as soon as some payment is received or account is debited for some amount. These two feature would go a long way in improving the utility of their Apple watch app.

The next challenge will be for HDFC bank to launch for Android, which is not going to be so simple and easy as there are 3/4 large wearables (watch) players who need to be catered too. But this wearables space is going to see a lot of excitement. 

It is these convenience features on wearables which is going to make or break the category. So lot of development work has to happen through third party apps for these really cool wearable devices to transcend beyond the hipster quotient for the user.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Payzapp mobile payment ecosystem - review

I have been owning an HDFC Bank account for almost 18 years and if I remember correctly, it started off as a pure online account (non branch) with zero balance, when I was a student. I have been banking with them ever since, as my primary bankers. My branch visits (although account moved from student to Preferred a/c over the years) have stopped almost completely except for attestation of bank statements for visa purposes or for international money transfers for running race fees.

Since last one and half year, I have not only stopped visiting the branch but almost stopped using the desktop banking website of the bank, except for printing statements or adding payees, as the same is somehow not permitted via the iOS application.

Given this background I have been looking to get more from my mobile banking experience on the HDFC Bank iOS app. I was quite excited with the recent launches of Chillr and square version of POS terminal by HDFC Bank to improve debit and credit card usage. Chillr is an exciting product but it's quite limiting my requirements, given the specific focus of making account to account transfers/transactions. Finally with the launch of Payzapp, HDFC Bank has finally addressed my need of having something which does almost everything I require. It can become a wallet, generate a disposable card for conducting transactions on unknown international sites, make payment using my debit or credit card for ecomm transactions without the need of a 3D secure/second layer or OTP. This convenience of bypassing second layer (legally), and getting as close to the old uber experience of paying using credit card without having to do almost anything is a huge win for me.

I have been able to check only the basic features of the newly launched Payzapp app, given that only android version has been launched. But I like what I have seen and am eagerly waiting for two things to happen, one the imminent launch of iOS version next month and introduction of non HDFC Bank credit cards inside Patzapp. Once these two things happen, I would finally have a one stop platform for all my payment needs.

Next post will be after launch of iOS version and linking of my account to Payzapp.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Apple watch - Sport version

I have a confession to make—I bought the Apple watch for two main reasons: its sports tracking and Heart Rate Monitoring (HRM) feature. The third important reason is to gain bragging rights. As a sportsman, I justified the Rs.25k price tag by reasoning that an all-in-one device, the Apple watch replaces the need to own a Garmin/polar tracker, a wrist watch, Bluetooth headset, selfie stick, personal assistant, remote control, notification centre... So convinced was I of the utility, quality and aesthetics, I bought it without a peep at demo purely based on the specifications announced at its launch.

And I wasn't disappointed. This wearable device is ideally suited for an iPhone power user or a sports and fitness enthusiast. In my case, I am both. For most users, the Apple watch is an extremely convenient extension of their iPhone: it performs the task of a remote for most iPhone features, and serves as an easy to access Notification Center in its current form. The health and fitness feature of this device is clearly its key scoring point. Apple health and worksout apps, in addition to third party applications like Runkeeper, make it an exhaustive fitness accessory or wearable device.

If you're not a fitness freak, but would like to get there. Start right here as the Apple watch will send you regular reminders to stand and walk around if you've been sitting for too long at your desk. It also notifies you of your standing and workout targets according to your lifestyle.

Two unique features that stand out are the accuracy of HRM readings, and the ability of the workout app to gather personalised data from my speed and stride length (from distance travelled) while being paired to the phone. It also actually maps the workout accurately even without being accompanied by the phone.

Last but not the least, the battery life of the Apple watch surpassed my expectations, given the reviews which have been appearing recently. After the initial day or two of extra excitement, the watch will comfortably last the entire day on a single charge. And this with sufficiently active usage.

Having said that, this is only the first version of the watch and app development, and is in its infancy. The Twitter app on the watch, for example, still allows you to only choose between timeline and trending topics without the option to choose mention or direct messages as feeds, among other things. My verdict: unless you're an avid iPhone junkie, a heavy user who needs to charge his phone at least two times a day or a fitness enthusiast, you might want to wait for version 2.0.

This review first appeared in DNA - http://www.dnaindia.com/scitech/report-apple-watch-review-a-firsthand-experience-from-a-fitness-enthusiast-2088221

Price - $380 or Rs.25000 (US apple store - online price, including taxes, excluding freight and duties)


Monday, November 17, 2014

Resort World Langkawi for Ironman Langkawi 2014

I had a tough time choosing my hotel for Langkawi 2014, I had two options: to stay at some hotel close to the race venue along with other athletes, or choose one which is a little more comfortable like a resort away from the center of the city. I was happy that I chose the latter, against conventional wisdom, and decided on Resort World Langkawi, based on the recommendation of my sponsors Malaysia Tourism.

Unlike marathon races where one gets in on a Friday evening or Saturday morning for a Sunday morning race, Ironman Triathlon is a little more elaborate, organizers conduct practice swims and tours of the race, to orient athletes about the race, and conduct elaborate post race events for athletes, all of this means one has to stay in race city for at least 6nights. This extended duration also helps with practice rides and getting used to race environment and conditions, especially if the weather is very humid and hot or very cold. Given the 30degress+ temperature and high relative humidity, this advance preparation helped me plan my race better.

