Running the Brighton Marathon with an Apple Watch

For him or for everyone

There was an experiment I heard about once where a scientist in the 19th century invented a pair of glasses that literally turned your world upside down when you wore them.. The inventor wore them permanently over a week or so and the world looked upside down to him, but amazingly after four days his brain worked it out and things started looking normal again even though the glasses were on. The kicker was when he eventually took them off the world went upside down again for a few days even though he wasn’t wearing the glasses anymore.  

When I told my youngest daughter this she said: “wait, for him or for everyone”.  Which just goes to prove that (even if the results of the experiment can’t be repeated and aren’t exactly true) there are many ways to look at the world, especially if you are a 15-year-old girl.

So the Brighton Marathon I did this weekend was not a massive focus for me, don’t get me wrong I was apprehensive, any 26-mile run is a major undertaking, but I wasn’t running for a cause or training specifically for this event.  Rather this was meant to be a fun event with my older daughter.

And my older daughter had her own perspective on the event which included doing minimal training or prep (though to be fair she works extremely hard with long hours as an Assistant Director at the BBC, and parties just as hard in London by all accounts)

So while at the start line neither of us were quite sure how this would turn out. 

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But this was also an opportunity to try Apple Watch for a long event 

Spoiler : there are some disappointments here.

Well one main one really - Apple Watch didn’t last the 5hrs 25 minutes I was out in the course (oh and also the fact that I was out on the course for over 5hrs would be another)

Could I make the battery last? 

i was concerned about battery life, I knew we would be taking it fairly easily, that was the plan, so I decided to use an external BT heart rate monitor to extend the life a bit.  I used a Wahoo Tickr Fit. 

i also thought the easiest way to ensure the Watch was using this monitor and not the built in one would be to turn on “Power Saving Mode” for workouts.  Unfortunately when you do this you lose the ability to even display the HR in the Workout app metrics, even though other apps (such as the Heart app) happily can show your heart rate from your external monitor.  That’s frustrating. 

This was tricky and I’m still not sure if it worked 

Since I wanted to use the standard Apple Workout app but also like to run with my HR on display I decided to not use the low power option but instead manually turned off mobile data on the watch and connect the BT HR monitor and trust it was been used instead of the built in one.  Unfortunately there is no indicator on Apple Watch to show you which HR monitor is in use, and I tried to look at Settings > Bluetooth while running and it seemed to show the Wahoo Band was not connected so I had to tap it to connect again - so I have really no idea if this was working consistently or not.

Should I take IPhone?

i was not keen on taking my iPhone on the run because I believe in the dream of an Apple Watch that can live by iteslf, so I left that in my wife’s bag.   That may have been a mistake - many people of course have their phones with them in belts and armstraps during a marathon, you can hear their app speaking their stats as you run next to them, and having iPhone tucked away somewhere with Apple Watch connected would have meant the battery would have lastest long enough for the run I believe (Because the GPS is taken from IPhone instead of Apple Watch)

Panic Battery Charger

At the last moment I panicked a little and grabbed this battery charger, reasoning that I could strap the Watch to the battery while running and get a bit extra life if needed.   This would have worked for the last 5k when I got a low battery warning (10%) apart from the following:

  • I hadn't turned off Wrist Detection in Settings > Passcode.  This means as soon as the battery is on the charger it constantly prompts for a passcode to view the screen which is pretty hard to enter on the run. 
  • I hadn't realised that the Workout app automatically enters Pause mode when you remove Apple Watch from the wrist and put it on a charger.  You have to tap to resume.

So as I got the low battery warning I pulled out the charger took off Apple Watch and stretched the sport band around the battery (It fits quite nicely).  I thought I'd just hold the battery with Apple Watch attached and look at it, but of course the Passcode kept displaying, and I didn't have the gumption to try and enter it in.  Moreover the Workout app was also now paused so nothing was being logged.  

I compounded this error at the finish line where I tapped in the passcode, realised the Workout app was paused, but rather than resuming for a second or two so at least it would get a GPS location and something like the correct distance (I think), I just stopped the workout.  This means I had the correct time recorded (which matched the chip time), but the wrong distance 38.34km instead on 42.1 for the full marathon. *sigh*

Using Mobile Data

For the majority of the time I had Mobile Data turned off on the watch.  However it was super useful to be able to turn it on at times when I wanted to touch base with my wife (at the start and finish line primarily).  It wasn't needed for tracking since she could track us using the marathon app and the transponders which updated every km, though if you could leave Mobile Data on the tracking would be much better using the Find Friends app (Sadly that would kill battery live too much though)  Making a call on Apple Watch at the finish to arrange where to meet was great.

