Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Race Report: Challenge Cedar Point Full Distance

A race report - at least for me - has served as a utility for capturing impressions and choices I have made during races to help me in future races. They are a record I use for analysis, not for capturing touchy-feely stuff, although sometimes that creeps in. In this case, though, I have to deviate significantly from the template, as it's my first 'full distance' triathlon. I want to get something out of the way first...it's stupid, but I'm going to refrain from saying 'Ironman' because that's a brand, not a distance, and while most people only understand what you're talking about if you say, "I did an Ironman," this wasn't an Ironman branded race, it was a Challenge family race. Well, I lied, I'll say it once. I am an Ironman. I made it 140.6 miles by swimming, biking, and running. Off we go into RememberLand!

Cedar Point is a jetty out into Lake Erie in Ohio, nestled up against the town of Sandusky. Cedar Point is also the name of an amusement park that claims to be the Roller Coaster Capital of the World. With acres of 400 foot vomit launchers like this...

...it's hard to disagree. I chose not to sample the local wares, preferring as always to keep my ass below my armpits. Sandusky itself is a picturesque - albeit empty - town that seems frozen in time, roughly around 1955. I wouldn't have been surprised to see Marty McFly walk by at any moment.

It so happened that the day before the race the streets of Sandusky had been shut down for an auto show, so with lines of classic cars lining the roads and 50s rock and roll blasting from loudspeakers, it went far over the top in delivering the sensation that it was from another era. I arrived late on Friday, giving myself Saturday to get checked in and settled, with the race on Sunday morning.

On Saturday morning we received an email warning that overnight, high winds had destroyed several tents at the race site, and that the swim was in jeopardy of being cancelled due to riptide conditions in Lake Erie. Additionally, the bike check in was moved to race morning, because they didn't want the bikes exposed to the wind overnight for fear they'd all topple on each other. Well, holy crap. I had heard the race had a bit of a reputation for choppy swims and wind on the bike, but this was a level I hadn't expected. I made the quick trip over to the race site to have a look for myself. Yep, it was windy.

That's not a live shot, but Lake Erie looked pretty wild. The word from the RD was that there was no chance we would swim in it - a boat had capsized the night before while setting the course, and the Coast Guard had to rescue people....whoah. Just whoah. Fortunately, there was is backup plan - there is a 'protected' area that launches off the causeway leading to Cedar point, and we would be able to swim in there, provided an algae bloom didn't make it a problem. Wait, algae bloom?!? WTF? Apparently there is some gigantic algae bloom on its way to shore...? Finally, at the afternoon athlete's briefing we were told the storm that created the big waves also destroyed the algae bloom - never mind it. Uh. Ok. Moving on. Dismiss all thoughts of algae bloom. Sure, no problem.

Nobody had a clue where we were swimming the next day. I put it out of mind, can't worry about things I can't control. I went back to the hotel room to get some rest. I went to bed Saturday early -around 8 - after reading and replying to tons of supportive emails and messages from friends and family. It meant so much to me to hear from everyone on Saturday. I drifted to sleep with a heart bursting with love. After months of training and building, I was ready.

On race morning, I dutifully brought all the bags and my bike down to check in and cowboyed up. Go time!

The swim was a rolling start in pairs, two by two. I lined up near the start of the line and ended up next to someone with a snorkel...there's a first. I know it's legal, but I've never seen it. We started out on the inside of a wavebreaker island, headed up towards the marina with the instructions to turn at the marina, follow the breaker island down the side, come back in the protected side, then loop around and do it again. Fine. Bear in mind nobody had seen this course before outside the race officials. Everything started fine...good strong pace, swimming well, into the marina round the corner, sighted the buoys, great. Super. Then, in what seemed like 30 seconds I went from being right next to the rocks where I thought I wanted to be to about 40 feet out to sea. Then the waves started....three foot swells, getting tossed around. At one point I was in between waves and couldn't see anything...the next moment I was atop a wave and pointed the wrong direction...the next I was coming down a wave and saw another swimmer climbing a wave what looked like vertically...I thought of this immediately...

I saw a coast guard ship off my shoulder as well...this shit was for reals! Nothing to do but just try to do it! I finally made it to the end of the breaker island to make the turn and realized I'd gone well past the turn to the very edge of the lane. A kayaker came up to make sure I was actually intending to turn! Truth was I hadn't seen the edge of the island, and I was grateful for the heads up! Back on track I came into the protected area and couldn't figure out where to go - one set of feet was headed back to the marina and several other swimmers were headed to the entry area where there was a buoy...I went with the pack, which turned out to be the right call. I ended up meeting the lone wolf later, he was pretty pissed he took the course he did, but the 'correct' course information was hard to come by...nobody wanted to be first. The second lap into the cauldron was no more fun than the first, but this time around I angled myself so I wasn't getting pushed out to sea, and I made the turn tight to the rocks. Just as I made the turn though, my right calf completely locked up and I had to hold on to a paddle board to work it out. Note - the paddle boarder atop the board I hung onto was squatting and holding on for dear life as she got tossed around in the waves. She looked green. A minute later I got the cramp settled (quick prayer that was the last I would have!) and set back towards the finish. What a crazy swim. I found out later that the half athletes were supposed to take one loop of the same course, but the RD changed it to be 100% in the protected area due to safety. I believe it. Hardest swim I've ever done. That said, a respectable 1:21 time.

Being that this was an alternative swim location, we had to run half mile to get to the bike. Like most people I had brought a pair of running shoes to the swim out ramp to wear, but unlike most I walked the whole distance, wary of stoking the calf cramp in any way. Did I take an 11 minute transition? Yes, I suppose I did. I wanted to get on the bike ready to go!

So on the bike I got...and on comes the wind. Somehow, inexplicably, the wind seemed to blow in all directions, no matter the heading.

I dialed in to my power numbers, went into my tuck, and settled in for what I knew would be a longer than expected ride. Found out later the winds were a constant 15 knots (that's 17mph) with gusts up to 25...definitely got tossed around a bit. However, to be brutally honest, the ride was incredibly boring....corn field after corn field, no hills, and the only excitement being the turn through the town of Milan, where there were some excellent cheerleaders and supporters. I'm not complaining, though, this was what I'd signed up for - a long flat bike. At the 100 mile point, I pulled the reigns back significantly and 'took it in' - we were within spitting distance of Sandusky again and the scenery improved dramatically running along the lake shore. I probably gave up a good 10 minutes doing this, but I knew from months ago I wasn't trying to lay any law down...I had no idea what to expect, this was about having fun and finishing. My legs felt fine (considering how long I'd been riding of course), energy wise I felt pretty good, and there hadn't been any mishaps, lest for a clip on my wind visor coming off. My eyes were windburned and bloodshot from the dislodged visor, but nothing hurt. I was, however, really mentally tired of pedaling into a headwind for so long. My bike split was 5:48 - about 15 minutes slower than I had anticipated, but again, my expectations were not driving the day. Overall I had chased a lot of people down on the bike like I usually do, and so I hopped off with high expectations that I was going to turn in a boss performance on the run. Or so I hoped.

Another slow transition, I took the time to lube up so I wouldn't chafe and take a whiz (I hadn't peed on the bike...nor had I wanted to? This was a clue, but I didn't know it yet), as well as have someone look at my eyes to make sure I wasn't going blind. Everything was super hazy from the wind, and I was worried it was something else. It wasn't. Off I went.

