December 31, 2008

Protect your investment

So you have got yourself the gadget you wanted so much. Now you are starting to use it and discover its capabilities. You exercise with it and sometimes even wear it the whole day. That's all good and well, but did you happen to think about protecting your investment. It is no fun to find dings or scratches on the watch face after just few weeks or months of use. I actually experienced that first hand with the Suunto T6c Fusion I bought earlier this year. The watch suffered two dings and few small scratches on the face, even with Suunto stating that the watch has mineral glass that should be fairly resilient to abuse.

Most of the newly designed HRMs leave the watch face unprotected. Older models like Polar S625X, S725X, Suuto T6 had raised edge that protected the watch from accidental hits. The new watches like Polar RS400, Polar RS800 / RS800cx or Suunto T6c do not have this protection. While I have only the best experience with durability of the RS800 model I did not want to take any risk with my new gadgets. Looking through the discussion forums I came across ZAGG Invisible Shield protection foil. Apparently this is thin plastic foil that you install on the face of the watch and it will protect it from accidental damage. It does not protect any other part of the watch, but in my experience the glass is what gets damaged most often. Few weeks ago I installed foil protection on my new Suunto T6c and about a week later I got another foil to protect my Polar RS800cx.

Invisible Shield box

The installation procedure is very simple, but you will want to plan about 15-20 minutes for it. You will also want to do the installation in the comfort of your home or office. You will also need to have very clean hands when installing the foil - it may be easy to get your fingerprints all over the foil or watch if you do not clean them up front. You will also need to clean the watch from any sweat or smudges before you begin. Then follow the instructions and apply the provided spray on your hands. Spray the foil and put it in place. Then slowly and diligently press out the bubbles out of the foil and make sure it fits well. If you do not get it the first time just take it off and start over. I had to repeat installation on the RS800cx three times before I got it right. With the angled face it is somewhat more difficult to install the RS800cx foil that the T6c foil, but ultimately they both get installed in about 10 minutes. After you are happy with the install, dry off the remaining spray from the watch and set it aside for few hours. ZAGG recommends 12 hours, but I used mine in workout the next morning after the install - so about 8-9 hours later with no issues. Below are two pictures - first one of RS800cx with the ZAGG foil and the second Suunto T6c with the foil. Note that the pictures are extreme close-ups of the watch. In reality you can not see the edges of foil on any of the watches.

T6c with Invisible Shield

RS800cx with Invisible Shield

The foil works fine during the day. You can not really see that the watch has a protective foil on its face unless you are looking for it. In low light conditions the Suunto T6c gets little dim as the back light seems to be weaker than to one on RS800cx. I used the watch during ride to the shop in the evening and it was little hard to see the time when I switched on the back light (note I did not even try this while running when the watch actually flickers). Otherwise I did not determine any issues with the protection foil. I have exercised with both HRMs inside, outside and wore each one of them for few days as a regular watch. I highly recommend the 10-20 bucks investment to protect the watch that is most likely 20-30 times as expensive to replace. ZAGG also makes protection foil for cell phones, MP3 players and computers. But I have not tried one yet. If I were to buy a new iPod today I would definitely put Invisible Shield on it to protect it. It would prevent bunch of scratches that I have on my iPods after the abuse they get through during the almost daily use.

December 30, 2008

Location info on the Polar RS800cx

This is just a short note for the few people that are interested to see how the location information appear on the screen of the RS800cx during the exercise. As I wrote in my other articles here, here and here the RS800cx tracks location, but it does not display map or outline. It only shows the location coordinates as captured by the GPS unit and the number of satellites it has acquired (lower right corner). Below is the picture of the location screen.

Location info on RS800cx

You can access this screen from the pre-exercise or exercise pause screen. You get to the pre-exercise screen following ways:

  • Start from time screen and click the red start/lap button once. Wait for the unit to connect to the HR belt and then scroll to options and make sure the GPS is on. Switch on the G3 unit and wait for the watch and unit to start communicating. Once the connection is there and G3 acquires satellites the watch will display message 'Satellites found'. Now new option 'Location' appears in the menu. When you select it the above screen will appear.
  • Second way to get to this screen is from exercise mode. We assume that you exercise with GPS switched on and that the GPS unit communicates with the watch. Press the Stop button once to get to the pause screen. Then scroll down to the Location option and it will give you the location information.

It is fairly easy to use although it provides only basic location data. I do not really use this - well maybe except than to check whether the G3 has satellite connection and how many satellites it acquired. From Polar materials it is clear that the watch is not capable of navigation like the Garmin HRM units (Forerunner 305 / 405 or Edge 705) or X9i / X10 from Suunto. But that is not what it was designed for. I guess what it means is that if you seriously need navigation capabilities you may need to look at other unit or get a backup GPS navigation unit in your backpack. These days they put the GPS chips into pretty much everything. I have one in my cell phone, I have seen them in kids shoes and even pet collars.

December 25, 2008

Christmas gifts and little about running shoes

First of I want to wish every reader of this blog a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I hope your holidays are peaceful and that you are enjoying time with your family as much as I do.

I love going to the Christmas tree after dinner (in our tradition we open presents after dinner on Christmas Eve). It was great day for all of us and we found really nice gifts under the tree. One of the gifts that may interest readers of this blog is pair of new running shoes (surprise not a new HRM - although I got one for Christmas as well and I'm very grateful for it). But back to the shoes - I wished for a pair of Newton running shoes - the neutral racer to be exact. And that is exactly what I found under the tree.

Whole package unpacked

The shoes come with a pair of Newton socks and a little bag to carry them. It is a nice touch for such high price item. I took them for a short spin today. It was a nice day for running with temperature around 5 degrees Celsius with little cold breeze so it was fairly nice out and the roads were not as messy as they were over the past few days.

Today's training session consisted of 15 minutes of warm-up followed by four sets of faster than 5k pick-ups with 2 minutes of easy running and closed with about 5 minutes cool-down. The shoes are designed to promote mid-foot strike which I already have so it was very easy to get running in them and it felt even more natural than in regular running shoes. I felt the extra padding on the mid-foot which actually feels quite nice during the run regardless of whether it is flat, up or down-hill. I took picture of the sole if you have not seen it (I mean this is by no means breaking news the shoes have been on the market for quite a while). Another thing - these shoes are feather light. The shoe is way lighter than my Nike Zooms that I used for up to half marathon races and feel like the Newtons provide better padding. It feels like having additional spring under my mid-foot.

Newton sole

Here is the detail of the forefoot area with the orange lugs that make you land on forefoot.

Newton sole before the first run

But back to the run. I found myself to be quite fast already during the warm-up. The 1 mile segment that is first downhill and later uphill usually takes me little over 9 minutes. Today I did it in 8:30 and had to remind myself few times to slow down. Amazingly my heart rate during the whole warm-up did not go over zone 2 which shows that the shoes are fast while not making you work harder. I guess I'll need to observe this more, but it seems like the shoe helps you be more economical. E.g. I was running faster than usual with HR lower than usual. Obviously there may be other explanations like the fact that I'm more rested now in the off-season. That's why I will look into this more and report back.

On the pick-ups I was able to pick the pace quite comfortably and the run felt very natural. I was landing perfectly on my mid-foot. Again not a big deal for me since I run like that even in regular shoes, but in the Newtons it feels more natural. It is probably due to the lugs on the mid-foot. Overall I did about 4 miles in them and felt very good. I will post any new findings as I progress to wear these wonders. Until then I give the Newtons a big thumb up.

December 19, 2008

TrainingPeaks now support mapping for Polar RS800CX

I wanted to blog this few weeks ago when the development team of WKO+ and TrainingPeaks contacted me if I would test some RS800CX related functionality for them. But back then I promised to keep my mouth shut until they had a final version of the WKO+ and announcement ready. Oh well then there was the marathon in Philly, lots of work in the office and all of a sudden we are few weeks later and I'm only getting to this.

It was more of a coincidence as I raised a support ticker with the Peaksware about the ability to import location data from RS800cx to WKO+ and TrainingPeaks. I wanted to use the functions they provide for any GPS logs like fixing the elevation data. I was pleasantly surprised when the development team contacted me few days later and provided early version of the WKO+ that supported the direct load from RS800cx to the WKO+. I did some test runs and loaded them to the TrainingPeaks and it all looked good. My only reservation is that the resulting log when loaded to the website shows only location information with no details about lap times, lap location, etc that you can get from PPT5 and GoogleEarth. So the result is not as useful for log analysis as what the PPT5 or WKO+ offer, on the other hand TrainingPeaks has ability to share workouts with others via e-mail or Facebook. So if you use WKO+ and TrainingPeaks you get best of both worlds - analysis of individual laps and ability to share workouts with others. With this functionality in TrainingPeaks you can easily link to your workout or race record from Facebook or send the log to your friends via e-mail.

