Sunday, November 25, 2018

Stryd versus RunScribe Plus: Can Data Make You Faster?

By Michael Ellenberger with Joost de Raeymaeker

RunScribe Plus and Stryd
The future is smooth, black, and shiny.
How do you record your runs? If you're like me, you use a GPS watch, automatically (or not) sync it to Strava or Garmin Connect, and forget about it. Maybe collect some kudos along the way, if you're lucky. If you're like some teammates of mine, you might document every run without the watch data, describing how far and fast you ran without an actual map, and add notes about how it felt, what you thought about, who you were with. If you're even more old school, you might keep a paper notebook lined with running entries and memories of those crisp fall days when you just felt like you could run forever. Or, when you found out the nearest open bathroom.

It's 2018, so why not ditch your paper running log, hand-written date on your trainers, and manual step-counter and move into the future? Sure, there are some interim technologies - basic GPS watches, Strava, multi-sport behemoths that can handle anything - but for a lot of us, running in 2018 looks a lot like it did in 2008. And 1998. And (okay, I'm making it up at this point) 1988. Want to know how many steps you take? Count them. Want to know whether you over-pronate? Better get yourself to a running store and have them film you, or find yourself a treadmill and line up your iPhone just so and hope you can determine what that shaky video footage really means. (That one isn't exactly 1988, is it?)

One of the RunScribe Plus units (left), and a Stryd Power Meter (right).
Regardless - data science is now a part of running, and it's here to stay. But why, exactly, do we need to know our power output, shock, efficiency, motion, symmetry, and more? Why can't we just... run? I set out to find out if two new running tools - the Stryd Power Meter and the RunScribe Plus - could make me faster. You'll be disappointed in the answer (it's "TBD"), but hopefully I can provide some insight into what these nifty little gadgets can, and can't, do. I tested them mostly along with my trusty Apple Watch Series 4, but you don't have to - they work with most major GPS running watches, or, without a watch at all*! Both Stryd and RS+ allow for data retention and sync once you're back in the confines of your home. D.C. Rainmaker, I am not, but grab some coffee (or beer, depending on time of day) - this might be a long one.

* * * * *

Hardware Review: RunScribe Plus
Like pebbles... but with more science.
I'll get this out of the way - the RunScribe+ setup costs $249.99. Compare that to $199 for the Stryd Power Meter and $70 for the Garmin Running Dynamics Pod, which is not being reviewed here. Does the RS+ setup do more than those two? It tracks more metrics, certainly - having two pods, rather than one, allows for a more accurate calculation of leg- and foot-specific imbalances, as well as improved clarity of those shared across both legs. It also (as we'll see) has a better interface, for the most part, which may help make up some of the cost difference. All I wanted to highlight was that these aren't cheap, necessarily, and to be ready to pony up the cash if you want this sort of data. For many of us, it may well be worth it. 

All laced up and ready, even on the tricky upper of the Zoom Fly FK.
Unlike the Stryd, which is a singular pod, there are two RunScribe Plus units - one for each foot. They are solid little units, plastic, but not so light that they feel cheap. It's a delicate balance - you need to attach it to your shoe somehow, so lighter is obviously better, but you're also at a risk of knocking it around against downed branches, curbs, stones, whatever. I imagine the most technical trails or paths you run, the more you'll care. I really only run on pavement and crushed gravel, so it's not a huge concern for me. Others may care - but I can't imagine something feeling much more durable than this. It's satisfying when you can drop something onto the floor and not immediately worry about it. Why can't iPads be made out of plastic? Anyway...

Like a good USB drive, don't forget to eject before removing.
The RS+ allows for two mountings, on-lace (like Stryd), and at the heel. I received two sets of the RS+ and neither of them, unless I'm way mistaken, included the mountings for the heel. Ultimately that's fine - I prefer the laces anyway - but it did mean I couldn't actually try the heel mounted pods. Oh well. [Edit: RunScribe's website has been updated to read: "We have moved to a laces-focused solution. All (new) sets of RS Plus are shipping w/ 2 sets of Laces Cradles." I suppose I wasn't crazy, after all.]