I paced where I had planned to - between 8:30 and 9:00 minute miles - for the first 9 miles...and then..well, I really couldn't figure out what I felt. Nothing hurt, but I didn't feel good either. I couldn't tell if I was bloated...hit a latrine for a sec, didn't have anything to put out, no that wasn't it...low on salt? Maybe....dehydrated? Maybe? I was putting down water and flat coke, which usually works great for me, but I was having trouble running. By mile 10 it was a run/walk, and it was starting to look pretty bleak. I did my best but was only doing a run/walk. Screw this. I took the turn for the second loop and started taking inventory. No salt marks on the kit; wasn't hyponatremic. Hadn't taken a good pee yet this race. Dehydrated? Possibly...wasn't sweating - because of the wind? Minor headache coming on, that's a clue. No burst of energy coming from the sugar shock of the coke. I bet on dehydration and doubled down...I stopped at the next aid station and drank 5 or 6 cups of water, no coke this time. I also grabbed 2 cups of Gatorade. I was going to force myself to pee. About a mile down the road I found a latrine and finally peed. I walked out of there and suddenly felt much better. I gave running a try...and had a pace! It wasn't great, but I had legs for the first time on the run. I started running 9:45s....methodically. I started to cool - and realized how hot my face had felt. Duh. I started taking Gatorade at the aid stations as well...and finally, I started sweating. So there you go....I was under hydrated. No matter how well I thought I managed my nutrition on the bike, I simply didn't get anywhere near the water I should have. Wind or not, I hadn't planned correctly.

So here I am at mile 16 and finally I'm able to run. Well, hobble, anyway. Of course, by this point, the damage is done - I can basically run a mile, walk 5 minutes, run a mile...but hey, it's locomotion. One foot in front of the other, keep on keeping on. It wasn't pretty, but it got me all the way to mile 25...then I heard all the advice in my head, like the disembodied Obi Wan Kenobi..."Take it in. It's your first Ironman. Take it in." Alright, so Obi Wan didn't really have any triathlon advice, but this is my personal 139-miles-in version of 'Use the Force'.

The last mile of the course is along the causeway leading back to Cedar Point, and the waves were beating along the side of the road, with the sun beginning to descend into what would later become a gorgeous sunset. I realized I had been out there from literally sunrise to sunset...a 12 hour day...and that I was actually going to finish in one piece. I cried. I laughed. I thought back over the whole day...and gave the finger to the waves. Then I gave the finger to the winds. I smiled and knew I had beaten them both, and they had thrown everything at me.

Then I came to the finish chute, and ran it in. It was electric - the crowd was big and loud, there was a smoke machine, the Kona fireman guy was there to high five me (really! I found out later it really was him, the guy that does Kona in full firefighter gear! Apparently he lives nearby!), and I crossed the line.

A disastrous marathon - 4:46 for a finishing time of 12:15 - but it was in the books. Done. Amazing. I stumbled around for a while just uttering to myself "Oh my God," like some blathering moron.

I called my wife as soon as I could. Elated. No words.

[long pause]

At some point later, I found myself enjoying a beer and thinking back. Still no words.

[long pause, including sleep]

I drove home the next day. Everything looked much different.

[the end]

If you don't like analysis, you really should stop reading now. Really.

OK I warned you!

Of course at some point on the drive I began to think about the race as a performance, and the things I could have done better. I can mitigate the cramping on the swim by trimming the wetsuit legs higher. I have felt the twinge of a pending cramp before and I know it's the hot water that pools in the legs that triggers it, I'm just not usually in the wetsuit that long.

Other stuff...Clearly I can speed up transitions, I wasn't moving fast at ALL in the tents, very much on purpose. I was learning. On the bike, data from all the halfs and the full show that for me, a faster overall spin cadence results in a stronger run performance, so that's something. My power target was fine, I just need to hit it at a higher cadence/smaller gear. I can test that out on a half easily. Need to give the bike some new brakes, the stock ones are trashed. Also need to practice refilling bottles while moving. Might also try out a couple of saddle options with an open nose (tried a few flavors of Adamo, didn't work, but there are others), although I suspect I'm ok there with the Tri Strike. I just got tired of sitting on it after five hours, but I think that's pretty normal! The helmet has to go, the visor won't cut it now, I don't trust it. The rest of the equipment was excellent all day, I have no blame to pass on. The power meter is awesome, I can't imagine doing the race without it. The peace of mind it offered to know I wasn't going too hard was invaluable. Learned a great deal about my hydration needs and my body's signs. The same symptoms crept up at Kingston, but I hadn't seen a pattern yet. Now I can fight it proactively. Technique wise, the training was solid i think, although I don't have (nor do many?) experience swimming in conditions like that. A conversation with a guy who had an excellent swim out there (3rd out of the water) was that it's not really driven by technique, it's attitude - you have to love the mayhem, and realize you ARE swimming, you are making progress, and the tumbling around is just part of the process. I feel like I swam the second lap that way, and the fact that it took me 4 fewer minutes to clear the island on the second lap is pretty clear evidence that a cool head goes a long way. That said I hope I never swim in those conditions again soon - it was harrowing!

I'd like to say a full distance is life changing event, but my take now is just that it's just a really long triathlon, and for that, it's wonderful. I didn't find it harder than a half, just different. A well executed half is gutting, just like this was. The same things I do for a half worked fine in a full, they just last twice as long and require a different approach. The hydration was a huge learn, but I don't feel like the training itself was incomplete or inadequate. I feel like I had a really good day, and a really strong first attempt at the distance. There is only one first attempt at anything, and I finished. Will it be more or less fun the next time? No, it will just be different, just like any other race from another. It's possible the story will be more interesting or the scenery better, but it's always fun, regardless of the distance. That said, what I do really like about this distance, is the filter it brings - nobody finishes a full without being ready for it. The distance will just beat you silly if you're not. Therefore, the accomplishment - all the planning and the execution of that plan - is greater than a shorter distance. That's no slight on a half, olympic, or sprint, it's just that the increase possibility of total failure increases the longer you get, which makes it more and more of a challenge. For the amount of time I have (or don't!) to dedicate to training, the full distance represents the absolute outer bound of what's possible for me, and for that, I love it. It does seem like a ridiculous distance and amount of time to do anything, but I can only fathom that concept having actually *done* it. At one point not long ago I thought a half was pretty insane, too. Of course, the whole sport may just be insane! Regardless, it's the sport I love, and I while I can't wait to go back for more next season, this brings 2016's events to a tidy close. A remarkable season by any stretch, and I'm thrilled I got to build all of those memories.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Race Report: HITS Kingston Half

Woke up early enough to get to Kingston right at 5am, a solid breakfast that I use through hard training days that keeps my stomach in check but provides a nice boost through the morning. Started to get an idea of how screwed up the logistics were going to be right from the get go; run gear is at one area a mile away from T1, with volunteers transporting your T1 stuff via marked trash bag. T2 stuff is also in a bag, there are no assigned slots there, you can't set anything up. What? When I asked where my dry bag should go, a volunteer had to ask on the walkie talkie, and didn't get a solid answer...just tie it to the trash bag in T2 "I guess". Nice. One sweet pickles bus transported all athletes - for all distances - back to T2 with bikes in the back. ONE BUS. I'm surprised if everyone made it on time. In T2 - a total of 4 toilets. Four. Again, I'd be surprised if everyone made it to the starting gun.

Once in the water, life improves slightly - the water is a perfect temperature and not at all noxious or weird as the Hudson can be. Sighting markers are easy to pick off, looks good! Countdown...race time!

Took off on the feet of the lead pack and settled in swimming powerfully and sighting like a boss, confirmed later on the watch...1:15/100yds for the first leg on a straight out and back, straight as an arrow. Took the turn with my foot on the gas and started to realize there was a current in my face...we were all slowing down accordingly, as the buoys just didn't seem to get as close as fast as they should be...and we were drifting right. Later confirmed the current took us WAY down to 2:30s and did indeed push right. All of us equally punished, but a good swim. Felt great coming into T1.

