How Do You Track Your Training and Results?

Doran | December 21st, 2013 - 10:53 pm

So many of us triathletes and endurance athletes are extremely obsessed with performance and results.  If you’re anything like me, you keep track of your training and results one way or another.  Due to a couple huge improvements in websites I use a lot, I thought it might be a good time to share some easy resources to track results and training.

Since I started training for triathlons in 2006, I have kept a spreadsheet with every single training session and race result.  And I’m talking details in terms of length, speed, duration, heart rate, etc.  I track lifting, cross training, travel, sickness and injuries… everything.  CJ calls it my diary.  It is the comprehensive history of my last 7 years and if I ever do anything worthy of a biography, this is where the author would start.  I note vacations, life events (weddings, work events/travel/milestones, etc).  Anything that effects my life or training is in there.  Beleive it or not, my first date with CJ is in there.  At the time, I must have somehow known that this was a momentous occasion, because I normally don’t go to that detail.  Anyway, I digress.  A detailed color coded spreadsheet is one way, but there are some great websites I use for tracking training and racing, and all three of them have recently been updated.

Trainingpeaks.com

If you are training and racing with a GPS device or powermeter, this is the site for you.  I plan at some point to write much more on how this has improved my training over the past year.  For some reason (MY BELOVED SPREADSHEET), I was slow to adopt this site.  But since I got a powermeter for my bike in Spring 2013, I have logged everything in here.  You can upload straight from your GPS/Power device or manually enter training data.  It’s already formatted for different sports and makes it really easy to enter training information.  They have an app as well, which allows you to immediately upload workouts via smartphone rather than wait until you get to a computer. Further, the pre-programmed charts, graphs, and analysis is really neat.  A powermeter takes this to a whole new level, as you can start tracking even more data.  This is also how most coaches work with their athletes, it has all the information a coach needs to analyse performance.  Just the Performance Management Chart alone completely changed the way I am able to manage and understand my fitness level, training stress, and taper.  You can sign up for a free account, which has the basics.  I opted for the premium version but you can choose the best for you.  There is also have the functionality to create your own annual training plan, but I haven’t used that yet.  I could go on and on about TrainingPeaks, but I’ll save it for another post.

Screen shot of the old style calendar, they are beta testing a more sleek version

Screen shot of the old style calendar, they are beta testing a sleeker version

Performance Management Chart.... I havent kept it up to date lately

Performance Management Chart….  incredible insight into your fitness level

 

Athlinks.com

This is a fantastic site.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock, if you’re an endurance athlete you have to know that this site tracks results from hundreds of thousands of races across the country.  There are literally over 100 million results on the site.  Once you sign up and create a profile you can “claim” your results.  Then you have all your results in one place, rather than searching all of the various race websites for your results.  Athlinks recently completely redesign the look and feel of the site, which also results in much quicker page loading times.  My one beef with it over the years is how slow it has been, but that is now resolved.  It also has some cool tools, like ranking you against all Athlinks member or giving you a percentile score for your age group.  In terms of overall athlinks members, the site ranks me in the top 10% for Olympic Distance triathlons and 6% for 5k races.  So if and when you are signed up, list me as a “rival” and we’ll see how we compare!

Screen shot of my athlinks page

Screen shot of my athlinks page

 

USATriathlon.org 

If you do more than two or three triathlons a year, there is a good chance you are a USA Triathlon member.  USAT tracks race results and uses a grading system to score race results and age group rank athletes (described here).  For instance, in the past 4-5 years I’ve been in the 400-550 range for my Age Group at the end of year rankings.  Until recently their website was pretty clunky.  It was difficult to search for athletes, results, and rankings.  Normally I would only go about once a year to see where I finished the season.  The new Rankings Page makes it easy to search by Event, Athlete, or the National Rankings by Year, Age Group, Event Type, etc.  How is this different that Athlinks you say?  Well, I don’t visit as often but now they have added this easy to use functionality with results dating back to 2009.  What is interesting is that next to each result they have your score.  I like this because I can see how my score stacks up based on my performance at each event.  In my case, the two highest scores in the past 4 seasons came this year, at Rev3 Williamsburg and Tidewater Triathlon.  This means that I was in the best shape of the last four years during the mid-season in 2013, and unfortunately I didn’t perform as well late in the year at Cleveland Triathlon or Sandman Triathlon.

The Danger of Supplements

Doran | November 17th, 2013 - 11:47 pm

As athletes, we are always looking for ways to get bigger, faster, stronger, leaner, or whatever it is for our sport.  Many of us utilize supplements that we believe can assist us in these goals.  Over the years, I have used many different supplements, such as creatine and protein powder to gain muscle, or even a weight loss supplement on a occasion. The crazy thing is, the supplement industry is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so there are a lot of unsafe products out there.  The picture below is from my pantry as it is right now.  Lots of protein, a pre-workout supplement (NO Explode), some creatine I haven’t taken in about a year, and Cytocarb (tasteless calorie/carbohydrate additive for long endurance workouts), and of course, pumpkin puree, tons of pumpkin, I love that stuff.

The supplement section of our pantry

The supplement section of our pantry

Just recently, I’ve become aware of several products that I’ve taken, which have been recalled or at least reported to contain harmful substances.  Of course there are TONS of examples to choose from, but I’ll detail these few that hit really close to home with me.   I’m not trying to write this condescendingly and tell everyone not to take supplements because they are dangerous.  I’m just trying to share my experiences, which I’m sure are very similar to tons of people out there.

Muscle Milk (and other protein powders)

This is one of the most popular protein powders on the market, and rated 8.4 on Bodybuilding.com, a popular site for forums, purchasing supplements, and more.  Well, Consumer Reports released a study that many protein powders contained high levels of heavy metals (lead, arsenic, etc), and Muscle Milk was one of the worst offenders.  It’s Cadmium and Lead levels were above the max limit proposed by the U.S. Pharmacopea (USP), and Arsenic was very close to the limit.  These heavy metals have numerous negative health effects, including limiting mental and physical growth, causing cancer, and all of these effects are really serious in small children and/or pregnant women.   If you look closely, its in my pantry… so what should I do, throw it out?

