Step to the Beat — Lessons in Learning How to Pick up my Feet.

So I've never been much of a road runner. I only became a runner at all because I fell in love with the lush trails of the pacific northwest and figured that trail running was an efficient way to explore them. Even when I've had a coach and followed structured training plans, I've still gone out of my way to avoid running on roads or gravel paths — mostly because I get bored very quickly if I'm not constantly worrying about face planting on technical trails.  


Cue Vi.

She's a personal training system that measures everything from your heart rate, steps per minute, and activity. The headphones are linked to an app that tracks GPS and logs your workouts. However, when Sportchek originally approached me to try out Vi, I have to confess that I was a bit skeptical. Having run almost twenty ultramarathons in the past five years, it's pretty easy to feel as if I've got my training routine down pat, and the thought of using a personal "coach" that talked to me during runs didn't seem that necessary.

That said, I'd already decided to run every day in January as a way to kick my butt back into training gear, so it seemed like a good opportunity to put Vi through her paces. And after training with her voice in my head for the last month, I feel like I can safely say that there are still things about my running that need improvement (shocker). 


So without further ado, here's what I really like about Vi:

She gets personal.

When you first set up the accompanying app, you enter your height, weight, and training goals. Vi tracks your heart rate throughout workouts, and the more you use the app the more she gets to know you and what your baseline is (and she'll give you sh*t if you slack off, too!).

Set those goals.

When you open the app at the beginning of your run, you can select the workout that suits your goals. Decide if you are running, cycling, or using a treadmill, then choose between workout options that focus on time, distance, speed, or nothing at all. Vi will customize her mid-run feedback based on your goals. 

Steps per Minute.

This is by far my favourite feature. As you run, Vi measures your cadence and tells you what your steps per minute is, as well as what your "most efficient" steps per minute pace is. This is not to be confused with how fast you are going - it's simply how quick your cadence is. Improving your turnover means greater efficiency while running, and it's something that I have never been very good at achieving (and also, I've never found an easy way to measure my steps per minute mid-run on my own). Many trail races have long stretches of forest service roads, and there are obvious benefits to improving your running efficiency in order to take advantage of more runnable sections of terrain during races. 

So how does it work? After several Km's, Vi will give you an update on your progress (heart rate, distance, steps per minute). If you are like me, she'll then suggest that you should pick up your feet a little more, and offer to play an up-tempo beat that you can run in time with. If you say "yes" when prompted, you're set! She'll give you several minutes of at-tempo beats, and then let you know if you've successfully increased your steps per minute. From there, she will periodically check in to let you know if you are still on track.

After consciously working on my pace and trying to maintain a consistent number of steps per minute, I found myself starting to naturally correcting my cadence on my own. I also found that I was consistently getting closer to my "optimal efficiency" (176 steps per minute). 


What I didn't like:

GPS limitations.

Vi is definitely intended for more urban running than trail networks, as the GPS struggles to find itself once you get into dense or forested areas.

Vi talks a lot. 

To be fair, there are multiple settings you can have for how much Vi interacts with you mid-run, and I mostly had mine set to a moderate level of engagement. While I did find it hard to get used to having her interact with me while I ran, at the same time she often offers useful feedback so I wouldn't suggest turning her off completely. 


The Vi headphones are sweat-proof bluetooth headphones with amazing Harman / Kardon audio, and it integrates perfectly with Spotify / your fav music. 


Vi is for much more than just "learning how to run", which is what I had initially assumed she'd be best at. I'm actually quite impressed at how specific you can be with your training goals. My goal for the month was to get faster, and so Vi's feedback and suggestions were aimed at making me more efficient. I also appreciate that you can plan specific sprint or HIIT workouts — and considering how much trouble I have convincing myself to do interval training on my own, it's nice to have the motivation literally in your head during those harder workouts. 

*Disclaimer: this post is made possible through a sponsored collaboration with SportChek. All opinions expressed are entirely my own. 

Hilary MathesonComment