Don't get me wrong I like the TrainingPeaks log viewer as it provides quite a lot of data for everyone to look at - practically all data your HRM can capture and if you want to re-live the entire 4 hours of your marathon experience (or whatever event you did) you can chose to view it as a replay at the same speed as it was recorded (or speed it up if you do not have 4 hours to watch...). I just wish it also showed lap times and added lap location to the map - perhaps in the next update (I hope Peaksware team reads this)..

I have captured recent race with RS800cx and loaded it to the TrainingPeaks. Click on the picture below to view the TrainingPeaks log if you want to see how the log file looks once it is loaded to TrainingPeaks. You can play around with it,no worries I will not see what you did and you can not mess-up the workout log. It is only a viewer after all.


If you wondered about what Polar offers - well currently there is no support for location info on the Polar Personal Trainer site. The only HRM company that I know provides similar service at no cost to users is Garmin with their Garmin Connect site. I used the site when I had Garmin 405 and did not find it very useful beyond sharing the workout data with friends. I much prefer the combination of training planning / logging site with ability to share info than site that is built to share data only. But the Garmin Connect site is quite nice and many users find it sufficient for their needs. I only hope they already fixed the bug with average speed/pace that only took the last lap into account so your tempo workout showed overall average pace that was equal to the last lap pace. Perhaps Polar will introduce mapping and sharing capability over time as they seem to be re-working the site quite a bit. But I don't really know if I would use it since I'm already loading my data for my coach to TrainingPeaks...

December 13, 2008

Just keep swimming

Well the title says it all - after the marathon Erica and Craig had me swim a lot and do some biking. I have been in the pool three times every week and I really enjoy the swim sessions in the pool. Erica keeps my swims interesting and mixes in a good balance of drills, speed work and longer segments. But we keep everything under 300 yd in one go which is what I need. I get easily bored.

One of the interesting elements we did this week is the Locomotive which keeps the 300 yd interesting - basically the locomotive is alternating easy and hard pace on increasing distance segments - you start with 25 easy, then do 25 hard then repeat the ez/hard for 50 yd distance and last the same for 75 yd. You can also do reverse locomotive which is the same drill in reverse - starting with 75 hard / 75 easy and so on. I really like these ez/hard combinations. They make the time in the pool fly by so fast. I have been really enjoying the swims this time of the year and like the way I'm getting the feel for the water. I can actually feel the water as I swim and feel the difference between different positions of my hand on entry and pull, feel the water resistance depending on how my body is positioned and recently I started to get hang of the kicking. Kicking is something that I still need to work on quite a lot as I tend to not kick much during the swim. And yes my times for 100 yd swim have been dropping down which is great. I hope this will continue through out the winter and my swim will get better in next season.

December 11, 2008

Should you update T6 to T6c firmware?

In recent weeks I have been writing a lot about Polar HRMs. Today we will change tune a little. Some of you may remember that I have pretty large collection of HRMs including few from Suunto. This post is about the upgrade of T6 to T6c firmware.

Few months ago Suunto Finland started offering update of firmware for the T6 owners. It is offered as for a fee update that costs either 79 EUR for the firmware update or 99 EUR if you also want to get the comfort belt along with the update. That os very nice price considering the Comfort belt sells for around 79 bucks at the Suunto dealers.

The upgrade has been offered to European users since September or so while US based T6 users had option to either wait until Suunto builds the capability in the US or take the plunge and buy a new T6c (and hope to sell T6 on eBay for more than few bucks. About a month ago I sent question to Suunto inquiring about the possibility to upgrade. The help desk suggested that the service is not yet ready in the US, but that I can send my watch to Finland. It was a no brainer for me - the T6 functionality is nowhere near the T6c so the next day my T6 was packed, properly insured and sent off to Suunto service center in Finland. I checked tracking info few times during the following week to make sure the watch made it to Service center. Then I forgot all about it and carried with my training using the Polar RS800CX.

On Friday after Thanksgiving Suunto called me to get the credit card number and make sure I wanted the comfort belt as well. They took the CC number over the phone, ran it and then told me that the watch should arrive some time during the following week. It actually took only few days before DHL showed on my doorsteps and handed me envelope with upgraded T6. Suunto sent along instructions for pairing the watch with pods and first of the two books that they ship with T6c. I started setting-up the watch - as you could expect the memory was completely wiped clean and I had to set it up like a brand new watch. Which is really just a matter of few minutes if you know all your parameters. The key i to set User parameters like birth year and sex which should be no problem for most; height and weight can be easily measured; activity class is easy to deduct for your individual level of training and performance. Max HR can be tricky, but Suunto gives you initial formula that you can fine tune based on lab result or observed max in maximum intensity workouts and only METs need to be determined based on race performance, 12 minute test or lab testing. It is few more parameters to setup as the T6c not only measures the HR, R-R and other data. It also calculates EPOC and TE directly in the watch. Once I set the watch up (including adjustments to units, time and recording parameters) I paired it with the foot pod and memory belt. Then the watch was ready for the recovery run I did later in the day. As you could expect it performs exactly the same as T6c. The only difference between the two is visual.

Following are few pictures of the black T6c and the upgraded T6 in case you are considering the upgrade. On first one the T6c on the left and upgraded T6 on the right side. (note that the extra icons on the display are due to different parameters set on each watch - the T6 has alarm set and T6c has HR limits warning on. If I set them both the same way they would show the same icons in the same places).

Black T6c left, T6 upgraded to T6c right

Next photo shows the T6c in close up. Notice the three icons on the left side of the bezel - they indicate the three possible displays - time, display 1 and display 2. There is no baro/alti position and function on this watch (compared to T6).

Black T6c

On this picture you can see close up of T6 in time mode. Notice that the watch has four icons on the left side of the bezel - only three positions are actually used in T6c firmware. There is no alti/baro function any longer after the upgrade.

T6 upgraded to T6c: Time

Here is T6 in Display 1 - searching for HR belt and pods. Note that the middle icon is selected (the one with the heart).

T6 upgraded to T6c: Display 1

This is the same picture only on Display 2 - see the little dot on the left side of the display indicating Display 2 is selected.

T6 upgraded to T6c: Display 2

You may be asking if you should update your watch to T6c firmware. I hope the pictures above and following description will help you make that call.

If you want the T6c and are willing to pay for the update this may be the cheaper way than buying the T6c and selling the T6 on eBay. Although Amazon had some great deals on T6c on Black Friday when the watch was to be had for 213 USD shipped, but now they are back to 305 USD. You may not like the update especially if you used the baro and alti function in T6 a lot. You will lose it with this update. Also if you used the numbers on the right side of the display to understand the settings of the watch you may miss that as well. In the T6c the numbers on the right side of the display indicate the TE as you go through the workout. So those are the negatives for long time users of T6 (not really negatives for me). If you do not use the alti/baro or can live without it I would recommend the upgrade. You will gain quite a lot through the update and will have a brand new watch with following functions:

  • ability to use comfort belt,
  • ability to pair second HR belt with the watch like memory belt,
  • ability to switch between the sensors without any user interaction,
  • better structure of the menu - you can actually find things in this one, customizable displays.

Overall I like the updated T6 much better that the original one one. But I never really used the baro and alti standalone functions (note that the altitude is still shown on the time display and captured during the workout).

So what do I you need to do to get this done. Well as a first step get in touch with Suunto Help Desk and ask them for address and paperwork needed to get the upgrade done. I had to prepare a simple letter describing what I wanted to be done and fill-out form for import duties and taxes declaring that the watch is being sent to Finland for repair and will come back o the US. Then pack your watch carefully and send it off. I suggest not to include your credit card number in the package - you never know where that package may end up. And you may also want to insure the package just in case the watch gets lost - I recommend to insure it for 309 USD so you can get a new T6c from Amazon if your trusted T6 does not make it to Finland. Then patiently wait for Suunto to call you for CC number and in few days after that you will have your own new T6c in package that you like. The whole process took less than 14 days for me and I have shipped the watch on Thursday night and got it back on Wednesday morning in less than 2 weeks.

I know for the price of the shipping and upgrade you can get a new T6c and sell your T6 on eBay. That may be the other option if you want a brand new watch with full 2 years warranty. It is entirely your call.

December 10, 2008

2009 - the season of half

Like most athletes on this side of the globe I'm enjoying the beauty of the off-season. With all the key events out of the way I'm already looking into the next year. After evaluation of this year I decided that the next year focus will be on the half distance or 70.3 if you will.

There are few reasons behind this decision - first and quite important one is that I just love racing this distance. It is challenging enough, but it does not wipe you out for many weeks. This past season I was actually able to finish two 70.3 races in the same month without much suffering (well if you do not count the gash in my leg I suffered in the second race in bike crash). Second reason is that you can actually train for this distance on fairly reasonable schedule. Which means that you can still keep your job and maintain reasonable level of social life. You do not need to become training and race goals obsessed as with full Ironman training. It is all about balance.