T1 smooth-ish, not fast, but better than usual. Had to futz with my helmet visor unfortunately for 30 seconds, socks wouldn't go on quite right for another 5, and bikes were WAY too close together in rows, so had to wiggle out of the row to get out...poor organization/logistics again. Once on the bike...hammer time.

The good: rode like a boss, held 230 NP/20.6 mph over 3500 feet of climbing, a great split, managed nutrition perfectly and had a great confirmation of my iron distance plan and training. Felt strong, heart rate in check, and managed the heat (85 by the time we got to T2) well. The bad: the course was on a highway shoulder for the first ~20 miles. A Highway. That meant riding over shoulder crud, riding across exit ramps with cars going full speed, honking traffic, clover leaf entrance and exit ramps....just ludicrous. About as far from a safe, closed course as you could possibly get. The saving grace was the return trip through/on the south side of the Ashokan Reservoir, which was beautiful, great riding, and fun as hell. Coming back on the highway again, I and another dude literally took the wrong exit ramp (no markings!!! WTF?!) and had to get back on the highway for a couple minutes loss. Still came in 6th off the bike from a rack count and feeling fine, although the heat was getting heavy.

The run SUCKED. Getting into the lower 90s with no shade relief, the run starts on a riverwalk of cobble and brick, hits a hot stretch of rolling hills, then a brutal 1.5 mile climb - all under the sun. Aid stations were spotty - some had ice, some did not. They did have sponges and flat coke, though. Can't blame them, it was rough conditions. After coming down the first lap of the hill, we run by the finish line, then down a stretch of smelly asphalt along the railroad tracks to complete the first loop, and again by the finish line...a very tough way to go. Then back on the brutal cobbles, the hill...ugh. By the time I got to the second climb, I was way overheated and started to wobble. I stopped to cool off and drink for a minute before doing a walk/run up for the second lap. At the top I felt cooler again, but the pause had brought in some early cramping, so I ran down with a shuffle instead of stride. Started getting a headache - a bad sign - so I again stopped at the aid station at the bottom of the hill for ice. I only had 2 miles to go, but I was in rough shape in the head, tasted salt on my lips, wobbly and woozy. I gutted through the train tracks turnaround one last time to finish, drank ice water as quick as it would go down, and sat down for a good 20 minutes.

There was NO food waiting for us at the finish line, save for whatever was left from pre-race, which nobody would have consumed since we aren't at the race head (remember, T2/finish is a mile up the road from T1)...hot orange slices and donuts. Really? I asked, apparently there were pizzas coming (?) but he wasn't sure. I asked for a leader board and was told it would come maybe in an hour. I decided to leave.

Went to collect my bike and was asked by a race director-ish guy how it went...so I told him I was pretty disappointed in the post race. No medic, no massage, no food. He said, wait there is a full kitchen there, we wouldn't do that...ok. I must have missed it. I put my gear in the car, changed and walked over to check. Nope, nothing. Just 8 (only 8) pizzas supposedly on their way to feed 300+ athletes. Riiiight. I asked again about the leader board and was rebuffed sharply, apparently asking for your official results and standings is a no-no. Fine. Saw the sheet come out of the printer 5 minutes later....NICE! I won my age group, 11th overall. It was a partial sheet, I had no idea how many were in it overall, but still a nice result. I asked if I could take my plaque and scoot, got a little attitude for it, but ultimately got it and headed home to finish the day hanging with my brother's family by the pool for the rest of the day. SOLID. Very happy with the day!

I won't do this race again despite the proximity and cost. The bike course was awful, the T1/T2 logistics a joke, and the post race support an insult. If you get what you pay for, then *maybe* you can argue that no post race med or massage or food is acceptable, but it's really not under any circumstances, especially in heat like that. I get that this is an inaugural event for HITS, but they have a lot more experience than this particular execution would make you think. I would be surprised if half the entrants return for next year, if they even have it. Hunter 2014 was executed so much more effectively under much harsher conditions, it makes me think this was just the effect of Mark Wilson resigning as the RD. Last year at this time he said he expected to RD for HITS for 17 more years, and while I understand he had a very rough personal year, something must have gone down with HITS for him to resign. I'm wondering if it was the corners they so obviously cut. A sad demise.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Arrived, it has

The watch face has scratches and one of the watch band post holes is stripped (super glue!) but for $100, it will do nicely. In retrospect I should have gotten this (maybe the sapphire?) from the start, as it has a number of features I think are great - barometer, altimeter, thermometer, GPS map, ant+ power, and not being electric blue. I will say that hands down, even in the used state I have it, it whups the Garmin soundly. I said it before, I just don't care about the BTLE connectivity, and I never used the underwater heart rate monitoring. I DO like the recovery features on the 3S, as well as the sleep recovery test, and since I already own it, I may just keep it around for that and whatever neat features they add in the future. However, this Ambit2 cost me less that the dual ant\BTLE powertap cap would have, and it works with (almost) all the gear I have, save for the foot pod, but I don't have any issues getting an ant+ foot pod in the future.

Now back to training!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Another Ambit3S issue

I did a nice brisk set of hill repeats today, and the GPS altimeter in the 3S simply couldn't figure out what I was doing. The sets look like I was doing a hill that's 3 feet tall. That's a bump. In reality, it's more like 25 feet. Also laughable, it looks like I went for a 55 foot dive in the water for 5 minutes on the warmup run. Whuh?

The Peak version would have solved my problems, but it still wouldn't be listening to my power meter. It also would have left a much larger hole in my wallet. But more and more I'm anxiously awaiting the Ambit 2's arrival, as it will much more likely become my day to day training watch.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Ambit 2 on its way

In a way, this is an update on my Ambit 3S purchase; I've just bought a used Ambit 2, on its way to me from Texas. The reason for it is simple  - I've grown to like having the watch when I race, and for my most critical race, the 3S will run out of battery charge at some point during the run. The 2 has everything the 3 does except:

  • Bluetooth smart connectivity, which after using for the past several months I've decided isn't all that neat. Nice to be able to sync to my phone? Sure, but not necessary. Annoying to not have the ability to record my power meter? Yes, this has, over time, pissed me off. Is there any use for the notifications from my phone? No. If I get them, it means my phone is right there, and I just use my phone! Annoying that I was only able to find ONE type of footpod to work with it? Yes. But, all that said, now that I have the footpod, it's fine.
  • Underwater heart rate capture. I have used this exactly once, and found it completely uninteresting.
  • Custom workout creator: I like this feature a lot, but I never use it as much as I think I will. I know what my training plan is, and I also change things up a lot. I don't use the watch to hold me to pace, I listen to my body to do that.
The 3S, day to day, for everything other than power, is still an excellent device which I plan to continue to use. That might change as I use the 2 more, at which point I'll have to figure out whether anyone wants to buy a used, electric blue Ambit3 S. We shall see. What I find to be the most valuable metrics - for me, your mileage may vary (no pun intended!) - are:
  • Open water sighting
  • Open water total distance vs planned distance on races
  • Power metrics (which I don't have currently through Suunto, only through the Joule)
    • power on hills
    • power on flats
    • average vs normalized power
    • power vs temperature
    • power over time
    • power vs speed
    • power vs cadence
  • bike course distance
  • run course distance
  • run pace
  • run cadence
  • heart rate (training only)
That's what I look at after a race to see how I performed versus my plan. A lot of that I don't currently have in the 3S, but I will have in the 2. 

Happy tri'ing!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Pat Griskus Olympic Tri

Hadn't planned this one in the calendar, but my buddy talked me into it. I was planning a couple of hours of tempo riding, but an Olympic makes a nice proxy.

Got there nice and early at 5am, picked an easy to find spot near the swim exit and set up. Took a 20 minute nap in the car (love the minivan!). Felt chilly, went for a 1/2 mile run to get the blood moving, helped enormously. Wetsuit on, brief warmup swim to test that the goggles (using the backups, expecting a glare this morning) were airtight, then ready to go!

