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It’s Trekkin’ Season!

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For those of us up here in the Green Mountains, we’re finally just starting to find Spring popping up all around.  While today’s blustery winds brought a mix of snow and rain and there are still small heaps of ice and snow coating the wetlands behind my house, the flocks of birds at the bird feeder and blooming crocuses in my front yard let me know the end is near.

We had a long winter this year and some unusual thaw and freeze patterns.  That mixed with the recent floods and thunderstorms has done some real damage to my most trekked trail along the Mad River.  While I was sad to see the downed limbs, broken branches and layers of debris spread along the almost-washed-out path, I couldn’t fight back the urge to come out of my cocoon and get my butt back outside!  It’s not surprising that it was just about a year ago when I started barefoot running.  Today, I received my second pair of Vibram’s in the mail.  It’s true, I’m hooked.  This time I picked up a shiny pair of the new Vibram Fivefingers Treksports.

My KSO’s are holding up beautifully, despite all the running, swimming and hiking I put them through last year.  However, there were several reasons why the Treksports lured me in.  I recently started working with a personal trainer.  Naturally, I brought my KSO’s with me.  The first day, I took her spinning class prior to my personal training intake and I immediately regretted my decision.  The pedal of the bike I was on rode right on my arches, the softest most vulnerable part of the foot (aside from, perhaps, in between the toes).  I was visibly in pain,  My trainer moved me to another bike with a wider pedal, which helped, but overall I found the KSOs were just not the right choice.

My main reason for seeking personal training right now is that I have some big plans in mind for my summer.  Now that the weather is warming up I’m just itching to be outdoors as much as possible and I really want to push myself this year.  Running was fun, but I’m not necessarily looking to run as much this year.  I’m thinking of trying climbing and taking on more adventurous hikes.  I also need a shoe that can continue to play with me while I kayak, canoe, and splash around in Vermont’s rivers and lakes.

While the KSO’s did a fine job of keeping up with my water-bound activities last year, the Treksport’s plated midsoles and lightly cleated outsole really appealed to me.  I never fully felt comfortable using my KSO’s on adventurous hikes because of those few moments of stabbing pain on my arches when I hit a rock at the wrong angle, and the fact that I slipped quite a bit in mud.  For running, they were perfect.  For hiking, they just weren’t beefy enough.  However, the kangaroo leather upper on the KSO Treks didn’t jive well with my love for water or my being slightly put-off by wearing kangaroo hide on my feet.

So, on to the part you’re probably most interested in: a picture comparison. Disclaimer: keep in mind my KSOs are a bit worn.

The first time I slipped the Treksports on I definitely felt they had more continuity, but I still felt a firm connection with the ground and easy articulation.  My first test was to wrap my arches around a pointy piece of wood and the plated arch definitely works!  More on that later.

Let’s start by talking about the posterior difference:

As you can see, the Treksport have some padding around the Achilles.  This triangle-shaped pillow rises from the heel and makes the heel look wider than the KSOs in this picture, but when worn it hugs the heel nicely and provides additional stability.  Both feature the same strap design and both have a loop on the rear.

From the front there are some fun differences.  The Treksport toes have additional texture to them and the tips of the toes are reinforced:

While I haven’t experienced this with my KSOs, several folks online have complained that their non-reinforced toe Fivefinger shoes show signs of wear and ripping on the tops of the toes.  In the champagne color Treksports, the reinforced toes are clear and shiny.  I’ve read other reviews that the dark colored models have black reinforcing.  Regardless of the color, this is an important feature for those of us who really want to put our Vibrams through its paces.

Laterally, there isn’t a huge difference between the KSO and the Treksport with the exception that the Treksport sits a bit higher on its cleated sole.  It also appears that the outside rubber comes up just a hair higher on the Treksport.

Medially, there’s a noticeable difference between the two.  The KSOs actually have greater coverage on the medial part of the sole which causes the Treksport to appear to curve more at the arch.  While I haven’t played around with these enough to know yet, it does appear that the Treksports have more arch support whereas the KSOs are fairly flat with just a mild curve for the arch.

Now here’s the real money shot:

Oh, let’s see that up close!

