It is likely that you know Adidas as a maker of fitness clothing – including of course running shoes. But the company also sells a range of other products including antiperspirants, eyewear, sports watches and the sports fitness kit that is the subject of this review, the miCoach which launched in March this year.

miCoach is designed specifically for runners. It relies on regular and frequent use of a web site to create personalised training routines which you follow with the aid of a heart rate monitor, distance Stride Sensor and the miCoach Pacer, a gadget which gathers information from these two, relays instructions to you as you run and acts as the conduit between your running sessions and the web based log and personal trainer.

If it sounds like quite a complicated setup, well, it is. I think that the miCoach system could help you make great leaps in your performance, but if you’re the kind of runner who just likes to put on your shoes and go, you’ll have to change your behaviour to get the most from it.

 What’s in the box?

There are quite a few bits and pieces  in the box. The bits you take out with you on a run are the heart rate monitor, Stride Sensor and the miCoach Pacer unit. You may also use the provided headset with its single in-ear bud, or you can use your own headphones.

Either way these connect to the miCoach Pacer so that instructions can be given to you during a run. If you can bear to run with yet another piece of kit you can use the provided 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable to connect the miCoach Pacer to your own music player so you can have music plus training instructions.

I barely noticed the kit when on the run and you need just a few seconds to get it all in place as part of your pre-run routine. I clipped the stride sensor onto my running shoes once and didn’t bother to take it on and off as it was used on every single run. The only time you’d need to remove it would be to change its battery or to swap shoes if you were going for a run on a different type of terrain. You can buy Adidas shoes with an under-heel recess into which the stride sensor can sit unnoticed, much like the Nike+ system.

The miCoach Pacer itself is small enough to drop into a pocket on your running shorts, or you can fix it to your waistband with what turned out to be a very secure clip.

In addition the box includes the USB to 3.5mm cable you need to attach the miCoach Pacer to your PC – which you’ll be doing a lot – and a printed manual which walks you through the setup process. The heart rate monitor and Stride Sensor are powered by flat, watch-type batteries, the miCoach Pacer has its own rechargeable cell which is juiced up when you connect it to your PC. A full charge will record approximately ten hours of active workout time – enough to monitor almost all of us through a full marathon.

Setup and configuration

As I said at the outset of this review, if you are the kind of runner who likes to slap on your shoes and go out on a run in seconds, then the miCoach is going to require a degree of discipline. There is a fair amount of work to be done before you take a single stride, and you are going to need to put some thought into this work.

This is because miCoach gives you spoken instructions on each run depending on data it has downloaded from the Web, and that data is produced to help you meet specific goals and a training schedule that you setup. You can see how a lot of this works in practice without having the miCoach at all, as you can do the Web site activities without the miCoach gear.

The first step is to sign up at the web site (www.addidas.com/uk/micoach) and divulge some basic information like your sex, height and weight. This info is used to help personalise the training plans you go for later on.

Now you can choose a plan. The miCoach web site offers training regimes that cater for a wide range of fitness levels and goals. You can come to miCoach as a non runner and start from scratch building slowly from a base of no activity to running 5ks, 10ks, half marathons and marathons.

You can choose a plan designed to use running as a stress buster and nothing more. You can opt for a weight loss plan, concentrating on aerobic work to burn calories faster. Or you can have specific race goals in mind, as a first timer or an improver. You can move from one plan to another as your personal ambitions change, and there’s no compulsion to see one plan through to the end before switching out to a new one. In that respect the system is extremely flexible.

Having chosen a plan, for example to run a 10k race, you then tell the software what level you are currently at. This is where things can get a little tricky. While there is space for ten different ability levels for each plan, not all are actually populated with training regimes. So you might find nothing actually suits and you have to backtrack to the plan selection area to pick another option.

If you have any starting fitness at all I suggest you give yourself time to mooch around a bit here rather than plumping for the first good fit you see. It’ll pay off later to choose a plan that suits your current ability rather than simply making a choice because you are pushed for time.

With this decision made, you can still do some tweaking. The software automatically chooses a schedule that it thinks is appropriate with a set number of runs a week over a given number of weeks. You can change the amount of runs and the duration of the training schedule, and also change the days you want to run, so that the schedule fits in with other commitments.

With all that done you are ready to download data into your miCoach Pacer. Or at least, you are nearly ready. You need to download an application called the miCoach Manager. This is what actually uploads training log data from the miCoach Pacer and downloads new training information into it. With the miCoach Manager downloaded and installed you can connect the miCoach Pacer to your computer using the provided cable, run the miCoach Manager app, login, and watch as your first training run data is downloaded.

You are now ready to go for a run at last. But even now the setup is unlikely to be finished. You may well find, as I did, that the stride sensor is out of kilter, thinking your strides are longer or shorter than they actually are. In fact, I’d advise you to check the stride sensor’s accuracy at your first opportunity.

