Considering I get puffed out walking up a short set of stairs, I admit to being the least likely candidate to endorse jogging. If you'd told me two months ago I'd be running not one, but two 10km races within a month of each other - and for fun - I'd never have believed you. But despite my defeatist attitude towards exercise, I joined a running group six weeks ago. And the results have been fantastic.
The first - and biggest - hurdle to cross regarding exercise is psyching yourself up enough for that first session. Even once you've done that, the willpower required to do something like tackling a long-distance jog on your own can be a greater hurdle than the physical challenge.
In the absence of any personal trainer to keep me motivated, I decided to try a new training gadget, the miCoach, one of a number of computerised training aids now on the market that promise the next best thing to your own coach: a personalised workout programme, and an encouraging word or two, all at the touch of a button.
The miCoach is Adidas' version of the Nike+iPod, launched by Nike and Apple in 2006. It comes in three parts: a heart-rate monitor, a stride sensor and the miCoach pacer, which delivers audible feedback on your performance as you work out.
For technophobes, the package of wires, batteries and various other bits and bobs that make up miCoach may look intimidating at first, but it's actually quite simple to use, plus there's an instruction manual to guide you through. The device is used in conjunction with the miCoach website, which has a menu of six training programmes - Learn to Run; De-Stress; Be Fit; Lose Weight; Run a Race; and Finish Faster - to help you achieve your goals. You simply select a training programme then download it to the pacer , or create your own programme.
I'd started some gentle jogging a month before buying the miCoach, but still unhappy with my speed and with the aim of running 10km in under an hour, I opted for the Finish Faster programme. The website is simple and straightforward: once you have chosen your programme (and in my case, added information on the date of the race) you are presented with a calendar, filled with a series of training sessions. In addition to being able to download the coaching, you can also load music on to your miCoach.
The "voice" instructions are linked to the sensor and your heart rate. Each training programme is designed to keep your speed and heart rate in a "zone", so if you need to slow down, or speed up to keep within the zone, the voice instructs you to do so.
After just three sessions I began to see an improvement in both my speed and my stamina. The Finish Faster programme recommended three sessions of jogging a week, designed to ease you into a steady routine rather than plunging you in the deep end. As the weeks rolled on, my running has continued to improve, each session becoming less of a chore and more of a challenge.
I had done my first 10km run a few weeks before I began training with miCoach, so for my second - which took place in Abu Dhabi last weekend - I was keen to see how much my performance would improve. It took me 62 minutes to cross the finish line - not as fast as I'd aimed for - but it was just over five minutes faster than my previous record. The key, I think, was learning how to build up speed through gradual pace, and for this the miCoach was instrumental. The $139.99 price isn't cheap, but as an alternative to a personal trainer three times a week, for me it's been money well spent.
The next stop is the Ras al Khaimah Half Marathon in February, which, according to my miCoach schedule, works out as 71 workouts over the next 15 weeks. Now it's really time to get down to business.
Wii Fit Plus
This is much the same as Wii Fit but with the addition of several new games, each designed to help you maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. Users can create personalised exercise programs as well as check how much energy they have burned via the calorie counter. Retail price is: $99.99 (Dh367)
My Health Coach: Manage Your Weight
Created exclusively for the Nintendo DS, this little gadget aims to improve both your eating habits and the level of exercise that you do. Providing the user with short daily exercise sessions, My Health Coach also has mini quizzes and plenty of info to help you learn about nutrition. The pack also includes a pedometer. Retail price is roughly $48.
The closest rival to miCoach, the main difference is that this sportband does not include a device to measure your heart rate. The pack includes a stride sensor that notes your pace, the distance travelled, and the length of time it takes you to complete a training session. As with miCoach, instructions are given in real time (via your iPhone) before the results are uploaded onto the Nike training site. A relatively fuss free training tool. Retail price is $29.99.
The Philips Activa looks like a mini music player and also delivers real time coaching, with the added bonus of selecting music from your library based on the level of your workout. Just make sure you have a wide range of tunes on hand. Somehow, we don't think Metallica would set the right mood for a spot of yoga. Retail price is: $129.99.
Coach potatoes beware. Gruve, whose main aim is to measure the exact amount of calories you burn daily, lights up and buzzes if the wearer has been stationary for too long. Instructions are downloaded from the accompanying website, and the simple gadget clips easily on to the waist band of your trousers. Retail price is $199 (which includes a year's subscription to Gruve Online).
This tiny little device can be left in your pocket, clipped to your clothes, or attached to a band on your wrist while you sleep. Fitbit will monitor your daily activity level, the distance you have walked, and even the way you sleep. Results can then be uploaded onto the Fitbit website for further analysis. Retail price is: $99.
The bodybugg consists of a sole armband, which measures the amount of calories you burn and consume in an effort to help you lose weight. The online website also provides tips on how healthy eating and a diary in which you can log the type and amount of food you eat. A close competitor to the fitbit, which sells for half the price. Retail price is: $199.