When you train for a marathon or a big race, it's essential to get as much mileage in as possible beforehand. But you don't want to overdo it, either. The Nike Triax Elite, a four-part digital training system, takes the guesswork out of planning your day-to-day runs, helping you get in peak shape and stay injury-free. But the Triax Elite isn't for everybody. Each of the four parts of the system is well designed, and the software is excellent, but managing the entire package requires more work than it's worth for casual runners. If the Elite's complexity doesn't turn you off, its $370 asking price might--it'll surely rule out all but serious athletes.
The package consists of four components: a wristwatch, a heart-rate transistor belt that you strap around your chest, a speed/distance monitor (SDM) pod that clips onto your shoe, and a hockey puck-size USB dock for uploading and downloading data between your watch and your PC. Before you go on your first run, you'll need to install the included desktop software, which works on Macs using OS 8.6 to OS X and PCs, then sync your watch with your machine.
Next, create a user profile and start scheduling your training runs from within the slick-looking, easy-to-use interface. You can add day-to-day workouts and make longer-term exercise plans. You can also tag runs with keywords so that you can aggregate similarly named workouts. Once you've entered your plan of action, hit the Sync button to upload the info to the watch. The whole process is clean and painless. We would have liked more flexibility for configuring different types of workouts--bike rides and weight-lifting routines, for example--to gain a more comprehensive look at our fitness level; Nike clearly targets the Triax Elite at marathoners, not triathletes. And given the price tag, the device should take a few more measurements into consideration. For instance, competing products from Timex and Polar calculate complex variables such as calories burned and VO2 (oxygen) consumption.
The stainless-steel, polycarbonate watch features Nike's signature diagonal display. It's very readable, but the fit better suits men than women, at least according to our informal office poll. Nike makes a line of Triax watches for smaller wrists, but it doesn't include the Elite. At 2.4 ounces, the watch is definitely on the heavy side. We suggest you try it on before you buy. The SDM pod clips onto your shoe, and at 2 ounces, it's also a little heavy, but it didn't bother us on our treks. We hardly noticed the heart-rate belt, either; it was snug and comfortable. Both the watch and the belt are waterproof up to a depth of 50 meters, while the pod is puddle-proof. If you have all the items synced up correctly, the watch will display your heart rate, your current running pace, and your pace target info for interval training. We found all three extremely accurate in our tests.
A couple of GPS-enabled training devices have popped up on the scene (the Garmin Forerunner 201, for example), but our tests and user opinions reveal that the ephemeral nature of GPS causes some problems for serious runners who need to-the-nanosecond accuracy in their training logs. While the Triax Elite doesn't come equipped with GPS, it's exceedingly good at what it promises to do.