The biggest visible difference between the KSO and the Treksport is the sole.  While my KSOs are a bit worn, the texture on the bottom of the KSOs are minimal.  The Treksport has noticeable grooves and mild cleats to provide better traction and grip in various terrain.  I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t want the Treksport if I was new to barefoot running.  “Real” barefoot runners already poo-poo us Fivefinger folks, and the Treksports push that line further.  Yes, it’s still much less padding than a sneaker and one can certainly run in them, but it wouldn’t be my choice.

However, with the additional grip and the reinforced arch I will definitely feel more comfortable trying the Treksports out in environments I shied away from with my KSOs.  One other thing to note is that the midsole is much thinner on the Treksport.  I have narrow feet and after walking around in these for a while I felt no discomfort or insecurities.  If you have wide feet you might want to really try them out in a store before making the investment.  I’ve only read positive reviews on the midsole width so far, but it’s something to take note of.

I’m super-stoked to take my new Fivefingers out for a ride!  Now that I’ve come out of winter hibernation, expect to hear more of my Treksport adventures!  Let’s hope they can keep up with me. 😉

Oh, and for those of you who are only here for the dog stories, here’s Toby and his new buddy, Charlie, enjoying some VT April showers.  Seriously, this white death falling from the sky has got to stop!

Feet at Play

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I apologize for falling off the face of the Earth for the past month.  Work got intense there for a bit and then I took a much needed vacation.  Luckily, despite my fingers not getting their blogging workout, my feet have been rocking the Vibrams in all sorts of fun adventures.  While I’ve continued to run I have cut down to only one day a week for now.  Much to my acupuncturists delight, but my chagrin, I’m no longer having any issues with my left foot so the new schedule appears to be helping that, but I plan to start alternating running twice a week every other week.  Luckily, I’ve had plenty of physical things to do and with the addition of a FREE bowflex to my basement I’ve been working on strength training once again.  This came in very handy on my vacation!

A Wet Dog Is A Happy Dog

There’s Toby, working on his favorite summer activities; swimming and stick retrieval.  I’ve been on several quests this summer and a big one has been checking out local swimming holes.  The above picture shows Toby at Swain Pond in Maine, which unfortunately wasn’t fit for human swimming, but Toby had a blast and I enjoyed canoeing around with him in tow.  Quick funny fact: while Toby enjoys kayaking, he is adamantly against getting into a canoe.  Even after I bribed him with cookies and sat with him in the canoe on land (all the “get your dog to boat with you” techniques), he still freaked out as soon as I tried to start paddling.  Instead, he chose to follow me on land or by swimming next to the canoe.  On some of the lakes this meant he got quite the workout.  Luckily, he had his lifejacket on at all times so if he got tuckered out mid-lake he wouldn’t drown and I was prepared to hold him while paddling if necessary.

Last year, I bought a pair of Keene Venice H20’s, which I really love.  I went swimming with them here in Vermont and in Aruba where I swam in rocky waters.  They were good, but after doing some side-by-side comparisons with the Vibram KSO’s there’s really no competition; the Vibrams win.  I find walking on moss-covered rocks in the Keenes can be quite the challenge, as their hard solid sole is inflexible so the surface area that I could grip the rocks with is slim.  This meant quite a bit of slipping and sliding and at one point I slipped off a rock and ended up with my foot wedged between a couple rocks underwater.  Luckily, I didn’t twist when I fell because I could have easily broken or sprained my ankle.

The Vibrams, on the other hand, still offer enough protection so when I’m walking on rocks or sharp objects it doesn’t feel painful (though I do feel it more than with the Keenes), but since I can contort my foot to the rocks I’m climbing on I find it’s much easier to get a good grip, keep my balance and have more accurate proprioception.  Granted, both the Vibram and the Keene sole are a little slippery, but I feel much more confident in my Vibrams.

The other detail with the Vibram KSOs is the mesh top.  With the Keenes, the toe is covered but anything that gets into the shoes from the top strappy-area just falls into the toes so when I wear the Keenes I find myself regularly slipping them off to shake out the debris that’s collected in them.  With the Vibrams, the only thing that slips through the mesh top is sand and small pieces of dirt which I usually don’t notice while I have the shoes on and once the shoes are dry it’s pretty easy to shake them out.  Overall, I feel more protected in the Vibrams and have been happily swimming with them all summer.