The charger (right) is pretty slick here, too - it holds both footpods at once, and charges via Micro-USB. I'd hope for USB-C in a future update, but you charge these things so infrequently, it doesn't really matter. The back of the charger provides a convenient holding spot for each of the two clips which allow the pods attachment to your laces. Traveling to a race? Clip the pods into the front of the charger, the holsters into the back, and toss it in your bag. Nifty, and a well thought-out design.

What else will you need to get up and running? The RS+ is compatible with over 20 Garmin watches through Garmin Connect IQ. It also has an Apple Watch app, or you can bring your phone (Android or iOS) and track via the RunScribe+ app. This speaks more to software, but it also interfaces with Zwift. I've never used Zwift (I haven't run on a treadmill in some time, for that matter) but it sure looks like a nice way to spice up an indoor run, if you have the capabilities.

[Edit: RunScribe confirmed for me that the latest version of the RS+ has a barometric altimeter, which should provide meaningful altitude data for those who are fortunate enough to have hilly terrain. As a Chicago runner... it's not quite so useful, but nice to have, regardless.]

Each RS+ unit is smaller than a Stryd, but then again there are 2 of them.
Too much reading? The takeaway is this - there are two RunScribes, instead of one. And they charge in a neat little box. No, really - you put these on your shoes, so obviously they're largely designed to be forgotten about, and they do a pretty good job. I, for one, like the baby blue accents, but it does make the footpad stand out more than black might.

Hardware Score: A- (Why no USB-C? And that $250 buy-in... Yikes! You better love data, or learn to quickly.)

* * * * * 

Hardware Review: Stryd
[MPE: Stryd provided me with some additional information, which I've worked into the review in the respective sections, below. In short, the charging (which was one of my biggest issues), is about to get much easier. Moreover, there are some software elements I hadn't realized before, but I've now updated the review to reflect the new information!]
About as premium of an unboxing as you can get.
In its cradle, the Stryd Power Meter certainly doesn't scream "tech."
As noted, the Stryd costs $199, $50 less than the RunScribe+. At least the unboxing experience (above) makes you feel it's money well-spent: more organic shapes and solid materials. What do you get for $199? It actually isn't listed on their page, but I'll tell you - the Power Meter (footpod, I'll use these interchangeably), the charging dock, the USB charging cable, and the mount to keep the footpod in your laces. Simple enough. Some versions of the Stryd unit have a different color front indicator light - I like the way it blends in here. Very subtle, very futuristic.

The Stryd Power Meter looks like something you'd pull out of a river, if you chose to do such a thing. It is organically-shaped, with ridges in the firm rubber and a weird, almost-hidden button in the center for modulating its power state. It's nice to roll it around in your hand... not that you'll do that, much. But you could. And it'll feel good. There's only one here, unlike from RunScribe, but that's okay - you can mount it on either shoe and be off and running. 

The Watch is elevated towards the camera here, but they're comparable.
The Stryd Power Meter is compatible with a large number of watches - most Garmin and Apple Watches included. The full list is here (usually I'd paste this in as a photo but really, there are a ton). I tested it with an Apple Watch and an old Garmin Forerunner 235 I borrowed, and it worked fine.

Like the RunScribe, the Stryd attaches only to the laces. Unlike the RunScribe, there's no other mounting option. Fortunately, lace mounting is easy, and especially convenient if you switch shoes as often as we do here at RoadTrailRun. Just don't forget to take it with you when you're rotating pairs.

