I’m always looking for Mac utilities which can help my exercise routine which consists of running and cycling.
Recently, I came across Ascent, a GPS enabled utility which helps runners, cyclists, and hikers better manage their training regimen.
Baseball is a game of statistics. Football is a game of inches. Exercise, whether cycling, hiking, or running, requires discipline and data—a way to measure performance.
Ascent organizes your activity data, which is perfect for Mac users, and presents it in graphical ways designed to help you improve performance results.
I upgraded to the latest version which now has synchronization support for the Garmin Edge. You can use Ascent to download data from your GPS system and take a graphical look at your performance.
Ascent isn’t pretty. It’s functional. It’s not even intuitive and requires some effort to get started.
The Main Browser window looks like a giant calendar. An empty calendar. In the lower right corner are the activity pull down menus. You create the activities, event type, weather, equipment, and other components, using the edit tool.
Organize your activities in the calendar section of the Main Browser. Add by year, week, month, daily, whatever. Toggle between list view and calendar view with the toolbarless buttons.
Summary data for laps or other activities are listed in the Main Browser window. It automatically calculates totals and averages each week.
Ascent’s Map View is graphical and plots whatever path you selected—running, cycling, hiking. Multiple map types are available, too, and can be scrolled down or zoomed in and out. Maps are pulled down from the internet courtesy of Microsoft’s TerraServer and VirtualEarth.
The real value comes from the Activity View which collects data on speed, altitude, heart rate, and rate against distance. Ascent displays a plot of the altitude profile with peak values for data items.
Ascent comes with an integrated animation engine that will play back a specific activity, such as running, and will update various views. It even reverses. The floating animation control shows elapsed time and has a slider bar to adjust playback speed of the animation.
While not exactly pretty—some of the buttons are kludgy looking—you do get a bird’s eye view of your path, which is interesting. The activity view animation map is a little odd, but again reflects performance over time and distance.
Finally, the Summary View plots data on a weekly or monthly basis so you can follow your training toward specific milestones or events. these are basic charts, nothing special, but easy to figure out how your training is affecting your performance.
Most of your effort in Ascent will be in the Main Browser, adding activities and time to a profile.
I use the Garmin Edge 705. Ascent is compatible with nearly a dozen Garmin GPS models and has a direct sync function that reads data over a USB cable. Some Garmin models require a little data massaging, though mine imports data into Ascent without a conversion.
Ascent is a little clunky looking, and could use some Mac polish, but works well, and I get a great kick out of seeing how far I’ve run using the built in maps. Your mileage may vary (that’s a pun).