June 30, 2008

Speedy bike

I really need to get one of those for my upcoming race.

June 29, 2008

Q: Garmin Forerunner 405 or Suunto T6c?

Earlier last week friend of mine asked me the question in the title. I composed pretty lengthy response to his question to help him decide. It summarizes my experience with both HRMs. After reading it again I realized that there may be other people with similar question. Perhaps this one user summary will help you decide what to do. Please consider that I'm a triathlete and may have a different requirements from my HRM than pure runners (main being water resistance and second the support for multiple speed/distance sensors for tri racing). So here you go:

So you are on a quest as well? I just went through a number of HRMs and plan to sell some on eBay in the next few weeks. As for the 405 vs. T6c I think I can give you my take as I own and use both at the moment. It really depends on what you intend to do with the HRMs so I'll look at them from few angles.

Training planning

Garmin Forerunner 405 - Garmin has some planning functions (limited compared to RS800 from Polar), but you can structure the workout as you need which is quite nice especially for complex intervals training if you need to do it on treadmill. The result of planning is a guided workout in the watch that you can assign to particular day and the watch will let you follow it when you are ready to train.

Suunto T6c - has some planning capability in the software, but the guided workouts are to be defined directly in the watch. You can define warm-up duration, countdown duration (in case you want to do warmup, but not include it in the total exercise time), then there are two time intervals or you can use distance intervals (again only two). I find this fairly good for training and less robot like training - at times with the RS800 I felt like a robot executing a workout. The T6c gives you little more flexibility to adjust the workout as you feel just before you start. Very similar to S625X from Polar in terms of interval workouts.


Garmin Forerunner 405 - the Garmin watch is great for running, OK for cycling and totally unusable for swimming. During running it connects to GPS very quickly and keep the connection just fine (despite the smaller size compared to 305). You can also use the foot pod (additional 99 USD) to keep track of your cadence during the runs. If the watch loses GPS connection it switches to the foot pod. You will need the foot pod on the treadmill if you use it. For biking you can get the bike pod, but I do not know much about it as I do not use it. The HR belt is fairly comfy, but it is a big rubber band like the very old Polar watches, but it is more comfortable. If you do not use HR belt Garmin approximates the calories expenditure, but the algorithm is weird - it told me my 56 miles bike ride burned 4500 calories. Yeah right. One nice thing is the GPS navigation - you can actually build track in the Google Earth or on the web like mapmyrun.com and transfer it to the watch as a course and then execute it. You can also take advantage of navigation if you do out and back run. The watch will guide you back to your starting position (through all the places you ran before) - basically backtracking home.

Suunto T6c - works like a charm for any sport and automatically switches between sensors (pods) if you use multiple - bike pod, foot pod, GPS pod. I use the watch with Memory Belt during swim and with comfort belt for running and biking. The comfort HR belt is very nice - even better than the Polar WearLink (the new one) and works very well once you figure out which part to moisten. The watch has configurable screens - 2 screens 3 lines each and the last line can show multiple items that you can switch between. I like it more than the Polar approach or Garmin approach (very similar - 3 items on each display and you switch between displays). What is really cool the watch switches between the sensors automatically. I did a brick today and it recorded my bike speed / distance (as 18mph), then I did a lap for transition and headed out of the house for a short run. Before I hit the street it was already switched to my foot pod and was showing my pace 18:30/mi and soon 7:45/mi. It is pretty cool to see this working after struggling with this with Polar, previous Suunto and Garmin. This may not be as important for one sport athletes, but quite nice for tri-geeks...

Evaluation of training

Well compared to Polar software both Garmin and Suunto have a long way to go.