A bit smaller than an AirPods case.
Charging the Stryd is considerably trickier than the RunScribe, and it's only (real) hardware deficit. Yes, this setup undoubtedly looks cool - it honestly looks like a pebble, sending ripples into a lake. The aesthetics is nice. But besides the fact that your glossy charging "lake" will be covered in fingerprints from day one, it also requires that you line up the Stryd just so on the pad so that the wireless charging can function. If you're like me, and often set something to charge on something else, you better make sure that something else is flat, because any angularity and this foot pod is going flying to the floor. It's small enough to get lost easily (I've done this once) and without anything adhering it to the charging mat, pretty easy to lose track of. This problem is accentuated by the fact that the charging cable (also Micro-USB to USB-A) is incredibly short, so you better have a flat surface really, really close to your outlet. It's imperfect, if not downright frustrating - but there's an upside: like the RunScribe, you won't be charging this much: it's rated to last about 20 hours of run time on a charger. Depending on who you are, that's 1-3 weeks. Not bad.

[MPE Edit: Florian, a helpful commenter, called to my attention that Stryd can be charged by any Qi-compatible wireless charger, including those that work with Apple iPhone (8 and newer) and the new Google Pixel series). Wireless charging isn't super widespread yet, but I have seen mats in a number of hotels and Starbucks, which may be useful if you're traveling and didn't bring the Stryd pad. Stryd doesn't make note of this on their website, so as with all charging-related curiosities - use with caution!]

[MPE Edit II: Stryd confirmed for me that the footpad is Qi-compatible, and also that they're switching to a dual-charging system: units will now ship with a wired clip in charger, which should offer "a more secure charging experience you can take with you," as well as the existing wireless charging capabilities. This is a big improvement, in my opinion!]

The Stryd charger. Yours may not look so clean, after a few sweaty runs.
Quick takeaways: The Stryd looks cool. There's only one of... it. Charging is futuristic, but finicky*. 

Hardware Score: B+ (Cost is a factor here, for sure, but my biggest complaint is that charger.)

*See updates, above, which should presumably fix the biggest issues I had with charging!


* * * * *

Now to software. For reference: I am a law student, I have been trained as a chemist, and I am a (reasonably) long-time runner, but I am not a data scientist. All of these numbers are what's being proposed to me by the respective apps, and I am sure that there are places where I'm missing what's happening, or misunderstanding some data, or just flat wrong. Please feel free to tell me in the comments (really!). Both platforms are evaluation on MacOS and on iOS, as that's what I primarily use. With that... let's get on with it.

Data & Software Overview: Runscribe Plus

RunScribe provides a plethora of data, which is accessible via a web browser (“Dashboard”), an iOS app, Android app, Apple Watch app, Connect IQ software for Garmin, Suunto Ambit and Spartan Compatibility, and sync with Garmin Connect, TrainingPeaks, and Movescount. Hard to imagine there are many runners left out here.

Opening the RunScribe Dashboard gives you more than enough information; at least the visual aids are clear.
RunScribe’s comprehensive metrics, calculated by the pair of footpods and tabulated through the aforementioned platforms, “highlight tradeoffs between the core elements of a runner’s stride: Efficiency, Motion, Shock, & Power.” Motion metrics include those often described at a running store when selecting the newest trainer: footstrike type (heel, mid-, or forefoot strike), pronation excursion (in degrees), and pronation velocity. Fortunately, RunScribe provides context to its metrics - particularly helpful when some of the data may not make intuitive sense. On a recent run, my RunScribe told me I had “high” efficiency, “average” shock, a midfoot strike (on both feet), and a differential of pronation - average on my left, and low on my right. In both cases, it was marked as low velocity.
Nearly all metrics can be displayed graphically (top) or numerically (bottom).
Notably, RunScribe also describes the symmetry of a running stride, the only consumer-grade system to do so. They say that the bi-pod system captures “independent Left & Right data for each of our metrics, enabling you to see any imbalances in symmetry from your footstrike type to running power.” It’s pretty amazing tech - this can be tracked in real-time - and almost certainly illuminates something in most runner’s strides. The RS system allows you to tag individual shoes, terrains, and workout types, so that you can later come back and view, for example, every run you’ve done in a Zoom Fly, just to see. It’s a really smart feature, and one I need to get better at staying on top of.

