Review: Suunto Spartan Ultra Watch

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Back in August, Suunto approached me to see if I would be interested in testing their new Spartan Ultra watch which was being launched imminently. This happened to be quite timely as my last GPS watch was at the bottom of the ocean after a bit too much fun. When Suunto got in touch I was already considering buying their Ambit 3 as I had heard great things about the brand and more and more friends were switching to Suunto. And so the love affair begins…

Style

 On first impression when opening the box, I was immediately struck by how large the watch was and worried that it would grow dirty quite quickly as I had been sent the white version. I needn’t have worried though as the watch strap still looks pristine even after testing it for a full month. The screen is prone to fingermarks but these wipe off easily and I guess is to be expected from a device which has the functionality of touch screen. I actually really love the fact that the Spartan Ultra has incorporated touch screen into the device as it feels quite intuitive when scrolling back from the main menus. As someone with relatively small wrists I thought the size of the watch would irritate me but actually I have grown to love the size and large round face…it feels much lighter than my previous GPS too. Whilst I have grown to love the large size of the watch in training, I know that it will cause me a few issues when racing in a triathlon as I will need to take it off my wrist and put it back on again in transition 1 in order to get my wetsuit off. That’s just an incentive to be speedier on the bike though.

Multi-Sport

If there is one thing this watch can do, it’s track every sport imaginable. For me, this is probably the best technical feature of the watch. So far I have used it for running, cycling, kayaking, sailing, pool swimming and open water swimming. There is also the functionality to track a triathlon race which I will be doing at Hever Castle Triathlon. In addition to the sports I have already used it for, a few other examples of activities you can track include circuit training, skiing (cross country or alpine), rowing, hiking, and can even differentiate between trail, road and track running, in addition to many more. As someone who epitomises the phrase ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ this watch really is fabulous…I just love being able to track every single sport I have an interest in.

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GPS Locator 

This is a very mundane feature to mention but one I really do feel is worth a dedicated section to. You know how annoying it is when you’re waiting for your watch to pick up a signal? This isn’t a problem with the Suunto Spartan Ultra. With previous watches there have been times where I could have run my first mile in the time I had to wait for satellites to be located (I’m really not joking), and so it is incredibly refreshing to hit start and have things ready to go in a matter of seconds.

Battery Life

Another slightly dull technical feature to mention as something I love however anyone who takes part in endurance sports will understand the struggle of your watch dying at a critical moment. I tend to train 6 days a week at about 1-2 hours duration on each day and I have only had to recharge my watch once per week, and even then it still had a decent percentage of battery life left in it. Although I’m not a marathon or ultra runner, I suspect this watch would be a dream for you (in fact, my ultra-running uncle uses a different model in the Suunto range and he thinks his watch is brilliant too).

Display Screen

The display on the watch is also pretty impressive, it has a sapphire glass colour display which feels really durable. The screen is incredibly easy to read, even in bright light which was something I struggled with when trying to read my previous GPS. Another benefit of the large screen is that the information displayed when tracking a sport is big and bold so you don’t need to spend ages looking at your wrist to get a general idea of where you’re at. It also feels like a bit of a treat having a colour display – I don’t know why this should make a difference, but it just feels that little bit more sophisticated and like it’s ahead of its competitors in this respect. Whilst the default screen is a clock (very handy!) it is really easy to navigate up and down to get to where you want to be within the menu, it also has a rather aesthetically pleased tally and colour-coded breakdown of all the activity you have done in that particular week.

Movescount

Suunto uses a platform called Movescount to keep track of your activity, and as well as the web platform there is also an app which is really easy to download and use. At first I was a little apprehensive – I’ve always been a Strava lover and moving to Movescount would mean I would lose my followers and wouldn’t be earning any Queen of the Mountains (fellow Strava-lovers will appreciate the importance of this…). Well, it turns out I love Movescount. I could of course export my files and reupload them to Strava to get 100% stat-tracking satisfaction, but actually I am perfectly happy with what Movescount provides.Within the app I can create videos of my routes (which you will have seen if you follow me on Twitter)…I personally love this feature and wish I was an ultra runner so my videos could be that much cooler. But still, I created a video from running in Paris and from sailing out to the Maunsell Forts so have had my fair share of fun. I’m planning to create a video of my triathlon too and am really keen to see how that turns out. I also love the heat maps within the web platform and how stylish and clean the site is.