OxyElite Pro

This one actually triggered me writing this article.  OxyElite Pro is described as a “super thermogenic… the ultimate fat incinerating formula to date by USPLabs.”  USPLabs is (was?) a really well known and respected supplement maker.  A few times over the years I’ve used this for a short time to get a quick cut look. It definitely works.  After maybe two or three weeks I would go from my usual “fit but not cut” to having defined abs and even veins down in my lower abdomen… it’s pretty sweet.  I chose this initially due to its high customer satisfaction rating and reviews on various websites.  It worked as advertised; the only side effect I noticed was being a little jittery, like drinking too much coffee. Well, recently the FDA informed USPLabs that their products have been linked to liver illnesses, and the supplement maker immediately recalled the product.  In a review of 46 medical records submitted to FDA, one death has occurred, and several patients require a liver transplant.  This all occurred in early November and the product has been removed from most websites (as of Nov 17), while some, such as www.SupplementWarehouse.com advertise it as “Discontinued Formula – Limited Supply!”  Are you kidding me?  This product has likely contributed to deaths and serious illness, and this website is still marketing it…. And the sad thing is people are probably rushing to buy it because apparently appearance is more important than health.

OxyElitePro SuppWarehouse

 

Craze

Craze

 

Craze is another story of supplements gone wrong.  It was a hugely popular pre-workout supplement, until it was pulled from the shelves.  Why?  Because the US Anti-Doping Agency and another lab in Sweden found it had amphetamine-like compounds.  Basically like taking meth.  Awesome.   This product was developed by Mark Cahill, a convicted felon with a history of producing dangerous supplements.

 

Jack3d

Jack3d

Jack3d is another pre-workout supplement, and I’ve used it.  Wow, I think this one had to have meth in it as well.  Was it awesome before a workout? YES.  I would crush out a strength session at the gym, basically have to pull myself away from the weights because I was so focused and intense.  Then I’d go home and do two or three hours of work or housecleaning before bed.  The whole time I’d have lazer-like focus and feel great.  I quit taking it after a few months after I got a little worried that my face burned when I took it and over time my… uh… man parts… started to ache on a regular basis.  These side effects were corroborated by my roommates at the time.  I stopped taking it, and my ache went away.  Two different New York Times articles (here and here) cover the danger of Jack3d and concerns that FDA has with an ingredient known as dimethylamine or DMMA, which narrows the blood vessels and can lead to high blood pressure.  Maybe that’s why my face burned, I don’t know.

Bottom Line

There are a few points I wanted to make with this post:

  • Sometimes our drive to be healthy or fit actually leads us to do unhealthy things (knowingly or unknowingly).  It’s probably best to keep the big picture in mind.  It your overall health worth sacrificing to look better or get in a few extra reps at the gym?
  • Do your research on what you’re taking; don’t just listen to the biggest guy at the gym
  • My pre-workout supplement is now a cup of coffee; this is probably the safest bet
  • The supplement market is NOT regulated by FDA and kind of a free for all.  Maybe the best questions are, “Do I really need a supplement at all?” or “What is driving me to take this supplement?”  If you don’t need it or its vanity or over-competitiveness, don’t take it.

Product Review – Kiefer Team Backpack

Doran | July 16th, 2013 - 4:32 pm

DSC_1072

Product Review – Kiefer Team Backpack

Early this year, I made contact with a representative from Kiefer, a well-known provider of swimming clothing and equipment.  While I had definitely heard of Kiefer, and recognized their easily identifiable seahorse branding, I had never used their products.  When I checked out their website, I found that they offer a whole range of aquatic products, from the competitive swimwear, goggles, and bags (which I was familiar with), to lifeguard and water rescue equipment, and even pool equipment such as starting blocks and flags.  After a few emails, he offered me my choice of equipment to test out and review on here.  At the time, I was using an old beat up back pack for swimming/gym trips and was hoping to upgrade.  For this reason, I selected the Kiefer Team Backpack, and planned on really putting it through its paces.

First Thoughts

Early this spring, the backpack arrived.  I was immediately impressed with the quality of this product.  At a price of only $24.95, I was not expecting a whole lot, to be honest.  But this pack seemed every bit as durable and sturdy as any Northface, Jansport, or Patagonia bag (all of which I have in my closet currently).  Swimming in high school, I had seen many similar bags, but never used one myself.  Right from the get go, I could see that Keifer had also considered many of the small details to make trips to the pool or gym even easier and more convenient.

Detailed Review

The most basic requirement of a bag is that it holds all your stuff, obviously.  Well, this bag does that and more.  It’s a great size; it can easily hold one towel, and even a second towel (or pull buoy), in addition to several other small items, like swimsuits, goggles and shampoo.  The bag is well designed so the main compartment is big enough, but the overall size of bag isn’t so much that it is awkward or uncomfortable to carry on your back.  What separates it from a traditional backpack meant for school books, is the larger flat bottom, so that a folded towel or two can rest on the bottom horizontally, rather than vertically. I dont have to stuff it in and hope the towel doesn’t stick out of the top.  Items in the main compartment can be organized, thanks to a netted compartment on either side.  I tend to keep my swimsuits in one, and deodorant and shampoo in the other.   A third mesh compartment, this one with a zipper, is under the top flap of the backpack.  I keep my goggles in this one, but it could easily also hold keys (a key ring is attached and can be seen in the picture below), and ID, or other small items.  A forth divided storage area is in the back of the main compartment, and I find it perfect for hand paddles.

A look down into the spacious and well laid out main compartment

A look down into the spacious and well laid out main compartment. Side and front pockets unzipped are as well.

The backpack easily holds a towel & pull buoy.  Also showing the internal zipped mesh pocket.

The backpack easily holds a towel & pull buoy. Also showing the internal zipped mesh pocket.