For some reason I didn't line up on the front and push my way to a lead spot, so I had to watch some slow feet for 50 yards or so until I sprinted past and staked out my own water. From there, I held pace and line wonderfully. Stroke felt really good and even, although the chop after the first turn made it difficult to hold form. By the second turn, everything was very powerful and I motored in to a 45th best swim overall on a 1:30 pace, quite respectable for me and how much I (don't) swim (enough).

Crap transition, still can't get the damn wettie off the feet. I'm going to cut the ankles up a bit to the calf, this is starting to piss me off. Cost me at least a minute futzing with the damn thing. Finally got on the bike and started off.

Hurray the power meter is working today! Quickly dialed into FTP pace and was surprised how I couldn't feel the difference between 250W and 300W. Yay for adrenaline? Anyway, I fought the whole ride with thinking I was pushing hard enough and looking down to see I had more to give. I need to spend some time on the trainer getting those two in sync again! Overall, a nice bike, 17th overall, which slid me in to about 20th judging by the bike count in transition. Average power was 220W, normalized 250. There's a LOT of room in there to ratchet up, could've given myself another couple minutes, but I was pleased. A good T2, no mistakes.

Run felt fine - feet a little frozen, but I'd taken the time to get socks in T1, so they came around fine. Great course - starts out flat, then a nice descent, another flat, turnaround, two loops. You get the nice hill in there at about 2.5 miles and 5 miles, and it's a slog, but it's quick and offers relief afterwards. My cadence was way too quick starting out and I didn't figure out what was wrong until the overall 3rd passed me on his final lap and I got a good eyeful of a nice long powerful stride. The switch went off in my head, I started rotating my hips wider and driving from the core and boom, off like the dickens I went. I couldn't manage much more than a shuffle up the hills, but nobody else did either. My old nemesis\racing friend Peter passed me just before the hill on the second lap and bested me by a minute to the finish, and at the moment it happened I knew I'd lost a podium spot. Crap. Ended up 3rd AG, 27th overall, and could've easily had that minute (or more) back with a better T1. Everything counts!! Regardless, my best run performance to date with a 42:21 10K with solid hills.

Only disappointment was the watch - I tried using 'lo-fi' mode for the bike and run to maximize the battery to see if that would work better for the iron distance, but alas it's useless. I had no pace information at all on the run, and the tracking looks like a 2 year old's art project. I'm going to experiment with the 5s GPS recording mode to see how that drains the battery - I'm skeptical of the 15h advertised time, especially with the 1h swim which records at 1s intervals. If it won't make it 12 hours, it won't cut it.

Superb day, I went to the Bronx Zoo with the kids, wife, and my father who was visiting from out of town, then drinks and grills for dinner to celebrate an early Father's Day. An excellent summer day, with an excellent race. I'd go back for sure, well run and a great course.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Challenge Quassy

Keeping it nice and tight this time.

Woke up early around 3:30, ate a normal breakfast sans coffee to keep my stomach at bay. Worked like a charm, no GI at any point. Got a ride from my pal in town, bikes were already there from the night before. Tried a new bottle for the aero bar cage with a tube and bite valve, homemade. I'd give myself a C+, it worked, but not great. May chuck the whole front bottle altogether, it's a pain. Tires pumped, checklist done, wettie on, down to the beach we go.

A little chill in the air, but the water feels perfect. Skipped warming up, this has worked well for me of late. Countdown, bang, off we go. I had a little flutter in my throat, not really nervous, just not relaxed, but it was gone by the first buoy. Didn't swim particularly well, but not bad either. Just couldn't seem to focus on form as well as usual, but I was swimming wicked straight and passing dudes, so all seemed well. Turned the first buoy and started swimming directly into the big yellow ball in the sky...bummer, left the tinted goggles ashore. Sidled up next to a dude who was pacing alright with mirrored goggles and figured he's be a good ride. He led me straight to the next buoy, nicely done. However, he then turned the wrong direction, so I did as well. After a couple minutes I realized the sun was no longer right in my face, which meant I was going the wrong way. I stopped and got my bearings, wasn't *too* far off course, but definitely smoked a couple of minutes. Blast. Finished the swim in a laser straight line just to spite myself.

Apparently took a nap in transition. No sense of urgency, but honestly, I didn't want a sense of urgency. Hadn't done any course recon outside of a drive, and was keeping my spirits high and expectations low. Off we go, let's ride!

Felt very strong and sturdy, and passed lots of whippersnappers from the under 35 crowd in the first 15 minutes. Started to pick off a few fish from my age group as well, things are going well. Played cat and mouse with a couple of solid riders and settled in to the pod, this was where I was going to be. You'd figure at some point I'd figure out what all the warning signals mean and actually replace the right battery before race day, but alas, no power meter data AGAIN. However, the trusty Suunto told me I was humming along on an average of 22 mph, which was exactly where I planned to start the first third of the ride before the long climbs set in. From feel I knew where I was at roughly power-wise and I knew things would hold together. I was NOT prepared for how screaming fast the descents were, holy crap. Easy 50 mph, clutch for death. Fortunately, I didn't wipe out on the pothole I hit at full bore. Unfortunately I did flat my rear tire. My bomb proof wheel was still true and lovely, but I knocked the stuffing out of the poor latex tube in there. Back to butyl, I don't have time for this. I took longer than I'd like to change the tube, mostly because I actually said a couple of prayers along the way, being that I only had one CO2 cartridge and one spare. Thankfully, fwoop the tire filled and off we went. However, I was definitely riding scared at this point. No recon = riding the brakes. Whole lot of hills, and then more hills, and my back started to hurt. Sat up to spin one of the hills and it felt better, came into transition happy to get on my feet. Tossed on the flash new Hammer visor, XX2i shades, and hit the road.

Some wayward thoughts of quitting were creeping in, I just wasn't sure I wanted to run. Got off to a blazing walking start (guffaw), stopped to take a piss at the aid station a mile in, and saw my buddy through the pisser window. He was looking pretty ragged, and I might have looked worse, so we hung together for some laughs for a bit. Around mile 3 he fell back, and I took off. Everything felt absolutely fine, head to toe. From there I ran like a flaming antelope. Looked down and saw low 7s and high 6s on the flats, and ran completely inside myself. Didn't even try to dance up the steeper hills, just kept the love train going. Warm fuzzies thinking about that run after the fact. With a mile to go I started thinking about the kids and the party, and held back again to give myself a nice boost to run into the chute with. Another friend passed me by and tried to egg me on, but I was really in outer space at the moment and didn't want to share it with anyone but the Mrs. and the kiddos. Found a nice chunk of space to finish grand in and brought it home.

By no accounts a well run race on my part (Challenge, on the other hand, was complete pro!), but fine for a first race of the year, still learning, and walked away intact. The family had a ball at the park while I was out there, and we finished the day with a back deck barbeque with neighbors.

Next day I wasn't too sore, but I was completely exhausted, fell down the stairs in the morning, coughed and sounded like an asthmatic duck, so I called in sick. Wise move. I spent a few hours sleeping on the couch, ate a feast, and started to bounce back. Early to bed, next morning I felt 98%. I'm recovering well and fast, and seem to have a pretty good grip on what I can do out there these days. There's room to push harder, but it's all just training for the big dance in September.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review: Triweaver

Site: Triweaver

Score: 97: Practically perfect in every way*.

* It's impossible for me to be objective, but I'll try!