So how was the actual run?

Although my pace was slower than I expected, it was mostly an enjoyable event starting through the streets of Brighton, up and down the coast, and with a great party atmosphere.  

 Lovely running along the coast with great views for a large part of the course.

Lovely running along the coast with great views for a large part of the course.

The only place where it started to feel tough was at 20 miles or so when the wind and the rain came down heavy while running through an industrial area with no supporters cheering you on - definately the business end of the run!

 The less glamorous business end of the Brighton Marathon running between storage units at 20 miles in the wind and the rain

The less glamorous business end of the Brighton Marathon running between storage units at 20 miles in the wind and the rain

But overall a great event, with superb organisation and 12,500 runners!

Lessons Learnt

In terms of using Apple Watch for a long run (over 5 hours) I would suggest the following:

  • If you are happy to do so then take iPhone with you in a pouch, pocket or armstrap.  It will increase battery life (by about an hour from my previous tests)
  • Turn off mobile data and just flick it back on (by swiping up from the watch face) when needed for communication.
  • I'm less convinced about the external HR strap because of the reasons given above, and I probably won't bother on my next long run to see how it affects things.
  • Taking a portable battery like the one linked above and by using a Sports Loop strap you could extend the battery life.  It's a bit of a last resort, and certainly not ideal, but is manageable as long as you follow these steps:
    • Make sure you turn off Wrist Detection in settings > passcode (note this also turn's off "Unlock with iPhone" on Apple Watch, and "Allow Apple Watch to unlock your Mac" on your Mac)
    • Use an external HR monitor to keep tracking your heart rate
    • Remember to resume the run when you start charging (because it will auto-pause).  
    • Turn off the "Bedside Mode" in Settings > General if you have that on.

Recommendations

For my next long run I will be taking iPhone with me - that solves the battery worries in the easiest way.  That's fine for training runs and running events in general (at least the type I do).

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For the triathlons, things aren't so easy - even if you are allowed to (you aren't in an IronMan) do you want to leave your iPhone in transition by your bike? I have done it before, but I'm not comfortable with it.  (I have considered using a smaller iPhone SE for this instead of my normal iPhone X, but it's not possible to have one Apple Watch connected to two iPhone's so that becomes PITA as well as a considerable expense). 

If I charge Apple Watch on the bike, and run faster (!) then I should be golden, otherwise I am going to take the charger on the run too, which is not a problem as long as it is set up as above.  That charger will last at least 3 or 4 full watch charges so it would have no problem charging on the bike and the run as needed.

So my current plan for IronMan Wales is:

  • Wear the watch in the swim as normal but with the Wahoo Tickr Fit under my wet suit and the watch on top of it.
  • On the bike I'll strap the watch around the charger and put it in my jersey pocket so it will log and charge at the same time.   I'll most likely use a Wahoo Elemnt Bolt mounted  on my bars so I can see power on the bike (there's no way to connect to power meters with Apple Watch standalone that I have found as yet, you need iPhone to do it.  watchOS 5 may improve this.)
  • For the Run I'll put the watch back on my wrist but keep the charger in a jersey pocket on my tri suit and if needed charge it halfway round on the run.

But back to running, there are things that could certainly be improved.

Things that could be improved in Apple Watch for Long Runs.

As far as the Apple Workout app is concerned:

  • Have a clear indication on Apple Watch to show you if you have an external HR strap in use or not.
  • Allow the Heart Rate metric to be shown in the Workout app when using an external HR strap (why not?)
  • Don't pause the Workout app if you put Apple Watch on charge (I can see the logic for this, but it's not helpful if you need to charge Apple Watch on a long workout because the battery doesn't last)
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And for third party apps:

  • Developers - create a Run Event focussed app: It would be great to have a Watch app focussed just on running an event - forget training, and fancy videos, or other features, just keep it simple:  give me a simple configurable display for metrics, alerts to keep me on track for HR and Pace (Incredibly I have not been able to find this feature yet on a standalone Apple Watch app as yet) and show me my external HR is attached with a little icon.  Make sure the data gets properly logged into the Health app!

But the real solution is:

Ultimately what we really need is better battery life for workouts for Apple Watch.  There are rumours of increase battery life in Apple Watch Series 4 which you could expect in Sept this year, and I have no reason to doubt that since Apple have improved it with each series so far.  FIngers crossed.

Any questions let me know in comments. 

Cheers

Ian