How Far and How Fast

TSTThirty years ago, my wife, Muri, made the mistake of referring to me as a jogger.  At the time, I was running about 25 miles a week, swimming 4 or 5, and and biking 50.  I’m not a jogger, I told her, I’m an athlete.  Arrogance comes easy for forty-something men.   Not so much for sixty-something men, especially when the something is nine and my exercise consists mostly of walking, although I still occasionally drag out my old Panasonic bike for a few miles around the park.   One habit that hasn’t changed from my running days, though, is that I still like variety on my walks so I don’t know the distance along my routes.  So, this week, I tried a couple Android apps to keep track of my distance.  There are two ways to go: the smartphone version of the old-fashioned pedometers that count steps and multiply by an average step length to get distance; and the modern version, which determines distance from GPS.

Old-fashioned pedometers used a pendulum or switch that rocked with each step to count steps.  However, most smartphones include an accelerometer that senses the motion of the phone for functions like auto-rotate and auto-answer when the phone is picked up.   Smartphone pedometers use thisruntastic accelerometer to sense each step.   The pedometer app I’m using, the runtastic pedometer, seemed to count each step accurately when set to the standard sensitivity.  You can make it more sensitive (but risk counting the phone shaking in your pocket as steps) or less sensitive (and risk missing steps).  If you are interested in distance not the number of steps, you need to enter the length of each step (or use the average stored in the app).  You can always walk a measured mile and calculate a good value by dividing 5,280 feet by the number of steps you measure.  There’s another advantage to this sort of pedometer that I’ll illustrate with a story.  When my Dad was in his late seventies, he claimed he was walking 7 miles a day.  I probably looked skeptical because he added, Really, Bud.  I keep track of it on my pedometer.  Then, one night while we sitting in his room, talking, I noticed him shaking his pedometer in his hand.  So, yeah, if you want to increase your miles without moving, that works with a smartphone, too.

As you probably know, the Global Positioning System … GPS … measures your distance from a number of satellites which transmit a time code.  Because these are geo-stationary satellites … remaining at a fixed position over the earth … this allows your phone to determine where you are.  By measuring your position over time, the app can determine how far you’ve traveled and your speed.  Even though the individual measurements from commercial (as opposed to military) GPS are only accurate to about 7 meters, by averaging over time, a very accurate map of your walk can be developed.  The app I’veRUNKEEPER been using, Runkeeper, provides a nice plot of my walk overlaid on a local map, along with mile markers and average speed.   It also updates me every 5 minutes on my headphones, giving me time, distance and time per mile.   If you are counting steps … for example, to try to meet the American Heart Association recommended goal of 10,000 steps a day … you need know your stride length, just as you do to determine distance with the old-fashioned pedometer.   Now, it turns out that the GPS function on your phone is a real power hog, so when you use a GPS pedometer, your battery will run down faster.  And because the satellite signals are too weak to be useful inside … or even under heavy foliage … your GPS pedometer won’t work if you’re a mall walker.

So, there you go.  This week’s Two Thoughts for Top Sites Tuesday #219 concern how you can determine How Far and How Fast you are walking.  Thought Number OneUse a GPS app like Runkeeper if you want an accurate distance record and a map of your route and if you’re going to be walking outside.  And be sure to charge your battery before you start out.   And Thought Number TwoUse a pedometer app if you’re going to be walking inside and if you don’t want to worry about running down your battery.  And, oh, yeah … if you want to run up your miles without moving, just sit in your easy chair and shake your phone.   And here’s a Bonus Thoughtthese apps are fairly small.  Why not keep one of each on your phone?   And before you set off on your walk, why not click my button … gently … to make me Number One on Top Sites Tuesday #219.

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4 Comments on “How Far and How Fast”

  1. cherperz Says:

    I used to use a app to monitor my distance and it seemed to work well. Unlike you, however, I take the exact same trek everyday. I know it sounds boring but I am on the phone with my Texas walking partner and the routine allows me not to pay as close of attention as I would if I wasn’t familiar with my route. I still have to look out for traffic and such but I know the pavement variations and where the cars are supposed to stop. (supposed is not necessarily the same as actually stopping).

    I do like the technology though. I think this is much more accurate than my old pedometer. I used to test my pedometer by driving my car along my route to get an approximate idea of the real distance. It always varied a bit.

    I think that it is great that you have lived such an active life. I was never an athlete. I am fit and active but just that.


  2. Wolfbernz Says:

    Hi Bud,

    Gotta love all the aps they have out now. I think I’m going to get the pedometer app to see how many steps I take through the day! You gotten me curious.

    Great thoughts!

  3. Trina Says:

    When I walk I never really think about distance, it’s more about location… Like I’m going to the oak tree then I’ll go back home. Unless we’re sailing then it’s all about how close the nearest store is LOL I know the we definitely walk a lot more when we’re traveling than we do when we’re home.

    Then again if I counted my steps while we are working… could be too close to call.


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