My vacation was all about fishing!  I canoed and fished in Maine and both canoed and shore-fished in Vermont.  I have to say that once again the Vibrams were super-awesome for boating and wading in the water.  I wore my Keenes one day and noticed when going from the water into the canoe they drag a good amount of water with them.  The Vibrams are easier to shake off before stepping into the canoe and since they’re so form-fitting there was no real way for them to add much water to the boat.  There’s also just a huge fun-factor to standing in water with a fishing pole and feeling barefoot, but knowing there’s protection if I were to step on any hazards under the water.

In the past week alone I’ve climbed over piles of rocks, balanced on logs, tip-toed around beaver nests and beat my labrador in a couple water-bound stick chases.  My feet are happy and playful and my body is reaping the benefits of all this outdoor fun!  Just thinking about it makes me want to hop in the car and head back out to Eligo Lake with my fishing pole.  Well, it is Labor Day, I think I’ll just do that!

Monday brought an unusually long and grueling workday so I missed my lunchtime run.  By the time I got out I was really itching for some relief so I took Toby to The Stowe Quiet Path for an evening jaunt.  With sunny skies and mild temps I couldn’t be happier that I did!

I’ve been working on speed for the past several weeks and have stuck to a routine on the Mad River Path.  It had been months since I ran in Stowe and I decided to just run for fun and not focus on the Fartlek routine I’d been working on.  The path is beautiful this time of year with mature corn fields surrounded by views of the green mountains.  It made the run organic and gave me plenty of things to take my mind off the work.

I did notice that my stamina is not what it was when I finished Couch-2-5K.  By the end of those nine weeks I was running three miles at a time regularly.  Since then I’ve been doing a 1.6 mile routine that’s mixed between sprinting and walking so I haven’t done much continuous running.  I did notice that my speed work payed off, as my natural stride is wider, I stand taller and I definitely moved faster comfortably.  Unfortunately, I did get tired easier and in the last third of the run I really had to give myself a pep talk to keep going.

My reward was cooling off in the river, though honestly the river that runs through the Quiet Path has nothing on the Mad River.  Still, it was a refreshing end to the workout and by the time I left my head was definitely wiped clean of the long day at work.

My foot is still not 100% and I’ve cut my running down to 1-2 days per week.  To compensate, I’ve begun strength training again and am happy to report that the Vibram’s are great during a workout on my new (free!) Bowflex.  I was able to use my normal Joyce Vedral workout techniques adapted for the Bowflex and got a killer workout in.  I’m curious to see how the balance of strength training and running will create changes in my body and my mood.

How about you?  How do you balance your workouts during the week?

Vibram Takes Me Where I Want To Go

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It seems like the last two weeks really flew by and I apologize for the lack of an entry last weekend.  I have an admission that I’ll just get off my chest right off the bat; part of why I didn’t write last weekend was that I ended up not running during the crazy heat wave we had in VT.  With temps into the 100’s and incredibly heavy humidity it wasn’t exactly appealing.  When that was mixed with a holiday and then family in town I let the excuses pile up and I decided to find alternate sources of activity for the week.

It’s easy to make excuses.  I was reminded of the new Nike commercial, “No Excuses”.  I’m sure we can all relate:

However, my week was not a bust.  I had a full practice of massage clients and I swam almost every day.  The highlight of the week was hiking to Cady’s Falls with my pup.  Cady’s Falls is a natural waterfall and river carved out of a rock formation in Morrisville, my home town.  I had heard about it but kept looking in the wrong places (though that did help me find a nice swimming hole on the Lamoille River).  The hike was gorgeous.  The first quarter mile the path is surrounded by raspberry bushes and I snacked as I walked towards the river.  I learned later that I could have walked down the river to get to the waterfall, which would have been far less challenging than the road I chose.

I veered left up a path and headed on a steep hike upwards.  I ended up crossing paths with a couple who told me I was headed in the right direction so I kept going until I found the waterfall…and I was above it.  Two men swam below and, despite the loud wooshing sounds of the falls, I could hear one say, “Look, she’s up there!”  Obviously, I had not taken the “standard” path to get to the falls; though the path was well-traveled enough that I don’t really get points for originality.

