Posts Tagged ‘Mechanical’

(Disclaimer: I recognize that when I say “new” in this post, I actually mean “new to me” in that this device is probably already outdated and possibly obsolete. But the fact that I am even using one at all given that I have the technological prowess of a retarded chimp, is to be commended.)

As of this past weekend, my faithful Garmin Forerunner 305 is no more.

Lest we forget.

I suspect it happened this past Tuesday night (click HERE) somewhere along the 3rd or 4th hill repeat up and down Welland Vale Rd.. It was a cold, rainy and miserable night; the kind of night where most sane people would remain indoors with a pizza and cup of hot chocolate. Not me. I decided this was the perfect opportunity to slip inside the “Pain Closet” for an hour or so and run hill repeats. But then again, no one has ever accused me of being totally sane. Anyway, while I might have been totally down with a little suffering, apparently, my aged and decrepit Forerunner felt otherwise and at some point in the workout gave up the ghost, let out a sad and pathetic ‘bleep’…and up and died.

I didn’t stress too badly though as, at the time, I just figured it was just the harsh weather playing up in that it had just lost its satellite connection and not it’s overall will to live but, come Friday morning the issue persisted. After a quick call to Garmin support services, they confirmed the worst: my Forerunner 305 was no more.

Rest in peace, my old friend.

I have suspected the end was near for a few months now as it has – like an old and failing Italian man – it had become increasingly cranky and difficult to work with. It refused on occasion to sync with my computer or the Garmin Training Center, it offered up corrupt files which wouldn’t take to the Garmin.Connect website, and it even refusing to hold a full charge. Still, like a sick and ailing pet, I refused to take it out behind the shed and put it out of its misery. Let it never be said that I am not loyal by nature.

Unfortunately, Tuesday’s weather was the last and final nail in the coffin and, finally, after six glorious years of dedicated servitude, enough was enough and it shuffled off this mortal coil once and for good.

Anticipating this tragedy, I had already invested in a replacement Garmin 910XT that Kelly had located on Kijiji a few months ago. So my back-up plan was already in pocket (or, ‘wrist’, as it were) and I decided to bring it out from the sidelines and bust it out of the box.

When I opened the box out fell about a dozen pieces and I’m pretty sure my heart skipped a beat and proceeded to begin jack-hammering like a quarterback on prom night. Let’s just say that bricks were definitely shat. Hey, it’s not without a lot of trepidation that I ever take on new technology (it’s true, I welcome new technology like an orphanage welcomes a five alarm fire), or any other deviation from my usual routine for that matter, so when bits and pieces started to spill out I was all like:

noooo

But what other choice did I have? Fortunately, after a quick check online I discovered that I didn’t really need all the different adapters, ANT devices and shit. All I needed really was the device itself, and the USB charging clip. I immediately calmed down. I was freaked out though to learn that the particular version that I had purchased was the one that did not come with a heart rate strap!

Fuck!

Thankfully, Garmin support to the rescue (thanks, Josh!) and they instructed me on how to sync my current 305 heart monitor with the new 910XT and in seconds I was back in business with all the yellowed, sweaty residue that’s currently growing in the crevices of my current heart rate monitor living on like last years’ charcoal remains on your backyard BBQ adding to the taste of next seasons burgers.

Whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, right?

There was nothing left to do then but fire it up, strap it on and go for a run.

I won’t lie. It felt like I was cheating. But what choice did I have? I couldn’t lose that all precious data and, besides, you know what they always say, “you have to pick yourself up and move on”.

So move on I did.

A few things hit immediately about the new device. First, it’s infinitely cooler looking. I mean, the one thing that the Forerunner did not have going for it was style. It was like this ugly, bloated red tick that had attached itself to you and stuck out from the end of your arm. Seriously, you could spot a 305 from orbit. The 910Xt is black, sleek and – dare I say it – sexy looking. Secondly, was how small and lightweight it is in comparison to the Forerunner 305. I guess this makes total sense since the 305 is about 6 years old now and technology, moving at the breakneck pace it does, well, it stands reason to believe that would definitely be the case. So, for a change, it was not like running with a breadbox strapped to your wrist.

Check out this comparison:

IMG_0743

IMG_0744

So that’s kinda cool.

Furthermore, unlike the original plastic wristband that came with the 305, which conversely, snapped and split almost immediately upon use, the 910XT band is – wait for it – comfortable! I almost didn’t even know it was there. Even better, there is also a Velcro band available for the 910XT just as I got with the 305 but I figure I might not even need to spend the extra money given how comfortable it is already.