I already discussed the preliminary race schedule with Craig and ran few ideas by him over the past few weeks. After the first discussion I already secured spot at my key race which will be a new venue for me - Ironman 70.3 in Rhode Island. I have read few good reviews of the race and I wanted to try one of the officially sanctioned events next year. It is within driving distance which was also something I considered. Prior to this race I'll do Black Bear half ironman which is pretty tough course, but that is a race I wanted to do. I like killer courses that thrash you - I did the Black Bear sprint this year and did not do all that bad considering the total meltdown during the swim. Plus CGI always puts on great events. I'm considering few other 70.3 races in the region one of which is Quakerman half which I have raced in the past two years and always had a great day securing second spot in my AG. Leading up to the Black Bear I'll do few running races 10k in February, half marathon in early May and I'd like to do mid-May duathlon in the area where I live. But that may be a challenge to squeeze in with the half marathon and half ironman on both ends of month of May. I'm still likely to do the Anthracite Tri which is Olympic distance course on tough biking and run course - well it is in Poconos just like Black Bear and the hills are just hard to avoid in that area. I may do Steelman Olympic distance race and I'm still looking for late season half to close off the season. I may do the Beach to Battleship half if I can find money to get there with my family and bike.

The season plan is not all locked down, but I already have few key races I'm aiming for so my training can start taking shape again in early 2009 to get ready for the bear...

December 9, 2008

No HR in your CS600 log? Resolution is here.

Several people in Polar forums reported issues with CS600 logs not showing any HR and RR data. It seems that there is a bug either in the transmission from the watch or in PPT5. I discovered that you will not any HR if you start the HRM before the HR shows on the CS600 display. Member BorutV confirmed that the logs staring with few zeroes are not displaying any HR in PPT5. In any case there is a workaround. Just follow these simple steps and you should get the log with HR and RR data without any issues:

  • Wear the HR belt
  • Press the red button once
  • Wait for the HRM to find and connect with the belt - basically until the HR appears on the display
  • Now you can press the red button again to start the exercise

December 8, 2008

How to run marathon in 3:55 when you shoot for 3:30

Few days after completing the marathon in Philly I wanted to find answers why I did not have the race I wanted. I did a full review of the race, looked at my heart rate monitor log from the race and mentally walked through the whole race. I summarized my findings and ran them by Craig who confirmed most of them and added few findings to complete the picture. Here is the summary of what made the day go the way it did. I made some rookie mistakes and paid for them dearly. I suggest you review this article before your next marathon. It may help you get a better race.

  • Prepare good race plan - I had a very basic race plan going into the marathon and as the day unfolded I found the race plan was not thought through well enough to carry me through the day. I did have just plan A. I did not have plan B, C and D as I usually have and had to change things on the spot as the race went. You may know that the longer you run the less you can rely on thinking clearly. According to Craig I did pretty good job reacting to the circumstances and changed the tactics according to conditions. I also pushed through the rough spot between miles 18 and 21 when I felt really bad. I may have performed better if I had more detailed plan. But it is hard to build one if you do not really know what the race will be like. Just like my first HIM race I blew-up on the run. But next year my HIM was without any blow-ups. I'm learning by mistake.
  • My water intake during the race was not sufficient. The cold weather made me think that I do not need to take in water. I should have drank at least a bit at every aid station instead of sticking only with the Perpetuem mix I had in my bottles. According to Craig I took in more than enough carbs (actually about 40 calories per hour more that I should have) and not enough water. Which made me feel bloated and and my stomach was full of fluids that were not processed. I should have stuck with my other fuel belt with two large bottles or I should have drank water at the aid stations.
  • Never try to play catch-up during the long distance race. I mentioned in my race report that I had to stop at around mile 10 for quick bio break. I lost contact with the pace group and at that point I got the stupid idea that I can catch-up with them by picking-up the pace a bit. It was actually quite easy as from the point I took the break the road was downhill. This was by large my biggest mistake of the day. I looked through the log and it looks like I just killed my race on that downhill. I basically ran too fast down that hill - from average pace of 8:00 min/mi I sped up to 6:40 min/mi on the downhill. Yeah you read correctly I was running at higher than my 5k pace race during the marathon. Silly me. About a mile after that heroic effort (after I settled back to 8:00 min/mi) I had to take a walk break. First of many walk breaks.
  • Get better clothes that protect from cold wind. I believe I ran in enough clothes for the race conditions, but I did not account for the wind especially on the stretch on Kelly Drive. Although I had base layer, warm compression shirt with long sleeves, long sleeve compression top, long compression pants and two hats (one for wicking the sweat and one to keep me warm) I never felt completely comfortable. I was more on the cold side the entire race. I think I should have had either different base layer (the one I had feels cold against the body) or I should have a wind protection layer. I will need to experiment with this during the winter.
  • I need to get better timing of the bathroom breaks. I should have used the time after warm-up to get to the bathroom. That way the 10mi stop would not be necessary. Well I just hate the porta-potties lines at race venues.
  • Hard races at the end of long season are not easy to prepare for - I had hard time getting my head in the game for this one. I posted comment in the original race report about this. As I said I did not want to break the 3:30 bad enough and was not mentally ready to push very hard. If I run another marathon I'll be better equipped.

So there you have it. In case you wanted to look at the breaking point in my race here are two pictures - first one shows the altitude, pace, heart rate for the entire race and the second one zooms on the critical part of the race. E.g. the part where I stopped for bathroom break and then sprinted down the hill. I still can not comprehend what I was thinking at that time. Another reason to have good race plan not to kill your race before the half point.



So there you have it. If you can prevent the above mistakes I made - especially trying to play catch-up you will do better on the race day. Good luck everyone.

November 24, 2008

Kicked asphalt - or my first marathon

Yesterday I ran the Philadelphia marathon. What a great race during which I got my ass kicked. My goal was to keep the 8 minute per mile pace and finish at 3:30. I felt great during the first 10.5 or so miles and kept-up with the 3:30 pace group. Actually the 10 miles passed like nothing and I did not even realized we were already running for 1 hour and 20 minutes. The crowd support in the city was just amazing. Then I had to take a short bio-break and fell about 2-3 minutes behind the pace group. I resumed the pace and picked it up a bit on the downhill to bridge the gap. I ran another 2 miles at about 7:30 to 7:45 pace and could see the 3:30 pacing group balloons in distance. But then I had to slow down and take a minute walk. Not sure if that was mental or the increased pace was getting to me. I resumed running again and started to do math - you know like when you should be running and instead you do a lot of thinking. Yep - that was the mistake number two.

I decided that maybe I should forget about the race time and try to enjoy the time outside. This may sounds like a mistake, but I consider it one of the best decisions of the day. Then I made a pact with myself - I'll run for a mile (or about 7-8 minutes) and then walk for one minute. And I'll keep doing it until the end of the race or until I pass out. And so I did it (well I finished not passed out). It worked quite well until about mile 19 where I needed to extend the walk to 2 minutes, get gels, electrolytes and water to regain composure. For some reason it was hard for me to keep hydrating - the weather was cold and drinking cold water was not helping much.

After mile 19 it is all a big blur - beer aid station, the crowds cheering all the way on the main street in Manayunk, somebody handing out brownies, gel aid station, someone playing harmonica (or was I just dreaming at that point?), thinking about how bloody hard this marathon thing is, cursing myself for signing-up for it, and then being happy that I'm part of something this big. Wow it was emotional roller-coaster. In any case run-walk worked very well and although I was slowing it was not that bad. Around mile 23.5 I got passed by the 3:45 pace group and just knew I do not want to cross the line with next pacing group (the 4:00 crowd). I dug deep, still did the run-walk but tried to do more of run and less of the walk. Then it was only a mile and I could feel that the end is very close. The last kilometer was just plain amazing, people cheering, all the noise and I started to pass people that were struggling on the uphill. I guess the run-walk method saved me some energy for stronger finish (it was not a strong finish, I just had little more in my tank than the people I passed).

I crossed the finish line in 3:55:06 (chip time) and was glad that I was done. First thought after crossing the line - OK next time I'll be better prepared and do the 3:30. Now only if my legs did not hurt so much and my ankle was not giving me the trouble. Congratulations to everyone who finished yesterday. It was quite cold one for my taste - especially the stretch by the river.

If you want to check the details of my race here is link to the GPS map and other stats.

One addition that you can not miss - as you can imagine we have heard the Rocky song more than one time on the race day.

