iSmoothRun: Lapping RunKeeper in the Race for Best Running App

I have been a RunKeeper user basically since I started running regularly back in 2009. I would go so far as to credit the app with helping me go from being winded after a mile to completing 13 marathons and over a hundred other races within the last seven years. But lately things have been going wrong. Very wrong. Every update has been worse than the last. I submitted tickets, I hoped that things would get better, but it got me nowhere. The app crashes more often than it works, the watch app is useless, and the whole experience with the platform has become a big bloated mess. Unfortunately, in light of RunKeeper’s sale to ASICS, it appears to be yet another tech startup being destroyed by its own success.

This all reminded me of a running app I downloaded forever ago but gave little thought to over the years, iSmoothRun. After a month of using it instead of RunKeeper, I have no intention to switch back. This app now occupies the space on my home screen that RunKeeper has had for seven years. With this new app in hand, I can continue to use RunKeeper’s backend service for now as it still functions well enough, but am no longer locked into their increasingly buggy iPhone app.

First of all, the most important feature of iSmoothRun is that it is stable. You would think this is an obvious feature, but somehow it seems to get missed amongst the third or fourth rebranding. I have not had it crash on me yet. Not once. It is not my idea of a good run when I have to stop to take my phone out and troubleshoot why an app is no longer working. iSmoothRun gives me the peace of mind that this won’t happen.

iSmoothRun is easily the most customizable app I have ever used. Not just running app, any app. The device’s main display during a run is completely under your control. Want to see average pace instead of current pace? No problem. Or show both, or neither. There are 11 spaces on the main screen for different stats and none are locked in. If, for some reason, you didn’t want to see time and distance, you can swap them for something else. Pretty much every stat you could imagine is available to you here. The same goes for the Apple Watch display. You pick the stats that are important to you.

iSmoothRun dashboard setup
The setup screen for the dashboard displayed when tracking a run. Every single section is editable.

Perhaps the most important reason I am switching to iSmoothRun is its integration with other services. Pretty much every other running app available is all about getting you locked into their system. So while they may offer some import and export capability, it is never straightforward or simple. iSmoothRun has 16 different integrated services (not counting Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, or email) and you are free to use as many or as few as you wish. RunKeeper is one of the services and iSmoothRun has virtually 100% compatibility with it. Looking at runs tracked side by side it would be impossible to tell which app was used. It is that good. But because of the extra possibilities I have started exploring additional services. Strava looks to be the most interesting of the group so far. By signing in and enabling export on save, my run is automatically sent to every account I have chosen. No more lock in, no more requesting downloads of my data. This alone is worth switching for, stability aside.

iSmoothRun supported accounts
Supported accounts. The full list does not fit in a single screenshot!

It should also be noted that if you prefer to stay offline, that is fine too. iSmoothRun does not require you to connect to any service, giving you a completely private running log.

There are a few minor issues with iSmoothRun. Currently, the Apple Watch app cannot actually save a run, which means that it does not reflect in the Workout section of the Activity app. The workaround here is to also start the built in Workout app on the watch, but having to enable two apps is not ideal. The developer has stated that this capability has been developed, so hopefully we see it soon. Also, the Watch app does not do a great job of heart rate monitoring, but this looks to be more a watch limitation. A dedicated chest strap for heart rate is a good purchase if you care about that sort of thing (the Wahoo TICKR works very well for me).

iSmoothRun is one of the few paid-up-front, independently developed fitness apps left in the App Store. It is a travesty what the activewear companies who purchased the rest have done to those products. It is clear that they have absolutely no respect for the users. It’s all about branding and marketing, and the products have suffered dearly for it. iSmoothRun is a breath of fresh air. An app that cares about the user experience, that respects you and your data, and that works exactly as promised every time. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Dopey Challenge 2016 Recap

It’s a little hard to believe that it has been five whole years since I went down to Walt Disney World for my first ever marathon. Initially I thought the 2011 race would be a one off. But then the next year I wanted to run the Goofy Challenge. The year after that was the 20th running of the marathon. The year after that was the inaugural Dopey Challenge, and with it my chance to be a legacy runner.[1] Oh runDisney, you sure know what you are doing.

