Adidas miCoach Pacer Review: Interactive Fitness for Casual Marathoners

miCoach Pacer


For the past three weeks I’ve been testing out Adidas’ miCoach Pacer,
the newest entrant in the increasingly crowded field of interactive activity monitors. Personal training gadgets have been around for years, but the category has become better defined to appeal to different kinds of people in recent months. On one end of the spectrum are the simple calorie-counters, like Philips DirectLife and fitbit. On the other end are the geek-triathlete devices, such as the GPS-enabled Garmin Forerunner which straps onto your wrist like a small computer. In the middle are devices for casual marathoners: the Nike+ iPod system, and now Adidas’ latest–which is the most full-featured of the mid-range systems that I’ve used.

The $140 miCoach Pacer combines a pedometer, heart
rate monitor, calorie counter, and real-time coaching into a device that
easily connects to your iPod (or another audio player). Equally important are the online coaching tools that you sync the device with to keep track of your workouts and advance you along a fitness
regime that can range from learning to run to improving your marathon


The Pacer is actually three separate pieces of gear that work together: a stride sensor that attaches to your shoelaces, a heart rate monitor that straps around
your chest, and the main control unit that collects the data and clips
onto your workout armband or shirt. After a 12-minute assessment run to
calibrate the three devices, the Pacer begins collecting data as you walk, jog or run. I found the stride sensor (which is basically a pedometer with a triaxial
accelerometer inside) to be accurate compared with Google’s running
distance mapping programs, and my own calculations during a drive along
the same route. Readings from the heart rate monitor were also in line with
the data I’ve collected from other heart monitors that strap around the
chest. The chest monitors are more accurate than wrist-strap heart rate
measuring devices, but not everyone likes working out with a piece of
gear stretching around their solar plexus. That said, Adidas’ stretchy
chest strap was of higher quality than others I’ve used in the past,
and was never uncomfortable.


The brains of the Pacer are housed
in a black pill-shaped unit designed by the Adidas Innovation Team that
is about the diameter of a large wristwatch and made of rubberized plastic. By plugging one end of the unit into and audio player and your headphones into
the other side of the Pacer you can listen to music and also get instructions from miCoach as it guides you through different workouts. (Adidas is also introducing
a line of headphones today at CES 2010 in a partnership
with Sennheisser
.) There are two options available via a switch at the top of the
Pacer: Free mode, where the device will simply gather data; and miCoach
mode, in which the virtual coach will supply audible feedback through
the headphones. Another ‘fast-forward’ button on the top can be used to
select different workouts in the miCoach mode, such as a recovery run
or intervals speed training.

There are competing devices on the market that include a built-in MP3 player, such as the Philips Activa. But I think Adidas made the right decision here–let Apple
handle my audio needs, since they do it so well already. Sure, it would be nice to automatically sync my playlist with the miCoach software (more on that in a moment), or play a motivating song with a touch of of a single button, but it’s not essential. And my iPod’s audio quality did not deteriorate in any noticeable way from linking the Pacer between my iPod and headphones.


The virtual coach doesn’t interrupt the workout often. She’s there to tell you the
time, distance, pace and raise a flag when you’re out of the prescribed
heart rate zone (I chose the soothingly robotic British female voice,
but there is also a male coach available). Adidas chose a minimalist approach here, but pushing a button on the front
of the Pacer gives you an instant update on your current stats when needed.

The heart rate measurements were an issue for me. There are four zones, green, blue, yellow, and red being the highest. A comfortable
pace for me put me just on the top end of the blue zone, and this
resulted in repeated alerts that I needed to slow down–even though it
felt like I was going at a comfortable pace. This problem is not unique to
Adidas’ gear, as aerobic training parameters have always seemed like an
imperfect science to me. Luckily, there is a way to adjust the settings in the Pacer.



After the run, the Pacer connects via USB to a Mac or PC and uploads your
data (you’ll need to plug it in before your first run and install a
small software program to enable synchronization, as well as register with the miCoach Web site). The Web interface coupled with these devices
is often where they trip over their laces, but not in this instance. The
miCoach site is easy to navigate, and includes just about everything
you need in order to track and improve your running. The dashboard shows your
latest workout time, calories burned, distance, pace, heart rate, and
stride rate along with a preview of the next workout and overall
achievements (such as mileage) to date.