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General Fitness Tracker

I have never really been into the whole ‘wear a fitness tracker in daily life’ trend and subsequently have not bought one of these, however I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Suunto Spartan Ultra could also double up as a fitness tracker and could tell me how many steps a day I was taking. I only tried this for one day, because, if I’m honest I really don’t feel the need to track my steps because I know that I am far more physically active than most people and also because a sports watch doesn’t really fit in with the clothes I would wear to work. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how many steps I took on an average day in a sedentary office based job and take comfort in the fact that if for some reason I had to stop exercising, I would still be a relatively healthy and active human being.

Negatives

I would really like the Suunto Spartan Ultra to autopause when I stop during a workout. As a blogger (and I am sure many of you can relate to this) I occasionally stop to take a photo whilst out and about, and whilst it isn’t a huge issue having to stop the watch each time it would be helpful if the watch could pause itself when no movement is detected. I am yet to find a device that does this but it really would be something that would convince me to invest in a product…the same issue also applies to waiting at traffic lights too. And don’t even get me started on the distress of forgetting to restart your watch.  The other slight issue I had was just before heading out sailing; I had lined the watch up ready to start tracking that particular activity but didn’t want to press start as I was still rigging my boat. But low and behold, it started automatically after a minute or so of waiting for me to get moving which meant I then had to restart the watch when I realised upon launching and had a workout that I needed to delete once home and uploaded onto Movescount. Again, this isn’t a huge issue but was a slight inconvenience at the time as I hadn’t deleted a workout at that point and was worried it would mess up my stats. I am also an Android user so haven’t been able to pair my phone directly with my device, although apparently a software update is being released at the end of this month which will fix this issue.

Would I recommend? 

Oh, wholeheartedly YES! I absolutely adore this watch and feel like it has become quite a trusted friend throughout this month of training. At the moment the positives of the watch far outweigh the very few negatives and I feel like it would be a great watch for someone who enjoys taking part in multiple sports.

The watch I have retails at £519 which I feel would be prohibitive for people who just like to go for an occasional run and would not recommend it as an entry-level device, but if you are a serious endurance athlete then this is certainly a model you should consider.

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Review: ASICS DynaFlyte

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The ASICS Europe team recently sent me their new DynaFlyte shoes to review. Excitement grew as soon as I opened the box and saw some serious neon accents on each shoe – I knew these would go down as some of my favourite shoes, style-wise. I love the contrast of the monochrome overlays against the neon heels, and also think the mix of multiple neons work really well with this shoe. Even down to the black laces, this is the kind of shoe I want to be seen in.

Luckily, it’s not just style over substance here. From my very first run in them I could tell they would be a speedy shoe and after a month of running I can confirm that they fully met my expectations. The shoe itself feels quite structured so I know my foot is nice and secure, they are also adequately cushioned without feeling spongey at all (there’s nothing worse than a shoe that you just sink into when running). So far, so good. As for the weight? Well, there’s nothing of them…I have really grown to favour lightweight running shoes recently and am very pleased to see that ASICS has jumped on this bandwagon and has developed something that could easily rival my Adidas Ultraboosts. IMG_2433IMG_2447

I haven’t raced in this shoe yet as all my events at the moment are multi-sport and I think the structured nature of the shoe would add a few precious seconds onto my transition time. The heel comes up quite high which I suspect would irritate my ankle on anything long-distance too, I also find that my feet feel quite hot when wearing them (although I suspect that may be due to the hotter-than-usual summer temperatures we have experienced recently). However for anything in the 5-10K range these shoes are absolutely ideal and I would highly recommend them. I really do think that ASICS produce some of the best running shoes in the market, and these are no exception.

Would I repurchase these? Yes, absolutely. If you are looking for a new pair of running shoes that offer comfort and stability whilst maintaining speed, then these should be top of your list to try.

Also, if you ever want to vary your run training – run around a BMX track a few times…fun, technical, and exhausting! IMG_2464

*Whilst ASICS kindly sent me these running shoes, all views are my own*

Review: Sweaty Betty Mojo Run Shorts

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I’ve been an observational fan of Sweaty Betty for a few months now, but hadn’t felt the overwhelming need to invest in any of their pieces until I set eyes on the Ipanema print Mojo Run Shorts. I’ve wanted some flattering tight shorts to run in but my usual go-to brand’s version are just a little bit too short for me to feel confident whilst wearing them.

