Wednesday, August 08, 2012

A love letter to Garmin

I've been threatening to write this post for a while.  Those who know me, know I'm a little data obsessed.  Pair that with a remote coach whose 8-page monthly plans specify minute-by-minute desired heart rate down to a 4 beat range, and you've got a love affair with a $450 watch.

Disclaimer:  I do a fair bit of heart rate based training in the Mark Allen/ Phil Maffetone/ Joe Friel schools of thought.  I also have workouts that are power, pace, or perceived effort based.  I know many people have strong feelings on the best way to train.  Personally, I'm very pleased with the progress I've made over the last year of training this way (see a virtual 10 minute improvement over last year's Mass State).  Regardless of your philosophy, I believe that the Garmin can accomodate your training well.

The hardware:

I train with the Garmin 910XT.  It is their top-of-the-line triathlon watch.  I had some concerns last year that I wasn't "triathlete enough" for this watch's predecessor the 310XT.  I was also a little put off by the expense and the bulk, the thing looks like a TI-85 strapped to my wrist, but in the end it's swim functionality won out, and I shelled out the cash.

Prior to the 910XT, I had the 405CX.  I liked this watch fine.  In fact much of how I use the 910XT was how I used the 405.  The touch bezel, which is the biggest complaint about the old watch didn't give me much trouble.  My bigger concern was that it just wasn't very practical for a tri.  I couldn't swim with it on, so it added one more thing to deal with in transition.

One thing the 405CX didn't prepare me for is that the 910XT doesn't have a "sleep" mode where it just operates as a watch.  I guess Garmin determined that this is not the watch you wear out to dinner and thus having that "sleep" mode was unnecessary.  I turn the watch on just before a workout and turn it off when I'm done.  It does keep track of the time (always available from the menu pages), but that's not really why you bought it.

In addition to the watch itself, I have the heart rate strap (just the hard plastic one that comes with it, not the more expensive soft version), the foot pod for tracking run cadence and treadmill distance, and the bike sensor for cadence and speed.  The one element of technology that does not play well with my Garmin is the SRM power meter on the bike.  I have an older version that is not ANT+ compatible (the standard protocol for wireless transmission that Garmin uses/owns).  So my SRM tracks speed, cadence, power and heart rate (if I wear my polar HR strap), and Garmin track all of those things minus power.  This is an area for improvement when I win the lottery.

The software:

I use both Garmin Connect and Training Peaks.   Garmin Connect's interface is prettier, but slower and has less analysis than TP.  That said, it offers much better visuals for swimming.  GC is also free and comes with your Garmin purchase.  TP is what I use to communicate my workout metrics back to my coach and what he uses to provide feedback to me on those workouts.  There is a free version of TP, but it doesn't give the same metrics and analysis a paid membership gets, so I have the paid version.

Resting heart rate:

I've posted more in depth on this before, but putting on my Garmin strap is the first thing I do every morning.  I record my resting heart rate, while I'm still in bed.  I record in "other" mode.  You tell the 910XT what activity you're doing (swim, bike run or other).  I also turn the GPS off when I'm recording this cause 1) I'm not moving and 2) it drains the battery more quickly.  I record for 5 minutes while I check my email/surf the web on my phone.  Then I set about the rest of my morning routine.  Check out that other post for the gory details of how I find my minimum heart rate over a minute.


There are two basic modes that I use for running:  HR and time alerts for my long slow run, and workouts for higher intensity brick runs.

The first is pretty straight forward.  Once in Run mode, under the Training menu, you'll find Run Alerts.  Select HR alerts from here and enter your desired upper and lower limit.  If you're using GC and you've entered your zones there, you can just select the desired zone.  If you have message tones turned on (meaning the volume is on for alerts, under Settings > System > Tones and Vibration), then each time you enter or exit your zone, the watch will alert you.  If you're HR is too low it sings a little "Doo-do-Doo-do-do" song.  If it's too high, it's the same tune, but an octave higher "Dee-da-Dee-da-dee".  The screen also flashes a message to let you know these things as well, but I find the audio cue the most useful.  I don't have to look at the screen to know how I'm doing.  It has also had the unintended effect that I don't listen to music when I run any more.  Originally, I tried just listening in one ear, but now I'm completely broken of the ipod, and I sorta like it.

The watch also has a vibration mode to alert you.  I like this as well and will frequently use it on the bike as sometimes it's hard to hear the tones.  But it doesn't give you the extra auditory information of the little tune.  With the vibration it's really just the watch saying "look at me!"