November 19, 2008

And now something completely different... Suunto T6 firmware upgrade

As the title indicates I will not talk about Polar in this post. I actually have news about Suunto this time. As you may remember I kept the Suunto T6 as my backup watch. Last night I sent support request to Suunto inquiring about availability of the firmware update from T6 to T6c. This morning I received a response suggesting that while the upgrade is not available in the US I can send my watch to Finland to get the update done. So this morning I filled-out the required paperwork, packed the watch and sent it off to Finland. I'll report here when I receive it back.

If you are considering this step note that the procedure is relatively expensive - shipping with tracking number via FedEx is about 60 bucks (this is the most economical way to ship with tracking and delivery in few days) and the upgrade itself is 79 EUR for the firmware upgrade or 99 EUR if you also want to get a Comfort Belt with the upgraded watch.

You may be asking why I do this. Here is the reason - this past season I raced with Suunto T6c and like the functionality of the watch for racing. I was little disappointed with the durability of the T6c watch though. When I compared it to T6 the watch face was not as durable as the previous model. I also liked the color, design and feel of the T6 on my hand better than the T6c. The T6c ended-up on eBay and I kept the T6 as a backup watch. T6 functionality is little flaky compared with the T6c firmware and I never really had success in using it in race to record the whole race without a glitch. So the ideal watch out of the two is the hybrid - T6 model with the T6c firmware. I may stick with it for races. But I'm sure I'll keep training with Polar as it has more functionality to help me structure the training sessions. I guess this will be the big decision for next season when we get close to the first race. Plenty of time until then.

November 11, 2008

Anyone running Philly on Nov 23rd?

I have not talked about training lately. But since my bike accident in late September I have been trying to get back to marathon training. I had two rocky weeks when I was suffering from cold. But I have been back on the road in the past few weeks and completed some tempo runs and long runs. With one long run little shy of 3 hours just this past Sunday.

Am I ready to race in less than 12 days? I guess I'm as ready as I can get. And I'm sure Craig has some more fine tuning in store for me. I'm ready mentally and that is what counts. I'll go out there and run as good as I can. It will be my very first attempt at the marathon distance so I take it as much as a learning experience as a race with the clock. I have my goal, but I'll be flexible and adjust as the day goes (and that means both ways). I learned on the long runs that the going gets tough past the mile 16, but I also learned that you can keep pushing and it gets better (not necessarily easier). So with the few days to go I continue running, biking and swimming. I hope to see some of you down in Philly. If you see me say hello as I do not necessarily know you :-).

I'll be in Philly on Saturday afternoon together with my support crew - my son, wife, mother in law and a friend of the family. Anyone staying over night in Philly and wanting to get together for a chat or sip of pearly water let me know. I'm chicken the night before race - no need to inflict more pain by bad habits than what the distance causes itself. But I'll for sure get a glass of good red wine the night after the race. Do you know any good restaurants downtown that accommodate larger group with a kid? I'd like to get some good, but light meal and get good sleep. It does not necessarily need to be Italian pasta, but I'm not really looking for steak house either... See you down in Philly.

Also I plan to be at the expo on Friday between 2-4pm let me know if you will be around we can meet-up and chat before I hike back to the woods north of Philly.

November 10, 2008

Calibrating Polar foot pods

This past week there were few discussions on the Polar forums about the calibration of the foot pod with Polar watches. It does not really matter which watch you have S625X, S725X, RS400sd, RS200sd, RS800sd, RS800cx or the new FT60 or FT80. If you use foot pod you will get better results if you calibrate it. With all foot pods in the industry it is true that they are sensitive to your running style, running form, surface you run on, type of the course you run on, etc. Over the years I found that for the best results it is good to keep track of most common calibration factors for combination of surfaces you run on and shoes you run in. I keep a running tally of calibration factors for all pairs of shoes I run in and generally keep at least two calibration factors (CF) - one for running on my treadmill at home and one for running outside on the road. I do not do much of trail running, but if I did I would keep that as a separate CF.

All depends on how much accuracy you strive for. The S1 and S3 foot pods from Polar will give you result within the 5% range of accuracy out of the box. That may be sufficient for some folks, but if you want to be more accurate I suggest to calibrate. All Polar HRMs I used so far let you calibrate the unit by either running pre-determined distance and then correct the lap distance manually or by manually adjusting the CF. I prefer the manual calibration. In order to determine the new CF I run known distance of at least 1 mile. Sometimes I take the measurement multiple times to get better feel for the accuracy. I record each calibration run in a spreadsheet and look at the new CF from the run (or multiple runs). In case I have multiple runs I may take average of the CFs or eliminate the obvious error CFs and take average of the CFs that are quite close. Sometimes you may hit the lap button too early or too late and that may mess-up the CF calculation.

Actually I have a mile long distance measured from the corner of my street to another corner and I use that for all my outside calibration runs. That makes it easy to repeat the calibration when I need it - even like the day before the race if I want to be 100% sure the calibration is OK.

If you want to be super accurate - which may be important for some track workouts you will want to run mile repeats at constant pace and record the laps at different speeds - like 8 minute mile, 7:30, 7:00, 6:30 and 6:00 or faster. Your CF may be slightly different for different speeds, but this is too anal even for me. I usually run with just the CF for combination of shoes and surface. Most of my calibration is done at pace between 8 minute mile and 7 minute mile and they work quite well even for running intervals at 6 min mile. Especially the S3 foot pod is less susceptible to pace changes and accelerations / decelerations that the S1 does not handle as well. The S1 may not give you 100% great distance in interval run - it is best to calibrate it well for the interval part of the workout and just ignore the pace / distance recorded in the recovery sections of the workout.

If you are calibrating on treadmill it is best to use the exactly the same treadmill every time. If you go to the gym you may need to repeat this for few machines as they tend to be quite abused and each may produce different results. You also need to understand that all you do in this process is that you are calibrating your watch to show the same numbers as the treadmill - no guarantee that the treadmill itself is accurate. They quite often are not. If you run for a week in a hotel - don't even bother to calibrate. It is pretty much waste of your workout time. The calibration itself on the treadmill is easy - just hit the lap button at some nice round number, keep running until you ran 1 mile (or longer) and then plug-in the number to the spreadsheet and you know the new CF.

I use the spreadsheet I was referring to in the text above - you can download it from my website. It is very simple and all it does is that it takes your input of the actual distance, old CF and watch displayed distance. I then tells you the new CF and % accuracy of the previous CF. I use it to fine tune my CF over time. If you do this over time you may achieve quite good accuracy. I ran 5 mi race last December in which I had recorded 5.03 miles over quite varied terrain - hills and flats on the road. Now we can discuss whether it was the CF fine tuning or just dumb luck. I'll let you judge it.

Remember that the CF is quite important if you use the software like WKO+ to calculate your intensity factor and TSS as for running. The software uses normalized graded pace to determine how hard the workout was - if your calibration is off you may be working at lower or higher intensity than what the software tells you.

OK so you have determined new CF - what do you do with it? Look at your manual and follow the instructions to change the manual calibration factor. Most Polar HRMs support only one CF at the time so you will need to remember to modify it for each workout. If you have the new RS800CX it allows you to maintain up to 3 pairs of shoes each with different CF. I currently use two pairs of shoes for my running - one is calibration for running outside and the other one for running inside on the treadmill at my house. In other cases like the RS800sd and RS400sd you can define different sports and assign the CF to the sport. When you then define guided workout remember to set the 'Sport Profile' field to Sport-specific settings which will pick-up the pre-set calibration factor from the PPT5.

I hope this helps people deal with the calibration topics. Let me know if you have any questions.

Seeking motivation to train? Here is a good dose of it.

It is the end of the season in the North East and there are no more triathlons where I live. Except maybe the ones organized by YMCA that get you do 10 minutes of each. Which is not really a lot of racing. Anyways the days are getting shorter and there is less time to get your training in. Just yesterday I started a long run at 2:30pm and finished when it was pitch black with no stars. On days like that one may need some motivation boost. The following two videos can give you some - they work for me, they may work for you as well. Check the Kona videos out. It is amazing to see the form these top pro athletes have.

October 31, 2008

Response to recent reader comments

My apology for recent quit period - I have been taking few days off with my family in Florida and did not have much time left for browsing the web much less for posting anything on my blog. But I'm back and will continue to report on my training and the use of heart rate monitors and possibly new segment on using power on the bike. In the meantime I owe few answers to readers of this blog. I thought I'll take opportunity to combine this post with the answers to the questions posted under the last article about RS800CX and third party (non-Polar) software I use to analyze the workouts. Thank you all for coming back to my blog and keep the comments coming.

Comment from paradoxtk: In the review it seems you get the most information out of WKO+ comparing to FB Athlete. FB Athlete seems only to deliver some information about the workload of your exercises while with WKO+ it seems you are able to do more finegrain data analysis. Is this assumption right? But on the other hand WKO+ seems to be useful mostly for power-oriented analysis.