Another feature I liked immediately was, while being the smaller of the two devices, was how BIG and easy to read the display screen is on the 910XT which, with my failing eyesight these days, means I don’t have to squint at the screen while I hold it inches from my face while I run or cycle. And, hey, anything that doesn’t make me feel like an old fart is a total bonus these days.

Nice touch Garmin!

But so far, these were just all just the instant cosmetic assessments. What it really comes down is its functionality which, truthfully, is where I begin to get a little intimidated.

The biggest issue I have with Garmin currently is that their products are no longer supported if you’re still running Windows XP – which I am. I know, I know, I’m not exactly an “Ambassador of Change”, remember? So I already knew that wirelessly syncing the 910XT to the ANT device I use for my Garmin Swim and, therefore, Garmin Express, was going to be next impossible. And my next call to the Garmin support team (thanks again, Josh!) confirmed this. I was well and truly fucked now with no way to load my workouts from my new device to my Garmin Connect catalog of awesomeness.

Luckily, I had a Plan B:

Kelly.

Well, Kelly’s laptop to be specific.

So with a little anxiety, frustration and – I admit it – a little arguing, swearing and shedding of tears (on my part, of course) we (she) managed to get the Garmin Express program loaded onto her computer and synced with my Garmin Connect once again so I could successfully log all my workouts once again.

Home free!

Everything else is simple since much of the 910XT operates much like the 305 did with all the same functionality and tools. Well, what I actually use of the device anyway. It calculates my covered distance, time, pace, average pace, heart rate, burned calories, time of day, total ascent and descent, etc. Anything else to me is the beginnings of dabbling in sorcery, witch craft and hocus pocus just shy of, say, devil worship.

Having said this, there are some neat additions to the 910XT that I can (and will) take of advantage of.

For example, I can use my new Garmin 910XT for open water swimming. Yeah. I can use it in the pool too and it will do everything my Garmin Swim will do but I have grown to love my Garmin Swim and, in keeping with my loyal nature, will not be removed from my swim routine. But the open water is a different story. Now I can track my open waters swims come spring and summer using the same recordable stroke metrics that the Garmin Swim does in the pool, but also with a rough distance as well. I say ‘rough’ because it’s not quite perfect.  See, the way GPS works every time my arm drops below the surface of the water GPS signal is lost.  That’s to a large degree just the nature of GPS signal strength.  So each time during my stroke recovery (the part above the water) it has to reacquire GPS signal and then plot a data point.  The challenge will be that sometimes it doesn’t quite get an accurate GPS point during that split second recovery.  That’s where the ‘open water swimming mode’ comes in.  It will use an algorithm to make a guess at where you actually swam, and will determine a distance.

See?

Witchcraft.

Likewise, I can also use the Garmin 910Xt whenever I go skiing or paddle-boarding but, really, the chances of that ever happens are slim to none. And then there’s a cadence counter to track my footsteps during a run if I want to purchase an additional foot pod (I don’t), as well as measure all my power output while cycling providing I have a power meter and the software to use it (I don’t). I can even track indoor dry-land swim training if I was so inclined to do so (I’m not). Shit, I’m pretty sure it will also fix me up with a stack of buttermilk pancakes and a green smoothie if I ask it to.

So, yeah, while I still mourn the tragic loss of my beloved Forerunner 305, maybe this new 910XT thingee won’t be so bad after all.

Now if only Garmin would get working on something to accurately predict the next winning lottery numbers…

You may recall that my dad passed away a little over a year ago.  Although I did my best to deal with it and carry on, it crushed me.  I’m still dealing with these after effects today and it’s not uncommon for me to talk to him during long rides, runs, etc..  Not that he ever did any of this himself, mind you, but, hey, what else you going to do for hours at a time when you’re exhausted, alone and miles from home.

Years ago, when dinosaurs ruled the earth probably, my dad was given a road bike by his boss Luis.  It was a, then, state of the art Bianchi ‘Triathlon’ racing bike, circa 1984, in a gorgeous turquoise color.  Luis is a good guy obviously.

I don’t even think my dad (or I for that matter) knew what a ‘triathlon’ was.

At the time he also knew absolutely nothing about cycling and he used it as something to basically joy ride around the neighborhood on, usually with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth and long before helmets were ever in vogue.  He might have ridden it to and from work once or twice, but I’m sure it never really got a decent workout after Luis.

My brother used it once or twice while he was training for his own triathlon as part of the big ‘brother vs. brother’ triathlon quest six years ago and I think I may have even ridden it once when I needed something to get to work on.  In fact, I do remember – vividly.  Knowing fuck all about bikes and cycling I made the whole 20k or so trip in jeans and work boots and had to undo the rat traps that were once affixed to her pedals just so I could pedal the damn thing.  It sucked and I never got on it again.

Then it sat in the garage…for a long time.  In fact, it sat around collecting about 15 years of dust and grime.  And, believe me, there was a lot of dust and grime.

After my dad’s passing we had to deal with the gi-normous task of either bequeathing or getting rid of all that crap in the garage…including this bike.  Now, six years ago I would have taken one look at it and dismissed it as garbage and tossed her to the curb.  Now, well, being a little wiser about bikes and cycling, I see a bit more.  Now I saw an opportunity to salvage something of my father’s back to its former glory, the likes of which he probably never got a chance to see either.  At least for a long time anyway.

Here is what she looked like coming out of the garage last summer:

1

2

3

4

5

Like I said:  there was lots of dust, grime and wear n’ tear.

Enter Kent.

Kent is a self proclaimed “Bike Philanthropist”, in that he loves bikes, people who ride bikes and, well, giving bikes to people.  I know a whole slew of people who are indebted to his generous nature when it comes to all things cycle-worthy.  Kent is also a nut, but the good kind of nut.  But, then again, aren’t all cyclists and triathletes?  In short, there was no one else to consider for this particular project and I gave Kent my proposal to restore my dad’s bike.

Thankfully, he accepted.

The rest of the story, really, is his.  The best part is that Kent – being the awesome guy he is – also provided a lot of detailed back story of the entire restoration process that I would never had gotten otherwise.

So from here I’m turning the story over to Kent for a bit.

“In the beginning she came to me; old, tired, sad…a faded image of her past glory.

But, like the Bionic Woman…we can rebuild her. Better, faster, prettier…but not without help.

Jason at ‘Dura Paints’ in Stoney Creek custom blended the paint. I took the fork in and left it with him for a few days. Absolute magic! A few aficionados have been unable to tell her new paint from factory 1984 original. While she was waiting on her new dress, she spent a little time at the strippers. Bill at ‘Total Coatings’ (also in the Creek) did his damndest to strip her right down.”

Just a quick pause here to ask: is anyone else here getting hot yet?

“Rather than use sand he decided to use glass though. Less harmful to the base metal and has a much finer spray pattern. The end result, well, you’ll see. She didn’t feel right being so naked so my go to guy, Rob, at ‘FTW Paintwork’ said he’d return her to glory. I didn’t want such a great paint job done and then slap stickers back on her (although I could have done it…eBay had an identical set up for sale). Rob was able to match both the color and font to the original decal and transferred it into the process. When you see her…she will be the only one of her kind. No decals…only paint.

Normally I make them put the FTW logo somewhere on the bike as sort of a hallmark to let others know it was through their excellence that it was all brought back to life. What they opted to do, instead, was greatly humbling. You’ll see. All the while I was looking for and working with every cleaner and polishing agent you can shake a stick at; 31 years of crud did not want to leave those parts willingly. The tape residue on the bars, well, a few specks of it will remain with them pretty much forever.

I promised to keep as much of her as you gave her to me as I possibly could. She will be sporting new bar tape, new cables, and new rubber. That’s it. Every other part on her was stripped down to its most original form and, where possible, polished to factory (or better) new. A few mechanical things required some outside assistance. I am capable of doing them but I think, sometimes, it’s better to leave SOME things in the hands of professionals. When I stripped her down I took her to ‘New Hope Bicycles’ on Main Street in Hamilton. I was met with ire to say the least. You’re going to do WHAT to this bicycle? I don’t think I want to remove the headset for you if you’re going to strip and repaint her. This color is classic. No worry guys…she will be this color again…promise. Skepticism was the order of the day.

I also promised to bring her back for her headset again when things were done. When I took her back there recently, every single wrench in the shop had to come and look. Diehards were in disbelief. I think I even saw one tear up. Due to timing I had to leave her there to finish her make over. They will be installing new cables, truing the wheels, and putting her tape on. I’m putting a lot of faith in their work but I think the donation of the pair of 9sp wheels I gave them was added motivation to do their best magic. The girl running the show said she figured they’d be arm wrestling to see who got to do the work on it.

1

JQ7U8112

Back from the strippers…

3

5

What you should note in the picture below is the gold color along the joints. That’s brass. She’s not welded together…she’s brazed. And she’s fucking gorgeous. I almost wanted to leave her naked for that reason alone. That is art right there. The skill it takes to do that kind of work well is something I dream of. The backwards diagonal tube (seat stay), if you look closely, is joined to the lug arm about an inch below the B. I saluted her at his point.

4

This is also a lost art.

Normally a company will drill a hole in the frame and then rivet a nut in for the water bottle cages. Not so with this little gem. Again, brass brazed onto the frame…with sickening precision.

6

The rear wheels drop outs. To a ‘Bike-o-phile’ this is nothing short of sexy. Again, all of the power you could ever lay down into the rear wheels held elegantly into place with brass.

7

Witchcraft I say. 

 And as accurate as Bill was at stripping her down he made VERY sure to avoid the head tube badge at all costs. Finding one of these to replace it is akin to finding the Holy Grail. You’ll note the smallest hint of original paint on the edges of it. So no matter what all else happened to her, there will always be a teeny part of her original soul still with her.”

When it came time to actually meet Kent and see what he had been working on all this time I admit, I was nervous.  Not the kind of nervousness that one might feel while waiting for the proctologist to enter the room – and I’ve been there before, believe me (click HERE) – but more the excited kind of nervousness that I figure expecting fathers feel before they begin to pass out the cigars.

I knew it was going to be awesome…it was just a question of how much.

As it turns out, it was a whole load of awesome.  In fact, it brought a tear to my eye that I had hoped wouldn’t be noticed under my sunglasses, but Kelly don’t miss shit.  It looked like a completely new bike as if somebody had shoved a flux capacitor up my ass and I had been instantly transported back to 1984 when it first rolled off the line.

Don’t just take my word for it, check this out:

1

2

3

4

5

And here’s the real piece de resistance (in case you missed it above):

6

How freakin’ awesome is that?

I might just be tearing up again.

So now when I do ride her I really will  be riding with my dad.

Lord knows I’m not going to be doing an insane amount of mileage on her any time soon.  So far, my immediate plans are to ride 100k in the ‘La Bic Classica‘ charity ride next weekend for Strong Kids (a charity near and dear to my heart) in my dad’s memory and after that, it’ll be pretty much reserved for those special rides around the neighborhood with HRH, just like my dad would have done with me when I was that age.  I can’t think of a better way to honor his memory.

Thank you Kent for giving me back this opportunity.

Words will never express…

Fins and Paddle Power

Posted: June 5, 2015 in Equipment, Swim
Tags:

It’s on the record now that I got married over the weekend. As part of our master plan, we eloped to Stratford, Ontario where we got hitched at our favorite Break & Breakfast.  The Coach was on hand with her family to act as our witnesses and eight minutes or so of ceremony on the front porch, it was official, we were pronounced as “husband and wife”; commence with the kissing.  We spent the following day walking around the downtown core in the rain and shopping for chocolate balsamic vinegar, cheese and whatever else tickled our fancy before retiring back to the B&B to read and nap…*sigh*…good times.  On the Monday, we headed back home again to begin the rest of our lives together (after a bike ride, of course).

Anyway, I managed to convince Kelly to stop off quickly at the Team Aquatics shop in Burlington on the way home.  I know all about the “happy wife, happy life” thing already but, hey, who’s to say that the hubby doesn’t also needs some placating?  And it just so happens that this new hubby needs himself some new flippers so we stopped off to pick me up some new pool toys.

Up to this point I have been using a pair of flippers not specifically designed for swimming, but diving.  What’s the difference you ask? A fin is a fin, right?  Ha.  Wrong.  I had the exact same question when someone first told me about their fancy new swim flippers but I didn’t have that kind of scratch at the time so instead, I’ve been using my “perfectly fine” pair of Cressi fins that I picked up cheap at Dan’s Dive Shop here in St. Catharines.  I just didn’t know any better.

As it turns out, long fins are perfect for the beginner swimmer (which I was at the time) as the long blade rewards the swimmer with easy forward propulsion and raises the hips to the surface.  And, believe me, at the time I needed a lot of lift in the water.  However, what I didn’t know is that those long fins were also making it difficult to replicate the type of quick kick I’d likely need when racing.  Of course, I didn’t really kick back then either (click HERE for a little reminder) but that’s a moot point by now.  So for the past 3 years or so I’ve been happily using my Cressi’s until, low and behold, they finally bit the bullet last week when the foot box all but ripped off them on both sides.  Oh well, time to invest in a new pair.