After casing things out I stashed my belongings behind a rock above the falls and I slowly scooted myself down slippery rocks at the edge of the falls.  Since I didn’t risk bringing electronics down with me, I have no pictures of the beauty, but it really was a sight.  The base of the falls opened up to a deep swimming area that was almost ice-cold; much colder than the rivers I’d been swimming in.  However, given the heat and humidity it felt so good!

Toby ended up jumping down the falls.  I didn’t get to witness this but the reaction of the two men who saw him jump was pretty stellar.  We played around for a while and then I started scoping out the banks of the river to see how we could get back up.  That’s when I realized there was no safe way up.  We’d have to go back the way we came which meant climbing up the waterfall.

My Vibram Fivefingers were such an asset on this venture.  I definitely took my time, but I had no problem scaling the rocks back up to the top of the falls.  Toby, on the other hand, took some coaxing.  He was scared, and I was nervous that he might get hurt but I wanted to let him try it before hiking down and rescuing him.  I stood at the top of the falls and called to him.  He anxiously ran all around trying to find another way up until he came to the same conclusion I did.  I could see when he made the decision to try to climb up the falls, it took all his puppy courage.  He did a great job climbing up the rocks and only had one paw slip.  My dog is awesome!

Truthfully, I don’t think he would have been able to do it if I hadn’t been running with him and building up his strength in the past few month.  To be honest, I don’t know if I would have either.  Running has brought me confidence in areas that yoga, weigh lifting and aerobics have not.  Running encourages me to be adventurous and that sense of adventure crosses over into my hiking and swimming experiences.  I feel not only in shape and physically strong, but I feel a strong mind-body connection and an organic push to be in motion.

Wow, I’ve yammered on so much that I barely have time to write about the running I actually did this week.  While many Vermonters are still complaining that we’re in a heat wave, as soon as the temps dipped back into the 80’s I was ready to hit the trail and I was back on schedule for this whole week.

Monday’s run was such a relief.  I thought getting back on the trail for the first day might seem arduous but it was anything but.  As soon as I started my first sprint through the field I realized how much I missed it.  The runs were some of my fastest, but the speed-walking parts were slow as the raspberries and blackberries along the path are ripe and I just had to steal a few bites.  By the time I finished I was covered in sweat and Toby and I jumped right into the river which was warm and wonderful.  I just floated there for a while and let the current take me.  Have I mentioned just how much I love Vermont this time of year?

Friday was less amazing but still fun.  It was extremely humid and I thought I was timing my run perfectly to be out during a downpour.  Unfortunately, while I managed to stretch during the downpour, it really turned into a sprinkling while I ran so it was not the nice relieving feeling I was looking for.  I also had to forgo my swim as I had an unusually high workload for a Friday.  Oh well, I’ll certainly be swimming today and I’ll be back on the trail again tomorrow!

I’m going to risk the tl;dr labeling and add one more soapbox paragraph.  The only really discouraging thing about my explorations of Cady’s Falls and my Friday run was running into litter.  Cady’s Falls had empty beer bottles and soda cans strewn about (I’m definitely bringing a trash bag with me next time I head there).  Yesterday began an event on the Mad River Path called “Story Walk”.  It’s a really cute concept in which pages of a children’s book are laminated and posted on the path so as you walk you can read the story.  Good to promote reading and exercise, I love the idea!  I’m not 100% sure this was related, but along the parts of the path that had the story there was a ton of silver glitter littered all over the path.  I was shocked.  Who the hell would pour non-biodegratable shards of reflective plastic all along the path?!  Anyone who’s been to a rave knows how freaking hard it is to clean glitter off of anything, let alone an outdoor trail!  I’m planning on complaining to the town (something I rarely do, but this really bothers me) and I encourage anyone else who uses and enjoys The Mad River Path to do the same.

Happy running, swimming, hiking, jumping and anything else fun and outdoorsy you’re up to this week!  Yay, summer!

Running, Swimming and Loving This Vermont Summer!

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Friday brought gorgeous sun and relatively mild temps to the Mad River Valley.  I chose to run after work and while the humidity was slightly higher than I would have liked, it was a night-and-day difference from my Amazon-esque experience on Monday.

My biggest roadblock in this run was shear exhaustion from working a double-shift the day/night before for a server upgrade.  I was running (literally) on about four hours of sleep and for a Friday it was a pretty darn busy workday.  Despite the grogginess, my run was pretty awesome.  The path was busier than usual but I was joined by a few other people running with their dogs and Toby made plenty of new buddies on our journey.