I had mixed feelings when I first spotted the Mojo shorts as they are technically a high waisted short and high waisted items just don’t work on me because of my hip-waist ratio. Luckily they have a side zip so you can comfortably turn the waist down and wear the shorts on your hip. Even with the waist down the band still stays comfortably in place whilst running with no sign of it rolling back up. And on that note the shorts don’t ride up either which means I can at least preserve some decency whilst running.

The other truly great feature of these shorts is the zip pocket. I think this is the first time I have ever come across a pair of running shorts with a zip pocket so I am literally over the moon. Nothing irritates me more than the usual useless open pockets you find on shorts which cannot possibly store anything other than a lip balm or teeny tiny iPod, and I certainly wouldn’t trust putting my key in an open pocket.

I also absolutely love the geometric print, although when I first saw the colour combination I was a little disappointed as I am not a huge lover of peachy-aqua tones (I tend to opt for neon). However this colour palette has really grown on me and I am so happy to have bought them.

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Review: Speedo Endurance Bikini (and a bit of body confidence…)

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If there is one thing I am a big fan of, it’s the Speedo Endurance Bikini range. I bought my first one about 5 years ago and wore it religiously until ordering my new one last month…if I’m honest I didn’t really need a new one, but the splash of neon orange drew me in (I live for neon sportswear)…I also bought a bigger size, but more on that later in this post.

So what’s so special about this bikini? Well, firstly I’m a big fan of a two piece. Swimming costumes have never really been my thing as, without being too negative, I don’t have the type of body that looks good in one. Secondly it is far more convenient to wear a two piece – specifically for toilet breaks. I wear mine under my wetsuit when I’m sailing and anyone who has to deal with coming off the water to pop to the toilet when they already have a few layers on probably doesn’t want the faff of taking a swimming costume off too. Also the Endurance fabric is pretty special as it dries really quickly and is fade resistant so stays looking fresh and lovely for years. There’s also a handy draw string cord on the inside of the pant so the bottoms feel nice and snug and definitely won’t disappear when pushing off during swim sessions. Needless to say I am a true fan.

Admitting to myself that I needed a bigger size in the bikini was a challenge at first. I have always had a love-hate relationship with my body and often struggle to get the balance right with proper nutrition to fuel my training. I have also never really been truly satisfied with the body I was given, which I feel pretty terrible writing because I know I should appreciate my body for what it can do rather than what it looks like. I think everyone struggles with this to some degree though and I’ve learnt in recent years to try and ignore what my brain is telling me when I catch my reflection in the mirror and instead focus on how strong my body feels.

This year is probably the first time in ten years where I’ve just allowed myself to exercise and train for the fun of it and for the challenge of doing well in my summer triathlons, rather than exercising purely to manipulate my body to look a certain way. And bizarrely, this is probably the first time in my life where I’ve started to feel somewhat satisfied with how my body looks despite the fact that I have gained weight. The truth is, I will never be super toned. I’m a cardio bunny through and through and the thought of lifting weights or doing strength training in the gym does not appeal to me in the slightest. I know that doing strength training would help my performance in triathlon, but I just don’t have the inclination to do so as these days I think balance is far more important than having the most defined abs and looking perfectly Instagram-able (oh, the pressure). I also think cardio gets a pretty harsh beating from those strength-training Instagramers who tell you that you won’t get visible results doing cardio alone. I don’t think my body looks too bad in the above photo and can see a little bit of definition, and that’s just from swimming, cycling and running. Nothing else whatsoever. I’m also eating more than I have ever eaten in my life, and indulging in regular treats. So if you enjoy cardio, rather than strength training in the gym or being all zen in a yoga class (my idea of hell…I’ve tried to like it so many times but it is not for me), then don’t let anyone try to put you off and make you feel like you have to follow a particular path.

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt this year is that no matter what your choice of exercise is it should always be fun, it should inspire you, it should keep you fit and allow you to take on challenges, it should push your mental and physical limits and it should make you feel proud. But it should never be purely motivated by the desire to look a certain way.