In my particular case I get most information out of the WKO+, but that is mainly because I have a coach that plans my workouts and do not need to rely on the software. For WKO+ it is quite important to use the power meter, otherwise the TSS/IF can not be calculated for the bike rides. You can still get TSS/IF for run workouts as well as normalized pace and HR/pace decoupling for long steady state workouts (well that is where it makes most sense to look at it anyways). For swim workouts I follow Joe Friel's advice he gives his athletes (see his blog) - e.g. easy workout has TSS of 30 and very hard one TSS of 100, then multiply by number of hours of the workout duration. I use this guideline also for bike workouts on stationary bike in the hotel if I do not have power meter with me or in case my foot pod battery dies half way through a very long run - like that never happened ;-). Otherwise the WKO+ and FB Athlete are different types of software. The WKO+ does more detailed analysis of the workout as well as provide a long term progression information through the performance management chart and weekly / monthly stats. The FB Athlete provides very detailed analysis of the R-R data and helps determine EPOC and Training Effect for each workout as well as provides program to improve the fitness with dynamic program. I just do not use the program as I have a coach that plans my workouts, but if you do not have coach this may be a good way to moderate your stress level in a program. Self coached athletes tend to work too hard all the time and do not always realize when to back off.

Jan, what software (either WKO+ or FB Athlete) would you suggest for the Polar RS800CX as supplement to the Polar Pro Trainer SW? (in other words: without a powermeter, but with RR-data functionality)

In this case I would probably ask what is your situation - e.g. how do you plan your season and do you know how to put together your plan. If not you may be better off to rely on the FB Athlete to help you plan the workload. If you do already plan your workouts and look for better way to analyze your progress then the WKO+ may be better option as the FB athlete does not provide as much detail as what you can get from WKO+. And you can self-assess the cycling TSS according to the guideline quoted above.

Yesterday i finally reveived my RS800CX! :-) After first tests and after configuring the watch i tried to build an exercise that uses a sport profile and individual sportzones. Unfortunately i was not able to do so. It seems the watch does really only support one sportzone set at a time. It seems it is not possible to deploy different sportzone sets in planned exercises by using the sport profile function. Can you confirm this by testing it yourself? Otherwise this could also be a bug in the PPT SW, but i do not think so. But nevertheless, i really like this watch! :-)

Congratulations on your new gizmo. As I posted earlier the watch supports only one sport zone, but you can still create the workouts that combine bike/run sport zones. You just need to set the HR limits as % of max or as actual beats per minute. I tested it for the brick workout and it works fine for the workout guidance - e.g. the watch will show you the right range you should be in for each phase you programmed in PPT5. But the issue comes when you look at the workout result in the PPT5 later - only one HR zone can be used for displaying the information - you can switch between the zones and tweak them after the workout, but it still gives you only one zone for the entire file. I found it more useful to record the brick as separate workouts and then look at them either individually or assess them as a multi-sport workout in PPT5. I'll do some more writing on this in a week or so.

Comments from Mogens:
I have the same feeling as paradoxtk regarding FB Athlete - it seems that you are lacking confidence in the programs functinality. So my question is - do I need to buy FB Athlete to analyse R-R data or is it possible to use PP5's OwnOptimizer/overtraining status?

You can certainly live without the FB Athlete and rely on Polar OwnOptimizer function to monitor your training load. I use FB Athlete as a validation of the total EPOC I accumulate during the week. But as you correctly stated it is just a validation. I already own the software and only use functions I really take advantage of. I do not lack confidence in the training program it suggests, but I also do not feel like using it when I have USAT certified coach planning my season. I really do not need the coach function in the software, but folks without access to coach may find it useful as it seems to periodize the workouts quite well. Quite often my workouts are either spot on or close to the training effect that the software suggests. While on other days my plan is totally different - like now the software does not know I'm fighting flu while my coach does. So my coach re-designed my week to take it into consideration while the FB athlete assumes I'm well rested and suggested workouts with TE of 4.8 for tomorrow - that would probably not help me. So if you decide to use the software do it with a bit of caution as it does not consider all aspects of your training. All it does is it analyzes your training load and based on it suggests next few days of load (it obviously does more than just that and the algorithm is I'm sure very sophisticated, but in a nutshell the description is correct).

You seem to have a lot of experience with diffferent kind of software related to triathlon - did you ever look at a software package called PC Coach?

I'm afraid I did not have the pleasure of using the PC Coach. Before you buy make sure the software is compatible with the RS800CX. You can call their help desk and I'm sure they will help you. I believe the company also sells the Polar products so they will be able to help you. The only contact I had with the company was indirect when I read their older article about the Timex, Polar and Suunto HRMs.

Comment from Gorka:
I'm 90% sure to buy the RS800CX MULTI (with two bike sensor for VTT and road bike). I know that this watch can not be used as navigator (I understand navigator as something that tells me which way to follow). But, does the Garmin Forerunner 405 give this options? (I suppose that not, but I'm not able to find something that it confirms this). Thank you very much.

Gorka, the navigation features in Forerunner 405 are very basic - it basically points you to the next waypoint and depending on the software you used to plan the route it can be on the road or not. It does not have a map or visual indication of where you are in comparison to the next waypoint, just an arrow that points the direction. It is OK for running and I used it on one long run just to test it out. I was not impressed, but it may be good enough for finding your way around if you upload the route to the watch prior to the training ride. Friend of mine had only the best to say about the Forerunner 305 for navigating him on his bike rides. The display on 305 seems to be better for this type of navigation, the 405 has fairly small screen. You can get the 305 fairly cheap now - if you are in the US the REI discount is coming soon so you may be able to snatch one at very reasonable price. If price is not a concern a lot of cyclists use the Garmin Edge 605 or 705, but they are much more expensive than the Forerunner 305. Note that the Forerunner 305 does not have a map, only a drawing of relative position of you vs. the planned route. Check Fred's page linked above for actual pictures of how it looks.

October 21, 2008

Analysis of training data (part 3 of RS800CX reviews)

This is a third article focused on how I use the HRM in training. If you missed the previous articles you can find them on this site. Follow the links below:

RS800CX - more detailed review of the functions I.
RS800CX - more detailed review of the functions II.

I selected a different title for this post than for the previous two as it is not much about the RS800CX watch, but more about 3rd party software I use for analysis of data that I gather during training. I'll also make references to CS600 with power sensor as that is what I use on my bike and the software analysis tools leverage the power data. And lastly instead of discussing the programs one by one without much context I'll talk about the entire process from the workout planning to the analysis of results of individual sessions as well as weekly, monthly and season.

Before we get down to the details let me talk a little about the software I use for my training. First up is the - website designed for endurance athletes that fully follows the Triathlete's Training Bible from Joe Friel (and also Cyclist's Training Bible from the same author). The Training Bible outlines a very structured approach to planning an entire racing season and periodizing the training for peaking at the key events. The site helps with planning the season, setting the goals and monitoring the progress.

Second software I use is the WKO+ from the same group that developed The WKO+ used to be called CyclingPeaks and was geared towards cyclists, but in the recent few updates the software introduced features that help runners assess their workouts. As you can expect there is integration between the WKO+ and

The third software package I started to use recently is the FirstBeat Athlete. The FB Athlete provides wealth of features including the Training Coach, but I use only parts of it that I found useful. I do not use the Training Coach in the FB Athlete as I prefer to rely on real coach rather than have software determine my plans for me. But there are folks that rely on software for fitness level training and are quite happy with the results. Now with the major packages introduced let's look at how I use them through out the season.

Season planning - the big picture

I'm not going to describe the whole Training Bible philosophy here, you can read it in the Training Bible books (note that new version of The Triathlete's Training Bible will be released soon, I suggest you to wait for it as Joe Friel made significant revisions to the book as he discusses on his blog. In short the season planning is done after your last priority A race in the previous season. The planning starts with setting the preferences for the next season like annual training hours, time frame, your personal data, then you are guided through setting the season goals and assessing your limiters. In the next step you plan individual races for the season and prioritize them as A, B or C events. Essentially the A events are the ones you will taper for and B, C events are either tune up races or testing races. It does not mean that you do not push hard in B or C race, it just helps you structure your plan. Once you set the races and their priorities the site will compute your annual training plan. The training plan basically spreads the annual training hours through out the season and assigns each week to a specific training phase (transition, preparation, base, build, peak, race). There is logic in the software that assigns the hours to each week according to the phase that you will be in during that week. You can adjust the annual training plan any time later or even re-calculate it during the season in case you need to re-assess due to unforeseen circumstances. The next step is to plan your week. The picture below shows the annual training plan that already has workouts logged against it (new one would be empty). Also note that the training plan has section for strength training, swim, bike and run and for each week you can determine which abilities you will work on (see the colorful bars at the top of the picture). The annual plan suggests the sports you need to work on based on the races you planned, but you can modify the plan as you see fit. There is much more that you can do with the plan, but as an introduction this is hopefully sufficient.

