It's raining in the UK – a real deluge. Enough to water all the farms of the country and film enough rom-coms to fill Netflix up for good. This rain came at the perfect time, breaking up several weeks of painfully hot summer.
One side-effect of this unexpectedly horrible summer (in the UK we like to complain about it being too hot any time the sky is blue) is that barely anyone felt like exercising – no-one wants to do an activity that makes you hot and sweaty when merely being outside has the same effect.
I am one of those people – despite desperately needing to exercise to fend off those lockdown weight gains, it was hard to do in the heat of the summer. I had all but given up hope of exercising when I found a feature on the Fitbit Versa 2, which ended up saving my summer workouts.
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Finding the Fitbit
I'm not a fancy exerciser – my technique is to run until I get tired, and then rest for a few days until I'm not tired. I only do any other kind of exercise to check out different modes in watches I review, never for fun. In heat like the UK was having, exercise for me basically just involves running to the end of the street and back.
My running technique has an advantage in my line of work – smartwatches and fitness trackers, which I test, all offer different running modes, but they all have a generic 'running' one. Therefore I can always use that one mode and easily compare results on different devices.
As I said, though, it doesn't really work in summer, so, for the most part, I gave up exercising (it's a hard life, I know). Well, I did for a while, but when those lockdown pounds began accumulating, I knew a change was needed. But I realized if I wanted to exercise at all, I needed to try something different to my usual routine.
My usual pick for the best running watch is the fantastic Honor Magic Watch 2, but none of its modes really inspired me to run; likewise, the sheer options available to me in the Moto 360 (it uses Wear OS, so has all the Google Fit tracking options) dissuaded me from even looking. Then I found the Fitbit Versa 2.
I gave up on the Fitbit Versa 2 not long after first testing it – I found its battery life sub-par, and I could never get the notification handling to work. But scrolling through its list of options, I found one that leaped out at me: interval training.
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Before finding the Fitbit Versa 2, the idea of interval training had always been in the back of my mind – quick bursts of action followed by rests felt perfect for the hot weather, so you're never working too hard for too long. I'd get to do my favorite thing repeatedly – that is, to stop running!
I probably should have done some research to see if experts concur, or if there's a better way of running in the sun. I should have, but didn't.
Seeing interval training mode in the Fitbit made me realize that specific training modes like this on smartwatches feel quite rare (not including dedicated running watches, obviously). Watches and fitness trackers have plenty of modes to track what you do, but too few to tell you exactly what to do.
I was glad I'd looked around at the various options available to me – finding this interval training mode inspired me to finally go on a run.
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Run, Fitbit, run
I briefly Googled 'interval training' to check what it was (to save me any nasty surprises) then headed over to my new go-to running spot, London's Highbury Fields, ready to do some exercise.
The Google search told me interval training consisted of three minutes of hard work, then three minutes of rest. I was very surprised, then, when after 30 seconds of sprinting , the watch buzzed, and told me to rest. Already? Well, I figured, maybe that was a warm-up.
Then, after another roughly 20 seconds – buzz – time to go again. It was way sooner than I expected, and I had to stumble straight into a sprint in front of a bunch of confused onlookers.
That's how the workout went – it felt like the watch buzzed and told me to rest or run at random intervals between 20 and 40 seconds long. In fairness, it could have been the same amount of time consistently, with my sense of temporal reality distorted by my haphazard exercising and all the cute dogs in the park.
I'm sure I looked a bizarre sight – a guy running, stopping for seemingly no reason, then bursting into runs again. I tried to look at my watch when it buzzed to signify to people 'my watch is telling me to do this', but for all they know the watch could have been showing me nasty messages I wanted to get away from, 'Tom did you remember to put the bins out?'.
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Two's a crowd
The Fitbit Versa 2's interval training mode lasted roughly eight minutes long, after which I was sufficiently energized, tired and full of adrenaline. My techsperimentation to find a new way to exercise had paid off.
Except, I wasn't too tired. I could probably go again. Maybe I should tweak the settings so the interval training lasted a little longer?
I had previously set the interval training timing by distance, but this time I decided to set a calorie goal instead. It's probably worth pointing out I don't really know much about calories, because in hindsight, it seems 600 was way too high.
The Versa 2 set me off again, but this time it was worse - much worse. The workout went on far longer than before, more iterations of stopping, sprinting, stopping, sprinting, courting the confused stares of people going for a nice walk out or enjoying a picnic.
After doing about as many intervals as I did for my first round, or perhaps a few more, I packed it in – I could feel the skin melting on my face and my legs were about to explode. Like Frankenstein, my experiments with new technology had gone too far, and made a monster.
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After a few more runs with the Fitbit Versa 2, I stopped using it and moved to other tech – not because the Versa had wronged me, but because I had a smartwatch come in that I had to test, which became my new running companion.
The key thing to note, though, is that I did continue running. The Versa 2's mode had encouraged me that I could keep exercising in the hot weather, even if I didn't need to be using the Fitbit when I did so.
So next my time I feel uninspired by my usual running routine, I know I can jump into the Fitbit Versa 2 or maybe another fitness watch I have laying around, in order to find something that encourages me to work out in another way.
I'm going to have to test this theory very soon, too - as the introduction to this article says, the UK version of monsoon season has just started. Running in the hot sun is bad, but trying to do so in gale force wind and rain? Time to open that tech drawer...