This 'review' is going to be a departure from the others, in that I created Triweaver as my own answer to all of the criteria I was looking for in a training planner. I'm going to take each element as an opportunity to talk about what went into the process of creating it, and still try to give it a score as objectively as possible. Making Triweaver has been a lot of fun, and I'm really hoping others find it as useful as I do! I'm excited to launch it as a free alternative to what's out there, and my hope is that a community grows around it to help it improve over time.

Again, as objectively as possible I tried to score it and came up with a 97, with the major deduction coming from not doing imports of files in the 'traditional' way, but I'll explain that later. I feel Triweaver competes nicely with the current offerings, and is structured in a way that it can scale\extend rapidly based on feedback from users. I intend to keep it free for users, and will (hopefully) move towards a banner ad revenue model, so what's currently blank space on the sides and bottom will - over time - become ads for triathlon products we triathletes care about. I'm looking at alternative revenue sources as well, such as rewards for continued usage, referral rewards, etc, but I just don't see charging users ever in the future. However, if the community says they believe differently (can't see anyone asking for people to take their money, but I could be proven wrong!), then I'll change accordingly.

I've been using Triweaver for my own training and planning for the last 6 or so months, and I find logging on often, getting emails daily, and making decisions based on my data is logical, quick, and pleasant using this tool. The goal has always been to create something of worth, not to scrape money from coaches and athletes, and I think by following that principle it will grow into something valuable, if it isn't already.

My last comment before launching into the review is that it's my intent to make the user interface open source, allowing the tech-savvy engineer athletes of the world who stumble upon Triweaver to extend it in ways I haven't thought of.

OK, let's get going!

Layout (25)
  • Logical Flow: After registering and entering the site, you come to a screen to define your profile and your data hookups, the life blood behind Triweaver. As you come to learn, there's no way to import files into Triweaver, as it relies on what I call 'data stores' to function. A data store is - at press time - a Garmin Connect, Suunto Movescount, Trainerroad, and Strava, although also on the roadmap are MapMyFitness, TrainingPeaks, and RunKeeper. More on this later in the 'Device Store Connectivity' section. After defining your data relationships, you have tabs for Activities, Analyzing, Scheduling, Profile, Sync, Social, and Help. I'd like to think these are pretty logical, and that you can find the things you expect to find behind the tabs you think they should be associated with.
  • Feature Location: Again, some thought and several iterations went into how many tabs and where to put things, so hopefully users find what they are looking for with less than a couple of clicks. The guiding principal was to keep things simple, uncluttered, and present as much functionality as possible given what triathletes are looking for.
  • Feel: A lot of the functionality from a click, point, and styling perspective is a result of using the Twitter Bootstrap framework, a popular (for a good reason) standard used in web development these days. Bootstrap solves a lot of cross-browser and mobile conversion issues without any meddling, which is both convenient and cool. While Triweaver isn't the pinnacle of web design by any means, it should feel sturdy, but light.
  • Performance\responsiveness: In beta, I had the site hosted on a dollar-store provider, and it felt sluggish. It's now hosted on Amazon's AWS platform, and it's pretty snappy. AWS also gives Triweaver the opportunity to scale without changing hosts, a nice promise.
  • Mobile conversion: While the aforementioned Bootstrap framework takes care of a lot of this stuff for you, I also spent some time making sure displays that made sense converted and ones that didn't condensed down to something that did make sense. In some cases, that meant truncating columns off tables, but I was careful to not remove functionality. As the saying goes, I 'ate my own dog food' for months here, and did a lot of my daily interaction with Triweaver on my Apple iPhone 4s. If I felt something was missing or difficult, I'd fix it or move it until it made better sense.
  • Creating a plan: This is the real main point of Triweaver, and it's split into three distinct parts. 
    • First, creating a workout - workouts are expressed as intervals in percentages of your personal bests, as opposed to distinct paces. For example in Triweaver you would say 'do 5 minutes at 75%' rather than 'do 5 minutes at 8:00/mile'. The percentages are applied against your personal best on the day you do them, and your personal bests are automatically culled from your trailing three months of data. This is a subtle, but important facet of Triweaver - by only looking at 3 months at a time, it forces you to test your paces on at least a quarterly basis. If you don't use it, you lose it! Special consideration is paid to swim workouts, which are expressed in yards or meters instead of time. 
    • The second part is to organize the planned workouts in weeks. These weeks can then be applied into the third part...
    • Scheduling weeks, which you can do out into the future as far as you'd like. The paces themselves won't be 'activated' until the day you do the workout, so you're afforded a lot of flexibility in terms of how you plan. You can re-use the same week's plan months at a time and have it be viable over that period, as opposed to editing the paces and times manually as your paces change.
  • Creating a workout: I tried to make this simple and self explanatory, based on intervals and percentages. Hopefully users find it to be as easy and painless as I do. You can also edit and copy existing workouts, which makes creating variations of a single workout easier, if that's your flavor.
Score: In many ways I did this series as a way to figure out what I was doing myself with Triweaver, and this scoring template became my way to keep myself honest. I'd give it 25 points here, trying to be objective, while still realizing I have a natural bias. 

Analysis Tools (20)
  • Charts are time variable: Yep, you can vary the number of months worth of data you're looking at.
  • Heart Rate:  I'll be honest, I have never reached for this chart, and didn't include it. I did include an alternative - Time at Load - that to me, expresses the same concept in a way that actually makes sense to me. If I get a request to add a heart rate chart I will, but I'll let the market dictate its importance. If people feel differently, let me know!
  • Fatigue vs. Freshness: Yep. 
  • Duration: Yep
  • Distance: Yep
  • Zones: Nope, for the same reason as heart rate. If I hear it's important I'll add it, but I never cared. Sure, to some extent Triweaver is an extension of how I and those I have worked with train, why shouldn't it be? :)
  • Personal best calculation: Again, as a backbone of Triweaver, this is present.
  • Zone calculation: There's a tool to do this with resting heart rate and max heart rate on your profile page, but it isn't 'sticky', meaning it's not saved with your profile. If anyone asks for heart rate charts, it's simple enough to save these values and create charts based on them.
Score: If I'm trying to be subjective, I would remove 5 points for the 'missing' tools and score this a 15. 

Activity Detail display (10)
  • Time analysis –  Yep
  • Maps - Yep
  • Overlays – yep
Score: It's there - so a 10 -, and a note - Triweaver doesn't *store* the gps or series data, it fetches it from the data store when requested. I've toyed with the idea of simply providing links to the original data instead (in a separate tab), and I'm of two minds about it presently. I'll be listening carefully to feedback to see what people prefer. 

Coaching features: (15)
  • Follow athletes – Yes, you can follow athletes and connect in coach mode, which allows your coach to schedule workouts for you, view your results, etc. You can even have multiple coaches!
  • Provide feedback– You can send messages to your friends/athletes. I think eventually I'll replace the messaging with email, but I'll let users decide how that should work.
  • Scheduling tie in - you have the full ability to schedule workouts for your athletes, as well as view their results and charts
Score: I'd give Triweaver full points  - 15 -here, this was a big part of the design.,

Device Store Connectivity (15)
  • Garmin - Yep, although it bears mention Triweaver is not an 'official' partner of Garmin. Triweaver uses the same sync mechanism that tapiriik.com uses, an open source way of connecting to Garmin Connect via http and cookies. If at some point Garmin decouples their api completely from their website, this will cease to work, at which point I'll ask the community to help me raise money to pay for the exorbitant API key - a $5K investment.
  • Suunto - Yep, and it's official, Triweaver is partnered with Suunto. It's no secret I'm a big fan of Suunto, and I look forward to doing a lot of work with them moving forward, including pushing workouts into Movescount and integrating with their recovery calculator, a very cool feature.
  • Strava –Yep, and since it's open, it will stay in place as long as Strava keeps it there.

Score: I'd give Triweaver extra points if I could for connecting with Trainerroad, a tool that a lot of triathletes use, but no extra points were given to others, so that's unfair. 15.