04 TrainingPeaks ATP

Planning training week

When I started training few years ago I used to put plan for the entire build-up to the A-race into the and it was typically a plan I derived from a book or combination of few canned plans. Few months ago I hired a coach and no longer do the detailed weekly planning. I receive them and execute them to the best of my ability. Typically my coach plans first few days of my week on Sunday the previous week and the rest in early part of the training week. There is a general schedule we agreed in the beginning that is pretty much dictated by my work and family commitments. If I have any changes to the general schedule or my status (like injury or sickness) I advise my coach via e-mail or through the site. The next picture shows the completed week (actually this is my last week) with individual workouts and instructions from my coach.

01 TrainingPeaks

The second picture shows one of the planned workouts. Besides having the workouts on-line the site also sends you e-mail (if you chose to) with the workouts for next two days. If you need to you can move workouts around (unless they are from your coach - then you need to ask for them to move it).

03 TrainingPeaks-workout

For more complex workouts or for workouts in which I want the HRM to monitor key parameters of the workout I create planned workout in PPT5. In the workout I set the limits as I need them in the specific workout - for cycling sessions it is generally HR, cadence or power (I use CS600 with power), for run sessions I use mostly HR limits. I do not plan swim sessions in the PPT5 as the S625X does not support guided workouts the same way RS800CX and CS600 do. Plus when I swim I just have a printout of the workout in a ziploc bag on the pool side and follow it - not a big need to have the watch beep at me. Example of workout in the PPT5 is below.

11 PPT5-workout-plan

The planned workout is then transferred to the HRM and I execute the training session according to the guidance. In case of simple workouts I use the Free workout type from the watch which does not have any guidance and is ideal for self-guided workout.

Workout analysis

After the workout is complete I load it to the PPT5 and look at the key parameters of the workout. The PPT5 has been discussed in the previous articles so I'll not go into too much detail here. Typically the assessment consists of reviewing the pacing information, looking at whether I reached the workout goals and assessing where I had troubles. This may be a very short assessment for some workouts like easy recovery workout where I would only check if I went too hard at any point. For specific workouts like long bike, brick or long run I would look at the splits, power output (in cycling), pace, cadence and other variables on the chart shown below.

12 PPT5-workout-result

The PPT5 allows to change the selection (the thick blue bar under the graph) and select specific segment or segments (even non-continuus) and then review parameters for the selection. I may also add notes, laps and correct the errors in the recording (which does not happen often).

Once I'm done with the workout editing in the PPT5 I take the hrm file and load it to the WKO+. In the WKO+ I look at the overall training stress score (TSS) and intensity factor (IF). Note that the TSS and IF get only calculated for cycling workouts with power and running workouts with pace/distance data.

21 WKOplus-record-workout

Then I look at the individual parameters of the workout and review the power zones (for cycling) and HR zones (for running) on the screen shown below. I also tend to look at Mean Maximal Pace for runs and Mean Maximal Power for cycling sessions. The software is very flexible and lets you define additional graphs to review other parameters of the session.

22 WKOplus-workout-detail

For majority of sessions I also look at the detailed graph and look at other parameters - like HR / power or HR / pace decoupling that is quite good way to assess your base in long steady state efforts. I may analyze cycling sessions to see how many candles I have burned - this is quite useful for race analysis to understand why you blew-up later on bike or did not have good run in triathlon race. There is just a lot you can derive from WKO+, but the software requires you to do good amount of reading of the manuals and I also recommend you to read Joe Friel's blog. Following picture shows the detailed graph of the session.

23 WKOplus-workout-graph

Last step in WKO+ is to load the workout results to the along with comments for my coach. The then lets my coach review the workout in detail and if I want I can share the workout with my friends via Facebook or just send people link to the workout details.

42 TP Results analysis

After that I take the R-R file from the workout and dump it into the FB Athlete for very quick assessment. I do not rely much on the FB Athlete in my training and use it to assess and cross-validate the overall weekly load. The FB Athlete computes EPOC and Training Effect for individual workouts and that is all I use it for. I do not utilize the Training Coach function. Here is a picture of the FB Athlete page.

32 FB Measurement graph

For some workouts I review the graph showing which part of the workout I spent in which VO2 zone. It is interesting to see where I labored more than I should have. But I do not really rely much on the FB Athlete results and use them only as additional info.

Week, month and season assessment

On regular basis I review the weekly, monthly and entire season statistics. Most useful are the graphs I get from the WKO+. The program comes with pre-defined set of graphs that you can modify or add new ones to analyze your entire season, previous few days or specific date range. I have bunch of graphs on my overview page that show me weekly training volume and time for the season, HR distribution for the entire season and then the same graphs for each sport. For cycling I have a section that shows distribution of power in automatic buckets and also in training zones, mean maximal power over the previous month with mean heart rate, mean maximal power and mean maximal pace for the season and week, training stress and intensity factor for biking and running, cadence for biking and running, performance management chart and summary of the training with weekly and monthly average HR, TSS, power and pace. If you want other stats you can play around with the graphs and get them displayed on your athlete page in the WKO+. Sample of the page is below - not all graphs are displayed. Again as for other WKO+ related details read the WKO+ help on-line.

24 WKOplus-season-graphs

Second area where I look for overall data about the training volume is the - the Annual Training Plan shown on the first picture in this article shows the volume per week. The Actual field then indicates with color code whether I trained just enough (no background), more (red) or less (yellow) that planned.

As a secondary information for my weekly load I look at the overall EPOC for the week in the FB Athlete. The summary of the week is on the right side of the picture below.

34 FB Training History

If I used the FB Athlete for training planning I could also look at the training plan that dynamically changes as the workout results get loaded to the software. According to the software help the recommended training sessions should be taken as recommended durations and TE levels. If you need more time to achieve the TE you can take more time. I did not do any analysis of this function so I can not really comment on this.

This is in nutshell how I use the software to help me train. I must admit that I'm a geek and enjoy playing around with gadgets and hoard data that I can later review and analyze. It is important to say that you do not need to do all this to be successful. The most important part of all this is actually me working with personal coach. The rest is just making it more fun for me to train...

October 16, 2008

RS800CX - more detailed review of the functions II.

Evaluation of training

This is second article that continues the discussion about the RS800CX. Today we will discuss the post workout analysis that you can do in the watch and in the PPT5 software.

As you can see from the previous article the RS800CX captures just an amazing amount of information about the exercise. In the examples here I use few different sessions to show the amount of information you get in the watch and later can review in even more detail in the software. The RS800CX is watch for anyone who likes to dig through data and wants analyze workout details for selected workouts (or all of them if you have enough time). Let's start with few pictures that show the data you can get directly in the watch right after you finish the session.

First picture shows the overview information about the workout. It includes the start time, distance ad duration of the session.

RS800CX Training Log

You can drill down through the data and review the min / max and average HR, calories burned, max / avg pace info, cadence (shown below), stride length [the previous two are specific to S3 sensor for the run and cadence sensor for the bike], Running Index, Altitude info, Ascend, Descend, Temperature.

RS800CX run cadence

Besides the above listed information you can review the time spent in each HR zone, Time, pace, HR and other information about each phase if you followed pre-planned workout and also review the details about each lap that you recorded during the workout (see the picture below for top screen, you can then drill down to details). The amount of information is more than sufficient.

RS800CX laps info

You can then transfer the data from the watch to the Polar Pro Trainer 5 software that comes with the watch and works on Windows (or if you are Mac user you can use it in Parallels, VMware or BootCamp). The analysis in the PPT5 gives you detailed data for each recording interval you selected - e.g. 1s, 2s, 5s, etc. as I listed them in the previous article. The actual workout file provides a great amount of detail from the session as shown below.


You can review each data point of each lap for various information. Additionally you can play around with the selection bar below the graph (the blue thick line) and select only specific parts of the exercise and then review the details of the selected part of the session. As shown in the example below (note that this is a different workout than the one shown on the watch above).


Generally I enable display of maximum of four variables in the graph - e.g. HR, pace, altitude and cadence which is still possible to read. But you can enable as many as all variables captured or just one - the flexibility of PPT5 is hard to beat in this segment of the software from HRM manufacturers. In the analysis you can review the lap information, change the lap type to indicate specific events during the race or training session (like I blew-up here). The colors in the background are showing the HR zones for the session. In PPT5 you can define up to four different HR sport zones and assign them to individual sports. This is extremely useful for triathletes and other multi sport athletes that train at different intensities in different sports. The watch itself supports only one sport zone, but I do not find that limiting as each exercise you define uses the HR zones of the sport you define in the software. E.g. if I define a run in zone 1 and 2 it will have different HR limits than if I define bike in zone 1 and 2 as separate exercises. It is little more complicated when you have to do a brick, then you need to set the HR zones manually in the brick phases to stay within the limits as you intend. This also introduces an issue in analysis of the brick as only one HR sport zone can be associated with one sport. Therefore I think the way Polar handles the multi-sport mode on the watch is good - record each part of the brick as separate exercise you can evaluate separately, but when you exercise you can see the combined time, distance and calories in the multi-sport view. Then in the analysis you can also activate the multi-sport view and review the workouts. Since I did not do any bricks with the watch yet I'll need to do some more research on this and report back in another article.

