Gear Review: TrailMix Music Player App for Runners

TrailMix ScreenIt’s an article of faith to me that running’s easier when one has some musical accompaniment, which means that I seldom venture out without the tragically un-hip accompaniment of my favourite running playlist. Yep, me, Stevie Nicks, Deep Purple, Molly Hatchet and Blue Oyster Cult have worn out a lot of Asics Gel Cumulus together.

Until now I’ve been letting the music keep the beat to a large extent, selecting slow rockers like Edge of Seventeen, Perfect Strangers and Dreams I’ll Never See for their low tempo but driving beat.

However, last week a new App for runners rocked up at Jelly Baby Towers, which promises to tailor the beat of my favourite running songs to my pace, rather than the reverse.

Introducing TrailMix Pro
Available from the Apple App store in both free and paid-for ‘Pro’ versions, TrailMix offers a very simple interface, as you can see above. Simply select a playlist and in the mode shown the App will use the iPhone’s built-in accelerometer to gauge your pace and match the beat of the song to match it.

Alternatively, you can tap the centre of the dial and then simply ‘pull’ the hand of the dialdial with your fingertip to set the pace you want to run to. I chose to let the App match my pace however,  and received a fairly pleasant surprise, as even in my pathetically slow “I’ve been injured” running mode, this meant that the app actually had to increase the pace of most of my favoured running toons: telling me that I haven’t really been running to the beat as much as I thought, and also making a couple of the slowest rockers sound quite ridiculously quick. Its rendition of Black Velvet, for example, suggested that Allanah Myles had ingested far too much coffee that day…

Having said that, after a nervous few minutes when I couldn’t see the point of the app, I started to really enjoy running with TrailMix enabled; eschewing the usual commentary from Nike+ and relying on my trusty Garmin for pace and distance updates. And when my run was over, TrailMix even provided a breakdown of ‘Steps Taken’, ‘Time Spent Moving’ and ‘Average Pace’: the latter two of which are only available with the Pro version, which costs £2.99 from the App store.

The slightly inconclusive conclusion
Having always believed that I was using the beat to pace my runs, TrailMix has forced me to accept that I’ve been doing no such thing. It has also led me to de-select a couple of very slow rockers from my Running playlist and add in a few quicker tracks. So I have to say that it’s a very nice toy for runners who like their music. What it isn’t though, is a serious running tool, as the ‘results’ screen even on the Pro version doesn’t tell you how far you ran, and isn’t saveable in any case. Which means that if Nike+ or RunKeeper are your only current means of recording and evaluating your runs, you’re unlikely to replace them with TrailMix, regardless of how nice it is.

However, as it’s now my habit to run using both Nike+ and a Garmin, I’m probably going to eschew my use of Nike+ and persevere with TrailMix for a while, as it’s definitely making my increased cadence runs easier to manage, and also helping me to maintain a more even pace on 6-mile tempo runs.

The unheard-of FREE download offer from TJBFS
Those nice people at TrailMix have been kind enough to send me no less than 5 Promo codes that are good for free downloads of TrailMix Pro from the Apple App store.
So if you’d like to try the Pro version for yourself, just let me know by clicking the comments ‘speech bubble’ at the top of the page: I’ll send a free code to the first 5 people who respond, courtesy of TrailMix. No need to put your email address in the box for all to see either, I’ll be able to see it in my WordPress dashboard.

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Music to run to. Rawk or Rap? Or should I listen to Nike?

skreamRegular readers will know that I’m a die-hard iPod wearer with a taste for rock music of the most unfashionable ilk imaginable. Perfect Strangers by Deep Purple anyone? Edge of Seventeen by Stevie Nicks? Classics, the pair of them, and just the things to match your pace to if you’re a slightly greying plodder like my good self.

However, times and fashions change; and I have been told many times that Rap beats Rock when it comes to keeping you motivated while running. So, always being willing to ‘get down with the kids’ (though not in a Wacko Jacko sort of way, obviously), I’ve recently borrowed a couple of CDs by such luminaries of the modern music scene as Eminem and 50 Cent (or Arfur Dollar as he’s known round here) with a view to testing modern music against classic rock as an aid to recreational running.

Well, first off, I couldn’t quite get my head around rappers’ obsession with, I presume, dog obedience classes and gardening respectively. It’s all bitches and hoes and I really couldn’t see the point.

Secondly, I run for a bit of feel-good factor…you know, the wind in your hair, that sweet rush of endorphins, the blessed relief when it stops…and I just couldn’t get my running mojo to go to its happy place with ‘Many Men (Wish Death)’ assaulting my delicate sensibilities. So, sorry rap fans, but that was the end of that experiment.

And then, those nice people at Nike+ sent me a voucher for one of 1,000 free tracks featuring someone called Skream. It was billed as ‘over 30 minutes of bespoke motivational music’ and that sounded just great. And it was a free download from iTunes, and that sounded even better. And then I put it on my iPod nano, and it sounded just awful!

No, really. When did making music simply become a matter of turning on the drum machine and going off for a lie-down? Can’t read music? No need. If you’ve got a drum machine, a keyboard with some annoying sounds on it, a pan lid to clank with a rusty fork and an absolute hatred of all things harmonic or rhythmic, you can now have a music career. So, cutting to the chase for a second, ‘Galassia’ by Skream fails utterly as a piece of music.

Is it any good as a motivational tool though? Well, kinda sorta. Once I’d run through the slow and aimless ‘warmup’ section of the track, then worked out that the 140 beats per minute was just that bit too quick to follow on a six mile run, I was able to tune it out slightly and not let it bother me too much. In fact, If I’d been running 4 miles instead of 6, this might even have been a useful ‘tool’ to run to, in much the same way that a metronome helps learners to play the piano.

What it certainly wasn’t was musical, far less enjoyable. In fact, the only bit of the track that sticks in my head is about 20 minutes in, when the annoying clanking sound alternates between your ears for a few seconds. But as that’s the kind of thing my 13-year-old does when he’s composing tracks on Garageband, I wasn’t exactly lost in admiration for the musicality of it all.

The long and the short of it is that the classic rock of my youth delivers roughly the kind of BPM I can run too, along with pretty high standards of musicality. Oh, and dreadful lyrics too, if I’m honest.

So look, if you really want great music to run to, start with Edge of Seventeen, Perfect Strangers, Long Live Rock ‘n Roll, Dreams I’ll Never See and Ride Like the Wind. Hell, with your headphones on, no-one will ever know.