The exterior also offers a multitude of smaller storage compartments, all of which are pretty well thought out.  There are two side zip pockets, each with additional external mesh pockets which can hold either wet clothes or a waterbottle.  The side zip pockets are 7”x9” – plenty of room to store shampoo bottles, cell phones, or any other small items you don’t want to get mixed up in the main compartment.  Also, there is a front zipped pocket (the Kiefer logo is printed on it) which is completely separated and meant for wet gear.  This can accommodate a wet swimsuit or even stinky shoes/socks. For us triathletes, it’s not quite big enough for a wetsuit, unfortunately.  However, you can easily fit a wetsuit and towel in the main compartment.  Finally, there is one last zippered pocket on the size, towards the top of the bag, which offers a port for headphones, so you can store your phone or ipod in there and be listening to music with no problems.  By my count, this is the 11th distinct pocket/storage area in this bag… not bad!

This view shows side zip and mesh pocket, as well as audio/phone pocket with headphone port.

This view shows side zip and mesh pocket, as well as audio/phone pocket with headphone port.

If I had one area for improvement, it is that the straps are a bit stiff.  They still have sufficient padding, but aren’t the most comfortable I’ve used.  I do, however, like the top handle, which is perfect for grabbing the bag with your hand or hanging it up in a locker or closet.

The straps aren't great, but the top handle is really nice.

The straps aren’t great, but the top handle is really nice.

Overall

I’ve now been using the bag several times a week for the past few months.  It has n0t shown any signs of wear, confirming my initial impression that this was a well-made product.  I take it to the gym for swimming or other workouts, but I’ve also been using it for other things.  Whether it’s a quick overnight stay, or a day trip to the beach, I find myself grabbing this as my bag of choice.  It could certainly serve as a triathlon/transition backpack for race day.  In some cases, I like it more than my triathlon bag, but ultimately I’d rather just use it for every day stuff and keep my triathlon bag for race day (given all the unique race day equipment, it’s easier to just leave it all in one bag).  Especially when you consider the price, this is a versatile bag that you will use every day and not be disappointed.  So if you are looking to ditch that old backpack (like I did) and pick up a daily gym/swimming/triathlon bag, I’d definitely recommend the Kiefer Team Backpack.  I’m so impressed with the value this bag offers, I will probably start to look at other Kiefer products.  In particular, my suits are getting a bit thin in the butt, so that may be my next purchase!  Looking at prices of Kiefer’s men’s swimwear, its only $17 for a drag suit and $13 for a ‘racing brief’, so you really cant lose.

Which would you rather take to the pool???  That's what I thought.

Which would you rather take to the pool??? That’s what I thought.

 

New Wetsuit! Thanks Travlete!

Doran | March 14th, 2013 - 1:04 pm

As I mentioned in my Gear of the Season post, I was expecting an Xterra Vector Pro wetsuit from Travlete.com.  Travlete is a pretty cool website aimed at endurance and adventure athletes.  It features race reviews, product reviews, and content created by and for people like us.  Anyway, at some point prior to Ironman Hawaii in October I entered their Kona Fantasy Triathlon Contest.  And wouldn’t you know it?  I won!  The Grand Prize was an Xterra Vector Pro wetsuit.  I was immediately really excited since I’ve always had Xterra wetsuits, though I’ve always opted for the lower tier sleeveless Vortex version, and now I had won a sleeved suit that retails for twice as much, $600!  This will be great for colder water races and is may even help shave some time off my swim leg.  Well, after some logistical and technology challenges, the wetsuit arrived last week, in plenty of time for race season.  I can’t wait to get in some test swims this spring, so expect a product review later in the summer.  Thanks again to the folks at Travlete!

I cannot believe I actually won something

My face doesnt show it, but I'm super excited

Back view of the suit - fits like a glove

Nice view of my butt, but also the detail work on the sleeves

More sleeve, less butt. Guessing this is to grip the water better during the pull

I still cant believe that this is my wetsuit now. Crazy

Product Review – Garmin Edge 510

Doran | March 9th, 2013 - 6:28 pm

As I mentioned in a previous post, February 2013 – Gear of the Season, my Cateye V2c cycling computer wasn’t working right, so I was in the market for an upgraded cycling computer.  Immediately, I gravitated towards the Garmin Edge 500, this unit has it all – a GPS receiver with speed, elevation, distance, and cadence, which is also compatible with most power meters.  There is a reason why this is one of the more popular cycling computers amongst serious riders, so I ordered it.  However, the next day I realized that Garmin was coming out with two new products, the Edge 510 and 810.  The 510 has all the same features as the 500, but with a new color touchscreen and some very interesting connectivity with cell phones.  The device was only made available in early February, so I waited to see which gear outlet had it in stock first, and ended up purchasing it from Clever Training, which also supports DC Rainmaker’s blog and offers 10% off with a coupon code from DCR.

I couldn't wait to dig into this box

First Thoughts

The first thing that strikes you upon unboxing the device is its size and weight.  It is somewhere between the size of my old cycling computer and an iPhone.  I purchased the “bundle”, which came with the GSC-10 speed and cadence sensor, heart rate strap, standard mount, and other supporting materials.  It was quite a comprehensive package to support the use of the Edge 510.  The computer feels weighty and sturdy, like a small iPhone.  The touch screen is not as quick to respond as an iPhone but consistent and easy to use.  It actually took me a moment to get acquainted to using a touch screen on a cycling computer.  It has a few buttons (on/off, start/pause, and back), but most operations are performed by touch.  After a few minutes of playing around, it was time for the best part, mounting it on the bike.

Cateye, Garmin Edge 510, iPhone 4

 

Contents of the box if you purchase the "Bundle"

Set Up

I love getting new stuff!  I couldn’t wait to slap a new piece of equipment on my Cervelo.  The first thing I have to do is remove the old Cateye V2c computer and speed/cadence sensor.  This is easy enough, snipped some zip ties, cleaned off the frame, and it was ready for the Garmin Edge 510.  I started with the GSC-10 speed/cadence sensor, which has two different sensors that use magnets to identify the rotations per minute of the pedal (cadence) and how quickly the wheel is spinning (speed).  The speed sensor is used for indoor trainer rides, since the GPS measures speed when riding outdoors.  Nothing unusual here, the sensor is just like many others.  The zip ties are provided, as well as several different rubber bases to serve as interface between the frame and sensor. Garmin makes it very easy to setup the sensor, which has a light that blinks red or green when it reads the wheel or pedal sensor.  This way, you can easily ensure that your sensor is reading the magnets and when you get out the road it is all good.  I found this a very helpful little detail.