The river was almost back to normal and I took a better comparison shot (both with the iPhone).  Keep in mind that the river can get 2-4′ lower than where it is, but when you consider that the two pics were only taken four days apart it’s pretty amazing (click for bigger image).  I’d also like to give a quick shout-out to RunKeeper‘s Pro App, which has the ability to take pictures right from within the app, which are then automatically added to the activity map and transferred to the RunKeeper website.  I love this feature!

Aside from the run, I had two awesome experiences with my Vibram Fivefinger KSOs this weekend.  I headed to Jeffersonville both Saturday and Sunday to swim in one of the gorgeous swimming holes along the Lamoille River.  Saturday I decided to adventure through Cambridge after my acupuncture appointment; mostly to avoid going back through Stowe Village which was swamped with tourists for the holiday, but also so I could pick up some Brown and Jenkin’s coffee and Boyden Valley Rhubarb Wine.  I had two goals in mind: find a cute random place to eat and a nice place where Toby and I could swim.  I believe I found both:

Sunrise Cafe served me Vermont sausage/cheddar/apple crepes with latkes and fresh fruit as Toby and I sat outside gazing at the mountains.

Lamoille River Swimming Hole in Jeffersonville, VT

As you can see from the picture above, Toby and I chose an area of the swimming hole that was mostly all rock.  To the right of us was a more populated swimming hole/portage area with a real parking lot.  Given the heat and the holiday weekend it was full of a mix of tourists and locals dragging in their kayaks and canoes.  I felt pretty smart finding a pull-off just upstream of the main area; while I was still fairly close to the action, the portage was blocked from sight by a bend in the river and everyone was headed with the current in the opposite direction.  It left me feeling like I was on a private stretch of this gorgeous river.

The reason my little swimming area was practically abandoned is that to get to the river one has to maneuver some semi-steep and uneven rocks.  I wouldn’t call it challenging, but it was important to be sure-footed (as a friend of mine found out the next day when she totally bit it climbing down).  My Vibrams were perfect for the occasion.  I felt like I had a nice firm grip on the rocks and it made walking around the riverbed easy and smooth.

A quick note on the picture above: that rock that Toby is standing on is perfect for diving.  It jets at least 12′ into the water; as Toby discovered when he fell in the first time.  It also happened to be a great sitting rock as it’s recliner-shaped.  I hung out there for quite a while with my legs dangling into the water.  While it wasn’t quite as awesome as our Sunday excursion, lying in tubes on the river for two hours, it was still pretty darn awesome.

I hope you all had a good Independence Day or Canada Day (or just a good weekend for those not celebrating).  I’m enjoying one more holiday day off and then will be getting back on a trail either tomorrow or Wednesday.  We’re getting unseasonably warm temperatures in Vermont for the next few days (90-95ºF) so it’s really going to take some motivation to get out there but I can do it!  That means you can too. 😛

Amazon Warrior

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Wowza, what an adventure!  My run on Monday was more like a run through an Amazon jungle than a trail-run in Vermont.  Sunday night brought torrential downpours to the Mad River Valley that continued through Monday morning.  Honestly, given the high heat and unbearable humidity I was really hoping the rain would hold up and shower me during the run.  However, by the time I set out around 12:30 the skies had turned rust-colored and sun was hazily spreading across the sky.

I’ve complained about humidity often in the past few weeks, but please believe me when I say this was the worst it’s been so far.  It reminded me of the first time I went to St. Maarten, one late April, which I later learned is off-season due to the egregious humidity and lack of a cooling breeze.  The ground was still sopping wet when I headed out, so at least I had a cooling sensation on my feet to break up some of the wet-hot air.

As I set out, I couldn’t believe how slippery the ground underneath me was.  I slipped and slid on mud as I speed-walked, almost biting it a few times.  However, I was quite proud of myself for not sliding around at all when it came to running.  I’ve mentioned previously that early in my running research I found a blog where a barefoot runner compared proper barefoot form to “running through paint”.  He said one must be sure not to smear the paint.  What he meant is that it’s important to pick your feet straight up (kind of like jogging in place) and not push off the ground.  Sometimes when I’m feeling heavy in my body I turn to a mantra of, “Pick up, pick up” as I lift each foot.  On my return trip I even noticed that my footprints when I ran were solid marks, whereas my walking footprints were smeared.

