January 2, 2012

Old new inspiration for 2012


Call me geek, but for some reason I felt that the best motivation to get back to regular training will be with new watch. And not just any new watch, but the one that helped me train for many successful races - RS800cx.

For variety of reasons I could not get consistency in training last year - well the main reasons were abnormal amount of travel (its never good sign when the stewardess know your name) and of course 4 months long injury with additional 2 months recovery period which pretty much destroyed my tri season 2011.

I felt that I need to get some outside help with motivation to get out of bed early morning each day and get the workouts done. I think this new watch I got from my wife for Christmas will help me do just that. After all this is the year of aging up to the most competitive age group under the sun. And it is not 35-39.

Have a great 2012 everybody.

September 26, 2011

ChesapeakeMan Aqua Velo 2011

This was fun race on Saturday. I went into it with no expectations - just go out there swim my best and ride my best. I knew the course and expected Choptank ballroom to be choppy and bike course to be very wet. In the end Choptank was calmer than I expected and the bike route was wet, but not as much.

The swim was actually really good with some chop at the end of each of the two 1.2 mile loops. The bigger challenge for me were jellyfish - got stung at least 5 times on my hands (sleeveless wetsuit) and my face. But I just kept going figuring that if the stinging does not go away by end of the swim I can get checked. It got better after few minutes and all was good. I got out of the water good 5 minutes faster than 2 years ago. That was very good sign.

Well off to the bike. No worries I don't plan to outline each of the 112 miles here, just highlights in case you plan to do the race - the course is pancake flat so do not expect any coasting. It also tends to be windy, we were lucky this year as wind kept to minimum. Be ready to ride through stretches of water on the road and don't be surprised if the puddle is bigger the next time around. The tide and wind can raise the level a bit - so we too rode through some puddles the first loop and on second through what seemed like good mile long puddle. If you ride through them keep to the middle as you can see the yellow line and follow it. The loop features about 4 miles of very rough route - it feels like shaker. You will hit it around 45-50 miles on first loop and about 80-85 on second. It's not too bad, but it can mess up your back and if you are not confident in your tri bars it is better to come out of them.

The bike was fine until mile 90 which seems to be my threshold point when I feel like - get me out of this seat. So I know to just stick with it and keep pushing as the end is near ;-). My bike time was about 13 minutes slower than 2 years ago which is mostly due to me not being able to stay aero for long time as my left hamstring was limiting me a little. Still I take it given the amount of travel and workload in the office over the past 6 weeks.

The really ice thing is that my effort was good enough to win my age group. Which was the highlight of the race for me. My friend Ron scored 3rd in his group and coach Craig finished 9th in the ultra distance only few days after he completed Ultraman UK. Congrats to both of them as well as all the others that raced this weekend.

July 15, 2011

To LP or not to LP - returning to racing from ankle injury

Some of you may know that I managed to screw-up my foot pretty badly during the race series Ohio Triple-T in May. To make long story short - during the run in second of four races I stepped on lose stone while running down the trail. I twisted my ankle and had to completely stop. After a while I was able to start moving again so I first walked and then jogged it in. While I was doing that a big softball somehow grew around my ankle so I pulled the plug and went home. Well that sounds easy, but it was not - I drove 9 hours home from Ohio and cursed myself for not being more careful.

Fast forward to following Monday when I saw my dear doc in Foot and Ankle practice in Bethlehem - seriously great doc that tells it like it is which I really appreciate even though I may not like what he is saying at times. Initial analysis was that I messed it up badly and needed MRI. At the same time I got pair of crutches and a boot. After MRI I knew that it is not too good - 75% tear of ATFL and bone bruising in the ankle. Prognosis 4-6 weeks on crutches with boot and with ABSOLUTELY NO TRAINING. I tried to negotiate water running (which I hate) or swimming with pull buoy (which I tolerate - actually I love swimming, but with the pull buoy it is not as much fun). But was told that any load even minimal on the foot would not aid healing. Since I has overuse injury of the same ankle last year and rushed the return to racing I believed the man.

I was depressed like hell since I knew that my buildup to LP was seriously interrupted and that LP race is not happening. I was up in 70-80mi long rides at that point, I just broke 1:20 for 100m in the pool and things were going quite well even with running. After 2 weeks of being completely down I resumed some light core exercises, but I could not do anything else which really sucked big time. I'm not going to bother you with all the negative thoughts that I had back then, but it was not pretty and poor Dasa and Ian had to live with me. On the positive side I had more time to spend with them and we did quite a lot of fun things - like taking Ian to the movies for the first time, cheering on Dasa as she raced in local 5k, cheering on Ian as he raced in kids triathlon, trip to shopping mall on the weekend (I have not done this in a while). So it was actually good change of pace, but I definitely missed training and racing.