As demand warrants it from user feedback, I'd like to also add Under Armour\Map My Fitness, RunKeeper, and Training Peaks to the mix here. If there's others that are of interest to users, I'll look into those as well.

Import (10)
  •  Manual entry - nope
  • .fit –nope
  •  .tcx – nope
Score: I'm forced to give Triweaver no points here, because it doesn't import anything, it simply connects to your data provider. Being a data store adds a significant layer of complexity, in that you have to encrypt a bunch more stuff to ensure privacy, add export features so users can get their data back out, and your database has to be a LOT bigger. There's no small investment to get these features done right, and I made a conscious decision to leave that to the Suuntos and Garmins of the world. No points for Triweaver, but I feel this was the right decision. You can import your files to Garmin, Suunto, and Strava and they will import just fine to Triweaver. 

Help (5):
  • Well written: I'm no English major, but I think I got the point across. The same help chapters are located under "?" buttons where they apply, as well as from within a dedicated help section.
  • Clear term definition: I made a concerted effort to explain what Load means, how it's calculated for Triweaver, and what the Load vs. Recovery chart means. Hopefully I hit the mark.
Score: I'd like to think a 5 is in order here.

Extra features (bonus, 2 points each)
  • Email reminders – workouts: yep, if you want em, just check the box in your profile settings.
  • Email reminders – equipment : yep, if you want em, just check the box in your profile settings.
  • Workout text messages – nope, but I'd like to. This requires profiles to have your wireless provider and phone number, which is more of a security concern than anything else. If\when I move to a more robust server, this is something I'll be investigating.
  • Sync with online calendars : yep, via iCal, which works with Google, Apple, and Outlook.
  • Allow messages with other athletes: yep
  • Allow tracking of consumables –yep, pretty standard stuff, except it automatically calculates usage as opposed to you having to choose what gear to apply. 
  • Metric\imperial conversions\Time zone\Clock\Calendar: Yep, actually the time zone is determined by your log on location, derived from your browser.

Score: This is easy to be objective about, 12 points

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The big unveil....Triweaver!

After my long tour around the various activity planners, I had intimated on more than one occasion that I'd likely take my own crack at it. I'm happy to report this effort is largely complete, certainly good enough for a first release, upon which I'll build and make improvements. It's been a labor of love (it's completely free for users, so as far as anyone should be concerned, it always will be), and I've been using it for my own training for a few months now and I really dig it. Ta da!

The big unveil at last....Triweaver! Designed specifically for triathletes training with data, at launch it will support Garmin, Suunto, Trainerroad, and Strava. The star feature is the ability to plan workouts in weekly blocks and schedule them out in to the future, where the workout intervals are driven by percentages of your paces, which are collected automatically from your data. Once you create the sync relationships with your providers (a quick and easy process) and create your plan, Triweaver will tell you what to do when, and track your planned vs. actual results. I'll be 'reviewing' it using the same criteria I used on the other planners in a post coming up soon, but I think it offers everything folks like you and I are looking for.

Once we get past the initial release, I plan to make most of the libraries open source as well, to allow the amazing community of athlete software developers (there are a lot out there!) help extend Triweaver in new directions.

Have a jump over to triweaver.com today and get started!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Activity Tracker Summary Table

Nothing new here, just a single table to track all the results as they are posted, allowing for a quick comparison and jump pad of sorts.

Site Name Total Score Layout Analysis Tools Activity Display Coaching Connectivity Importing Help Extras
Training Peaks 62 10 15 8 0 10 10 5 4
Endurance Tracker 97 19 20 10 15 10 9 4 10
Final Surge 47 8 10 9 0 3 10 1 6
Endomondo 55 8 15 5 10 2 8 3 4
Garmin Connect 82 18 12 10 10 10 9 4 9
Suunto Movescount 72 20 18 10 10 6 3 0 5
Beginner Triathlete 49 16 9 2 11 2 4 5 5
Sportlyzer 90 24 17 10 11 10 9 3 6
MapMyFitness 58 10 8 1 5 10 10 5 9
Triweaver 97 25 15 10 15 15 0 5 12

Friday, March 20, 2015

Review: MapMyFitness

Site: MapMyFitness

Score: 58/100

Summary: Broken features and performance issues behind a firewall, an unexpected failure from such a large market participant. The strength of the site is still the ability to map routes ahead of time for mileage and elevation, but unfortunately none of that is part of the review gauntlet. A difficult recommendation to make for triathletes to use as a training tool, as it adds little or no value over a data store such as Connect, Movescount, Strava, and the like - which any site should strive for.

Layout (25)
  • Logical Flow: Right from the start, this is not going to go well; upon login you have a banner ad, a navigation bar for 'My Home', 'Discover', and 'Improve', a button to upgrade to "MVP", then a sub navigation bar for Create Route, Log Workout, Log Food, and Create a Goal. However, over to the right side of the main nav bar is the Under Amour logo, my name with a drop down carat, and a search icon. But alas, in Chrome, none of them do anything. Switching over to IE and enabling secure content, they turn into javascript pop down menus...for a while, and then they stopped working. Then miraculously they started working (albeit for a little while only) in chrome. Let's pause for a moment...I start from the top and work my way down the screen, that's flow. Before I get to the sub nav bar I have 3 buttons that don't work consistently. There's also a lot of redundancy - when the buttons *worked* I could get to my profile or dashboard 3 different ways. While on one hand that's good for feature location, it's bad for clutter and comfort. I was confused again by clicking "Activity Feed" and seeing a spinner gif that never disappeared...and never showed an activity feed. Things are feeling very broken.
  • Feature Location: The aforementioned profile wasn't obvious, the activity feed doesn't display anything, and I had to click everything to eventually find the way to connect to my data under the '24/7' tab, which I don't know what it means. I also found the manual import option for .fit, .tcx and other files in the same place, but way at the bottom of the list.
  • Feel: It's a billboard, and the free version is kind of an onslaught of ads. At any given moment, at least 20% of the screen real estate is dedicated to ads. However beyond that, the feeling is light and modern, with sensible icons, soft colors, and a non-aggressive approach. 
  • Performance\responsiveness: Fair, and that's a stretch. First for the javascript buttons that refuse to work consistently. Not content to just kiss goodbye to features, I had a look under the covers and saw a log message that jQuery.Browser() was deprecated. To the non-tech out there, that basically means the site is using a function that has been discontinued and will eventually be removed. When you get these messages, it's sloppy if you don't clean them up, because it's usually a minimal effort to do so. There is a TON of javascript behind this site, and I think it's just a question of how long it takes to load that causes the issues, but as a user, it's not supposed to be my problem. I'm also disappointed in the endlessly spinning gifs in the 'Activity Feed' tab that make me think something is loading even though it never does. Additionally, the 'Friends' section takes about 4 minutes to load for me. Unreal for a major brand (Under Armour is the parent company now). Interestingly enough, when I put the browser on the other side of the firewall, everything works better (I finally saw the activity feed!), but still with lethargic speed.
  • Mobile conversion: The site condenses, but it does so into a fairly useless state, only able to show me my workouts and nothing more. As if to wave the white flag, there's a giant button at the top to 'Download the App'. No thanks, that's not the point.
  • Creating a plan: You can't. Even more bizarre, I went to try and add a 'Goal', and...well...there's nothing there. It just says 'My Goals', and shows me an ad (of course). Without a firewall, the goal types *do* display, but they're kind of pointless as they lack context. For example a goal to 'run 6:00 per mile' is admirable, but its a different animal whether we're talking a 5K or a marathon, you know?
  • Creating a workout: A good widget to do this, for distance and duration, the ability to add splits, HR data, calories and what not. You have a dizzying array of different sports to choose from, to the point I consider overkill. I can't be bothered to discern between 'Bike Ride - Road Cycling - General' and 'Bike Ride - Road Cycling'. Actually, I'm not even sure there is a difference.
Score: 10: It looks pretty, but that's where the fun stops. I gave 2 points for the color scheme and 7 points for the workout creator, which is actually pretty good. 1 more point given for having *some* plan for condensing to mobile, albeit one that's pretty lacking. Any points I would award for performance observed without a fire wall can't really be given, as many users have this setup (ie those that log on from work!). 

