Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More Toys

Not much has happened in the last week. Still increasing the volume a bit. Last week was up to about 7h30min of running. I went for an early 3h trail run on Saturday up in the Terra Cotta area of the Bruce trail. As I was running in the early light, trying not to break an ankle because of the questionable footing hidden under the leaves, I wondered how long it would take someone to find me if anything did happen. I checked phone reception at a few spots and it was hit and miss. I did leave a map of where I intended to go at home, so I knew that at some point someone would come for me but what if I didn't qui follow the trail I was supposed to follow?

So I finally broke down and bought a SPOT Personal Tracker. A new smaller model came out, so I got an older one for about 50 bucks after rebate. You do have to buy the service, which is a bit over 100$/year. I bought the older model because it was cheaper, but also because its operating temperature range is -45C/85C, as opposed to -30C/60C for the newer model. My next race is going to be cold, so I might as well be ready for it.

What is SPOT you say? It's basically a GPS unit with transmit capabilities. The GPS unit keeps track of you location, and you can send one of 3 pre-programmed messages. The first two, OK and HELP, go to a list of email or SMS addresses that you can setup yourself. The 3rd button is a hard coded 911 button that sends your location to the closest rescue authorities as well as your emergency contacts defined in your profile. The satellites cover a large portion of the world including anywhere I could ever dream to go.

I tried the unit and it seems to work as advertized although one must understand that there are limitations. Transmitting a message to outer space with a unit the size of a potatoe using 2 AA batteries as an energy source is an amazing feat of technology. And SPOT can broadcast your location every 10 minutes for up to 14 days on one set of batteries. What this means is that the SPOT unit has to be face up when transmitting a message. I tried transmitting while holding the unit in my hand vertically during a run, and the message did not transmit. If I held the unit logo-up for a little while, the message got sent, as long as there was a decent view of the sky.

The unit is not a replacement for a Garmin 305, as far as tracking your run. But if you find yourself in trouble in the bush, your 305 (or any regular GPS) will only be able to show you where you are. The SPOT unit will let others know you are in trouble, or even just keep track of how you are progressing on that 8 hour long run. With the training that is coming over the next few months, I will feel better carying it.


Derrick said...

A very wise investment! Great to have peace of mind for you and your family.

Good idea going with the model with the colder temperature range. I was wondering about battery life, but even with the cold it sounds like it doesn't use much.

So during the race, or a training run, you can hit 'OK' regularly and your family (and coach) can follow along online. It will be great to see your progress during the race and be a part of it.

JD said...

Derrick, as far as battery life, they say it can send 1900 'OK' or 'HELP' messages. It can send 911 messages for 1 week after you press the button. I also splurged and paid an extra 50$/year for the optional tracking service where I can tell my SPOT to send 'TRACKING' messages automatically every 10 minutes. People can then follow my progress online on a google map. I'll try that next weekend.

Derrick said...

Cold affects battery life by quite a bit, combined with the quality of battery. Still sounds like all sorts of juice available though.

Look forward to following the tracking. So, you'll just clip it to the top of your pack then and forget about it. Nice.

JD said...

The unit requires two AA lithium batteries. I did not know this, but according to the Energizer Lithium tech document, cold should have minimal effect on battery life as long as drainage is low:

"Lithium iron disulfide (LiFeS2) batteries have a much lower sensitivity to temperature compared to other
chemical systems. The recommended operating temperature range is -40°C to +60°C (-40°F to +140°F). As with all battery systems, service life is reduced as the discharge temperature is lowered below room temperature (fig. 2). Batteries generate power through chemical reactions and these typically run much more slowly at lower temperatures. However, even at -40°C, the LiFeS2 batteries perform well at the rating drain 200 mA. LiFeS2 batteries can deliver approximately full rated capacity at -40°C if they are discharged at 25 mA. Thus, at these rates, the batteries give comparable performance over the entire 100°C operating range."

Derrick said...

Ah..good to know.