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.