No I'm six, well almost seven, weeks from the injury. The crutches are in the basement since last week, boot came off on Wednesday and I have been swimming and biking for past almost 3 weeks. Training is slowly building up and everything is fine - except this thing called IM Lake Placid. In the initial enthusiasm after I returned to swimming and hand cycling I though I will attempt to 'finish the race'.

das boot

I figured I could swim 2.4 miles with no problem, bike 112 will be a challenge but it is doable and I can walk the marathon and still finish before midnight. That was the idea. After I had chance to seriously discuss this with my doctor, who understands that I'm little on the crazy side, I had to re-assess. Here is how the conversation went:

Me: What do you think about me doing the race just to finish.

Doc: What is the race again?

Me: Well it is a triathlon - swim, bike, run. I thought I could swim, then bike seated and then walk the run.

Doc: Yeah that sounds fine. But what are the distances again?

Me: Yeah it is an Ironman so little over 2 mi swim, 112 mi bike and marathon.

Doc: Are you crazy!? I can see how you can swim and bike it, but the walk will set you back a lot. There is good chance that you will be here on Monday after the race with the very same injury. Well the chance is more like 90% that the 6 weeks after the race you will be back on crutches and with your friend boot.

Me: OK. I really wanted to do this race.

Doc: Sure I can't stop you, but I'm putting down that you have been warned. You really have only 1 week to go from minimal walking in the boot to walk 26 miles. That is not enough. If we had 3 weeks we could try, but one week is just not enough time.

Me: OK let me think it over. In my head it was more like 'Shit this is not going to work. D*** F*** ankle.'

And I did rethink it. After overcoming the disappointment of not being able to do what I wanted to I made a decision that I'll start the race just to be part of the whole thing. You will see me swim the two loops and then do one loop on the bike. Then I'm going to call it a day and cheer on my friends that will be doing the whole thing (Good luck everybody!!!).

So what lead to this change of heart? Call it a reality check. Let me explain - one thing is for sure - the 6 weeks on my butt did not help raise my fitness. While I still have pretty good power output on the bike and can move pretty swiftly in the pool (despite my left foot kicking at maybe 50%) I do not have the needed muscular endurance. This past Saturday I did 40 mi ride during which I bonked like no other time and I was pretty tired the rest of the day. Then just for the fun of it on Sunday I swam in 5k race and that was very hard. I finished about 20 minutes later than I would have expected. First 1.5mi loop was OK, but the second one was really hard and I was very sore for 2 days after the event.

Steelman swim course (part of 1.5mi loop)

It is like being splashed with cold water. I need to face the reality that getting back to the fitness I had at the end of May will take time. I need to start working on my endurance and rebuild it. So the plan is treat LP as training day and a preparation for events in September or later in the year. I will be back to T-Town doing track cycling in August and later Aqua Velo race in MD before returning to full triathlon race. And I will stay in shorter distances for the rest of the year. I'm already planning for 2012 when I will not jump back to Ironman training, but rather rebuild and take a stab at the sub-5 half that is still on my bucket list (I miss like 3 minutes so I should probably practice transitions ;-).

So my friends I'll see you in Lake Placid, but do not try to keep up with me since I'm doing much shorter ride than you do and I do not need to save my legs for the run. I will definitely do a hard 56mi loop and swim hard as well. It will be blast. I'm already looking forward to it.

June 20, 2011

Polar what were you thinking? Why I'm keeping RS800cx and sending the RCX5 back

Polar may not like me for saying this, but the RCX5 does not seem like the winner I was hoping it to be based on the marketing materials and buzz. Over the past few days of playing with the RCX5 run package I made decision to send it back to seller. I was hoping that Polar finally has a great unit for multi-sport athlete, but they did not quite get it. It certainly is not replacement for RS800cx as it has been understood by many users. If anything it is an upgrade for RS400 users.

I have been using RS800cx for over 18 months and like it quite a bit. I think that even now it is the most flexible training heart rate wrist unit in the market. I will continue to use it since the RCX5 unit has many serious shortcomings to fit my needs and to replace or even complement the RS800cx. This article is a short summary of the main reasons for this decision. I hope it helps people make decision of whether they should be keeping RS800cx or replacing it with RCX5. So lets get started with the gaps I discovered.