Garmin Forerunner 405 - The evaluation software is pretty basic, but it has a nice feature of loading the GPS data and showing you the map of your run. It is nice, but to some degree it is a gimmick. It wears out pretty quickly. I mean how much do you need to know about where you ran around your house. It is nice though for all the business trips. Other than that the data is fairly basic and the data has the usual issues of the GPS sensor - the pacing data are fairly useless (quite an oscillation due to fluctuating GPS signal and the fact that the resolution is about 3-5 meters which does not really work well with immediate pace), I have very little confidence in calories burned. The HR data is very basic - no beat-to-beat info like in Polar RS800 or T6/T6c. Nice thing is that you can set your pace zones and HR zones and see how you did during the exercise. Overall I use the Training Center very little - mostly to load the courses or review the high level data.

Suunto T6c - the biggest difference between T6/T6c and other HRMs is the EPOC and TE. The standard STrM software does the basic analysis and shows you the
data recorded by the watch - R-R data, HR, speed / distance and all the parameters the software calculates based on the R-R. I use also the FirstBeat Athlete software mostly to help me look at my EPOC load during the week and month. I do get variety of the TE and EPOC based on how hard my training was, but it took me a while to fine tune the parameters. There are very good guides in the Wriststop Trainers group on Yahoo!. I fine tuned my parameters after few runs and Cooper running test. Since then my EPOC and TE makes a lot of sense and reflects how I felt during the training. I do review the detail mostly HR, R-R, EPOC and TE in both STrM and FirstBeat. FirstBeat seems to be more precise than the STrM especially for training of TE 1-2. For TE 3-4 the results are very similar. The T6c now shows the EPOC and TE during the workout and that is good, but not ultimately how I regulate my workout. I have my own training plan that I follow and use the EPOC / TE for overall evaluation at the end of the week to make sure my easy week is easy and build week is at least rated as moderate in the FirstBeat.

Daily use as a watch

Garmin Forerunner 405 - the watch can be used as every day watch, but it may be too large for people with small hands and people that need to wear shirts. It does not fit easily under the sleeve as it is quite bulky (the GPS needs to go somewhere). You will need to charge the watch every 3-4 days to keep it going. It has about 2 weeks of life with no GPS use and about 8 hours of continuous use of GPS. It is quite nice and the design gets you some attention. I heard people commenting on the watch and expressing interest to get one as well (mostly people doing some exercise).

Suunto T6c - It is a watch that you can use daily. It fits under the shirt and goes with any outfit. Since I got this watch it is my only watch that I use every day. I take it off only when I shower.


Note that this section reflects the situation as of June 2008. The prices are likely to change over time so do your research, check sites that sell Suunto watches and are certified by Suunto (you may not want to take chances with buying new watch from eBay and losing the warranty - I believe Suunto does not honor the eBay purchases. I actually called their support line before I purchased from Amazon to make sure they will honor the warranty).

Garmin Forerunner 405 - the watch is now about 350 USD + tax, foot pod about 99 USD and the bike pod 60 bucks

Suunto T6c - I got the watch for 320 USD (I guess I was lucky as the prices are back up to 429 USD on Amazon), foot pod for 90 USD and bike pod for 50 USD

So what it means for me - well I will continue to use both. I like the Garmin even with its shortcomings for recording speed/distance and position during running and biking. And the T6c is my primary HRM. Sometimes I run and bike with both, but most of the time you will find me with the T6c.

I do not have a simple answer T6c or 405, but you may be able to decide by reviewing my perceptions above and evaluatin what is important for you. I feel like I could live without the 405, but like to keep it as a second HRM.

If you want to research this topic even more there is a discussion thread on Suunto Discussions where I shared some more thoughts about the Garmin 405 vs. Suunto T6c more from a runner's point of view.

June 9, 2008

Garmin 405 - 4323 kcal during the bike ride my a**

This weekend I did a long bike around the lake Nockamixon - it is the race venue for my 2 races this year (the Steelman and EnduraSport Half Iron). It is a great 18.5 mile loop around the lake on rolling hills with two fairly good hills - one pretty steep and one fairly long. So it is a great place to ride and train for the terrain common in PA.

