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Amy Verner: Equipped

Running to beat the band - on my wrist Add to ...

For me, running outside has never been a numbers game. Treadmills present the opportunity to focus on speed, distance and time, but when I hit the streets or trails I simply want to enjoy the experience without obsessing about my performance.

I think I'm in the minority here, as even my rookie runner friends use wearable devices to track their workouts. And these gadgets are getting increasingly high-tech, from GPS systems to wireless heart-rate monitors.

If I were training for a marathon, these features would be important to me. But I'm happy when I complete a 5K run, and positively elated when I do double that.

Still, I've always been curious to know whether my pace is the same outdoors as inside, and the new Sportband from Nike ($79.95 at Canadian Nike outlets, $59 U.S. online) seemed like a good opportunity to find out.

It looks like a wrist watch and, like other Nike+ products, comes with an oval, loonie-sized sensor that nestles beneath the left sole of a Nike sneaker. Accelerometer technology is used to measure vibration and motion, which ultimately yields statistics on speed, distance and calories burned.

The watch face is a removable USB key that plugs into the computer, allowing run reports to be uploaded, stored and plotted on a graph to track progress at the website.

As it turns out, I am indeed able to run faster on a treadmill than on the road, though not by much.

I'm particularly fond of the tagging feature, which allows me to choose how I felt during the run, what the weather was like, and whether I was on a trail or a treadmill. (That lousy 5.5 kilometres from last Thursday, for example, has been marked as "sluggish.")

Of course, all of this would be moot if the Sportband proved inaccurate. This does not seem to be the case. On two occasions, it recorded a slightly longer distance than the treadmill displayed, but I blame myself for not calibrating it. (Nike says the device is 93 per cent accurate out of the box.)

It seems to me that the product was created not only to offer a pared-down, inexpensive alternative to tech-heavy gear (which can cost upward of $300), but to make running more fun. Theoretically, I could use my Sportband to join online groups, enter races or have my runs updated to my Facebook page.

This is a bit too much sharing for me. I have, however, set the goal of five runs averaging an 11.8-kilometre-an-hour pace by Sept. 21. Wish me luck.

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