This was also the first year that I stayed at my own resort. During last year’s race Will and I purchased a Disney Vacation Club membership at the Polynesian. In a way this was me coming full circle, as the Polynesian was the very first resort we stayed at on my first Disney World trip 30 years ago.[2] The resort did not disappoint. The studio rooms, the only type offered outside of the massively expensive bungalows, are significantly larger than those at my parents’ home resort, Bay Lake Tower.

Photo of me on the balcony of the Polynesian then and now.
What a difference 30 years makes.

Another major difference on this year’s trip is that it was our first trip to Walt Disney World since the release of the new Star Wars film. And oh wow is Disney pulling out all the stops for this one. Disney’s Hollywood Studios has basically been swallowed by the franchise, and this is before they build the actual Star Wars Land there. It’s a great time to be a fan.

As always the race week[3] begins with a trip to the expo.

Mickey’s Health and Fitness Expo

The WDW expo is big. Really big. It is probably the second largest marathon expo I have ever attended, second only to the New York City Marathon. If you are running Dopey, you really have no choice but to go on the first day. While this means you get to see it when everything is fresh, it also means that it is incredibly busy. For some reason the layout is a little different every year, making it more or less impossible to be an expert at navigating. While I appreciate the attempt at separating where things are done (bib pickup separate from pins, separate from shirts, etc) it got almost confusing this year, requiring me to backtrack and wait in line again twice. The line for official merchandise was insanely long. Though, for the first time, I did not buy a single thing there.

Long lines at the expo for packet pickup.
A very crowded expo.

Walt Disney World 5K

The 5K course was unchanged from last year. My one complaint about both the 5K and 10K was the fact that there was no monorail transportation offered this year. Given the extra cost in staying at a monorail resort, this was quite disappointing. Even worse at the 5K was that the buses had to wait for the course to clear, which led to rather long lines for the earlier finishers. But beyond that the race was enjoyable. A nice, easy, flat 5K is a great way to start the Dopey Challenge.

This year I had a small group to run with. My cousin, his wife, and some of their friends were there for the races as well. Normally I am by myself at the start, so this was a nice change.

My with friends and family at the finish line.
It’s nice to finish with a group.

Walt Disney World 10K

The weather in Central Florida can be unpredictable at all times, especially in January. Sometimes it’s really cold (2015). Sometimes it’s really hot (2013). This year’s 10K was rain. Lots of really cold, really persistent rain.

Upon arriving most of the runners, including your’s truly, went straight to the (empty) merchandise tent. Thankfully this space was large enough for us to stay dry, at least until the corrals. After that though, there was no escape. The rain was on and off for the rest of the race.

My favorite moment in the 10K was my photo with Darkwing Duck and Launchpad McQuack. These are two very rarely seen characters these days. I was one of the last people able to even get this photo before the rain forced them back inside.

Me with Darkwing Duck and Launchpad McQuack.
Nice to get a photo with rare characters before the rain forced them back inside.

Walt Disney World Half Marathon

Of all the races this year, the half was the most special for me because my husband Will ran it along with me. This was his first ever half marathon.[4]

The upside was that I had someone to run with who could help keep me at a proper pace to not overdo it and end up in trouble at the full marathon. The downside was that he was placed in a very far back corral. This was the furthest back I have ever started, and I would rather not do it again. There was a lot of walking right out of the gate, and the course was much more congested than if I had started in the corral where I was assigned. The worst moment was running through Cinderella’s Castle. Not only did we have to walk through it, it was like walking through a crowded subway exit at rush hour. Even bag check had a barely moving line this morning. The marathon was quick by comparison despite being a very similar number of runners.

Weather was better at the half, though it was so foggy that the course was nearly invisible at times. We did not even bother with a photo in front of Spaceship Earth. You could not see it!

Despite the weather and crowds we still had a great race. It just goes to show how runDisney really have some of the best possible first timer races.

Me and Will with our finisher medals.
We did it.

Walt Disney World Marathon

Holy humidity batman! And lest you think this is just me rationalizing a slow race[5] even the winner commented on how difficult a run it was this year due to the conditions.