On this ride I took my Suunto T6 to monitor my HR, Polar S625X was strapped on the bike as a power meter and just for fun I threw the Garmin 405 in my pocket to get a GPS record of the ride. All went well and the ride was quite nice. I got it done before the huge heat wave came in. I had to re-fuel quite a bit. I may have made a mistake (again) of not taking salt tablets during the ride. But that is not why I'm writing this - the main reason is that as I use the Garmin 405 more and more I found another two major issues new users may need to worry about. I already wrote about the one issue with the elevation data that is just messed-up even on shorter runs or bike rides. But this weekend dring the ride I came across another issue related to energy consumption on the bike. I switched the 405 to bike mode, but even with that setting the darn thing thought I consumed 4323 kcals during the ride. Well not so - according to the Suunto log it is more like 1550 kcal which sounds more accurate. I'm seriously questioning the method Garmin uses to calculate calories. I like the Polar approach better - no HR = no calories information. Better than bad guess in my opinion. Difference between 4300 and 1500 is just too great to be useful.

Second new issue is related to software - Garmin Connect web site where the ride is reported as aerage speed of 11.5mph. Well the math just does not add up on this one - no matter how you slice it riding 56mi in 2:45 is more close to 20mph than to 11.5. Looks like they took the last lap average speed instead of averaging the speed over the entire distance. I hope they can fix this one quickly. The calory consumption issue shows up in the watch so Garmin you really need to release a fix the elevation data and the estimate of calories for biking. I do not burn 77 kcals per mile on the bike. It may be best not to estimate calories expenditure if there is no HR data provided. But that is just my uneducated opinion.


June 4, 2008

Race Report: Black Bear Sprint Tri

Before I get into the details of the race report let me start with saying that this was the first early season triathlon and I'm very happy with the results even though the first part of the race analysis may not sound like it. With the disclaimers successfully behind us we can start.

I was very much looking forward to this race as I always do look forward to my first triathlon race in the season. I just like the tri-racing much more than plain road running and I was quite frankly ready for change of pace in racing. I will not bother you with the recount of the waking-up and getting to the race site. Let me just say that this race is held in one of the most beautiful locations I ever raced. The day before the race PA had a tornado warning and the storms in the area were pretty strong. Luckily on Sunday morning the sky was clear and it looked like a great day for racing. I had opportunity to ride the bike course the day before in my car and I checked the previous year race results. From both I knew the bike will be tough as only first few finishers broke the 20 mph on that course. It is very hilly, but that is the fun part of this race.

After arrival to the race site and the body marking I went to secure my spot in the transition area - luckily my number placed me three racks away from bike exit which is fairly ideal location. I setup my transition - this time it was even simpler than last year - it was my birthday on Friday and I got brand new tri-shoes that I was testing in this race. Nice spanking Sidi T2 semi-carbon sole shoes. Very nice white shoes that I took for about an hour spin and T1 / T2 practice on Saturday morning before the race. So my transition basically had a towel with my running shoes, socks, running hat, race belt with one gel and race number. I put the Polar watch on the bike, installed the sunglasses on the bike as well as all the fuel and water. The helmet was sitting on the handlebars and I was ready to roll. About an hour before the start I went to the water and walked the route from swim exit to transition, counted racks, walked to bike exit and back, counted the racks and checked how my spot looks from different angles. Then I walked towards the run exit and I was ready to take my stuff and go for a practice swim. Before doing so I made sure that my shoes are ready in position, that my gear is selected properly for the climb out of transition and that my bike computer is properly positioned. Once the pre-race ritual was over I took my wetsuit and put it half way on and walked to the water for practice swim.

Waiting for the start

The practice swim went quite well and I was feeling great. Not much stressed as this race was my first race and I treated it as a B-race to test few things (new shoes, sock-less running and new swim stroke technique - more on that later). I tried to eat the bar I readied for the pre-race fueling, but it was too hard and I did not want to risk breaking a brace just before heading to 90-100 minutes race - the joys of wearing braces. So I just took the pre-mixed Hornet Juice and readied for the pre-race briefing. Then it was time to line-up, walk across the mat and head to the water. The water start far from the shore was quite new to me as all the previous races started with us touching the bottom. Regardless there was quite a strong current that pushed me little too much to the front (and I also lined-up little too up in the front).