The RS800CX in conjunction with the Polar G3 GPS sensor captures location information for each session that you can later view in the software directly or in the GoogleEarth. The analysis in Google Earth is pretty nice as the path shows graphically not only the location but also color codes the HR zone you were in and shows the phase switches as well as the lap information. It is pretty interesting to review the workout in this way and see where you pushed harder and where you relaxed a bit. At this point you can not load the workouts to a website and share easily with friends (as Garmin Connect allows), but I have no doubt this will eventually become available on the Polar Personal Trainer on-line.


Let's look at another part of PPT5 which is reporting - most products from other HRM providers have pre-defined set of reports with very minimal ability to customize them to fit your needs. Not the PPT5 - the ability to define additional reports than the five enabled by default is great. You can customize the standard reports or define new ones as you need and then look at the data as you are pleased. It is quite impressive how much you can customize the reports and review any combination of data from your log over any period of time. Below are two simple reports showing time in sport zones per week.


The second picture shows the run pace with average HR and distance. You can define anything you want.


In the next article I'll look at the additional third party software I use for analysis in addition to the Polar Pro Trainer 5.


A unique feature of any Polar HRM is the set of tests that Polar devised in their research and built into the watch. The RS800CX offers two tests - the Fitness Test and Optimizer Test. I run the fitness test twice a week to see how my fitness progresses over time and as part of running it I have RS800CX predict my maximum HR. The Optimizer test is used to determine whether the training is structured optimally and the test result can help determine when you train too hard or too easy. I'm still figuring this one out as most of my results come as normal training or rested. But that is probably because I have not done a solid week of full training since the accident.

Daily use of the watch

I use the RS800CX as a regular watch for daily use and find is comfortable to wear the whole day without any issues. The design is somewhat unusual and does not resemble regular watch. Some people do not like the design, but I find it OK. Not excited about it and I prefer the design of Sunnto T6 as a daily watch, but the RS800CX is in my opinion the best HRM for multi-sport athletes and I do not need to witch between different watches. I love the back light on Polar - it is easy to activate and lights-up the watch very nicely (also during the exercise under low light conditions). The watch can be set to one of two time zones and you can quickly switch between them - useful if you travel a lot. The watch also has an alarm with snooze timer - sometimes I miss the alarm, but I guess it is more of a hard sleep on my part and me switching off the alarm while I sleep (I guess I need to put the watch on the bedside table and it will be OK). Besides alarm you can set number of reminders that I use to remind myself about doing the fitness test and own optimizer test. And lately to remind me to take the antibiotics - yeah the autumn season is upon us.


The prices quoted in this article reflect the US market prices. The prices in other markets may be quite different and I encourage you to check with the Polar dealer in your region about the actual prices of RS800CX. The watch itself can be had for 400 USD on-line. Polar also ships three different packs with pre-bundled sensors that are a better deal than buying the watch only and then adding the sensors. The RS800CX RUN with S3 stride sensor sells for 470 USD, you can buy the package RS800CX Multi with the G3 GPS sensor for the same price and if you are a cyclist you can get the RS800CX BIKE for 430 USD. The individual sensors are 135 USD for G3 GPS sensor, 140 USD for S3 stride sensor and 55 USD for bike speed sensor and the same price for bike cadence sensor. You can also pair-up your RS800CX with existing W.I.N.D. sensors you may have either with your RS800 or CS600 computers.

You may also like to review the other articles:

RS800CX - more detailed review of the functions I.
Analysis of training data (part 3 of RS800CX reviews)

Free wattage seminar from Allen Hunter

TrainingPeaks invited me to an on-line seminar with Allen Hunter where he discussed the power files of following riders from the Tour de France - Adam Hansen, Markus Burghardt and George Hincapie. The seminar shows the analysis of the power files in the WKO+ and is quite interesting for anyone training with power or thinking about it. You can view the seminar on Peaks Coaching Group website. Highly recommended.

October 12, 2008

I'm back: training load resuming

This week I slowly ramped-up the training volume and although it was a slow start the overall results for the week are not bad. I had great long bike ride yesterday. Took off in the afternoon in the general direction of one major route that I knew heads to next city. I followed the back roads and enjoyed the colors of autumn that is turning the leaves to all very nice mix of yellow, red and green. After about 20 miles I encountered a huge climb on which I had to stand and was moving up the hill at about 4-7mph while pushing the pedals real hard. It was a tough climb, but I'll be riding that route again. It is a great challenge. I may reverse direction as the other side of the hill looked as challenging as the one I was taking. The rest of the ride was as good and I really enjoyed the time out. I did some fast descends to see if I chicken out after the crash, but nope I can still get going down the hill.

Today was a run and swim day and it was as good as the biking. I ran this morning for about an hour and covered little over 7 miles at fairly relaxing pace - not really slacking pace, but I was not laboring during the run. It was a nice and chilly morning so I really enjoyed the time out while listening to IM Talk podcast discussing predictions for Kona. Well I saw Kona on the web last night and could compare the predictions with reality. They got the women's winner right, but did not almost even talk about Crowie. Well I guess so much for predictions of such a long and unpredictable race. Anyways the run went well and I had really great time out. Then in the afternoon I went to the local pool and swam a good 40 minutes session focusing on the areas Erica pointed out I need to work on. The pool was busy with some kind of party, but almost no-one swam so I had lane to myself and enjoyed my time in the water. I also tested rubber HR belt instead of the Wearlink+ that tends to flood and report weird heart rate - like 18 bpm after a hard 50 yards. The rubber belt worked very well and I did not see even one problem. At times I had little lower HR, but never below 100 which is what I would expect in a swim with fairly short rest intervals. I'm back to training and enjoying every minute of it.

October 10, 2008

RS800CX - more detailed review of the functions I.

My recovery is progressing quite well and I have been able to do few low to medium intensity workouts with the RS800CX and can report on how I find it. I initially thought I'll put it all in one post, but there is just way too much information for one post. So this is the first post with the review. As in my other reviews I'll look at how the watch works in training planning, training execution and how well you are supported in training evaluation and analysis. Besides the core training function I'll also comment on how the watch performs as a daily watch and discuss the pricing. In this first article we will focus on training planning and training execution. The rest of the topics will appear on this blog sometime next week.

If you are looking for advice whether to buy RS800CX, Suunto T6c or Garmin Forerunner 405 you can combine this article with the one I published earlier this year. It should give you a good overview of what each watch does and help you select the one for you. This article is not really a comparison with other HRMs (that may come later). I'm more focusing on discussion of functions, features and how to use the watch for training.

Before we dive into the details I want to make few disclosures. First is that I have been using Polar products since I got back to being active few years ago. I started exercising with Polar S625X and later upgraded to RS800sd when it bacame available. I have used RS800sd for over 18 months before making switch to Suunto T6c and for a brief period Garmin Forerunner 405 (few months). I'm glad Polar released RS800CX as the new generation of high-end multi-sport watch that was so painfully missing from their product line. Key reason for me to sell the RS800sd (and also the Garmin 405) was that neither of them was supporting me well in triathlon training and racing. They are both very good HRMs for runners, but each has few deficiencies for triathletes. I still consider Suunto T6c a very good watch for triathlon training and racing, but the Polar RS800cx fits me better so the T6c is on eBay now. In a week or two I'll run comparison article between the two to give you an idea of the key differences. I trully believe that both T6c and RS800CX will work for most triathletes and it is only about what functions and features you prefer. My preference is to use the Polar RS800CX. On more disclosure - I also own the Polar CS600 with power and like it a lot. I upgraded to it few weeks ago from using the Polar Power Option wit the S625X. And in full disclosure I still use the trusted S625X for all of my swims - I'll be keeping it around as it is the most reliable and sturdy HRM I ever used. The Polar RS800CX is in a way evolution of the S625X cross-bread with the RS800 HRM from the running line. Now with the disclosures out of the way let's take a look how the RS800CX stacks-up.

Training planning

I do all my training planning directly in the Polar Pro Trainer 5 (PPT5) software that allows for very detailed planning of workouts that are then transferred to the watch and used to guide the user through the session. The software comes with the watch and works on Windows (also on Mac if you use Parallels, VMware or BootCamp). The workouts can be also created directly in the watch, but I prefer to design them in the software. The picture below shows the calendar view of the PPT5.