Starting in the right corral meant the congestion was not nearly as bad as at the half. The course was slightly different this year as the removal of the WDW Speedway meant that roughly one mile of course had to be moved elsewhere. The corse throughout the Magic Kingdom was expanded, now going through New Fantasyland and the area of Frontierland directly in front of Big Thunder Mountain, as well as an out and back section that was added before entering Animal Kingdom.[6] It will be interesting to see next year with the Studios under massive construction. We are likely to see another course change to compensate.

Speaking of Studios, another change was the indoor section through what used to be the costume shop on the old tour. With the tour gone, the windows were simply covered over. It was rather dark inside, with the only lighting being what I can only describe as a nightclub style party lighting. It was cool, but you could feel everyone slowing down to avoid tripping. Likely the last year for this part of the course too.

After six marathons, five Goofy Challenges, and three Dopey Challenges, I guess it is safe to call me a runDisney maniac. I cannot wait to do it again next year.

Me with the 6 Dopey Challenge medals.
Bling!

  1. Disney legacy runners, also called Perfect runners, are those who have run a particular race or challenge in every single year it was offered.  ↩
  2. Back then there were only 3 hotels and the campground. And no DVC. Or marathon for that matter.  ↩
  3. It is still called marathon weekend despite that fact that the majority takes place during the week now.  ↩
  4. Thought it was not his first runDisney race. He did the 2011 5K with me.  ↩
  5. I have log ago given up on this race being fast ever again. The multi race Dopey Challenge essentially makes that impossible. Speed really isn’t the point of Dopey anyway.  ↩
  6. This section of the course really did feel like a “makeup mile”.  ↩

An Open Letter to runDisney on the Future of the Dopey Challenge

Dear runDisney,

Almost as quickly as the 2015 Walt Disney World Marathon ended, rumors began to circulate that next year will be the final year of the Dopey Challenge. As with so many rumors, especially related to Walt Disney World, these are unsourced, unconfirmed, and for all I know completely unfounded. But if the rumors are true, or even if the end of the Dopey is under consideration, I urge you to reconsider and allow this wonderful, magical challenge to continue on.

I can certainly appreciate and understand how difficult it must be to manage the race weekend. I am in a near constant state of awe at how well run the event is. I cannot imagine the stress and planning that goes into pulling off something of this magnitude. But it is precisely this that brings so many runners back year after year in spite of ever increasing registration costs. The quality of the race makes it worth the price of admission, just like the parks themselves.

The Dopey Challenge is a unique event. Every time I tell someone who has not heard of it before their jaw hits the floor. It would be a terrible shame to see it disappear.

I have an additional motive here which is entirely personal. Right now I am a “Perfectly Dopey” runner. Yes, there have only been two, but given that I could never be in the perfect club for anything else, I fully intend to return every single year for as long as this challenge continues. There are over a thousand other runners who are in the same boat. I went so far as to purchase an annual pass purely to be able to register early and make sure I do not miss any year. If the Dopey Challenge were to end it’s very likely I would take a year off marathon weekend from time to time.

For many other runners, Dopey is something to aspire to. They are training, and training hard, to one day complete the challenge. Maybe in 2016, maybe beyond. I think a lot of people would be devastated if the chance were to pass them by.

I don’t know if the rumors are true. For all I know it was something a few cast members started spreading and it got out of hand. But if there is truth in this, or if it is even under consideration, I would ask that you please reconsider. I love the Dopey Challenge. It is an unparalleled event that sets runDisney head and shoulders over almost every other running organization. It is pricey, it is exhausting, and it is difficult for runners and organizers alike. But that is what makes the challenge worth it. I pay the entry fee happily. I wake up at 3am for a week happily. I look forward to this event more than anything else on my calendar. Please keep it going beyond the 2016 edition. Please allow this truly magical moment to continue to be experienced by veterans and newcomers alike.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Dopey Challenge 2015 Recap

Not that many years ago I was unable to run a single mile. I was out of shape and viewed physical fitness as a punishment. Over the years I gradually morphed into a runner. In 2011 I finished my first marathon at Walt Disney World. I have been back every year since. 2015 marks a milestone for me as this was marathon number 10.