You can only do this by running a route of a known length, such as on a running track, or using a GPS to check route length. I took the second option and on one early run the Stride Sensor thought I’d gone 2.3k when the GPS watch said I’d gone 2.9k.

It is easy to calibrate the Stride Sensor. You go into a run report and edit the distance run manually. When you next make a download to the miCoach Pacer the new calibration data is used on the Stride Sensor.

However, any adjustments you make aren’t backtracked to earlier runs and the calibration instructions are not in the printed quick start guide but in the fuller manual you can download from the Web. Really, for something most people are going to need to do, I think this information is rather too well hidden.

In use

Getting yourself kitted up for a run is not such a big deal as it might at first sound. With the Stride Sensor permanently attached to a shoe that’s one job which doesn’t need to be done on every run. It is no bother putting on a heart rate monitor, either – just remember to adequately wet the back of it so that it can actually do its monitoring.

The main pre-run task is getting the miCoach Pacer to pick up a signal from both of these, which you do by pressing its large central button. Lights to the left and right will glow green to indicate connections are made  – red if there is no connection.

Then, when you are ready to actually start running, you use the buttons on the top of the miCoach Pacer to turn it on, and the arrow button to choose a workout. Workout names are spoken as you move through them so you know when you’ve hit the right one – as long as you have the headphones plugged in and in your ear, of course. You can even choose a ‘free’ option where the miCoach Pacer simply records your distance as recorded by the Stride Sensor and heart rate without bothering to instruct you on an actual workout. When you’ve chosen the run you want and are ready to start you hit the run icon on the front of the miCoach Pacer and you’re off.

In fact, heart rates are crucial to miCoach. During subsequent sessions you are given instructions to go into the red, yellow, green or blue zone for set periods of time in order to vary your effort. When you are in the red zone you’ll be sprinting like you’re running away from a rabid dog.

The running schedule for my 10K plan included a mixture of interval sessions, slower recovery runs and more intense sessions. You can simply follow the letter of the training regime, or save workouts you’ve particularly liked as custom workouts and then drag and drop them onto your schedule, or drag and drop them into the miCoach Pacer. You can also move sessions to different days if you can’t make a run on a suggested day. And there is even space for you to write notes against each run in order to record how you felt it went.

By default the miCoach Pacer stores the next ten scheduled workouts and five favourites, but you can tweak the ratio if you prefer. With so many training sessions stored you don’t have to upload to the miCoach web site after every run, though if you do you’ll get a better idea of progress towards your goals.

Conclusion

There is quite a bit of setting up to do before you actually get to take the miCoach kit out for a run. For some people, and especially those coming to running for the first time, the learning curve is likely to be steep. You may even find you need to repeat the assessment session because of issues. The first time I did it, I had the miCoach Pacer in the back pocket of my running shorts, and it kept loosing the signal both from the heart rate monitor and Stride Sensor. On a repeat run I clipped the miCoach Pacer to the belt of my shorts and it was fine.

You get no indication of the pace you are running at during a session and I found this very irritating. So for every session I wore a GPS watch, to give me this information for my personal training log. This was fortunate, actually, as it was only by comparing the GPS and miCoach Pacer distance reports that I realised the calibration of the latter was off.

If, like me, you start most of your training runs from home you will encounter road crossings and other places where you are forced to slow down or stop. The miCoach can’t cope with these enforced stops. It simply sees you dropping out of the suggested heart rate zone and instructs you to get back into it. This is irritating when circumstances dictate that you can’t! In that respect miCoach is best suited to people who can do their run in some off road location such as a park or along a towpath, which does not involve forced stop or have areas that make you go slowly. I am fortunate in that I have to jog for just a few minutes to get to several off road running locations. If you are not that lucky, miCoach could be quite difficult to use effectively.

All those points noted, I felt that the spoken instructions encouraged me to work harder on runs than I might otherwise have done. It seems odd to think that I was happy to follow the instructions of a voice in my ear, but I was, and I suspect that many other people would be too. It is this, the motivation given by the spoken word, that really helps the miCoach system do its job. It is one thing going for four runs a week at the same pace, quite another to thrown in some intervals and threshold runs. You progress far more rapidly from the latter approach, and that’s where miCoach can really help.

Pros:

  • Training schedules are automatically generated
  • Training schedules are easily tweaked
  • Spoken instructions during a run are difficult to ignore
  • The kit is relatively unobtrusive to run with

Cons:

  • Stride Sensor will probably need recalibrating and instructions are not easy to find
  • No reports of pace during a run
  • Some will find the early computer work tedious
  • Some may find the early learning curve a bit steep
  • Not suited to all types of running location

Manufacturer: Adidas

SRP: £120.00