Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Product Review: Races2Remember Pace Bands

From time to time, I'm going to offer up a review of a product that I use while running.  Obviously, my opinion doesn't really matter that much.... but I figure someone out there might want to hear a real person's actual experiences with some products, particularly when there are usually several, and often dozens of options for you to chose from for every conceivable product category.  These reviews will necessarily be few and far between, since I don't have tons of money to buy and test everything that comes out (at least until companies start realizing that I am witty, insightful, funny, and just an all-around great guy and start giving me test models of their products... Garmin, I'm looking in your direction... Vibram too... Newton shoes, don't think I don't see you over there)

Anyway, the first product that I wanted to review was a product that I didn't even know existed until last summer... the pace band.  (Continued After the Jump)

Obviously, experienced marathoners out there know all about pace bands, and probably have their own opinions on what pace band works best.  At least one running blogger had spent considerable time looking at several options for printing your own pace band.  For the Walt Disney World Half Marathon, I decided to splurge a bit and buy a commercial pace band (rather than print out my own and then figure out how to water proof it).  I did a bit of research and decided on the Races2Remember Smart Pace Band.

For those of you who aren't familiar, a pace band breaks down a long race (usually the half marathon or full marathon) into the individual mile splits that you should achieve in order to meet your goal time.  For example, as you can see in the picture above, the Races2Remember bands show a target split for each mile (the middle column on the band), plus an overall time that your watch should show at each mile (the upper or right-most column on the band).  (In a bit, I'll explain why the splits for each mile in my bands above are not even splits and why they jump around a bit).

The primary difference between the Races2Remember (R2R) Band and one you print yourself are (1) the R2R band is made from waterproof and tearproof paper (or so they claim); and (2) the R2R band is (generally) easier to read (thanks to the bold color printing).  (Races2Remember has also just recently come out with an Extra Large version that is easier to read.  The XL version was not available when I ran Disney, but I will try out an XL band for my upcoming Lincoln Half Marathon and update this review accordingly.)

One other (totally awesome) feature of the R2R band is the ability to create a "SmartBand" that is customized to the race that you are running.  The people at Races2Remember have compiled a catalog of race courses and elevation charts and can customize the pace band to allow for slower splits in miles where there are uphill portions and faster splits in miles where there are downhill portions, and averaging the rest of the miles out so that you can hit your goal.  For example, for the Disney World Half Marathon, the only real "hills" are some overpasses in miles 10 and 11.  If you look at my picture above, you will see that the target splits for miles 10 and 11 are slower than miles 7, 8, and 9 to reflect this (the slower target splits for miles 12 and 13 are because of the pacing strategy I selected, which I will discuss a bit below).

The SmartPace option is a very cool feature of the R2R bands: when you are trudging up a hill in your race and feel your race slipping away, you can look at your band and see "hey, this slow down is built into my strategy," so you don't try to do something stupid (like scrap your whole race, or worse pick up the pace over a huge hill just to get an "even" split).  I imagine the SmartPace feature is even more beneficial over a full marathon, where you have many more miles to strategize over.

Finally, the Races2Remember people also allow you to pick your pacing strategy.  If you believe that totally even splits are the only way to go, just pick "Even Pace," and the band will reflect each mile being exactly 1/26th (actually  1/26.2th) of your goal (for the Full Marathon) or 1/13.1th (for the Half).

Is the "Negative Split" (e.g., faster in the second half of the race) more your style?  They have that option too (currently defaulted at + 3 sec/mile over goal pace for the first half and -3 sec/mile for the Half Marathon, and around +2 sec/mile over goal and -2 sec/mile under for the second half for a Full Marathon).

They also have two "Warm Up" strategies that start out considerably slower than goal pace, then gradually increase the pace to above goal (to make up for the lost time in the first few miles), then gradually slide back down to goal pace. 

For Disney, I used the "Modified Warm Up" for the Half, which started out at 15 sec/mile slower than goal pace, than 5 sec/mile slower than goal pace, than at goal pace, then a few miles of 5 sec/mile faster than goal pace, then a few miles at goal pace, then the last couple miles at 5 sec/mile slower than goal pace.  When I finally run the TC Marathon in October, I will probably try the "Warm Up" option, which starts out even slower (the marathon band starts out at a full minute slower than goal pace).

Or, if you have your own strategy that works for you, they have a "Custom" option that allows you to chose your own pacing strategy, and it will tell you how far behind or ahead of your goal you are, and will allow you to make adjustments to any mile.  Say, for example, you had a Half Marathon coming up and you wanted to hit 2 hours exactly, but you knew you needed two miles at about 30 seconds/mile slower than goal to warm up, plus a "transition mile" at 15 seconds/mile slower than goal.

As you can see, the handy "Custom" chart shows you that you are now 75 seconds behind your goal time.  You decide that you want to start making that up in mile 6 with a 5 second pickup, and then 10 second pickups for the remaining miles until you've made it up.

As you can see, this allows you to finish strong (but with a slight break in the last 0.1 miles).  Pretty cool, huh?

I HIGHLY recommend the Races2Remember Pace Bands.  First off, the quality is excellent.  I actually wore both Pace Bands that you see at the top of this post (the 1:58 band was on my left wrist right by my Garmin
and the 1:56 band was on my right wrist... so that I could have my main goal (1:58) and my A goal handy), and both bands held up during the entire race, even though I sweat pretty profusely and spilled water on one of them at a water stop.  The picture at the top of the post was actually taken after the race, so you can see that they are still in perfect condition.

Second, they are very legible (particularly now that they have the XL versions, which are wider with bigger writing).  It was very easy to consult the band during the race and see how I was doing.  At each mile, I could also see whether I was ahead or behind my goal by comparing the overall time that my Garmin showed to the "Total" column on the band.

Third, the ability to select any pacing strategy you want without having to really think about it is very slick.

Fourth, the SmartBand concept is really awesome, especially if you haven't run the particular race route that you are using the band for.  When I ran the Disney Half, I had read some course descriptions, and I'd heard about the overpasses in miles 10 and 11, but other than that, I had no idea where the "difficult" parts of the course were and where the "easy" parts were (Note: there aren't really any "difficult" parts.  Even the overpasses are much more gradual than I thought they'd be).  But, the SmartBand had built in a couple miles where there must have been some slight uphills, and some other miles that were more downhill.  I didn't even have to think where I would get my speedier miles.  There was still plenty of chances to do some on the fly strategy (like when it became apparent that I might be able to abandon my 1:58 goal and go for a faster one)... but to have an overall plan automatically laid out for me was awesome (particularly since I'm fairly inexperienced in long-distance racing).

Finally, when you order the Races2Remember band, you actually get three different bands printed... or two bands if you select the new XL option (for only $7.50, which honestly feels like a steel to me).  This allows you to pick a primary goal, an A goal (kind of like a "if everything goes great" goal), and an A+ goal (or "wow, I felt like angels were carrying me along the course" goal) so that you chose which band (or bands) to wear on race day based on how you're feeling (shipping takes a few days, although that is also pretty speedy, so you will want to order a week or two in advance of your race).  If you're absolutely sure of what your goal will be for this race, you can just print out two more bands with faster goals that you can use for future races... or you can print out three of the same band and give them to your cheering section so that they can know when to expect you at a particular mile marker.

Phew... that was a pretty long-winded write up for a piece of plastic-covered paper... but I really liked this product, and I will definitely be using them again.

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