WDW_Marathon_2015_Castle

With runDisney I went from running a marathon, to running the two day Goofy Challenge, to running the four day Dopey Challenge. This is the second year for the Dopey event, and I registered the moment I could to make sure I maintained a perfect streak. Here is a recap of my race weekend. Continue reading Dopey Challenge 2015 Recap

Preparing for Dopey – Strategy for a Multi-Day Race

One of the unique aspects of the Walt Disney World Marathon is the ability to take part in more than just one race. In fact, this year runDisney is celebrating the 10th running of the Goofy Challenge, which combines the half marathon on Saturday with the full marathon on Sunday. Last year they added a 5k on Thursday and a 10k on Friday to form the Dopey Challenge. The multi-day races have proven very popular and lots of runners will be taking part for the first time.

The most important advice I can give is that you cannot expect to run all four races at your normal speed. You will wear yourself out too soon. I did this in my first Goofy Challenge a few years ago. I went too fast in the half and paid dearly for it the next morning in the full. Due to an injury last year I wasn’t able to run any races at full speed, but this ended up working to my advantage, as I was much more comfortable in the full marathon than I would have otherwise been.

Here is my strategy for this year’s Dopey Challenge.

  • 5K – Run at almost normal pace. This race is short enough not to have any long lasting effects for the rest of the week. I will slow down if I feel I need to though, no pushing through for this one.
  • 10k – More of a jog than a run. I am thinking pull about a minute per mile off my normal pace for this distance. Maybe even more depending on how I feel that morning.
  • Half Marathon – This is the one to sacrifice. It is the day before the full marathon, and you will already be tired by this point. Do not run the half like a normal half. I will treat this as a run/walk, and most likely finish nearly an hour over my standard half marathon finish time. And that is fine. Seriously you can really ruin it here. A great strategy is to use the half marathon as your photo race. I will stop for many photos along the course. Since I am already sacrificing the race anyway, the extra time really doesn’t matter. This way I don’t need to lose time the next morning.
  • Marathon – Back to full speed and hopefully it all pays off. If not I may ride Everest again. If it’s open when I am passing it that means I am off pace anyway.

A general tip that I cannot emphasize enough is to sleep. These races start early. For most you will be getting up around 3am to get to the start on time. And get there on time. You don’t want the added stress of possibly not making it. If you are still on your way to Epcot after 4am you very well may be late. If it is after 5am it is almost assured.

The Disney races can get somewhat congested. In particular at the start line, through the Magic Kingdom, and definitely when exiting out the back of that park (the Mickey Miles Podcast refers to this part of the course as Cone Alley. It will make sense once you see it). Do not waste energy trying to zigzag around people here. You will end up spending way more energy than you should and it can easily come back to haunt you later. It will open up faster than you think, don’t worry.

Hydrate, especially if it is hot. A large portion of the course is on the highway in the sun (now you understand why this race is in January). Disney is pretty good about the water stations, but I would not skip many, if any.

Be sure to properly stretch after the race is over. Go to the medical area if you need to. It is massive and packed with volunteers. Almost as soon as you sit down someone will be attaching ice to you ankle, knee, or wherever you need it.

And most of all, enjoy the races. This is supposed to be fun after all.

Preparing for Dopey – What to Bring

Next week is Marathon Weekend at Walt Disney World. I will be there as always. If you are one of the tens of thousands of runners who will be taking part in the race next week, it’s time to start getting ready to head to Florida. A big question on any trip to Disney is what to pack, but more so for this event.

Weather is a big question, as it can be all over the place at this time of year. I have run races at WDW that range from below freezing to summer temperatures. Also keep in mind that the races start very, VERY early. You will be in the Epcot parking lot at 4am, so even if it is warm during the race, there may still be cold weather to contend with. It is a mistake, however, to dress for the morning. The temperature will rise as the race goes on, as will your own internal body temperature. The best strategy is to bring layers for the morning that you can discard at the start line. RunDisney collects clothes from the start line and donates them to local charities. Some people bring trash bags to wear at the start. The forecast currently shows temperatures in the 60s for next week so definitely shorts are the way to go.

While nutrition is available along the course of the longer races, it is still a good idea to bring your own GU Packets down as the nutrition stations on the course are rather far apart. Yes, you can buy them at the expo, but it will be cheaper to bring your own down.

I run with my phone, so I will be bringing my armband. I usually also pack a small camera to put in my runner’s belt. The phone is inconvenient for photo spots. If you plan to stop for photos along the course be sure to have a camera with you. Most photo spots have official race photographers there, but not all do.

