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As I've gotten older, my rugby boots were retired and I moved on to jogging as my primary form of exercise. I find it fascinating to capture data during my runs and spend time studying my trends, figuring out ways to improve my health and performance, and using various mobile devices to see which performs the best for me. For the past couple of months, I've been running with a couple of pairs of Under Armour connected shoes and am enjoying the seamless nature of capturing data with shoes that are always with me.
Smartwatches have significantly improved when it comes to tracking the details of running, but you have to make sure you have an adequately charged watch before heading out. With a pair of UA connected shoes, you can rely on the shoes being ready to go all the time and then use your watch or phone as a companion if you like. You can also just leave the phone or watch at home and gather useful data with the shoes in an independent mode.
While I like the convenience of these connected shoes, I think the demographic for these are casual, recreational runners who don't put too many miles a week on their shoes. Serious runners could burn out the integrated sensor's battery in six weeks to two months and even average runners might have the sensors expire long before the shoes themselves are worn out. If you understand that the shoes can help coach your form for a few months and then serve as regular running shoes after that, then these might be a good fit for you.
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Under Armour's PR folks reached out to me in August to invite me to join a team for the UA All Out Mile campaign that was designed to guide you through training and achieve a PR for a one mile run. I'm a sprinter who has run a full marathon and several half marathons, but I've never timed myself in a mile. I accepted the challenge and was then sent some Under Armour gear to train with, including a pair of the UA Flow Velocity SE and UA HOVR Mega 2 Clone running shoes. I installed the MapMyRun app on my Android smartphone and started training.
As part of the campaign, weekly training plans were provided and by connecting your FitRankings account to MapMyRun you could check on the status of your team and other participants. There were about 10 members of the UA Media team and it looks like I did well within the team. After two weeks of training, I suffered a medical emergency and had to have my gall bladder removed. This put a halt to my active training, but I recovered quickly and was able to get in a couple more training runs before the week that we were supposed to run the All Out Mile. I ended up with a 7:53 mile, but kept training after the campaign and have been able to get my mile down to 7:20 thanks to guidance from the shoes. That's not even close to the fastest runnes who ran faster than 4 minutes per mile.
For many years the Brooks Ghost shoes have been my default running shoe so it's been a long time since I've tried running in anything else. However, I was open to trying something new, especially something that can be considered mobile technology. A pair of White/Phoenix Fire UA Flow Velociti SE running shoes in size 12 arrived at the start of the training period. 12 is my standard size and this UA pair fit perfectly so sizing is consistent with other shoes I wear. I love the color scheme with bright orange transitioning into white along the bottom edge of the shoe.
The shoes are available in nine cool color options for $130, which is the price I pay for my Ghost shoes that have no connectivity. The first thing I noticed, other than the color, when I pulled the shoes out of the box was the light weight (8.3 ounces) and the cool knit upper with unique lace system. The upper material also has a bootie elevation around our ankle so they are easy to pull on and feel very secure when laced up. The sole material extends up the sides and back a bit and has serious grip and tackiness, providing a seamless surface to run on. The inner lining is very comfortable and UA states this is a one-piece FLOW midsole.
Under Armour has embedded a sensor in the midsole of the right shoe that connects via Bluetooth LE (BLE). There is no ability to recharge the sensor. While Under Armour states the sensor is rated to last the lifetime of the shoe, if you run 25 miles a week that means the lifetime is only 3 months (300-mile battery life). I run two to three times a week and my shoes usually last me a year before the bottoms are worn down and the shoes need to be replaced. Even at a leisurely 10 miles a week, 300 miles is only 30 weeks or about seven months.
After installing the smartphone app, you simply select to add a shoe and the app will detect the shoe and show an image of the UA Flow Velociti SE, in the proper color scheme, right in the app. If you have trouble, the app guides you through setting the shoe on its side and then connecting it again.
For several of my runs, I didn't take my phone along and was pleased to see that the shoes recorded the workout and captured all of the running form data. There was no GPS track associated with the run since a GPS chip is not in the shoe sensor. You need to start your run by running and not walking for the shoe to start recording the workout. Your shoes can store up to five runs before you need to sync to the smartphone app.
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After a month of training, I was also sent a pair of HOVR Mega 2 Clone running shoes in Concrete/Phoenix Fire to try out. These shoes are priced at $140 and are available in five color combinations.
The HOVR Mega 2 Clone shoes have a substantial heel and bottom cushioning. The heel is well supported with sturdy outer material on either side. The uppers are made with an interesting weave pattern that make the shoe breathable and adaptable to the shape of your foot. The upper is well made and holds my foot securely. This model is a bit heavier than the Flow Velociti, 10.9 ounces total, but are still quite light.
Under Armour conducted a survey of 87,000 users on MapMyRun and found that the app, and digital coach, helped people run 7% faster and 3% farther than the average for all runners using the app. I've only been using it for a couple of months, but I like analyzing the data and reading the coaching tips as I try to improve my low cadence and high stride length. I understand that this combination may lead to injury over time, but it's my natural form and I've never had any issues or injuries due to running. I've never found it easy to increase my cadence and find the advice to "Imagine you are a puppet on a string being pulled up into the sky with each step." a good image to try to emulate as I increase my cadence.
The application is available for Android and iPhone devices for free. There is a ton in the app, including the ability to connect to a number of apps (Garmin Connect, Withings, Suunto, Samsung Health, and more), manually log workouts, discover workouts and routines, view regular runs as routes, interact with friends, live track with your phone, set goals, and dive into the workouts you performed.
Within a workout you can see the GPS track, if included, personalized coaching tips, and summaries of your pace, cadence, stride length, ground contact time, and foot strike angle. This data is collected by the shoes and synced to your phone via Bluetooth. You can also view this running form data through different split time frames to help you hone in on the areas where you did well and areas where you need to improve.
The time you were in target ranges is shown, as well as trends in your data over time. Since cadence is one of my biggest challenges, it is also interesting to see how adjusting your pace leads to a faster required cadence. This was eye opening as I work to speed up my distance pace and now see how much I need to increase my cadence to achieve that target pace. The application also does a good job of explaining how stride length, cadence, ground contact time, foot strike angle, and pace impact your body and guide you on target ranges and what to strive for. Since I do not train with a coach and I am not a professional runner, I like seeing this type of information and guidance.
I was very pleased with the UA Flow Velociti SE, especially when traveling for business where I typically run for just three to five miles as I explore the cities I am visiting. I appreciated their light weight, comfort, and ability to add data to my other wearables. The run coaching has been helpful as I try to increase my cadence as no other method has helped me adapt this part of my form.
As much as I like the looks of the US HOVR Mega 2 Clone, I found they don't work that well for me as a regular running shoe. There is something going on where my heel experiences a bit of a high spot while running for longer than four miles so I only wore these for shorter runs or when using the elliptical inside. I normally wear size 12 shoes and the UA Flow Velocit fit well. However, the HOVR is a half size too small and my toes get pushed against the front too easily with the soft uppers.
Using these shoes introduced me to the MapMyRun application and I may keep using it after this review. I like that it captures the total distance I've run with the shoes, provides interesting running form data, and helps me relive my recent runs so I can improve on future outings. The application is useful for setting goals, exploring workouts and routines, competing with friends, and using the integrated coaching features to help you improve in key areas.