Realtime data coming from the RS+.
It’s worth noting on the issue of symmetry - really with all metrics, across both platforms - that being aware of the biomechanical issue and fixing it are immensely different concepts for many of us. In the RunScribe Dashboard clip, below, you can see that while the footpods have me reasonably symmetrical, there is a difference of (for example) about 25% between my left and right “footstrike type” (5.8 versus 7.4). Is that something to be corrected? It’s hard to know. If Steve Magness, the famous scientist/author/coach, who provides an endorsement on the front page of RunScribe, was my coach, than I could likely implement some of this more readily - at the very least because it’s easier to have someone observe your gait from afar - but as a self-coached (read: not coached) runner, these things are not easy to apply.

Of course, there are some obvious implementations that runners of all abilities can make - bringing stride cadence closer to 180 strides per minute at all paces (the traditional view; there are dissenting minds here). Trying to focus on a midfoot strike, with your landing underneath your body and a quicker, rather than longer, turnover can also be vastly beneficial. I spent several months in college working to increase my efficiency and while I still have, as my collegiate coach told me, “the least knee-drive in school history” (it’s true), I have found a more efficient stride that’s helped me over longer distances. Just focusing on upping my cadence and managing where my shoe planted ended up being a massive help. But of course, I did that before RunScribe even existed.
"Run Summary" gives Strava-esque data.

Let me crescendo into the biggest question of all here, and one that I certainly, in a few weeks of testing these two platforms, have no answered - do we need to change? Do we need to be symmetrical? Many national-class and even world-class runners are asymmetrical if not downright inefficient. The LetsRun Community (message boards) have a few good threads on this, linked here and here. Of course, RunScribe has a number of resources as well (see e.g., here, here, and here). There is not shortage of data and ways to interpret it.

Small things, now: The RS+ Apple Watch app doesn’t allow for GPS recording natively, so you’ll need to run two apps at once, or measure your distance another way. It may be coming soon (the AW app is quite new itself), but I elected to just forego the app and pull the data after my run (the pods silently collect your run data, regardless, as long as they’re paired). I can’t imagine dealing with the biometrics on a tiny watch screen mid-run, anyway - but may others can.

If you’re a data nerd - and I suppose I put myself in that camp - you’ll probably love the RS+ plus system just to have it. I know I do. And maybe if I had some injuries to overcome, or a coach to go over the data with on a regular basis, I'd give this a more glowing recommendation. But for now, it's a toy - a really, really cool toy - that I'm still trying to find worth in. Doesn't mean I don't love using it (I do!), but does mean I can't tell every runner to go and grab one this holiday season. Not yet.


Data & Software Overview: Stryd

The main page that greets you in the PowerCenter.
Stryd has a browser interface (the PowerCenter) and an iOS app. Both relay, ultimately, the same data, but do so in different layouts. Stryd also has an Apple Watch app, though you can't review data in it, only record. That's par for the course on most Apple Watch workout apps (who'd want to review all these numbers on a screen that small, anyway?).

Update: The Apple Watch app allows users to review individual runs by swiping right and seeing distance, then clicking on that run, which allows for a view of individual metrics on the graph. Not as full-featured as desktop or iPhone, but, as I said - you're probably going to want to get to a bigger screen, anyway.

You got all that?
You get a bunch of additional metrics on desktop, too, by clicking the circles below the "main" readouts: Elapsed Pace expands to Max Pace; Elapsed Time expands to Total Time; Average Elapsed Power expands to Max Power; Averaged Elapsed Form Power expands to both Average Elapsed HR and Average Elapsed Leg Spring; and Average Elapsed Cadence expands to Average Elapsed Ground Time and Average Elapsed Vertical Oscillation. Phew. This is the majority of the available measurements taken by the Stryd, in their absolute form.

Then there's the Running Stress Score ("RSS"), which Stryd sees as the shortcut to your run analysis, as far as I can tell: RSS = 100 x training duration x (Power/CP)^K, where critical power ("CP") is your maximal average sustainable power over one hour of running, also referred to as “lactate threshold” power. Only have a few seconds to check the app? This is where you should look - RSS quantifies your day-by-day running intensity relative to your critical power, giving you a single number representing both the variety and duration of training. Looking at the algorithm above (and cheating a little, because I already know the answer) we can see that one hour of training at one's critical power will earn them exactly 100 RSS points.