At 20 minutes driving distance from the airport, the resort is pretty accessible for those visiting Langkawi. Perhaps one of the largest resorts on the island, Resort World Langkawi comprises gigantic rooms facing the blue-green ocean and the resort’s very own jetty.

The staff at Resort World Langkawi was more than helpful to my special requests, including allowing me to keep my race bike in my room, helping me with setup of the bike, in addition to organizing a hotel maxicab for transporting the bike to race venue and airport, regular city cabs can't accommodate the bike. Given the long duration of my stay a regular hotel can get quite boring, and a resort and its recreation facilities on location made things a lot easier, especially after a long day of training. They can organize a private cruise dinner if you are traveling with a special someone, and offer sightseeing tours as well. Other activities include water sports like scuba diving, snorkeling, Jet-skiing, Canoeing and kayaking, and even Fishing trips and Island hopping.

The range of water sport activity can keep one very busy and make the trip very enjoyable. Staying at resort also tends to be a lot more self-sustaining, especially if one is traveling for the race with family or friends. There are interesting facilities for everyone, especially the spa and water sport facilities within the resort.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Giant SCR zero bike review

Over the last few years, I have used a variety of bikes, from folders to carbon road bikes. But after my half Iron distance at Hyderabad in 2013, I was convinced that a basic entry-level road bike like the Fomas was just not enough for the full iron. So, when I registered for my first full Ironman, I wanted to be sure I had the right set of wheels.

Once I signed up Giant Starkenn bikes as my sponsors for the Langkawi Ironman 2014 race, I discussed my requirements with them in great detail, before choosing the bike that I could train on as well as use as my race bike. Though I would have ideally gone in for a full carbon bike—at least 2kgs lighter—for the race, it would be really tough to train with, given the severely potholed monsoon roads of Mumbai and the fact that I was not left with much time to train elsewhere. After a lot of deliberation, we zeroed in on the aluminium alloy body SCR Zero.

Having trained on it for a few months, and having used the SCR Zero during the race, I would definitely say that it is well-suited for the first time Ironman enthusiast. However, if money is not a constraint, then the SCR Zero would be the idea training bike, while a full carbon bike would be perfect for the race, assuming you have at least one year to train with both the bikes. Unfortunately, I did not have this luxury.

The SCR Zero performed well both during the training as well as the actual race. The only thing issue was the lack of choice to use different tyres. Kenda, the default OE Tyres, just do not cut it for the Mumbai monsoons and eroded roads, even though they performed well during the actual race. So, it would be a good idea to have another set of spare specialist tyres for Indian roads. Alternately, use tyre liners—like I did—from Mr Tuffy, making those tyres pothole-proof! And I have to thank my runner and cyclist friend Srini (@srini091) for coming up with this recommendation. It worked like magic!

Like most of you, I have been pampered with easy access to affordable roadside mechanics. But, thanks to the Ironman, another important learning for me was to learn changing, repairing and replacing tyres in addition to assembling and disassembling of the road bike, with reasonable ease. I remember shelling out Rs 800 for assembling the pre-fabricated semi-knocked bike (only saddle, handle bars and front tyre needs to be installed) at a specialist bike shop in the Mumbai. I can now put a bike together with minimal effort in 30 minutes flat, with the help of my Allen key set and a spanner. Trust me, putting that bike together is not as difficult as it appears (refer attached pictures). I was able to perfectly set up my set of wheels before the race at my hotel (Resort World Langkawi) in Malaysia so perfectly that I did not even bother to get my bike double checked by race mechanics at the Ironman expo. I learned that the maximum time is spent aligning and fine tuning the bike and not actually putting it together. I strongly recommend giving it a shot by yourself. Just be patient and meticulous, and it will all fall in place (quite literally).

 My bike parted in the Ironman Langkawi race transition parking lot

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hits and misses

And finally I get down to writing my long overdue post on my Ironman Langkawi experience. I have been wanting to write this for a long time and as I wanted to share my DNF (did not finish) experience with the same energy and enthusiasm as I have shared my numerous successes here in the past.

As with life and more so in today's social media age, most of us only share our successes and positives in our lives, especially wrt professional pursuits and sports. But this is far from the real picture, with successes also failure, and we have a lot more to learn from our failures than successes.

I had a truly amazing one week in the tropical paradise of Langkawi, preparing and participating in my first Iornman Triathlon on September 27, 2014. Details of the race available on Ironman Langkawi 2014 Event schedule. I might not be a finisher but the experience I gained from attending this truly world class event and the friends I made there will be with me for a long long time. 

I am really greatful to my sponsors who made this experience possible. My long term sponsors Puma (www.pumashop.in) and Sportizen (www.sportizen.com) and my event sponsors Malaysia Tourism (http://www.tourism.gov.my/en/in and Giant Cycles (http://www.starkennbikes.com). and a very special thanks to my hosts at Langkawi - Resort World Langkawi (http://www.rwlangkawi.com) for their wonderful hospitality.

I will be sharing my learnings and sights from Ironman Langkawi in the next post.