RS800cx RCX5

First up is lack of altitude recording - Polar designers what were you thinking? This unit is targeted to triathletes that are known for being data obsessed. Altitude data is quite important for post workout analysis and the unit that does not capture altitude is utterly useless for TSS calculations and even less advanced run analysis.

Second - planned exercises have two major issues. First one is that currently the unit supports only 4 phases (that can be repeated) in the planned exercise which is just very basic and major step down from 12 phases that RS800cx supports. This may be fine if your exercise structure is fairly simple - like warmup (1st phase), intervals with fixed recovery (2nd and 3rd phase), cooldown (4th phase). If you have ladder workout then you are out of luck with the 4 phases.

Third major gap is that there is no way to schedule cadence based workouts - really? How often do people perform cadence drills or hill simulation workouts with 50-60rpm in big gear - I do quite often. So this is a major problem. This can also be problem for running if you are trying to improve your running cadence. RS800cx does this with no problem. Again Polar what were you thinking?

Fourth - forcing users to use polarpersonaltrainer.com - while I see benefit of moving the data to cloud and generally do not disagree with this concept I do have a problem with the way Polar implements this. I have NO WAY TO DOWNLOAD DATA TO MY PC DIRECTLY and load them to WKO+ or TrainingPeaks.com. Yes there is way to load data to PolarPersonalTrainer.com and then download them back to my PC so I can finally load them to TrainingPeaks.com. Yeah that sounds like 5-10 minutes per workout file. Not interested. Hint for Polar team - look at how Garmin does this - they have a fairly simple client on the PC/Mac that is capable of storing the files locally so people can actually use them. Also having to synchronize planned exercises with the web makes it hard to make last minute changes in exercise - again Garmin's model may be way to go here - their small client lets you create and synchronize planned exercises.

Update 2011/06/21: Fellow blogger and Polar enthusiast pointed out that I missed one feature in the Polar software that lets users extract the data files from the HRM to local files. He has blog post in German on his site that you can read crudely translated to English here. It shows how this can be done.

So there are really only 4 reasons for me to send the RCX5 back. When it comes to it the first two items on this list are the most significant reasons why the unit went back since I do not see how Polar can address the first one and while they can probably work on the second one I do not see that happening any time soon. So I continue to use RS800cx as it is definitely superior to the new unit.

Fifth - lack of support for pre-defined exercises outside of the Plan. This is something that I really like on RS800cx. I do few run and bike sessions quite regularly and I see no need to schedule each one of them in my diary. I do have bunch of pre-defined exercises like pickups, on-off repeats, recovery runs with pace limits, recovery spins with HR limits stored in my unit and can use them without any additional work. With the model implemented in RCX5 it is no longer possible.

These are the five main reasons for me to send the unit back. There are other, less important functions, that RCX5 leaves out compared to RS800cx. Just check the Polar discussion boards for more details.
Funny thing is that I did not even get chance to train with RCX5 due to my injury. I just played with the unit on PC, Mac and polarpersonaltrainer.com to simulate the training needs I know I have when I'm in full training. In the end this may be a blessing since I will get full refund and not just partial.

Well I must say that while Polar is not going to get my money for RCX5 they did get few things right in the unit. Here are the few things I wish RS800cx did for me that RCX5 does - HR recording during swim, heart touch function, being able to switch off HR belt for specific sport, easier way to switch between sports in multi-sport exercises. But these are not important enough for me to overlook the major 5 issues I described above.

My recommendation for anyone who already has RS800cx and is happy with it - keep it and if you want something new get the GPS G5 sensor which is really small and you may also get the new cradle for S3 sensor that is for RCX5 and holds the sensor better on the shoe. Otherwise I do not see any reason to upgrade to RCX5. I hope Polar has another unit in development that will replace RS800cx and will be step above RCX5. I really wish it was more like RS800cx and less like RS400.

Disclaimer - none of the units in this review were provided to me by any company or indicidual. I paid for them with my own money which I hope to get back (at least for the RCX5). I like Polar products and as their loyal customer I feel obligated to call them on products that they did not get quite right.

March 28, 2011

Polar Wind Link vs. Polar IR

On the weekend I promised picture of the two side by side. Here it is.

Note that the silver/gold USB stick is the IR interface that works with RS800 line and the black one is the Wind Link that Polar users for the new RCX5. There is no need for the Wind Link to have clear line to the WIND sensor or watch which should make the data transfers much easier.