Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Polar M200 Review

Hi friends. I've been very bad about keeping this blog up to date this last little while. I have plenty to say all the time, but I could come up with hundreds of excuses for not committing those ideas to paper. So I apologize, and I do hope to write plenty more this 2017. In fact, I wrote this post over a month ago but as I hadn't taken any photos to complement it, or had a chance to edit the text, I kept forgetting to post it. Then Christmas busy-ness and the flu came along.....But I need to write more so I might even start my next post today and post it later when I have it edited. Wish me luck!

Anyway, I decided that I wasn't going to wait until I had a chance to edit this text before posting it. I wrote this in early Dec and so this is a bit out of date (ie., I have used it more and learned more about it since), but what is said here is still relevant. Here goes:

Product Review – Polar M200
First of all, Polar did not ask me to write this review; it’s of my own accord. Considering it’s a newer product on the market, I thought I’d be a helpful running citizen and offer my opinion. I also find that much of what I have read suggests that this watch is perfect for the beginner athlete. While I agree it’s great for beginners, I believe there’s more to it than that. So for other “not-so-newbie” runners out there who are like me and take your running pretty seriously, perhaps you will appreciate my perspective. This watch is pretty great for you too.

Photo credit: Polar
I can see why it’s targeted to beginners; the watch shows minimal stats for running workouts and also features a 24/7 activity tracker to help motivate you to be active. I don’t need the reminder to be active personally, but I don’t mind a bit of a virtual high five when I’ve kicked ass on a particular day!  And truly anyone can benefit from a watch that has wrist-based HR, accurate GPS, long battery life, and the unbeatable price-point retailing around $189. A serious yet recreational runner like myself can certainly benefit from this product too and I’m thrilled I made this purchase. In the same way that one size does not fit all for shoes, a runner’s watch / activity tracker’s complexity should also match a personal preference. I like that the watch itself gives me little feedback, but when I want to see more information, there’s a whole bunch of stats for me to sink my teeth into on the Polar Flow app (both mobile and desktop platforms).

Polar Flow mobile app - FYI, my heartrate was high for this workout as it was very cold outside and I was recovering from the flu.....perhaps I should have shown you other stats instead,  :)
First off, a caveat: I am not an expert at the more fancy-schmancy running watches out there. No, this watch is not going to track every detail of your workouts like those high-end Garmins out there. But for me, this is an absolutely perfect attribute. I mentioned it already, but I take my running pretty seriously. So if there’s any feedback, insight, or statistic that talks about my running, I am likely to obsess and stress about it. I used to run with something that told me too much info and it got to a point where that got me down, particularly when I was returning from injury and not quite as fit as I used to, and I was therefore not seeing the numbers I wanted to. I was at risk of losing the joy of the running and the ability to get lost in the meditative / thinking-of-nothing state because I kept staring at the numbers and wishing they were different. So once I could justify buying a new watch I opted for the simplest of the simple watches and got a Garmin Forerunner 10 which is a bare-bones GPS watch which I love. It tells me how far I went and how fast. Not much else (yes, I’m oversimplifying). For the most part, this is perfect!

But I have come to realize that a heart rate watch is a benefit to me to ensure I am indeed training my long slow distance runs at zone 1, rather than zone 2 (i.e. for me the zones I speak of relate to lactate thresholds and that other sciency stuff from past assessments - I should get an updated assessment to be sure of it). I know the science behind it, so it felt like time to start monitoring this again. I wanted a watch that had both GPS and heartrate, but I want to save my running budget for things like shoes and races. I also really didn’t want to have to wear an uncomfortable heart rate strap (to me it feels like wearing two sports bras; no thanks) and I was leery of wrist-based heart rate monitors and their accuracy. After reading positive reviews of the new technology behind this watch, learning of the price point, and trying the watch out for myself on a workout (thanks to my coaching gig at Running Room and thus meeting a rep from Polar), I decided it was the right choice for me and so I went for it.

Here are some benefits of this watch:
  •        Combination GPS and HR for a great price. It retails in that $189 (CAD) range, but I got an even better deal because of my work at Running Room
  •           Wrist-based heart rate monitor, and it turns out, this is very accurate
  • -         Interchangeable straps, you know, to match outfits! Simply pop the watch out and load it into another strap.
So many colour options!