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Review: Speedo Swim Kit

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At the beginning of October, Speedo sent me one of their brilliant swim kits. Of course the kit arrived on the very same day my physio told me to stop swimming for a while – incredibly bad timing as it meant I had to just stare at my swim kit for weeks. Luckily, in mid-November I got the all clear to start swimming again and having signed up to a lovely new pool, it was finally time to start using my swim kit to its full capacity and see what it could do. Amongst the kit was the Team Rucksack III Max, Women’s Futura Biofuse Goggles, Biofuse Power Paddle, Elite Pullkick, Aquacoach Watch, a towel and the world’s largest water bottle. All in all a really great kit to have.

The rucksack is one of my most loved pieces of the kit – I’m the type of person who likes to overpack for any situation, including a swim, and so the 40L capacity suits me perfectly. It has separate compartments for wet and dry kit, a handy zip compartment on the front and open side pockets (which I usually use for flip flops and water). Even when I have filled this rucksack with every possible item known to mankind, it still sits comfortably on my back and can fit easily into any standard locker. It also feels incredibly sturdy and will definitely last for years to come. I really do adore this rucksack and would highly recommend it to any swimmer out there who is struggling with a non-swimming rucksack to take to the pool.
Blog2The Speedo training aids are completely new to me. I’ve always been a very complacent swimmer who thought that all you really needed to do was get into a pool and just keep swimming back and forth, occasionally varying your stroke. As it turns out, I was wrong. I guess, much like running, you need to vary your sessions in order to improve sufficiently – which is where these aids come in really handy. It takes a while to get used to training aids as it isn’t something that feels natural, so it was a bit of a challenge using these at first. The power paddles really tire you out…just when you think you’ve nailed your swim technique they kick in and guide you into what should be your correct position. They are brutal but you feel brilliant afterwards knowing that you’ve come some way in improving your stroke. The pullkick is great too – you can either use it as a standard float to hold whilst you focus on your kick, or place it between your thighs to make your muscles work harder. You will feel the burn, but you’ll also feel like you’ve had the best workout of your life.
Blog3The women’s biofuse goggles are another firm favourite of mine. They’re specially designed to fit the female face and are remarkably comfortable. I usually suffer from the dreaded goggle imprint on my face after a swim, no matter how short the session, yet with these the goggle marks have disappeared within half an hour (perfect for when you swim before work!). I also haven’t had any problems with these leaking, which is something I usually struggle with as I have a ridiculously tiny face and nothing ever usually fits me. So, I’m really pleased with these so far.

The Aquacoach is something I’m still undecided on. I like the concept, and yes, it has served as a really good piece of equipment for counting my laps, speed, calories etc…and so far it has been incredibly accurate in recording my sessions. However I find the interface a little bit confusing at times and often press the wrong button and then can’t figure out how to get back to the main screen. There also doesn’t appear to be the functionality to sync this with another tracking site, ie. Strava, so I have to then input the details manually (when I can be bothered). Perhaps I’ve overlooked something – and if so, do tell me, but I just feel that with the speed in which technology is advancing, there must be a better watch out there to track your stats. That being said I am still really pleased with the watch and I wear it in almost every swim session, it also feels quite comfortable on my wrist and doesn’t interfere with my swim at all (apart my own curiosity wanting to check my stats every few laps…).

Overall, this is a superb swim kit and I am incredibly thankful to Speedo for sending it my way. Since I got back in the pool in November I have had some really great sessions and can definitely see that this has the potential to become my preferred sport in 2016.

Review: Runderwear

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Here’s the thing: I won’t run commando. I know plenty of people who choose to, and these same people are fairly vocal in trying to convince others to run commando too. But it just isn’t for me.

Sports clothing technology has really advanced in recent years and I guess it was only a matter of time before that extended to underwear. There are a few brands out there who are developing products for this market, but Runderwear is the only one that I have invested in so far – so whilst my review does not take into account other brands who sell exercise-specific underwear, I can compare my Runderwear experience to my regular underwear.