This RSS metric is, as far as I can tell, the most useful, quantifiable piece of data Stryd provides. It's similar to Garmin's Training Effect software, in that you could theoretically sit down and plan a training block around matching specific RSS scores to specific workouts, but it's also just easier information to use than Average Elapsed Leg Spring (no offense to leg spring, of course).

Stryd's iOS app provides this funky, "flyover" style map of your run.
The iOS app allows you to view your run in "real time" (i.e. it provides the metrics for you at that specific point in your run, overlaid onto the map) which looks sharp, and has some obvious utility - you can see what happened to you during that part of the race. Maybe you felt your legs giving out, and wanted to see how your cadence changed; maybe you wanted confirmation that there really wasn't a downhill when you started speeding up. Both should be available in this view.

Apple Watch interface. Simple.














*This is a long asterisk, and hopefully you followed it down. Stryd says that it records every run, even if you aren't using the app. Just run, technology free (besides the footpod), come back home, and it'll have your run ready for you. But I can't get that to work - despite resetting the app, trying just about every setting I can think of, and more. [Update: Stryd is helping me through some troubleshooting and hopefully we can have this up-and-running soon. None of the other reviews had this issue, so may just be a faulty unit, or user error.]


Head-to-Head (ft. Joost de Raeymaeker):

Joost and I were split on which system we preferred overall:

Not a lot of room left for, you know, the laces.
Joost said he preferred Stryd overall, as he found the immediate metrics a lot more helpful to me than those provided by Runscribe. Unfortunately, Joost wasn't able to use the newest iteration of the RS+, but the system is (largely) conserved. Moreover, Joost noted that while the power metric is new with Runscribe, he was disappointed overall, as well as in the lack of barometric measurement.

Even so, he reported that while his first Stryd was incredibly accurate, it ended up going the way of so many electronics and needed to be replaced. Stryd sent him a complimentary replacement, but he found the accuracy to be well off its distance calculation, and the app doesn't allow for a calibration factor.

[MPE update: I didn't have an issue r.e. the calibration factor, but for those, like Joost, who did, Stryd allows hardware-based calibrations to override their software, which may be helpful if you have a watch that allows it!]

I (Michael) would prefer the RunScribe, were I approaching these in the marketplace. For a reasonably small price difference, you get considerably more metrics and a software interface that (in my opinion) is largely more user-friendly. After two weeks of using the system, I don't think I'm ready to handle 10% of the data provided - but I'm excited to keep digging and hopefully integrate it fully into my training. Let's say this - the RunScribe is will stay laced in my trainers a long while.  I also preferred the hardware, though it's mostly a toss-up, as both are really well-made and seem to have strong customer service.

* * * * *

Conclusions

So, can data make you faster? Ultimately, I think I'm asking the wrong question. Instead, can we make use of all this data? I know that I can't; at least not right now. RunScribe+ and Stryd both have tons of metrics - Power being perhaps the most obvious (and the one Stryd pushes the hardest), but all worth considering, if you have the time.

Paired with an Apple Watch or a Garmin Fenix or Forerunner, either of these footpods will provide more than you can need, even on-the-fly. If you're like me (or like me, before this review), and still think that time and distance are the extent of the data you need after a run, you're in for a real treat. It's amazing technology, fun to play with and imagine the possibilities. 

Both Stryd and RunScribe make strong statements about injury prevention; I suppose in the time that I've been reviewing these footpods, I have not been injured, so they've been successful that far, but I don't think that's what they intend. And, ultimately, if you're strapped for time, barely squeezing in your run every day for family, work, and other commitments - you aren't necessarily missing anything by not having these numbers. You won't finish your next race and think if only I knew my pronation velocity, I would have caught that guy! 