Garmin speed/cadence sensor (GSC 10) reads magnets on wheel and crank arm

Where to mount the head unit is the big question with these things.  My old setup had the computer mounted to the handlebar stem, which allowed a front hydration system in the form of a waterbottle laying between the aerobars.  This is very fast hydration setup, which has gained a lot of popularity over the last few years.  The water bottle has a small frontal profile, and helps fill the void under the rider’s chest.  Along with a small frontal profile, the shape of a rider is important, and air gets caught between the arms and chest.  An aero bar mounted waterbottle minimizes this to some degree.  The size of the Garmin Edge 510 prevented me from mounting it on the handlebar stem.  Hmmmm… time to get creative.  The mounting options that Garmin provides in the box cater perfectly to road bikes.  You can mount it directly on the handlebar with the small quarter-turn mount and the provided rubberbands.  The kit also comes with the Garmin out-front mount, another great option for roadies, but not triathletes.  Neither of these mounts would work on a triathlon bike with aero bars.

Old setup w computer on bar stem left room for aerobar hydration

So at this point, I had a real conundrum on my hands.  While I liked the front water bottle mount, and the cycling computer on the handle bar stem, I didn’t know if I could accommodate both.  I thought about using the quarter turn mount on the bar stem, but somehow raised above the back end of the aero bars to allow a quarter turn release of the unit.  However, this would have involved a fair amount of McGyver work, and still, looking down at the computer is a little difficult while in aero position.   The other option is to mount the unit between the aero bars, which would require removing the water bottle setup.  Ultimately, this is what I decided to do.  Now, the question is how to get it to stay there.  A popular method is to craft and fix a PVC pipe perpendicular between the bars and then use the quarter turn mount to affix the Edge to the PVC pipe.  This would also involve a lot of time and effort, but it would be cost effective.  However, it would also really clutter up the front end, and I wasn’t crazy about a white PVC pipe among my black bars. Luckily for me, the nearest hardware store is right by my local tri-shop, Final Kick Sports.  I was going to come out of that strip mall with a solution, one way or another.  We started at Final Kick, and didn’t even need to hit the hardware store.  Of course there was already a solution out there for triathletes, and of course it was overpriced.  The Barfly TT Garmin Mount by Tate Labs.  For about $40 you can get this little guy, which works with both Garmin Edge and Garmin Forerunner products.  This was the quickest and probably cleanest solution, so I picked it up and skipped the hardware store.  With a few turns of a screwdriver, the Barfly TT was set up between my aerobars and the Garmin Edge 510 was ready for its maiden voyage.  I can’t decide yet if I’m satisfied with this setup, but for now, I’m going with it.  If I have an extra few hours on my hands some weekend, I may play with a way to get the front mounted bottle and Edge 510 up on the aerobars.  I have some ideas…

Barfly TT mount for aerobars

 

Barfly TT mounted to bars - quick and easy

The new view from the cockpit - won't have a problem seeing the screen

Detailed Review

Data fields for Race activity

Prior to the first ride, I set up the unit by adding my bikes (Giant and Cervelo – though the unit can hold up to 10, each with different sensors, power meters, weight, etc) and creating different activity profiles.  The screen that the rider sees during the ride can be configured in literally thousands of different ways.  You can select how many data fields you want to see (up to 10), and select what data and where they are displayed.  This is everything from speed, distance, time, cadence, power,heart rate or the min, max or average of any of these.  In addition, it can display temperature, battery life, time of day, heading, and more.  You can adjust the fields shown for different activities.  For instance, on the “training” activity, I love the “time of day” field.  But during a sprint triathlon “race” activity, this is inconsequential, so I can leave it off and either replace it with different data or choose fewer fields to be shown.  All of this is done on the touch screen and its very intuitive and easy to adjust.

I also downloaded the (free) Garmin Connect app to my iPhone, in order to take advantage of some of the cool new features offered by the 510.  The Edge pairs with the iPhone easily, using Bluetooth technology.  With the computer linked to a phone, one can enable the live tracking feature, and also access weather data and more.  One of the reasons I chose to pay a little more for the 510 vs the 500 (about $50 to $75) is the Live Tracker app, so if I’m gone for a while, CJ can check my progress.  Without reading any directions, I was able to set this up in about a minute while standing over my bike, it’s very easy to use.  I also didn’t tell my dad or CJ that I would be using it, and they both ended up tracking me in real time during the ride with no problems.  Pretty cool!  You can also send information to your Twitter and Facebook feeds, but that was a little overkill for me.  Through the Garmin Connect app you can also import workout data, and upload a course from your Connect account and send to the Edge or get weather information sent to the Edge.  I haven’t tried the courses, but weather and workout data is very easy and can be useful.  Especially lately, the weather has been pretty cold.  The weather function can also alert the rider of potentially dangerous or significant weather events coming in the next few hours.

Pairing with the Garmin Connect App is easy

Using the computer during the ride is different, it takes a little getting acquainted with the touch screen rather than using buttons.   It is important to note that this screen is DIFFERENT than your smartphone touch screen, in a good way.  It utilizes a resistive touch screen, meaning the screen always responds, even when the user is wearing gloves, or the screen is wet.  I haven’t tested the device in the rain, but I have been riding with very thick gloves on, and have not had any issues at all.  The main functions – start/pause and on/off are still buttons, and to be honest there isn’t much need for using the screen –  which is another MAJOR benefit of this device!  Unlike my old cycling computer, which you need to scroll through the data fields to see different information, I have set up the Edge so all the info I’m interested in is showing during the ride.  This is not only more convenient, but also safer, so you aren’t always scrolling through your data while riding.

All the data I care about during a ride - no scrolling needed!

Uploading ride data to the computer using Garmin Connect is easy, and similar to other Garmin devices.  You can plug it into the computer directly using the cable provided, or through the Garmin Connect app.  This allows you to see all the graphs, maps, and data you need to analyze your training and race results.    I won’t focus too much on this here, since it is pretty consistent across Garmin (and other) devices.