Analysis Tools (20)
  • Charts are time variable: Yep, organized by day, week, month or year.
  • Heart Rate: nope
  • Fatigue vs. Freshness: nope
  • Duration: Yep
  • Distance: Yep
  • Zones: nope
  • Personal best calculation:nope
  • Zone calculation: nope
Score: 8: It's a stretch to say this is any kind of analysis tool, but I'm being fair in standard with the other reviews, and there is a time variable chart for total duration and distance, so it gets the points. 

Activity Detail display (10)
  • Time analysis –  No, it actually says "Detailed workout analysis is unavailable" and asks me to download an app for iPhone or Android.
  • Maps - nope, same issue.
  • Overlays – nope, same issue.
Score: 1: Disappointing. The point I gave is for *having* a detail view, though there is nothing on it.

Coaching features: (15)
  • Follow athletes – I clicked on 'Find Friends' which brought me to a search function, where I put in my friends name (in this case myself under a different logon) and was able to send a request. I got the said request via email, which is good because I couldn't find where to approve requests from within the site without it! It brought me to my 'Activity Feed', which presented me with the same spinning gif that never went away. I waited 10 minutes (about 9:59 too long, in other words) and it was still there, so I gave up. I try all this without a firewall, and magically everything started working. Unreal.
  • Provide feedback– Yes, but only with no firewall. Disappointing.
  • Scheduling tie in:  I can't affect any of my friends schedules, nor they mine.
Score:5 :  It's worse than it not being there at all when I find features that don't work. Why I find things that don't work behind the firewall but do on the other side is beyond me. The notion to even try it that was isn't something normally in my test packet, and I'm not sure why it occurred to me.

Device Store Connectivity (15)
  • Garmin - Yep
  • Suunto - Yep
  • Strava –nope

Score:10 - Another rare Suunto sighting! Lots of platforms to connect to, conspicuously missing is Strava. 

Import (10)
  •  Manual entry - Yep, with intervals
  • .fit –yep
  •  tcx – yep
Score: 10- Finally, something that works. Oddly, all the detail is preserved in a file upload (you can tell because it exports with the same detail), but it isn't available in the site. On a pure technical basis though, it *does* upload.

Help (5):
  • Well written: Most of the features are documented, however without images or whatnot. I found it interesting that there is a 'known issues' section, where half-assery abounds, for instance: "There are a few issues with Suunto integration at this time, namely that imported workouts appear as bike rides or activities other than the original activity type. This will be addressed with a site update as soon as we are able."
  • Clear term definition: They don't *use* terms like load, zone, and the like, so it's hard to miss definitions for them. 
Score:5 : It's there, and I can't find a fair reason to deduct any points. Half assery isn't deductible in this section.

Extra features (bonus, 2 points each)
  • Email reminders – workouts: yep
  • Email reminders – equipment : yep
  • Workout text messages – nope
  • Sync with online calendars : not that I could find.
  • Allow messages with other athletes: supposedly, but it mostly only worked for me without a firewall, only saw it work once with a firewall. 1 point.
  • Allow tracking of consumables –yep
  • Metric\imperial conversions\Time zone\Clock\Calendar: Yep.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Review: Sportlyzer

Site: Sportlyzer

Score: 90/100

 Summary: A lot to like in a sleek, modern package that self coached athletes should find very adequate, particularly the under-served Suunto user. Missing analysis features for coaches and a clearly written help section, but overall a strong offering that deserves consideration and will likely improve as time progresses.

Layout (25)
  • Logical Flow: The concept of the site is driven by 'clubs' and 'members', which I can describe as imagining that when you join the local LA Fitness, you're assigned a competent coach who can manage a group of athletes with this application. If you think of *yourself* as that coach and club owner, then everything is actually pretty logical. 
  • Feature Location:Again, if you're in the right head for it and think like a dual club owner\member, everything is in a logical place. Creating a plan and applying the plan to your calendar requires a few extra clicks because of the 'think like a club owner', 'now switch to member' process, but it works.
  • Feel: It took a little while to get used to it, but I started to really like it. It has a very modern and light feel, with soft color choices, rounded edges, and smart icons. The more time you spend in it, the more you get used to it. I really liked the planned vs. actual layout, even though it was only week to week. 
  • Performance\responsiveness: No issues, I was able to move fluidly throughout the site.
  • Mobile conversion: Another excellent example of how you're supposed to do things. The site collapses beautifully down to mobile devices, rendering controls in a sharp fashion. Very well done indeed.
  • Creating a plan: Nicely done. You create weeks of simple workouts, then schedule when those weeks begin and end on the calendar. If you want to re-use weeks it's a bit redundant as you can't copy old ones or schedule them to run on more than one start and end, but that's more of a nice to have than a requirement.
  • Creating a workout: Basic, no intervals, but you can specify sport, duration, time of day, and notes, which allows you to cram in there what you want. Very simple interface, right on top of the week scheduler, a good placement from a layout perspective.
Score: 24 :  I like the feel a lot, and I think the implementation of the planning and workout creator is clever and very extensible. Coaches will really like the layout, athletes will be just fine with it. However, the dual headedness of the club\member mentality - while functional - is a little confusing. Overall, though, this is really well done and sharp.

Analysis Tools (20)
  • Charts are time variable: Yep, organized by weeks
  • Heart Rate: yep
  • Fatigue vs. Freshness: sort of. There's a pretty cool charting\analysis tool to make customized charts, and you can plot duration vs load, of which the inverse plot would be fatigue...sort of. Hacky, yes, but sure. 
  • Duration: Yep
  • Distance: Yep
  • Zones: Yep
  • Personal best calculation:not calculated, just a section for 'tests' where you enter what benchmarks you want for whatever sport, and it displays the results you enter. Meh, 1 point.
  • Zone calculation: Yep, although a little confusing whether I'm calculating them myself or picking them up from my data. 
Score: 17: Overall, solid. The deductions are for the personal best display and the FvF hackery.

Activity Detail display (10)
  • Time analysis –  Yep
  • Maps - Yep
  • Overlays – yep
Score: 10: Up to snuff and sharp.

Coaching features: (15)
  • Follow athletes – you can examine other athlete's training logs, and keep track of who your 'friends' are to make it easy to find them. However - you can't access any of the reporting or analysis features using the non-premium version, at least not that I could figure out. To that extent, a lot of the coolness isn't available to coaches in the free version.
  • Provide feedback– yep, you can comment on other club members' activities, send emails and messages.
  • Scheduling tie inWell done, a strong feature. As I pointed out in the layout section, there's a segmentation in the app between clubs\coaches and members\athletes, but the distinction between who is coach and who isn't is broad, and you could have multiple coaches or groups of athletes, what have you. I like that sort of extensibility and while it can lead to outlandish scenarios (ie you could have 10 coaches telling you what to do!) it's more likely that users will tailor it to a smart situation than an unrealistic one.
Score:11: There's a lot there, but not having the charts and analysis presented to coaches is a big hurt. 

Device Store Connectivity (15)
  • Garmin - Yep
  • Suunto - Yep
  • Strava –nope

Score:10 - A rare Suunto sighting! Also supported are Withings and Polar.