Here's the truth: I fully believe you could help prevent injuries, or increase your efficiency, or even, yes, become faster from these things. There's more data here than even the top coaches in the world are dealing with, and if you have the prowess to sort through it, more power to you. It's exceptionally cool, and fun to play with. But for me, now, it's just that: a toy. A really fun toy, one I'm excited to use for the upcoming weeks and months and (hopefully) years - but one that I'd advise only the nerdiest of runners (and I imagine RTR readers are among them) to pick up. Those who have stuck through this far may well enjoy a RunScribe or Stryd, find catharsis in picking apart the numbers for that long run, race, or grueling workout. If that isn't you, you aren't missing some critical piece of training. But if that does describe you - welcome to running in 2018.
Shop for Run Scribe Plus HERE
Shop for Stryd HERE
Reviewer Run Bios
Michael Ellenberger is a 3d year law student at Northwestern University who recently ran a PR 1:07:43 half marathon. His full run bio is here.
Joost de Raeymaeker is 50 and won his age group in 2018 with a PR 2:27.32. He is a photo journalist http://www.deraeymaeker.com who lives in Angola, Africa.
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7 comments:

demian sims said...

Some benefits I've had from running with Stryd are that I've learned to run slower. I think this is a big factor in not getting injured and helping with longevity. I also find that running with Power makes more sense than running with pace or even heart rate. The original purpose for my purchase, however was to get accurate pacing, power and stride without relying on GPS which appears to be inaccurate in big cities. And the Stryd plans are quite good and fun to follow which also helps with achieving running goals.

Michael said...

Demian - Running slower is absolutely something I can stand to learn. On the other hand, I found the Stryd footpod to not be as accurate as GPS - but I tend to run on the Lakefront path, where GPS is pretty accurate.

Florian said...

Quite enjoyed reading your comparisons, unfortunately RS+ isn't available in Europe so the price differential is much higher compared to Stryd. A nice thing about Stryd is that you can use any other "wireless" charger around, so if you own a recent iphone or Android device you don't need a dedicated charger for a single device.

Just some things I spotted in the article:
* In the RS+ Hardware section: "It also has an Apple Watch app, or you can bring your phone (Android or iOS) and track via the Stryd app" - Probably should be RS+ app
* The end of the RS+ part seems to be missing some text: "If you’re a data nerd - and I suppose I put myself in that camp - you’ll probably love the RS+ plus system just to have it. I know I do. And maybe if I had"

Michael said...

Gah, thank you - those copy errors are updated now.

Florian - You're suggesting the charger is a Qi-standard charger? Interestingly there are some Facebook groups and forum posts that note the compatibility, but it's nowhere on Stryd's website (and I'd hate to ruin the thing by cooking it on a charger it's not designed for). I can reach out to Stryd for comment!

Florian said...

Michael - I don't own a Stryd (yet) so I haven't tried it, but researching it I found this in their support documentation under "Is my wireless charger working?" -- "You can also try to charge Stryd on any other wireless charger."

https://support.stryd.com/hc/en-us/articles/360000667054-Is-my-wireless-charger-working-

Also the replies in this thread by Ray Maker seem to confirm it. Of course a clear statement from Stryd would be excellent.

https://twitter.com/dcrainmakerblog/status/936303946229878784

Michael said...

Interesting. I don't see the standard listed on the advertising (I know that Qi is a licensed technology, so I'd imagine they'd want it included), but it is a really nice find. I amended the listening to reflect as much!

Neil Catley said...

I've been onboard with RunScribe since their first kickstarter. I'm now using the RS+ models, and I'm VERY impressed. Distance and pace are very accurate (GPS and RS distance were within 0.01 miles in a recent 6 mile mixed trail run!). The metrics are increasingly useful as I learn how to use them. I'm not sold on running 'power'.
I tore a calf back in the spring, and monitoring my imbalance with actual numbers as I recovered and got stronger again was incredibly useful.
Will RS make me run faster... Maybe if they help me stay injury free by allowing me to monitor my running gait. So far so good.