Now, I can easily see how most people would assume that underwear made specifically for running is a little bit indulgent, and at £16 for one pair of my choice; the low-rise hipster, I can definitely see your point. But start running in Runderwear and you will soon see what all the fuss is about. These really are remarkably comfortable with their seamless technology and breathable fabric. There really is nothing worse than having your underwear cut into your waist whilst running, which is an all too frequent occurrence. In fact, and this may be a bit ‘TMI’, I actually developed little cuts on my hips from my underwear this summer. I can guarantee that this will not be an issue with Runderwear, though. And whilst I am not someone who tackles long distances at the moment, I can see that these would provide a chafe-free long run for those that do.

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Despite how unimportant the aesthetics of underwear is in sport, for some reason it really is quite important to me. And so I am happy that I don’t have to deviate from my underwear colour of choice, black. And I even like the strip of turquoise on the waistband. They do have one other colour choice at the moment, a pale blue, which really isn’t my kind of thing but I am sure would appeal to others. And I keep hearing that they are in the process of developing other colours too.

I will also add that the customer service at Runderwear is absolutely superb. I had only ordered one pair, but due to an error in their system my order was originally missed – I hadn’t realised this and just assumed that delivery was slow and decided to wait patiently. However, 6 days after placing my order the co-founder of Runderwear, Richard, contacted me directly explaining the situation and sent me an extra pair for free. For me, a customer service experience like that really highlights how the company values and understands its customer – and it certainly encourages me to purchase from them again.

All in all, a really great product that I would highly recommend to anyone who runs. Runderwear often has special offers for those signed up to their website, so it’s worth registering your email address with them and waiting for a good discount to come up.

Review: Adidas Ultra Boost

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Ah, the much loved Adidas Ultra Boost, casually littering Instagram feeds across the globe. And with good reason – Adidas wasn’t joking when they added the strapline ‘Your greatest run ever’ to these shoes.

As most of you know, I have been a loyal Asics wearer for a really long time, and before that I was in the Nike Lunar Glides and Air Pegasus – I tend to be the type who finds a brand they love and remains forever loyal, a creature of habit, perhaps. But many moons ago, in 2005, I ran my very first non-school race (the British 10K) in a pair of Adidas running shoes. The term ‘running shoe’ may be a little misleading in this case, actually…they were in fact a sky blue slip-on pair of Adidas shoes. Oh, it sounds so wrong to think that I actually attempted to run a race in something that quite honestly must be the most inappropriate shoe to run in. But I was young and naive and really didn’t care about running at all back then.

Fast forward to 2015 and being plagued with injuries – in particular what I think is a stress fracture on one of my metatarsal bones in my foot (although my x-ray has come back clear…) – I decided it was time to change running shoes completely, and so the Ultra Boost have happened. I won’t lie, part of my reasoning for buying these was the Frozen Yellow colour they come in…I knew I wanted my next runners to be a neon yellow, and was so dissatisfied with the selection in Nike and Asics after a recent visit that I thought it was time to take another look at Adidas.

As soon as I slipped on the Ultra Boost I could tell that these would really help my foot injury – again, it’s sort of a slip-on as there is no tongue or seams running down the shoe, but this time with laces to cage your foot in so that your run feels so much more secure. This immediately took away any upper pressure that my foot usually has to put up with and has made things a lot more comfortable. Adidas calls this its Primeknit technology which naturally expands with your foot to give a more personalised ride. I had worried that this would make my run feel less stable, and I’ll admit that it did feel a bit strange on my first run and left me wondering if I had made the wrong investment – however by my second run, my feet had adapted really well and I found that my running style was back to where it should be, pre-injuries.

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The other thing to mention is that these feel incredibly light, too. I have spent the majority of my runs in my Ultra Boost feeling like these shoes are just a natural extension of my body as they don’t tire my legs out at all. They also have little suction-type circles on the soles which I can only assume is part of the Boost technology. Again, in my first run I found these a little odd, but by my second run I absolutely loved it as I realised they felt more like little springs pushing me further. Interestingly, I soon realised that this was the same sensation I had with my very first pair of Adidas shoes all those years ago – it’s strange how certain feelings stay hidden in your mind until something triggers them.

I think I can safely say that out of all the running shoes I have ever owned, these are by far my favourites. To the point where I am even considering buying them in the black too – because I’m one of those fools who has ‘dry mile only’ shoes, and frozen yellow is definitely a dry miler. I really am dreading the day they get a speck of dirt on them, sob.

At £130 they aren’t the cheapest, but I think for something as important as maintaining foot health and a solid running style, they really are worth the investment.