With a few clicks the data
becomes much more granular, showing heart rate over the course of the
specific workout for example. You can also map each of your routes, and
save them in a series, all through a Google map interface that’s been
embedded within the program. There is a field for jotting notes about
each run, as well as a box to enter the music you listened to during
the run. The miCoach software recommends a schedule for you, which is
accessible from a simple calendar interface that can be adjusted easily
by dragging and dropping the workouts into different days. The Web site,
which was created by Adidas along with Molecular, does not miss a
step–it’s intuitive, fun to use, and keeps pace with almost everything a runner

Some geek-athletes might complain that the
Pacer is lacking a GPS for tracking the exact route of each run. But
given the integration with Google maps for entering your route within the interface, I don’t see the need for a more exact and automated tracking system. And how
often do you get lost and need directions home while jogging?


The glaring feature missing from the miCoach Web site is social connectivity. Adidas neglects to supply a way to compete against other runners using the site, or find a running partner nearby. I’m not arguing that runners should be able to facebook or tweet their every workout from the interface (please, never automate that feature), but running is a solitary enough sport without the help of a robotic coach. This is a huge lost
opportunity for Adidas. And given the popularity of social networks today, it’s
surprising that was left out of the software so completely. [Update: Adidas says that a miCoach social community will be launched at the end of March!]

Despite that missing link, the Adidas miCoach Pacer is the most full-featured
and enjoyable personal training device on the market. While it might be
overkill for someone who is just starting to get their running legs,
anyone who wants to train and stay fit while also satisfying a hunger
for personal metrics will be well-served by miCoach.

miCoach Pacer

  • Size: 56mm x 41mm x 16.75mm
  • Weight: 22.9g
  • Attachment Method: Clips to workout apparel or MP3 holder via clip on back of unit
  • Audio Interface: 1/8″ stereo headphone jacks (TRS connector)
  • Power: Rechargeable 125mAh lithium polymer battery
  • Battery Life: 10 Hours
  • Workout Time: 10 Hours
  • Charge Time via USB: 3 Hours
  • Sensor Communication Link: ANT+™ protocol to Heart Rate Monitor and Stride Sensor
  • RF Frequency: 2.4 GHz
  • Sensor Communication Range: < 2.5m
  • PC Connection: 1/8″ TRS to USB series “A” connection (cord included)
  • Operating Temp: -15 to +40°C

Heart Rate Monitor

  • Ref Size: 63mm x 38mm x 10.5mm
  • Weight: 19.5g (no strap)
  • Power: user-replaceable CR2032 lithium battery
  • Battery Life: > 1000 hours active life (2.8 years @ 1 hr/day usage at 20°C)
  • Communication Link: ANT+™ protocol
  • Operating Temp: 0 to +40°C
  • RF Frequency: 2.4 GHz
  • Communication Range: < 2.5m
  • Water Resistance: 1m
  • Measuring Range: 15 to 240 BPM

Stride Sensor

  • Ref In-Shoe Size: 34mm x 23mm x 8mm
  • Total In-Shoe Weight: < 8g (including battery)
  • Ref Size with Shoe Clip: 45mm x 29mm x 13mm
  • Total Weight with Clip: < 9g (including battery)
  • Attachment Method: Attached to shoe using one-piece clip or placed in the midsole cavity of adidas compatible footwear
  • Speed Range: 36 km/hr to 19.8 km/hr (2.2 mph to 12.3 mph)
  • Power: user-replaceable CR2032 lithium battery
  • Battery Life: > 5 months (at 20°C), extreme cold can affect battery life
  • Operating Temp: 0° to +40°C
  • Communication Link: ANT+™ protocol
  • RF Frequency: 2.4 GHz
  • Communication Range: < 2.5m
  • Sensor Technology: Dynastream Technology
  • Calibrated Speed/Distance Accuracy: Run 97%
  • Uncalibrated Speed/Distance Accuracy: Run 95%

About the author

I'm the executive editor of Fast Company and Co.Design.