Along with the wet wet wet came unexpected challenges on the path.  Trees had fallen down from the high winds the night before, the edges of the path had become overgrown from a week of high heat and a solid mix of sun and rain, and parts of the path were actually flooded by the massively swollen river (more on that later).  These obstacles provided a motivational distraction from the humidity and kept me entertained as I ran.  While I definitely sweat more than usual, and had some issues pushing myself on the way back, overall this was a successful and fun run.

The one thing I was really looking forward to after a long hot run was a dip in the river.  However, while I ran it became apparent that might not be possible.  Generally, the banks of the river are anywhere from 2-6′ high and beyond the height of the banks there are some swimming-hole areas that have up to 20′ of pebbles where one could sit or stand right next to the river.  As I ran, I saw that the river had swollen over the banks and pebbles and crept up the paths to the trail.  It only covered the trail in a few areas, but the paths to get to the beach areas were covered with a good solid 1-2′ of water.  Even in Spring, when the river is high due to the snow melting, it’s never that high.  Even last year when we had unusually high rain falls all summer, which contributed to the tomato blight and there were e.coli warnings in the river that stopped us from swimming most of the summer (quick note: when we get a lot of rain in the valley runoff from the farms end up in the river causing high bacterial counts), it was never that high.  This was crazy!

I took a picture, albeit with my iPhone because I don’t exactly run with my fancy Canon (kinda wish I could!).  I looked for a comparison shot and all I have is a shot from early Spring, so the river is a high in that one too but this is the same area of the river (the Spring picture is just taken with a wider-angle lens):


To give you a little perspective, the rocks that you can see poking out in the Spring picture are usually fully exposed this time of year; people sit on them and picnic or play music; it’s usually a safe place to sit fully clothed.  The banks in this area this time of year are usually a good 6′.  The picture on the right shows the rocks are totally covered (though you can see a lip of waves on the right side gliding over the highest rock) and the banks are basically indistinguishable.

Needless to say, this was not a good time to swim.  Toby and I did venture down one path to the river in an attempt to brave it, but we were quickly swallowed up by brown murky river water and were unable to even make it to the river.  This was probably a good thing considering how fast the current was moving and how much bacteria was most likely in the flow.

Next run is Friday!  So far it sounds like the weather will be fair and sunny.  Fingers crossed!

Running Through Clouds Slows Me Down

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Wow, the weather really effects my runs!  Wednesday was extremely humid.  I thought I was being smart by waiting for the major showers to head out but most of the week has been humid with rolling showers and thunderstorms.  It could have been worse, I could have been running on Thursday during the intermittent torrential downpours, though that honestly may have felt better than the thick condensed air that I sludged through on Wednesday.

I’ve mentioned that I have some allergies and have been experiencing occasional breathing issues in the past few weeks.  I hadn’t had any trouble breathing with my new routine but by the last two fields on Wednesday I was really struggling to catch my breath.  It’s so frustrating when my body has more strength than my lungs and sinuses.

Needless to say, my speed did not improve on Wednesday; in fact it decreased but not dramatically.  While I came in at a slower overall pace than the run previous to it, I wasn’t slower than the run previous to that.  I do feel stronger.  While my foot is still giving me some trouble, it’s getting better every day and my body is adjusting well to the new pace.  Once I get more comfortable I’m going to try to push myself a little more and either go farther or job through the slow parts of the workout instead of speed walking.  I’ll decide for sure when I’m ready.

In other exciting news, both the RunKeeper Free version and Pro version have been updated for iOS4 and are available on iTunes.  I upgraded to the Pro version and used it on Wednesday.  The tracking is supposedly better and it did track me as going farther  and the trail it mapped looks much closer to the path I take.  You can see what I mean in the pics below: I didn’t really play with the new app features, but you can read about all of them (and about the new awesome changes to their website) on their blog.  Overall, I’m still very impressed with their software and website integration and I think the pro app was worth the $9.99.

I skipped Friday’s run due to other exercise that day and preparation for an all-day chair massage event tomorrow.  If you’re local, check out my Facebook Fan Page for more info.  Next run is Monday!