Overall

All things considered, after several weeks of use, I am loving the Garmin Edge 510.  For me, this device was a huge upgrade from the old Cateye V2C Wireless that I had been using.  I’ve added GPS functionality, ability to download and review my workouts, include heart rate, live tracking, and a large touchscreen with much more data on display.  However, with the hefty pricetag of $329.99 for the Edge 510 or $399.99 for the bundle, this is a serious purchase.  For me, it was definitely worth the extra $40 when compared to the Garmin Edge 500.  However, for someone who already has a 500 or similar device already, it probably does not have enough new features to make it a “must have”.   Also, triathletes would want to consider the Garmin Forerunner 910XT, which can also be used for swim and run.  It has many of the same features as the Edge 510, and is probably the right solution for anyone without a GPS running watch (I have the Forerunner 305 already).

February 2013 – Gear of the Season

Doran | February 16th, 2013 - 12:53 am

I don’t know what it is about this time of year, but I always really crave new gear in the first few months of the year.  I think it’s because I’m not racing and not quite training as often as the summer months.  Also, I’m racking my brain for ways to get better and faster for the next season.  Plus, come on, it’s fun.  Last year I got a ton of small-ish items (see Confessions of a Triathlon Gear Junkie), and this year I’m dreaming big.  Afterall, I’m taking my stock Cervelo P2C into its 5th year of racing, with only the addition of SRAM S80 race wheels in 2010.  I’m now riding with a group of some of the best triathletes in the area, and they have an incredible amount of the coolest, newest, most expensive bikes, wheels, power meters, and cycling computers.  A new bike and/or wheelset is totally out of the picture (as it should be), but there are a few other big triathlon purchases/items that are keeping me up at night.  So I thought I’d go through a few of the items.  This list is mostly personal to me, but also representative of some of the cool new stuff out there.

Garmin Edge 510 GPS Cycling Computer

When I bought my Cervelo in August 2008, I also purchased a Cateye V2c Wireless cycling computer.  Towards the end of last race season, a few of the buttons stopped working and I now can’t start a new ride without completely resetting the unit.  So I thought it was a good time to upgrade.  Looking around, I quickly settled in on the Garmin Edge 500, which has pretty much been the standard cycling GPS for most serious riders/triathletes.  It has all the features a serious rider needs, integrates with power meters, displays 8 data fields at once, and comes in a small-ish sleek shape.  The bundle that includes a heart rate monitor and cadence sensor retailed for $369, not cheap.  So I himmed and hawed and eventually used a 10% off coupon to get it for closer to $320.  Then, literally the next day, I learned that Garmin is coming out with the Edge 510 this month (February 2013).  So I had just spent over $300 on a three year old GPS that was now the previous generation of technology.  Of course, the first place I turned was to the gadget guru, DC Rainmaker, to see his review of the Garmin Edge 510.  While not a ringing endorsement (due to lack of real upgrades from 500), this was still enough to make my decision clear, I needed the 510.  Pricetag: $400.  There goes another 50 bucks, out the window.  Within the next few weeks, I will have the newest toy available, with all the features of the 500, updated with a slick color touch screen and cool connections to the iPhone.  It also can accommodate a power meter…

My old Cateye, the Garmin 500, and Garmin 510 (not to scale)

Quarq Riken Power Meter

I want a power meter.  Yeah, obviously, who doesn’t? But lately it’s been an overwhelming, almost unstoppable urge.  Again, I blame these fast dudes I’ve been riding with lately.  A power meter is a valuable tool for training and racing.  It allows you to effectively measure your effort, thereby enabling precise training and informed racing strategies.  Many pro triathletes know they can hold xxx watts for a half-ironman or iron-distance race and they just stare at their power meters for the whole race, knowing that this level of effort will allow them a fast bike split while still being able to run well. For those that don’t know, there are several different types of power meters, and they

Powertap Hub, wheelset, & computer

basically all cost well over $1000.  You can get a Cyclops PowerTap model (maybe the most popular amongst age groupers), which is in the hub of the rear wheel, but then you’re limited to only power data with that wheel, and I already have the SRAM S80 race wheels.  Also, I wouldn’t be able to switch between training and racing wheels.  PowerTap hubs range from $900 to $1800 and complete wheelsets are generally over $2000.   Another option is the new Look Keo Power Pedals, which are cool, but cost about $2,200 and only work with a Polar cycling computer.  They do not use the standard ANT + protocol that is practically universal in the industry (therefore they are not compatible with the aforementioned Garmin Edge 510 cycling computer).  Then there is the SRM Power Meter, which measures power at the front crank, and is supposedly by far the best.  And the price reflects that, starting at around $3,000 and with cycling computers in the neighborhood of $800.  Enough said.  There is a new product on the market, the Stages power meter, a completely new idea, which measures power on one side of the crank arm.  You buy the left crank arm from Stages, which has a built-in power meter, utilizing strain gauges to measure deflection in the material and calculate power. At $800, this could be a very economical power meter for a wide variety of athletes.  The website is live, and some early reviews are fairly positive (and hopeful), but at this time they are not yet available to the public

Quarq Riken TT Power Meter

So that brings me to the Quarq variety, another front crank power meter.  With this, I can switch wheels and still measure power.  My local bike guru (Wick at Final Kick Sports) recommended Quarq, which is coming out with two new models in March, the Elsa ($2000) and Riken ($1600).  Now, obviously I’m drawn to the Elsa, which features Power Balance (measures power from each leg) and is 100g lighter due to hollow carbon fiber crank arms.  But at this point, I’d “settle” for either.  While this item is probably number one on the “craving” list, it’s definitely not purchased yet, and I’m hoping to avoid dropping a $2000 bomb just so I can see a number than tells me how hard I’m riding.

 

Xterra Vector Pro Full Sleeved Wetsuit

I am not exactly in the market for a wetsuit.  As a strong swimmer, I’ve always worn the economical Xterra Vortex sleeveless wetsuit.   This is a step up from their entry-level Volt ($150) but well below the Vendetta ($800) and Vector Pro ($600).  I love my wetsuit, and when my first Vortex started getting worn down and nicked after a few years of racing, I just bought the exact same one, and I’m totally happy with it.  However, in October, on a whim, I entered Travlete.com’s contest to pick who would win Kona.  Well, wouldn’t you know it, but I picked right and won an Xterra Vector Pro full sleeves suit.   It’s a long story, but due to several issues (emails going to junk box, replacement of a vendor, etc) I still haven’t received my free wetsuit!  And all this has only made me more excited.  I’ve never worn a full-sleeved suit, nor had such a nice quality wetsuit.   Here’s hoping it arrives sometime in the next month.

TYR Custom Goggles

In Kona rockin the TYR Special Ops Custom Goggles

What can I say, the marketing worked again (I’m so gullible).  If you remember, they were giving away brightly colored custom TYR goggles in Kona.   Traditionally, I’ve always worn Swedish goggles, the trademark of any serious swimmer.  However, they can be a bit uncomfortable and I’ve been thinking of transitioning to something with a rubber seal and more forgiving fit.  The pair I have from Kona are definitely cool, but the lenses refract light underwater at the pool and it has almost a dizzying affect, like putting on someone’s glasses when you don’t need them.  So, I’m thinking about ordering a custom pair, maybe all black with some lime green accents or something cool.  The whole endurance sports market has gone to really bright colors, and I’m embracing it with my shoes and maybe now goggles too.  For $29.99 this could be a great way to spice up your life and also provide an easy way for your family and friends to spot you during the swim portion of the race.

 

Zipp Vuka Stealth Aerobars with VukaShift extenions.

I know, I Know, now I’m REALLY getting out of control.  But a guy can dream, right?  And I am talking about the coolest gear of the season, from my perspective.  And these bars nail it.  In the past, the issue with integrated aerobars has been their lack of adjustability.  While a set of bars that are really light and perform well in the wind tunnel are great, if you can’t dial in your fit, it’s pointless.  Zipp recently unveiled the Vuka Stealth integrated aerobars, which in addition to being super fast, super light, and super sexy, are also super adjustable.  A real win for the athlete, who has to be in the right position to reduce the drag of their own body (70-80% of total drag) and also be comfortable and able to breath efficiently.  Clearly these bars had my eye from the word “Zipp”.  Anything made by Zipp is incredibly good quality and looks sooooo good.  These are no exception.  While clearly I haven’t ridden them, the various reviews by Lava Magazine,  Triathlete Magazine, and others are very positive.  Plus, this is one area where my Cervelo is not up to par.  My stock Vision aerobars are certainly not carbon fiber, meaning these would likely be significantly lighter and probably much more aerodynamic as well.  With a price tag of around $1200, I won’t be getting these anytime soon.

These things are sick, they would probably fly away if you're not careful

I wouldn't mind resting my elbows on these for 40k or more

Product Review – Rudy Project Wingspan TT Helmet

Doran | February 9th, 2013 - 3:40 pm

Early in the 2012 season, I picked up a new aero helmet, the Rudy Project Wingspan TT Helmet.  My old Giro Advantage 2 was four years old and begging to show its wear.  While the Giro Advantage 2 has been a hugely popular model since the mid-2000’s, I had been coveting the Wingspan for some time, but it’s hefty $309 pricetag was really off-putting.  No chance I was spending that much money for a helmet, especially when I already have an aero helmet.  However, I got an email from Rudy Project for 40% off, so I thought I could justify $185 (crazy, I know).  Afterall, an aero helmet is hands down the cheapest way to save time through aerodynamics in a triathlon (with as much or more benefit than a $2000 set of aero wheels… seriously)

First Thoughts

Unboxing this helmet was an experience all in itself.  I was a little taken aback at first; the box looked a little too much like an Ed Hardy T-shirt for my conservative taste. But I couldn’t wait to see what was inside.  I was pleasantly surprised to uncover a nice helmet bag and two different inserts for the front vent.  Rudy Project clearly paid attention to the details with this design, based on the needs of an athlete.  One thing I can say is that it instantly FEELS like a $300 helmet, which is an impressive statement.  It is very light, with great fit adjustability.  The chin strap has soft pads which prevent skin irritation.  Before even taking it outside, it just felt fast, comfortable, solid, and light all at once.

Wingspan TT helmet comes in a flashy box with a bag and two different ventilation inserts

Detailed Review

The helmet has a fairly sizable front vent which can be completely open, filled with a webbed insert, or completely closed with a solid insert.  This allows the rider to choose the desired ventilation based on aerodynamics, weather conditions, and race distance.  It also comes with a chart that displays the aerodynamic benefits of each option and suggests which combination for various conditions.  At first I was a little skeptical and thought this could be a bit gimmicky.  However, my first test ride with this helmet completely changed my mind.  Each option provided noticeably different ventilation (I can’t really speak for the aerodynamics).  I was getting a surprising amount of cooling breeze through the helmet with the vent open, and a medium amount with the webbed insert in place.  On the hot humid day I tested it, my brain started to sizzle with the solid insert. Further, there is a thin plastic rear cover underneath the tail of the helmet which can be removed on hot days.  After a full season of use, I’ve taken advantage of several different combinations.  On really hot days, it’s a no brainer to leave the front vent fully open, and you may want to take the rear cover off.  On cooler days, I used the solid front vent cover and rear tail cover, which helps keep the heat in to stay warm, while also gaining the maximum aerodynamic benefit of the helmet geometry.

Front of the helmet with the front vent open (no insert)

 

Front view with webbed insert

 

Front view with solid insert - the fastest (and potentially hottest) option

 

HUGE vents on the back of the helmet (non-existent in Giro Advantage 2 & other models)

 

Chart showing aerodynamics of each option; I'll take the 13 extra seconds & cool head

 

When the Wingspan TT first came on the market, it definitely had a very unique look.  A few years later, it still is probably the most recognizable helmet out there, and has enjoyed incredibly good popularity.  I’m sure some of this may have to do with their clever marketing to Kona qualifiers.  When I told CJ that I wanted this helmet (many months before Kona) and showed it to her she said “yeah that’s sexy, get it”.  In my mind, that really makes it a done deal.  If you’re more interested in performance than sex appeal, then you’ll be happy to know that renowned aerodynamic expert John Cobb was very involved in the design of the helmet.  Also, you can see for yourself that many of the ProTour teams wear the helmet in time trials at the Tour de France and other big races.  All bicycle and cycling equipment companies will tout their design as performing best in the wind tunnel, making it VERY difficult to really pick and choose.  As an age grouper, what may be more important is the major gain over a standard helmet (generally estimated at 45-90 seconds over 40k), rather than the very small changes between aero helmets (5-10 seconds).  In fact, if you look at the photos below with my old Advantage 2 compared to the Wingspan, the tail of the Advantage 2 is close to my back, theoretically reducing any turbulent air flow as the air passes over my helmet and on to my moderately hunched back.  But again, who knows the real answer without a personal trip to the wind tunnel.  Rudy Project and Cobb claim that this helmet works for most rider positions (specifically hunched back vs flat back, etc).  What I can tell you is that the Wingspan is lighter, (424g vs 349g, or 18% lighter), has much sturdier construction, and allows more ventilation (if desired) than the Advantage 2.  Further, the less pronounced tail interacts less with tailwinds and makes the helmet generally easier to wear. And if it looks sexier, that’s an added bonus.

The Giro Advantage 2 "looks" (impossible to tell without wind tunnel) like a more aerodynamic helmet for me

Wingspan may not be as aero for me; but it is much cooler and lighter. Important for triathletes

 

Rudy Project "data" regarding aerodynamics

One really can’t review a helmet without discussing fit adjustability and padding. In reviewing my road helmet, the Giro Prolight, I was totally unsatisfied with both of these features.  I am happy to report that the Wingspan also scores very high marks in these two categories as well.  The fit system is very easy, and utilizes a simple knob that turns to tighten or loosen.  It is so convenient that you can actually adjust it with one hand while it’s on your head and you’re riding the bike.  Again this goes to show the amount of thought that went into the helmet.  Also, the main plastic pieces that hold the adjustment knob can be raised or lowered in three different positions, allowing the helmet to sit at the correct angle on the riders head.  There is one major drawback with respect to fit.  For all you big headed folks out there, this is not the helmet for you.  Rudy Project only makes one size “S/M”, so although very adjustable within this range, if you have a large head, you’re out of luck.  I found the helmet’s padding to be better than the Giro Advantage and far superior to my Prolight road helmet (maybe an unfair comparison to a super light helmet, but worth mentioning).  In fact, it came with additional padding options, which can be interchanged to get the best fit, another nice touch.  If I’m really nit-picking, another negative is the weight and bulk of the straps.  They don’t quite ever lay flat against your face, and the plastic clips are a little bulky and annoying.  Keep in mind, this is coming from a guy who rides with the Prolight every day, which doesn’t even have clips or adjustable straps.  I really don’t see this as much of a downside to the Wingspan, since all helmets have some degree of this going on, and I’d say this is about average.

Close-up of easy to use (RSR 7 Disc) adjustment knob

 

The inside of the helmet is pretty plush and comfortable during races

Overall

All things considered, I would strongly recommend the Rudy Project Wingspan TT Helmet to anyone with an average sized head or smaller.  While it’s price tag is certainly an obstacle, a savvy customer will soon find that Rudy Project often runs specials, and you can generally pick this helmet up for 20%-40% off the hefty $309 price tag.  What’s cool is that this helmet was clearly designed with the flexibility and options that a TRIATHLETE needs.  This isn’t like other helmets which are designed for ProTour cyclists and used by triathletes; this helmet was designed for us and adopted by cyclists because of its quality.  And better yet, if you qualify for Kona you can get one free before the race.  If that’s not a good reason to get out there and train, I don’t know what is!

The Rudy Project Wingspan TT helmet ready to roll out of T1

 

 

Rudy Project Wingspan TT looks pretty good in action... thanks to the rider obviously

Product Review – Giro Prolight Helmet

Doran | July 5th, 2012 - 12:24 pm

As I’ve said before, one of the best things about triathlon is all the cool gear.  Most of the time, it is really exciting to get a new something-or-other and use it in training or racing.  I also enjoy sharing great products on the blog, and hopefully people find them helpful.  Every once in a while, you get disappointed.  Enter the Giro Prolight Helmet.  I had been riding with the same Trek bike helmet for at least 5 or 6 years, and I finally decided to upgrade.  Of course, I was aware of the usual brands and particularly Giro’s lineup (from least expensive to most expensive) of the Saros, Atmos, and Aeon.  I had tried them in the stores, and of course dreamed of the Aeon.  But at about $225, it was a little steep.  So the cheapskate in me saw the Giro Prolight Helmet for sale online for $79 (“normally $199”) and I bought it.  No test fit or anything.  Honestly, I should have known better.  This helmet is never in stores, not even listed on Giro’s website, and is usually only on “deal sites” like www.bonktown.com or other sort of not mainstream sites.  It is usually priced between $99-$119, but the list price is always claimed at $199.  This should have been a red flag. Now that I’ve been riding with it all spring and summer, I can give it a thorough review. 

As you can see from the photos, this is a good looking helmet.  The shell is pretty standard and similar in styling to most other helmets, particularly Giro’s offerings.  But it is just a bit more minimalist and looks really fast. The black coloring is pretty smooth, and the helmet sure is super-light. The size medium weighs in at 195 grams; about 30-60 grams lighter than most helmet brands top product offering (225g for Giro Aeon, 240g for Bell Gage, and even heavier for the Lazer and Catlike helmets).  On the road, my neck doesn’t necessarily notice 50 grams, but it is nice to have the lightest, I guess.  The helmet provides adequate ventilation; I wouldn’t say that it is either more or less cool than my other helmet. 

Where this helmet really gets its Prolight-ness is the inner lining and fit system.  In order to arrive at such a feathery weight, Giro made quite a few variations from the traditional systems in most helmets.  Some of them are well received, while one is the source of my biggest complaint.  The straps are very thin, light, and comfortable.  There is very little plastic or adjustability in the straps, but they are well-designed and work well for me.  Where you’d usually expect Giro’s typical “Roc-Loc” system to provide the right fit, instead you find a white elastic strap that says “GIRO”.  In order to adjust the sizing of this helmet, you select from three locations where the plastic piece fits into the helmet shell in the front.  Although you cant see them, the three holes are under the padding and denoted by the yellow arrows on the helmet in the pictures.  This does provide some size adjustability, but lacks the ability to fine tune for a snug fit. And this is my biggest complaint, and the worst aspect of a helmet to compromise; the fit.  I just simply cannot get this helmet to fit well on my head.  The small size is too small, and gives me a headache after a few minutes of riding with that pressure on my skull.  The medium fit holes leave the fit too loose, and the helmet slides around on my head.  The only way I can comfortably and safely ride with this helmet is by wearing a headband or bandana underneath.  This helps with the fit and adds extra padding between my forehead and the shell. 

