April 13, 2009

Suunto GPS pod second try

I have posted about my unpleasant experience with Suunto GPS pod on Suunto Discussions and asked for help from other users. It was recommended to me to give the GPS pod little longer to get better satellite lock and put the GPS pod on the same arm as the watch. I did all this prior to my long run this Sunday and the results were much better this time. As you can see from this picture.


While the pacing info is not as good as from calibrated foot pod it is certainly much better than what I have seen in my first attempt. I have not lost connection between the watch and the GPS pod in the whole 2 hours of the exercise which is good. But what really bothered me was that the pace on the display of the watch was pretty much unusable. But I'm getting little ahead of myself. Let me start with this - I had a long run scheduled for Easter Sunday and I put it off until afternoon. I figured that there will be quite a bit of traffic on the roads I usually run so I took the running to Lehigh Valley Parkway. It is a nice park with great trails on rolling terrain. I thought it will be better for my knees and ankles than the roads. I wanted to test the GPS pod, but I also had second watch RS800cx with S3 foot pod to validate the pace. Well that was the plan anyways. When I was getting ready for the run the RS800cx would not link up with the foot pod (turned out to be a dead battery). Well great I thought, now I'll need to pace based on this GPS unit that I do not really know all that well. After about a mile of glancing at the pace it was clear to me that pacing with this GPS pod will not work. Instead I relied on the perceived exertion and my heart rate. Main reason for that was that the immediate pace in the park was jumping between 9 minute mile and 12 minute mile on my steady pace effort that I would estimate was more around 8:30 per mile. I was not that far off with my estimate - the pace was actually 8:20 which I figured out when I got home. The funny part is that while the pace jumps all over the place the distance gets recorded accurately so you can validate the pacing after the run. This is actually good exercise in listening to your body. I noticed that I often get too hung up on what the watch tells me and listen to my body less than I should.

After all the workout turned out to be a great success - not only did I do the work. I also validated that my perceived exertion is pretty much spot on - I had to run 60 minutes at 8:10 - 9:10 per mile which turned out to be about 8:20 based on the distance. Then the plan called for me to pick up the pace to 7:15 - 7:30 for 30 minutes - which turned out to be 7:33 and then I had 6 pickups to faster than 5k pace with 2 minute recoveries and 5 minutes cool down. After I got home I found out that I did quite well even without the watch telling me how fast I ran. And to some degree it was much better workout - I kept listening to my body and pushed through the rough spots during the session. You know, like when you feel the muscle fatigue that slows you down and you push through it and 100 meters later it feels ok again. I'm thinking about using the GPS pod for this type of workout again to see how my sense of pace improves over time.

What looked like a messed-up workout in the beginning turned out to be a great session. It was excellent practice in pacing without the feedback from the watch. "If life gives you lemons make lemonade," and as Ron White said on radio when I was heading over to the Lehigh Valley Parkway "make sure to find someone with vodka to have a party!".


Pavel said...

Hello Jan,

it is always interesting to read your comments on gadgets but more so on training itself. My experience is that I can be easily fooled about my pace, especially when I get tired, but I am usually spot-on in my guess of the heart rate.

But about the gadgets: could you briefly compare the various GPS pods you have tried? How does Suunto compare to the Garmin Forerunner 405 (or any other you have tried) in terms of wearing comfort, speed of acquiring the lock, keeping the lock in woods, or metering precision?

I am asking mostly because I am thinking about buying Forerunner 310 or (now very cheap on Amazon) 305. Any thoughts?

By the way, for now I am rather happy with the Forerunner 50, many thanks. Amazon now has it for $82 with both pods!

kxux said...

Hi Pavel,

good to see that you are enjoying the watch. Pacing is something that took me the longest to start getting feel for. I'm not yet fully there, but well on my way.

The brief comparison of GPS pods - probably the biggest disappointment is the Suunto GPS pod because it is based on generation older technology than the Garmin 405 or Polar G3. Then comes Polar G3 and Garmin 405. The Suunto X10 is comparable to the two. I have not used any other GPS pacing devices and always found GPS somewhat lacking as immediate pacing feedback. Call me old fashioned, but I still prefer foot pod.

If you want re-chargeable watch then probably the 310. The 305 is a solid watch, but it is fairly old and has two generations old GPS sensor compared to the 310. The battery life is much shorter in 310 if that plays any role. I have not seen the 310 in person, but saw the pictures. It looks bulky and more like a training computer not a watch. I do not plan on getting one myself unless Garmin let's me use one for review. Otherwise I'm staying with my current set of HRMs that work quite well for what I need.

Pavel said...

I am quite happy with Forerunner 50 at least partially thanks to the foot pod. It is very accurate, even in small hills. As for FR 310, it really is just a training device, not usable as a watch at all.

An important reason why I'm thinking about a GPS device is an elevation profile of a route. But I remember how inaccurate was your 405 in this regard. Are the Polar and Suunto pods any better (i.e. actually usable) for this?

I know that bike computers like Edge 705 have a barometric altimeter, so do many outdoor watches like your Suunto X10. When I see a training watch that has it too, I will probably buy it on the spot. Until than, I am not sure. If the GPS sensors are not good for elevation profiles, I might even stick with FR50, even though it is very limited for interval training and such (no upload from computer).

Or if I am desperate enough I might try my programming skills on merging the altitude data from a GPS/altimeter device with the HRM data from the Forerunner 50.

The important thing is we enjoy the sport. I occasionally run without any gadget or watch and it is fine too :-)

Daveyboy79 said...

Hi all,

I'm just looking at getting my first training watch, however I'm probably in the same conundrum that everyone experienced when getting their first watch...

I'm interested in getting the Suunto T6c but want to know more about the GPS pod. Can I use this to trace routes, so I can identify where I was running my fastest pace and lowest pace? Can I use this with the foot pod simultaneously? Will the foot pod do this for me? Can I connect multiple pods so that I can also use it for road cycling to measure the cadence, speed, and then GPS for post-cycle review of training route and distance? Is there a limit to how many pods can be connected simultaneously?

Sorry for the multiple confused question approach, but no-one seems to discuss this from a beginners vierwpoint as most articles I've found assume prior experience with this type of instrument.

Thanks in advance for any answers, tips and tricks etc..



kxux said...

Pavel: Both Polar RS800cx and Suunto T6c I use have barometric pressure based altitude and work very well. All you need to remember is to calibrate the altitude every once a while. But even without calibration the altitude profile will be correct. Absolute altitude may differ, but the pressure based data will provide correct ascend and descend for the entire session.

If you look for a new gadget I would recommend to look for one with barometric pressure based altitude.

kxux said...

Dave, good questions. There is just a lot to chose from. Let me help you with what I know:

1. Suunto can support only one speed/distance pod at a time - e.g. only foot pod or only GPS pod for one session (you can still have them all paired with the watch, but only one can be connected during the session)

2. Suunto GPS pod provides only speed/distance data and does not capture location (like Polar RS800cx or Garmin FR305/FR405)

3. So for run you can use either foot pod or GPS pod. I found food pod amazingly accurate and GPS pod very frustrating (at least for pacing on the run). In general with any watch I prefer calibrated foot pod to GPS. The instantaneous pace feedback is just not available with GPS technology. But GPS is useful where you have uneven footing like trail running. So there is place for GPS pod.

4. You can pair the T6c watch with various pods - GPS, foot pod, speed, cadence and then use them for your sports. Like speed/cadence for biking, foot pod for running, GPS pod for snow shoeing, cross country skiing and such.

I hope this clarifies it a bit. Keep asking if you have further questions.

Anders said...

Hi, the chipset in the GPS-pod actually have logging. It is just not activated. It can log for more than 2 hours!
I have made instructions how to use this on my blog:

kxux said...


I wish Suunto would enable this by default. I certainly do not have technical skills to do what you did (or maybe I'm just too lazy to do it when Polar RS800cx or any Garmin unit does give me this out of the box).

But don't get me wrong I applaud your effort. Great for you.

The Donkey Pit said...

One of the things I do with my Suunto when using the GPS for running is to keep an eye on the average pace to keep track of where I'm at pace wise in a run. I've used both the foot pod & GPS and am starting to lean towards the foot pod, especially for races. Good post thanks for sharing.