On the long slow runs, I also use the time alert to remind me when it's time to eat.  I have one of those big hydration belts that carries 32oz of water, and I add a gel flask.  Every twenty minutes I take some gel, when the Garmin reminds me to do so.  With the water, I just drink when I'm thirsty and take note if I come back home with a lot of water.

So, that's the long slow run.  Two types of alerts with the volume on.  My brick runs, I program in.  I use the GC interface to do this.  From the Plan menu, choose Workouts.  Here you can enter intervals of a time based workout.  Let's say I have 5 minutes of warm up, followed by 5x1 mile at a set pace, with a minute and a half of recovery in between, followed by a cool down.  I can enter all of that into a workout, choosing whether I want the intervals to be time or distance (or on lap button) based, I can save that workout, and I can download that workout to my watch.  (Note in Garmin Connect, you select the type of interval it is "Warm Up," "Recovery," etc, but on the watch it doesn't actually display that information).

To do the workout, I go into Training > Workouts > Custom, select the workout and hit do workout.  If you have message tones set to on, it will again beep at you when you change intervals or when you are outside of the desired metric for that interval.  In addition to the too high and too low tunes, it also chirps when you're in zone.  I wish it did this with the regular alerts.

Although the 910XT offers many screens of data to scroll through (or auto-scroll through) during your workout, I typically just stick with one screen.  I have that screen set up to display instant pace, total time, instant HR and instant cadence.  I find that given the types of workouts I do, that's the most relevant data.  I keep total distance on the next page.  If you use a custom workout, the watch will create a special workout page, but you can still just scroll through to your normal pages as well.

One note on instant pace:  I have my watch set up to do one-second recording not "smart" recording which records less frequently if data is unchanged from the last recording.  I find that one-second recording is more accurate for instant pace, but that the 910's instant pace is still not as good as the 405's was, sometimes varying by up to a minute in either direction.  Thus is a bug that Garmin is aware of, but has yet to put out the proper fix.  I hope they will do this in the near future as it is incredibly frustrating, but since most of my workouts are primarily HR based, it is not a major issue for me.


This is much simpler than running.  If I'm on the trainer, I don't use the Garmin.  Since I can get all the data I need from the SRM, I just use it.  When I'm out on the road though, I use the Garmin for HR and GPS info.  TP does a pretty good job of merging the two files together.

On my long slow bikes, I use the Garmin similar to the long slow runs:  I set up bike alerts for HR and use time alerts for fueling reminders.  If I wanted to be most efficient, I would probably use a workout for these long slow rides because they usually have some sort of higher HR effort at the end, which the Garmin not-so-helpfully reminds me that I'm exceeding my HR.  Holding a constant anything (speed, HR, power) on the bike is challenging due to the ever-changing terrain.  If any one out there has suggestions on who to improve this, I'm all ears, I certainly haven't mastered it.

As for my home screen on the bike, I choose instant speed, total time, instant cadence and instant HR.  Again, distance gets the short shrift because my workouts tend to be time-based.


I love this watch for swimming.  I love that it counts my laps and my strokes.  I love that if I get a little lost in the workout (and who doesn't) Garmin knows exactly where I'm at.  I love that I can see my splits by 25s even when I haven't been hitting the lap button.

It's not 100%.  It does occasionally miss a lap or add a lap.  It has most of its trouble when I'm not "swimming" but rather "drilling."  And I can't really blame it.  It's hard to count strokes when I'm only stroking with the other arm.  I wish that the 910XT had the "drill mode" that the Garmin swim watch has, where it just operates as a timer but doesn't try to guess what stroke your doing.

Multi-sport mode:

This is, after all, why you by a multi-sport watch.  I get my Garmin all set in Multi-sport mode (Mode > Training > Multisport).  You can choose if you want to keep track of transitions separately.  The answer here is YES.  Why would you ever want to add your transition time to your other disciplines?  Hitting the lap button switches between disciplines.  If I'm wearing the sleeved wetsuit, I get it all set and ready to go, all but the start button to press, then put the suit on overtop.  I start the watch through the suit (no visible screen), that way the wetsuit doesn't get stuck on the watch during transition.  And, like the workouts, you can easily scroll to your pre-set discipline pages.  I practice with my Garmin when I do transition work to keep the button pushing fresh in my memory.

Before any race I make sure to turn off the HR alerts in biking and running as I don't want to be operating in that low of a zone during a race.  I keep my time alerts on though to remind me to eat throughout.


And that's pretty much it.  Happy to take questions.  If you want even more details and much prettier pictures, check out DCRainmaker's blog.


  © Blogger template 'Solitude' by 2008 | Photo by Jaredflo

Back to TOP