If you are running a multi-day challenge, be sure to pack an outfit for each day. You will not be pleasant at the end if you reuse clothes.

And above all, Bodyglide.

Washington Heights 5K

Well after a few months of rest following my ankle sprain (not including a 48.6 mile four day event) I am finally back up to my normal running speed, more or less.

Today was the NYRR Washington Heights Salsa, Blues, and Shamrock 5K, née Coogan’s. It’s a rather large race for one that uses city streets rather than the park. And we did an almost Christie-esque job of ruining traffic on the George Washington Bridge. Apologies to my coworker whose commute I ruined this morning.

It’s a fun race but challenging in its M. C. Escher-like ability to seemingly go uphill both ways. Not my best 5K, or even my best for this course, but I still have injury weight to lose so here’s to hoping that 2014 will be a recovery and rejuvenation year.

5K Time: 30:29

New runDisney Race!

Disney just announced a new half marathon, themed to The Avengers, that will take place this November at Disneyland in California. I am not surprised to see this for two reasons. 1) They can’t do this in Florida due to Universal’s licensing of Marvel in that state. 2) Disneyland is in pretty desperate need of another race weekend, given that the Disneyland Half filled in a few hours this year. I don’t think I will make it out there for this one any time soon, but certainly something for the future.

It is very interesting to watch this explosion of races at the Disney Parks. They may end up giving NYRR a run for their money (pun intended on every level).

The Dopey Challenge

Disney World Marathon 2014-34Last year for Marathon Weekend I joked about having run the unofficial Dopey Challenge. Basically you took the Goofy Challenge and added in the 5K for a three day, 42.4 mile challenge. Well no joking this year, runDisney decided to take Dopey legit and premiere a whole new race in the process. For 2014, Marathon Weekend was extended by a day with the addition of the Walt Disney World 10K. This gave runners four possible distances to tackle – the 5K (3.1 miles) on Thursday morning, the 10K (6.2 miles) on Friday morning, the Half Marathon (13.1 miles) on Saturday morning, and the Marathon (26.2 miles) on Sunday morning. The Goofy Challenge remains as the combination of the half and full marathons. But if you wanted to be as, well, dopey as possible, the Dopey Challenge debuted as a four day, four race, 48.6 mile endurance event like no other.

So of course as soon as I heard that this was going to premier I jumped at the chance to sign up, which was a smart move. The Dopey Challenge filled to capacity (about 7000 runners) in about a week when it opened for registration last spring. In addition to Dopey, I had some family there running with me, albeit shorter distances. My mother joined me for the 5K, her first race, and my sister joined me for the 10K after having tackled the Half Marathon two years ago.

Here is a recap of the week from the eyes of a now four time veteran of Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, and, as of now, a Perfectly Dopey runner. Continue reading The Dopey Challenge

20 Years Running – The 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon

I am working on a Dopey Challenge recap article for this year, but I realized I never posted last year’s marathon article from WDWNT to my blog. So here it is. Just remember this is 2013, if you are confused by the “unofficial” Dopey. Here you go:

The special Mile 20 marker.
The special Mile 20 marker.

When the Walt Disney World Marathon was first run in 1994, a few thousand runners took part. This year, for the 20th running of the race, over 20,000 took part in the 26.2 mile run. Not to mention the other 40,000 or so participants who participated in the weekend’s other activities, such as the Walt Disney World Half Marathon, the Disney Family 5K, and the Kid’s Races. As the sport of running has gone mainstream, the runDisney events have become some of the most popular on the Disney Parks calendar.

2013Medals

My first Disney marathon (and my first marathon ever for that matter) was the 2011 Walt Disney World Marathon. Last year I stepped it up and ran my first Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge. The Goofy, for those who may not be aware, is comprised of both the Walt Disney World Half Marathon AND the Walt Disney World Marathon. That is a combined 39.3 miles over the course of two very early mornings. This year I went one step further, and ran my first “Dopey” challenge. Unlike the Goofy, the “Dopey” is not an official event. But every year several thousand Goofy runners add the Disney Family 5K to the weekend’s events, completing a 42.4 mile weekend. Continue reading 20 Years Running – The 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon