Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Goin' Pro

I've officially gone pro.

That doesn't mean, unfortunately, that I'm getting paid to run and ride my bike. (Wouldn't that be a dream come true!?) Instead, it basically means I've opted to upgrade to the new PRO version of dailymile.

In their launch of dailymile PRO, Ben and Kelly, the creators of the site, acknowledged that the site has grown immensely and so too has the demand for more features and services. PRO comes with a pricetag, of course, which Ben and Kelly say will allow for the expansion of services and features.

The PRO membership, at a cost of $49.95 per year, works out to less than a dollar a week. (There is also an option to pay monthly, $8.95 at a time.)

I thought about the offer briefly, noting that PROs get some additional features - like extra "motivation" options, tracking of PRs and enhanced weekly stats. None of those were really important enough to me to feel the need to "buy" them.

Still, I clicked through to the registration page and became a PRO. Why?

To me, becoming a PRO isn't about the added features or status. It's much more about supporting a site and a service that I value. And for a $1 per week, I certainly get my money's worth.

Maintaining a website and its content isn't free. Trust me, I speak as someone who's made a living in the newspaper business - you know, that business that's struggling because once upon a time, before anyone knew what the Internet would mean to the world, someone thought that giving away our product (our news) away for free would be a good idea.

Don't get me wrong, I love online news sites. It's opened up my world to being able to read the hometown accounts of news across the country. I admittedly dislike paying for online news . Even those registration requirements cause me to "X out" of a site if I don't think it's worth it.

But that's all because I've been trained that online news should be free. Newspapers were their own worst enemy in this regard. We, newspapers, gave away our product for free. And now we wonder how to charge people for it.

Although the business model of a newspaper and an online training site like dailymile differ - certainly it costs a lot more to maintain a room full of reporters and editors than it does to fill your site with membership-posted content - there are some basic similarities.

The creators of dailymile have opted not to explore an advertiser-driven site at this point. One the one hand, I think of Facebook's highly targeted ads (except that one for plus-sized pajamas that somehow posted on my page -- what?!!). I find them totally unoffensive and even sometimes helpful. I wouldn't mind seeing them on dailymile, and might even go as far as to say I'd find some ads helpful. Surely there are some vendors that would love to tap into the dailymile market?

On the other hand, I look at sites like MapMyRun and it think about how it drives me crazy when their floating ads gets in the way or that Gatorade pop-up covers the route I'm mapping. It drives me crazy, but not crazy enough to upgrade to their "Premium" membership to avoid the ads, I might note.

But dailymile is different. It has a real value to me.

I've learned a lot from the connections I've made on dailymile, whether it be tips for races to try, training and nutrition advice or an informal review of the newest running shoe. I've made personal connections - and have even turned some of those into "real life" connections (even though I never, ever thought I'd do that).

Dailymile allows me to track my mileage in neat columns and graphics, displaying them as by the day or week or month. It keeps track of my year-to-date miles and my "lifetime" stats, along with my written, public goals. All of these things were things I did on my own, but dailymile has allowed me to put it all on one place.

That's not to say it's perfect.

Just today I found myself having a "I wish dailymile had..." moment. I shot an email to Kelly, who replied in super-fast fashion with an answer. I added in my "wish" to add to his "list" from users. I'm sure it's long by now.

Then something clicked.

We all have "wishes" for dailymile. Some are simple, some are complex. In the end, they're all going to take time and money. And that can't happen if there isn't a revenue model for the site. I'm not saying dailymile should be a paid site. In fact, I probably never would have tried it if it was.

But there should be an option for financially supporting its success and longevity. That's was dailymile PRO gives us.

Sure, the PRO gives us some features, but they're pretty basic - and quite honestly, trying to "sell" the PRO version based on the features may have been a slight misstep by Ben and Kelly. I've seen many postings about how the features "aren't worth" the money.

You know what? They're not.

Who really cares about being able to choose your leaderboard color. (I can easily say that because I'm never on the tops on my leaderboard.) The new motivators are cool and all, but I don't really need to pay to give someone a "high five" or tell them they're a "bad ass."

And personally,
I'd rather not have my profile tagged with the "PRO" label, unless I'm actually getting paid to run.

It's my hope, though, that this is just the first step to differentiate features and services between PRO and non-PRO members. I look forward to getting future upgrades - like, ahem, the ability to show different training workouts (like run and cycling) in different colors in the daily total columns at the top of my page.

Or, cough cough, a better functioning export of training data - one that doesn't require me to convert from meters or seconds.

Perhaps PRO members could even get discounts on products and training services arranged through partnerships with dailymile. Race discounts? That'd be cool. Periodical merchandise giveaways? A nice perk.

Don't get me going. The possibilities are endless.

For now, we all continue to send our suggestions or post our "wish list" on the site. And we're lucky because Ben and Kelly are listening - and responding. I know the only way, at this moment at least, to get these things done is to be a PRO.

Getting back to the newspaper business momentarily, we're also exploring ways to help make our online site more profitable, including the very real possbility of a paywall. Subscribers to our print product - which is still the bread and butter in the revenue column - would get everything online for free.

The rest of our readers? Well, I don't think they'll be nearly as friendly and open to change as my friends on dailymile.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Honoring Healthy Lifestyles

I admit it, I have a pretty cool job. As Community Relations Manager at the New Hampshire Union Leader, I get to do a lot of things and meet a lot of interesting people. One of my all-time favorite perks of my jobs is that I get to make a difference.

I'm particularly proud of a recent partnership between the American Heart Association and the Union Leader to present the Lifestyle Change Award to a person in New Hampshire who has made changes toward a healthy lifestyle.

I was lucky enough to be part of the presentation at last night's Heart Walk and to introduce this year's 10 finalists. Each had done incredible and, to some, seemingly impossible things - several had lost more than 100 pounds, all of them had taken up exercise and better eating habits. In short, they had committed to a healthy lifestyle.

As I introduced the finalists last night, I looked out into the crowd of spectators. I hoped just one of these stories would inspire someone in that audience to make a change.

Below is a story that appeared in the New Hampshire Union Leader today covering last night's event. I encourage you to take a few moments read it.

People often assume that healthy, active people were always that way, that they've never known the "couch potato" lifestyle or have dealt with health scares. I think, more often than not, the opposite is true.

Kevin's story is truly touching and inspiring, and if just one person makes a change toward a healthier lifestyle, it was worth missing out on a bike ride on a near-perfect evening.

Walkers begin the Heart Walk outside Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester Wednesday evening. MARK BOLTON/UNION LEADER

By TIM BUCKLAND, New Hampshire Union Leader

— Kevin Twombly knew he had to make some changes in his lifestyle when he suffered a stroke while putting his young daughter to bed one night a few years ago.

An active man through college, he stopped exercising as life got busier — work and family taking up the time that used to be spent jogging. He was diagnosed with high bloo
d pressure and high cholesterol at age 28. He ballooned to 255 pounds. He was just 32 went he suddenly experienced tunnel vision and numbness in his left arm and went to an emergency room, where he found out he’d suffered a stroke.

The Penacook man said he has no lasting effects from the stroke, but his rededication to exercise and healthy living — he started running half-marathons and is now an
avid bicyclist — earned him the Lifestyle Change Award, sponsored by the New Hampshire Union Leader and People’s United Bank, at Wednesday’s American Heart Association Heart Walk, for which the Union Leader was a media sponsor.

“I feel honored to be able to see that some changes I’ve made in my lifestyle are being recognized,” Twombly said after receiving the award. “I’m feeling great. I’m at 190 pounds now. I’m down to a 32-inch waist, which I haven’t been at since high school.”

Hundreds participated in the walk, which started at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, including heart disease survivors wearing red hats.

One of them was Ryan Champing, a junior at Windham High School who turned 17 on Monday and who has fully recovered from an enlarged heart and leaking mitral valve after two surgeries to repair her mitral valve and 22 blood infusions.

She now runs cross country on her high school track team.

“I feel fine,” she said. “I can run marathons now
. Before, I couldn’t even climb stairs.”

Kicking off the event was a motivational address by Craig Evans, who suffered a heart attack while refereeing a basketball game at Raymond High School on Jan. 24 and who lived because of an automatic external defibrillator.

His story was given coverage in the Union Leader and on television and radio stations and he now spends part of his time campaigning to have the portable devices placed in schools throughout New Hampshire.

(Story and photographs copyrighted by the Union Leader Corp.)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Doin' The Du

Since I seem to have a decent handle on running and biking, several people have suggested that I tackle a triathlon in the near future. I admit my weakness in this one, totally overwhelmed by the thought of any type of swimming competition.

That’s why I was I was thrilled to find a way to cut out the swimming requirement, but still take on something new.

I did my first duathlon last year in Waterville Valley and instantly loved the challenge. A duathlon consists of a run, followed by cycling, finished with another run.

The clock starts on the first step of the run and doesn’t stop until you cross the finish line of the second run, adding the challenge of making the transitions from one sport to another – including changing shoes, putting on or taking off a helmet, etc. – as quick as possible.

These events are logistically just like triathlons, but without the wetsuits and fear of drowning. Perfect for me.

I was excited to go back and participate in the Black Bear Duathlon at Waterville Valley again this year. (You can read a detailed recap of my first duathlon here.) However, when I tried to register a few weeks before the event last month, I received a message that the event had been cancelled due to lack of participation.

The cancellation left me a little disappointed – and ready to find a replacement. Luckily, the alternative came quickly. Within a few minutes, I’d signed up for the Rye By The Sea Duathlon.

The Rye event would have participants run a 5K, then bike 17 miles, then run a second 5K.

I was relieved to wake up last Saturday morning to a near-perfect day. Temperatures were cool enough that the run would be comfortable, but not cold enough that the ride would have me shivering. The sun was bright and warm.

My sweetie and I loaded our bikes – very, very early for a Saturday morning – and made the trip to the Seacoast. I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of cyclists already in the parking lot, checking their gear and heading to registration to pick up race numbers.

Like most races, the ability and equipment of the participants spanned all of the possibilities, from the super-expensive, all-carbon bikes with racing wheels to the older, heavier steel versions that looked like they’d spent some years in someone’s garage. I even saw a few hybrids. I instantly felt confident that I had a "good" bike - although as I always say, the quality of a bike can only get you so far, at some point, the rider comes into play.

Before the race, organizers reviewed the logistics with the participants – where to enter the transition area, where the 5Ks would start and end – which I thought was a nice touch and better than trying to decipher a confusing course map.

The race started with little fanfare and we made our way to the main road. The route quickly turned into some trails, which was a nice change of scenery, even if I was totally unprepared for a trail run. I'm not used to keeping my eyes so focused on the ground. For the most part, the trails were well maintained, and any obstacles (like protruding routes or rocks) were marked with bright orange paint.

Each mile was marked with a small water stop and a very friendly volunteer. The volunteers, I might add, were one of the highlights of this race – always smiling and clapping and genuinely looking like they were enjoying themselves.

The rest of the course took us through trails, across some wooden foot bridges and eventually back to the starting area where we’d enter the transition zone to do the quick change and grab our bikes.

The clock read 24:55 as I crossed the line for the first 5K - which was a 5K PR for me!

From there, I found my bike hanging on the rack in the transition zone, my equipment and gear laid out neatly on a towel beside it. After a quick change of shoes and a snap of the helmet, I jumped on the bike and headed off.

The bike route took us along the ocean, where we enjoyed a great tailwind. Score! More than a few times, I looked down at the speedometer of my bike and thought there must be something wrong. I don't ride that fast, I thought.

From time to time, I clicked over to check my average speed - which at its highest read 18.5 mph. Average speed. Again, I'm not that kind of rider. I wondered how fast my sweetie must be flying, if I was seeing speeds 2-3 mph above my norms.

After 17 miles of cycling back to the transition zone, I once again changed into my running shoes for the second 5K. My only complaint with the race is that there wasn't a second timing mat coming out of or into the transition area after the bike - meaning my fastest speeds by bike are not officially recorded. The official bike time includes the two transitions. Even with those, I averaged 16.3 mph - a pretty fast ride for me.

I was pleased to learn that the second run would have us do the 5K course in the opposite direction, which took away some of the monotony of running the same 5K twice.

The second run wasn't as unbearable as I'd remembered from last year's duathlon where I thought that someone had somehow replaced my legs with cement pillars. This year, I think the lack of hills on the ride really helped the transition to the second run.

The second run was relatively uneventful, passing the same happy volunteers at the water stations. I was able to chase down and pass a few people, which made me smile on the inside.

I made the turn to the finish and saw my sweetie standing on the sidelines. Of course, he'd finished way before me - nailing two awesomely fast 5Ks (without really training for running at all!) and an impressive bike leg.

I happily crossed the finish line - finishing in 1:52:01 - as participants who finished before me clapped on the sidelines. The support of other racers is an aspect to running events that I love. Soon, I joined them on the sidelines and watched as the participants crossed the finish line. The cheers were the loudest as a 70-something-year-old man finished.

The idea of a duathlon was a little scary at first. I didn’t know if I’d fit in, know what to do to even enjoy it. I can say without a doubt now that it an event that I want to do again.

The only problem is that there aren’t more of them in the area. Someone needs to fix that.