There are basically two types of exercise that you can define - first one is called Targets and is part of the training program. Each target is assigned to a specific day and can be scheduled to a specific hour (your watch can be set to remind you at the right time). The second type of exercise is stored in the watch as a pre-defined template and you can pick it at any time even when no workout is scheduled. The watch comes with few pre-defined exercises - Free, Basic, OwnZone and Interval. You can define more as you desire. I prefer using the scheduled workout targets in my plan during the main season. But sometimes during the transition period after A-race or during off-season I do either Free workout or OwnZone workout. The Free workout is basically without any HR zone guidance and the OwnZone workout uses first few minutes of the exercise to determine your aerobic heart rate zone from the heart rate variability (R-R intervals) and then guides you through to workout while keeping you exercising in aerobic zone. The following picture shows the screen on which you can customize the above mentioned pre-defined workouts directly in the watch.

You can lay out the training plan in the software which is very intuitive process. Each day you plan an exercise you can define guided workout and then copy the exercises from one day to other if you repeat the same workout every few days. You can build the guided workout (Polar calls them Targets) in few clicks by utilizing various options to control the length of individual phases of the workout - time, distance, manual or increasing/decreasing HR. For each phase you can also define the limits that will guide you through the phase - either HR limits as bpm / % of max / % of HR reserve, HR zone, speed/pace limits or cadence limits. The example on the picture below is very basic - 10 minutes at low intensity (well I did just very easy low intensity sessions this week and do not have many examples of complex workout that I used with RS800CX yet).

Diary page - target
But you can define much more complex workouts in the software and then transfer them to the watch. You can define a up to 12 training session phases with various durations and then define repeat pattern in very flexible way. This is very good for designing complex sessions that other HRMs do not handle as well. The phases of the workout can use different combination of limits - e.g. one can use HR zone, next one cadence and the following one HR as % of max. You can mix and match to design your desired workout. It sounds complicated at first, but you will find it real useful when you need to build a workout like this: following intervals ladder with 1 minute rest 400m, 800m, 1000m, 1200m and then all the way back to 400m. With PPT5 you can define the individual phases and store them in the watch that will then guide you during the actual session and prompt you every time phase changes. You would be hard pressed to define the above workout in the HRM like T6c or S625X as a guided workout as both are limited to two interval timers. The guided workouts are also available in other Polar products like RS400 and CS600 training computers (and probably others as well). Also Garmin has similar feature in their Training Center software and supports it on Forerunner 305 and Forerunner 405, but the flexibility is not as good as with PPT5.

After you defined the training plan in the PPT5 and you synchronized with the watch, the watch will show two additional menu items. The two are 'Today' and 'Program' where you can view your planned exercises for the day and monitor progress against the plan. You can review your daily progress as well as weekly stats. It is very useful and much more sophisticated than anything I have seen on Suunto or Garmin HRMs (maybe the only exception is the T4/T4c from Suunto that has FirstBeat functionality built in and helps schedule workouts for you dynamically. More on FirstBeat software will be in the post training evaluation section in continuation of this article. Besides monitoring your results and progress in the watch you have much more sophisticated tools available in the PPT5. More on that in the training evaluation section in the next article. Following picture shows the synchronization of the watch with the PPT5. During which the workout logs gets transferred to the software along with test results and the watch is updated with the scheduled workouts from the software.



Training with the RS800CX is straightforward - either select Today on the watch and launch the workout you pre-planned in PPT5 or simply press the red button on the face of the watch to start the workout or select one of the exercises stored in the watch. You can then press the start button again and off you go. What I like a lot on this watch is that before starting the exercise you have opportunity to tweak quite a few things if you need to without a need to navigate through menu to get to them. You can:

  • Enable/disable GPS sensor - this option is only visible if you paired G3 sensor with the watch and simply switches the use of it.
  • Select different exercise - this option lets you pick any of the pre-defined exercises in the watch instead of the one that is pre-selected. You can also use the left top button and hold it for a second to switch between the exercises without going to the menu.
  • Change shoes or bike that will be used in the exercise - this is really a selection of equipment you will use in the training session. You can start exercise with any of the enables shoes or bikes (watch allows up to three of each with different calibration factors for the shoes and wheel sizes for the bikes). This is pretty cool especially if you use multiple pairs of shoes or have different calibration factors for road, treadmill and track workouts. No need to remember all the calibration factor values, just pre-define in the software and switch to the right shoes before you start. The selection of equipment also influences which sensors will be active in the session - e.g. for shoes you can rely on either S3 for speed/pace, cadence and distance or G3 for speed/pace and distance. For any bike you can select whether you use speed sensor, cadence sensor and GPS sensor. You can also select that you do not use any equipment - like in swimming where you can set the monitor to None. The picture below shows the screen on which you can customize the shoes and bikes in the RS800CX.

  • Switch on/off altitude recording - in case you do a lot of indoor training you may not want to waste the memory on recording altitude. If you head out you can easily switch on altitude recording for your session and calibrate the altitude for your run (or use automatic calibration to pre-set value).
  • Adjust recording rate - you can change sampling rate of how often you want to store the data you are recording. The watch will show you how much time it will be able to store with the different sampling periods - the options you have are 1s, 2s, 5s, 15s or 60s. Quite a good range and the watch can store from few hours of workout with 1s sampling to close to 100 hours with 60 seconds sampling. All depends on the information you record - location info and R-R data seem to be the most demanding types of information.
  • Switch on/off recording of R-R data - you can enable or disable recording of HR variability during the exercise. If you use post-exercise analysis in products like FirstBeat Athlete you will want to keep this option enabled otherwise you will be unable to determine the EPOC and Training Effect of the session. If you are not doing analysis of the R-R data I suggest to disable this feature and save watch memory.
  • Target Zone Alarm - switch on/off the target zone visual and audio alarm. The watch beeps and lights up the display when you are outside of the pre-determined zone during the exercise.
  • HR view - you can decide how you want to see the heart rate on the screen - e.g. as beats per minute, % of HR max or % of HR reserve
  • Speed view - you can determine how you want to see the speed displayed on the monitor - either as pace min/mi (min/km) or speed mph (km/h)
  • Auto-lap - if you want you can define that the watch should take automatic lap after a pre-determined distance that you also specify here
  • Display - this is a new option compared to RS800 - you can tweak the display information prior to the exercise directly in the watch
  • Check location info from GPS if the GPS is on and linked with satellites

Note that all the tweaks described above can be done (and most often are done) directly in PPT5 and transferred to the watch prior to the exercise. The options above are useful in case you need to make last minute tweaks before the session - like when your coach suggested to keep the HR in 65-75% of your max instead of usually asking you to stay in zone 1 or 2.

When you press the Start button the first time the training session the watch will try to locate all active sensors and report any issues with linking to them (HR belt, S3 speed/cadence sensor, bike speed. bike cadence, GPS G3). Then you can start the exercise.

During the training session you can cycle between the displays with the right top and bottom button and view information about your workout from HR to pace, cadence, R-R variability, altitude, ascend, descend and a lot of other data. I'm still amazed how much information this watch collects and shows. The list is just too long to put it here. Great thing is to customize your watch to display only the data you want to see. I usually have different display set in training and different in races - quite often I would hide my HR during the race. I find that useful especially in shorter races. Instead I go by feel and try to stick with the pace or hit specific splits. If RS800CX is your first watch the customizing of displays may get little overwhelming. I suggest to stick with the pre-defined ones for few sessions and then you can redefine them as you see fit. I found t useful to printing out the few pages of the RS800CX manual that lists all the data you can display, then select info you want to see and use that as a guide to define each display view.

Each display contains three lines with information, but if you want to you can zoom the display to the top two or bottom two by holding the up or down button. During the exercise the red button serves as a lap button, which is no surprise for anyone I guess. But you may not know that holding the left top button will get you to workout menu in which you can do all kinds of interesting stuff - like lock the buttons, switch on/off the target zone alarm, change the way the HR is displayed, change speed view or search for sensors again. This is described in the manual, but is is easy to miss.

Any time during the workout you can use the Light button to switch on back light and it will stay on for few seconds or until you keep pressing the buttons. After you finish the session you can press the Stop button which will pause the exercise. In the menu that is displayed you can continue the session, review the summary of the workout, combine current session with the previous workouts, change settings, switch to Free mode or you can select exit and close the exercise.

I hope that after reading this article you have a pretty good idea of how you can use the Polar PPT5 and RS800CX to plan and execute your workouts. In the next article I'll detail the analysis of workout data and discuss the tests you can perform with the watch. Feel free to use the comments to ask questions or suggest what else you want to know. I already received few good questions in previous article and will soon publish a response.

You may also like to review the other articles:
RS800CX - more detailed review of the functions II.

Analysis of training data (part 3 of RS800CX reviews)