Overall, I definitely see the appeal of this helmet.  It looks cool, it is extremely light, and provides good ventilation.  Unfortunately, it has a major flaw, which is the inability to get a good fit.  Unlike most items, I really can’t give this a strong endorsement.  However, it is a viable option, and if you can get it to fit, then you’ll probably love it.  In fact, a few other little websites have given it a much more positive review, so you may want to check out the Cycling News article or Competitive Cyclist Video

 

Good looking helmet on a good looking guy

 

New Giro helmet (left) and old Trek helmet (right)

 

Product Review: ISM Saddle

Doran | May 29th, 2012 - 9:30 pm

Big Frank sent me this picture of his ISM Road Saddle

For the past few years, I’ve noticed a steady increase in the use of ISM saddles.  We’ve all seen them on the pro’s bikes, or in transition at our local races. As I’ve mention before (see Confessions of a Triathlon Gear Junky), I am highly impressionable and marketing definitely sways me.  ISM Saddles are those short bike seats, with two stubby noses instead of one.  Last summer, I rented a demo saddle from TriSports.com and after a few rides I was sold.  In July 2011, I purchased a white ISM Adamo Tri/Racing Saddle for my Cervelo P2C.  I slapped it on and haven’t thought about changing it since.  In fact, this winter I bought two more ISM seats.  Another Tri/Racing Saddle for my road bike and the Road Saddle as a gift for my dad.  Obviously, I really believe in this product and would recommend it to anyone.  Honestly, it’s been awhile since I’ve ridden anything else, but I will talk about my experiences here.

Why try an ISM Saddle?

I think this is a pretty easy question to answer.  Many, many cyclists experience numbness and/or significant discomfort when riding. This is even more pronounced in triathletes, because our body is rotated forward on the aero position, placing even more pressure on the sensitive perineum area.  This pressure restricts blood flow and studies show this can permanently damage these VERY important arteries.  Enough said about that…  Anyway, when riding the trainer and not shifting around much on my seat, I would quickly go numb “down there”, and was just hoping for a more comfortable ride.

The ISM Difference

A few things really stand out about riding on an ISM Saddle.  The first is that the nose, although shortened, is much wider than a traditional seat.  And therein lies the rub, literally.  This is my only real complaint about this seat.  It causes a lot more rubbing on my inner thighs.  However, I did manage to significantly reduce this effect by tilting the seat downward a bit, rather than perfectly parallel to the ground. The two noses of the seat are meant to independently flex slightly, to move with the pedaling motion.  I can’t saythat I really feel that, but I guess it can’t hurt.   With the one minor negative out of the way, on to the major positive.  I no longer go numb, and there is far less pressure on my undercarriage.  A majority of the weight has shifted to the back of the saddle and on my “sit bones”.  This is especially noticeable on my road bike, when I’m sitting in a more upright position.   Below is a graphic from the ISM website.  Obviously you have to account for the fact it is from ISM, but it illustrates my point well.

 

A graphic from the ISM website showing the theory behind the seat design

And that’s basically it.  What else can you ask for in a seat? It’s a more comfortable and healthy way to ride a bike.  ISM stands for “Ideal Saddle Modification”, and I believe they have achieved it with this great product.  When I asked my dad to say a few words about the seat, he said, “well, I haven’t actually thought about it since I put it on my bike”.  That’s pretty high praise, considering how uncomfortable most people are on their bikes.  If you’re thinking about getting one, test it out using www.TriSports.com’s demo program or your local bike shop before dropping $150-$200 on a bike seat.

 

New saddles next to the original saddles. Which look more comfortable?

 

The roadbike with ISM saddle

 

A view of the cockpit and bike seat. Built for comfort AND speed

Confessions of a Triathlon Gear Junkie

Doran | February 19th, 2012 - 5:07 pm

My name is Doran Bosso and I’m a gear junkie.  The first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem, so here I am, proclaiming it to the world.  I am absolutely obsessed with the sport of triathlon.  In the winter months when I’m not racing, this obsession tends to manifest itself in the form of surfing the internet for triathlon stories and checking out reviews of all of the latest new gadgets and equipment.  All of this research inevitably leads to making a few purchases.  I have all of the major items, and definitely everything necessary for racing.  But, it’s fun to get new things and often new or better equipment just makes training and racing even more enjoyable.  Obviously, this is a big part of the sport, and given the demographics of triathlon and the equipment I see in transition, I’m not alone in my obsession. 

January's bounty of new triathlon gear... Scary, I know

I thought I’d share the items I purchased in the month of January alone, because a) it will help me realize how much money I spent, and therefore b) put an end to the madness and stop shopping online.  To summarize, I bought:

Now I know this seems like a lot of stuff, but I did get some good deals. 

So it is not QUITE as bad as it seems.  But even still, I was forced to declare Frugal February.  So for the month of February I have vowed to only spend money on food and gas, with the exception of Valentine’s Day. Midway through the month, I am holding strong and haven’t purchased anything outside of the categories I mentioned.  However, I am struggling with a few purchases that make sense, such as buying plane tickets for a friend’s wedding in June or signing up early for a race or two.  I feel like this doesn’t REALLY count, but I don’t want to spend money on anything I don’t have to this month.  Only two more weeks to go. 

There is another silver lining to my obsession, and that is the fact that I have enough gear for a few really great product reviews in the near future.  I can already say that I absolutely LOVE the Kinvara 2’s (on my second pair) and ISM Saddles (already have one on the Cervelo tri-bike, but like it even more on the Giant road bike).

The new ISM saddle is great on the Giant road bike