Waiting for the start

Washing machine I

Then I made another rookie mistake - I was trying to keep-up with the fast swimmers on the first few hundred meters. There was some kicking and crawling on other people's backs, but not more than usual. It did not really bother me. But what threw me off was the hard pace and the waves - after some 200 meters I was out of breath and I could not get into the rhythm. I actually had to lean on my back and swim backstroke - I consider it faster and less tiring than breaststroke many people use when they are tired. I was swearing at myself and saying something like - oh my so many hours in the pool and now this. It was a complete melt down. I was unable to resume free style until last about hundred meters and I was mad at myself for wasting so much time on the swim. Yeah my swim + T1 time shows it. I actually had very good T1 - just ran up the hill to transition, grabbed my helmet, put it on, grabbed bike and off I went.

End of swim

The bike was very challenging, but I knew it will be as I rode the course in my car the day before. I remembered all the hard hills and tricky sections. I was ready to ride the course and on some occasions it was great to know the course - I was able to challenge people to pass me on the uphill that looked like short climb, but I knew there was more behind the bend. That way I was just pacing myself and re-passed the mashers later towards the top of the hill. It was sooo much fun. The only thing I did not like about the course was that it was hard to fuel - I could drink water from my front bottle, but it was almost impossible to open a gel and finish it before hitting another hill. The course was basically endless sequence of steep uphills and fast downhills. On one downhill I clocked new personal best on the bike 47.1 mph and I did not push it too much. I really liked the bike although my legs were completely done at the end of the bike. In case you wanted to check the bike course here is the Garmin Connect link (note it is recorded in a car not on the bike).

Bike start

Arriving to bike dismount went very well and I used new dismount to leave the shoes on the bike and run barefoot to the T2. Transition was fairly quick and I just put the shoes on, threw down the helmet and grabbed the hat with race belt and off I went. On the run I had hard time finding back my legs. It took me more than one and half mile to get my legs back. Only after the first aid station I started to get them back. I took it easy on the uphills as I did not want to rev the engine into the red so early in the run. The run course was similarly challenging as the bike course. It was trail run with a lot of stones and pebble for which my racing flats were not the best shoes. But they held quite well even with me running without socks. I got my legs back shortly after the big hill and was able to re-pass some people on the way down hill and on the flats. From that point on I was either keeping-up with people of passing few of them. The only exception was one girl that just zoomed by us - she must have been doing 6 minute mile that no one in the group I was running with could match. Just before the end when we could hear the crowds cheering the finishers I passed two guys and ran to what I expected was a finish. When I got close the volunteers yelled - it is up the hill. "What? Up the hill? You kidding, right?", "No, and watch for the ditch." My rage was back - I jumped the ditch and sprinted up the hill _ I so did not want to be passed on the final meters. I finished only few seconds ahead of the person I passed. Once I crossed the finish line I had to let it all out and yelled some profanity (I'm still ashamed I did that, but I simply could not help it). Then somebody handed me bottle of water and I kept walking to get some refreshments. Overall the run was OK - only later I realized that this was my second brick this season. Need to do more of them before the A-race.

Uphill finish - it does not look it, but I was working hard


I was happy I finished and I did not even care about the finish time. After finishing the water I grabbed some more water and some fruit to refuel. I was not ready to get burger or fried shrimp or fried other stuff at 9 am. It was just too early for something like that. Then I went back to the transition to look for Fred - I knew his race number and wanted to see if his bike is in and if he is around. He was not, but when I walked out I saw him walking from the finish line. So there I was meeting another on-line friend at the races. Unfortunately we did not have much time to chat as I had to get to Dallas in the evening and Fred had to get back home to attend a game. I hope we will both have some more time during the Steelman in few weeks. Until then we will keep training and racing. Next up is the Anthracite Triathlon.

Meeting Fred and the family

If you wonder how I finished - check out the official race results. Let's just say that placing in the top 50 is something that blew me away when I learned about it. Especially considering the swim melt down.