  •      Waterproof design so you don’t have to worry about rainy workouts, and so you can give it a  rinse after a sweaty workout. I believe you can wear it in the pool too (don’t quote me on it), although it doesn’t track the stats a triathlete might want.
  •       What I’ve already shared regarding the simplicity of the watch and stats you see on screen. You can set up different screens and customize what you see when.

-          Loads of additional data can be seen on your activity and workouts on the Polar Flow app (e.g, maps, heart rate charts, graphs, etc.). It is super easy to sync with your phone via Bluetooth or on a desktop computer’s browser with a USB connection.
Desktop platform

-          Additional benefits of a fitness tracker, which, along with the simplicity of the watch, make this one marketed more for the entry level athlete. For me, I don’t consider myself entry level (I take things pretty seriously), but simplicity and cost-effectiveness are important to me, so this watch was the right choice for me.

All the benefits, the expected ones (mentioned above) and additional ones (which I’ll get to in a moment), made the Polar M200 worthy of a blog post! So here we are. In attempts to understand how this watch works, I have worn the watch in these conditions:

  •           As a watch, allowing it to track my daily activity on an “inactive days (day without a workout), days where my primary activity is going to the office to work, and a rest day from exercise
  •           As an outdoor GPS running watch, wearing it to track my distance, pace, heart rate zones
  •           Overnight to check sleep quality
  •          For an indoor treadmill workout (don’t judge, it’s winter and it was icy on the sidewalk) so I can see how it tracks my distance based on steps and continue to monitor heart rate
I have yet to try this watch for these activities
  •           A track workout where I want the watch to time hard run/recovery jog intervals – I am not sure what capabilities this watch has for this type of workout
  •           An 8-hour shift working at my running store job where I’m on my feet all day. I’ve always wanted to know how much walking I end up doing on one of these shifts because I always return home super hungry!

Additional Features of the watch that I’ve noted in my first week with the watch:

Activity tracking
  •  Bonus to the watch, thought I’d give it a try out of curiosity. This watch comes with a step counter. The concept of 10,000 steps is a popular challenge many try to get to as a daily goal. I am pleased to see that even on my “inactive days” (days without a workout), I get in this many steps or close to that anyway. Perhaps I don’t need the tracker and its gentle reminders to get up and move, but it’s been nice reinforcement that my already automatic tune of getting up regularly and taking the long route, or the walking route somewhere works.

-           24/7 tracking
  •            shows time spent lying down, sitting, standing, walking, and running as well as total distance covered (based on step counting + any workouts where distance was calculated based on GPS) 
  • -          neat feedback because I thought I’d only care about my actual workouts being tracked, but it’s nice seeing how much additional activity I was getting in a day. Every time I get out of my desk and walk to the office kitchen or washroom, the walk to/from the parking lot to the office, walking around at home while doing housework, out and about running errands, etc., this daily mundane activity all adds up and ‘counts’ but it’s activity I tend to forget about
  • -          Sleep activity – I wore it once overnight. Wasn’t uncomfortable, but I don’t like wearing jewelry of any kind to bed so likely won’t repeat. But again, I found the feedback interesting. I happened to wear the watch on a particularly long sleep. But I did get up a couple times to use the washroom and needed a bit of time to fall back to sleep after each instance. My watch was able to tell me that I was in restful sleep for 7.5 hours and restless sleep for 1 hour. What this tells me is that maybe simply shutting my eyes for 7-8 hours isn’t enough, because of periods of restlessness. 
Activity goals

You can set a goal for how active you wish to be daily, and the watch will suggest how to achieve it. For me, I picked a pretty high activity level as my goal. As a result, I don't get there on non-workout days, although I will still reach between 8,000 - 10,000 steps. 

On a run day, I often reach 300% or more of the goal, but whatever. I move my feet a lot, but of course, stride length is longer than walking. The goal tracker knows that even though you're stepping less, when you're running, you're covering more ground so it doesn't penalize you based on steps alone. It calculates how well you've done in relation to your goal, accounting for walking steps and running steps as different types of steps. I appreciate this! You can also set an event goal (ie., complete a 10K or marathon) and the Polar Flow will suggest a training plan – haven’t tinkered with this yet.    

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