Import (10)
  •  Manual entry - Yep, again, no intervals.
  • .fit –yep
  •  tcx – yep
Score: 9One off for no intervals, a common theme in these sites!

Help (5):
  • Well written: There is a smattering of popup tips around the site, but oddly, no help section.
  • Clear term definition: For heart rate zones, yes, but 'load' is referred to often with no clear definition.
Score:3 Really could be done better.

Extra features (bonus, 2 points each)
  • Email reminders – workouts: Yep
  • Email reminders – equipment : nope
  • Workout text messages – nope
  • Sync with online calendars : not though iCal format, no.
  • Allow messages with other athletes: Yes
  • Allow tracking of consumables –nope
  • Metric\imperial conversions\Time zone\Clock\Calendar: Yep.

Score:6, no minor deductions.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Review: Beginner Triathlete

Site: Beginner Triathlete

Score: 49/100

 Summary: Due to many disappointing issues, including features only available to premium members, poor styling, data loss, unsecured features, and a lack of connection to data stores, there's simply too many hits against BT to overcome and deliver with.

*Note that this is a review of the activity tracking portion of Beginner Triathlete only, and not a review of the myriad helpful articles, active user forum, or other features that BT provides all of which are an important and valuable resource to the triathlon community. 

Layout (25)
  • Logical Flow: It's not illogical, but it's no flow chart either. There's nothing particularly offensive, but there's an awful lot of clicking. BT isn't obviously first and foremost anything, in that it's a forum, it's a collection of articles and resources, a training planner, race report repository, and other unused nooks and crannies. As such, cramming all that into one space will produce a cluttered look, and BT is no different. There simply isn't such a thing as a logical flow to go between a race report and classified section, so there's plenty of gaps.
  • Feature Location: A little clunky at first, which is to say until you enter *a* workout somehow, you can't easily find anything. However once you do, the site wakes up and a lot of otherwise hidden content becomes exposed. From there, it's pretty simple to locate the features you're looking for, albeit from VERY long (ie too many option items) javascript hover menus. 
  • Feel: BT has a feel like 10 years ago. It's not styled in a modern way and everything is very pointy-clicky. I don't want to outright rag on it, because functionality IS important, but in my view, it's not an expensive proposition to have form and function. It wouldn't take much to skin this in a much more attractive way, but as I think about it, there might very well be a target audience that feels very comforted by this kind of styling. I could see folks who remember the html styling the 1990s recognizing the coloring, fonts, and layout from the dawn of the internet, and conservatively thinking it's fine. However, considering the site went through a 'face lift' within the last couple of years, this is really pretty bad.
  • Performance\responsiveness: Highly performant from a UI perspective, but as I'll detail later, the file upload times are horrible, taking over 10 minutes in some cases.
  • Mobile conversion: The mobile site is pretty painful to use, but functionally, it gives you everything in a mobile style. It's an amalgamation of blue buttons, with no real concept of how you're navigating around from a breadcrumb perspective, and a bit too liberal a usage of width=100% - buttons spread unnecessarily across the entire screen and are hard to like. That said, I appreciate all the work that must have gone into doing a completely separate skinning for mobile purposes.
  • Creating a plan: Oh man, this is strange. If you go into your profile you can create a plan with days, weeks, etc, and apply it to your calendar. However, this is supposed to be part of the premium membership only. Even by pointing this out here, I have a sinking feeling that I'm taking away functionality from users that they depend on, and the site admins will realize this flaw and take it away from non-premium members. Sorry!
  • Creating a workout: If you go into your profile, you can create planned workouts, albeit without interval data. The template for each day has all 3 sports, plus optional exercises and "other" sports (Archery training, anyone?) you can add. No intervals, just time, distance and pace.
Score: 16 : I tried to be as objective as usual, and only deduct points for problems. Ultimately I didn't deduct any points for the features that I suspect should be disabled, because whether that's the intent or not, the features are there currently. The styling, mobile painfulness, upload performance and layout clutter are the deductions.

Analysis Tools (20)
  • Charts are time variable: Yep
  • Heart Rate: paid only
  • Fatigue vs. Freshness: nope. 
  • Duration: Yep
  • Distance: Yep
  • Zones: Not for analysis, and I'm going to do something I rarely do - deduct a point. You can create zones, then you're asked to *manually* enter the time spent in them (it isn't calculated during upload either!), and then you find out you can't see the zone reports unless you're a premium member. A ludicrous amount of work to do for nothing. Disable it completely if I can't benefit from it. 
  • Personal best calculation:there's a place to store them in your profile, but they are not calculated.
  • Zone calculation: Yep, actually you have a few different choices as to what method to calculate with. Nicely done, with a good article written by Mike Ricci on what the different methods mean.
Score: 9: What's there works fine, but the Zones snafu had me red. Starting to run up against the premium features.

Activity Detail display (10)
  • Time analysis –  sorta not really. There's one point on the chart for each interval\lap, which is not near the level of detail captured. 1 point.
  • Maps - nope. All the data points are merely summarized by interval or, if there were none, as a workout.
  • Overlays – meaning I can add or subtract different series such as power, pace, heart rate, etc, no, you can't. You get what you get from the lap data and that's it.
Score: 2 This really isn't implemented at the level of detail that's standard across the platforms.

Coaching features: (15)
  • Follow athletes – you can examine other athlete's training logs, and keep track of who your 'friends' are to make it easy to find them. You can see their reports, but again only the ones allowed by a basic membership.
  • Provide feedback– private messages achieve this means to an end.
  • Scheduling tie in: Technically, using the planning feature I unearthed above, a coach could create a plan, send it to you, and you could upload it as your own. However, day to day changes or major changes to the plan would require subsequent uploads, constituting a hackish approach.
Score: 11: A coach could reasonably follow your progress on BT at a summary level and provide feedback via messages. However, the same coach can't create a plan for you without resorting to hackery using a feature that doesn't look like it's supposed to be available. Without the activity detail level, any sort of analysis is lost as well, as well as the ability to see the reports afforded to premium members, the functionality is limited.

Device Store Connectivity (15)
  • Garmin - Technically no. There is a provision for how to use Garmin Express\Communicator to publish to both Connect and BT, but that's not a connection to Connect. 
  • Suunto - no.
  • Strava –no

Score:2 - a little credit given for trying to be Garmin-ready, but it's not a solid attempt.

Import (10)
  •  Manual entry - Yep. The form to do so is pretty straight ahead and clearly targeted to triathlon. There is one frustrating feature, however - although you have the ability to add intervals, there's no connection between the summary duration and distance and the interval duration sum and distance sum. 
  • .fit –It took over 10 minutes for a file to finally load, but once it did, it was there. However, all of the datapoints are lost, it was merely summarized.
  •  tcx – same as the .fit, it worked, but it was both super slow (to the point I didn't think it worked at all), and then the data points were lost.
Score: 4- This has all the evidence of a major cop out by not storing the detail that comes from importing a file. If it's a database size issue, serialize it smaller, there are ways around this. Otherwise, don't give me the ability to upload, as it's not adding any value by losing the data.

Help (5):
  • Well written: Yes, very. 
  • Clear term definition: There's a glossary, and a detailed section for each feature, with screen shots to assist in locating features.
Score:5 The time was put in, and it shows.

Extra features (bonus, 2 points each)
  • Email reminders – workouts: premium only
  • Email reminders – equipment : nope
  • Workout text messages – nope
  • Sync with online calendars : premium only
  • Allow messages with other athletes: Yes
  • Allow tracking of consumables –Yes, but you have to tag the workouts with the gear manually. Technically, it's implemented though.
  • Metric\imperial conversions\Time zone\Clock\Calendar: Time zone, but not metric\imperial conversion. You have to select the unit of measure each time you create a workout.

Score: 5, one off for the metric conversion manual issue.