Now, of course, being a bit more seasoned – not to mention a better swimmer – I decided to finally invest in a pair of proper shorter blade swim fins that would better blend in with all my other triathlon and swim buds.

On the shelf at the store they had two varieties, Speedo and Arena.  I tried both on but the Arena fins felt a bit more comfortable over the Speedo’s.  As it turns out Arena are all the rage in Europe the way Speedo is here.

The only problem?  They were a god-awful acid lime green color.  Now I’m not self-conscious at all when it comes to what I look like in the pool but, seriously?  Puke green?

Yeah.

Not sexy.

Thankfully they had one last pair of black Arena fins in the back so with great relief I picked up a pair.   Unlike long fins, the short bladed “Zoomers” allow your legs to cycle fast enough to keep up with a normal arm stroke rate and still maintain a six beat kick.  Of course, I consider myself successfully if I just remember to kick – period.  But by reducing the length of the blade and positioning it at the correct angle, the legs and feet will start to better mimic a natural swimming kick; at least the kind of kick I always envisioned anyway.  As a result the swimmer (in this case, me) can build true swimming-specific leg strength and hit a race tempo, all without fatiguing too prematurely. Certainly, they definitely felt a lot different and I had to work at being more efficient in my kick form just to maintain any pace that I could establish better with my old Cressi’s; so much for easy propulsion.  In fact, they felt more difficult than when I kicked normally without them.  Huh?  It’s true!  It may not be obvious at first, but when you’re using fins to swim faster, your legs are actually working harder than they normally would (without fins) to maintain that speed.  Over time, your leg muscles become stronger which will ultimately allow you to swim faster and longer when you’re not using fins.

So these have now been added to my current swim arsenal.

While I was at the store, I also inquired about these bad boys:

The Finis Agility Paddle.

I have two different types of paddles in my swim bag already so when I saw these only recently I was all like, “what are those?”

Long story short: there is a certain Canadian athlete currently working out in my local pool in preparation for the up-coming PanAm Games in Toronto, but since Kelly also has a penchant lately for referring to him as my latest “Man Crush”, well, suffice to say, he swims very well and he uses these paddles a lot…like, a lot.

Of course my interest was piqued.

So I used the opportunity to grill the swim guru at Team Aquatics as to their purpose and learned that the Finis Agility is a clever new paddle, perfect for intermediate and advanced level swimmers looking to develop their stroke technique.  In one sense the Agility is a traditional paddle, designed to increase the surface area of your hand and so create more resistance to the water.  However, it’s uniquely contoured to the shape of your hand and relies on positive pressure on the palm at all times during your stroke to keep it in place. In other words, there are no straps or anything to otherwise secure the paddle to your hand. Instead, you just put your thumb through the little hole in the paddle and off you go!

The Agility has several advantages over a conventional resistance paddle:

  • The three dimension shape, a natural thumb position and lack finger strap means the hand sits in a very natural position as you swim with very little pressure applied to the fingers.
  • The strapless design means that a light constant palm pressure must be kept on the paddle at all times (Finis terminology: ‘Palm Positive’).  A poor catch or pull technique will result in the paddle coming loose or falling off.
  • The Agility increases the working area of your hand to increase resistance on the water but the paddle is not so large as to apply too much force through your shoulders, which would risk injury.

So they’ll make me stronger and help me “self coach” myself to better perfect my stroke through the water?

Shit, sign me up!

When I first used them I learned that it was necessary to go a bit slower through the water with them, instead, focusing on my hand position so that they wouldn’t fly off and lodge itself in another swimmers forehead.  So what is lacks in developing speed and power, it more than makes up for in aiding my overall swim technique.  I can certainly get behind that and I think they’ll make a fine addition to the swim bag o’ tricks.

So along with my snorkle and, say, a rocket propulsion system, gills or maybe a sick-looking trident to wave around menacingly at other lane swimmers, I think I’m pretty well kitted out for the pool for the next little while.

Shit, I’m like the Batman of the Port Colborne YMCA pool.

Snorkle Power

Posted: April 20, 2015 in Equipment, Swim
Tags:

Recently, I’ve been noticing that a lot of my training peers have been showing up at the pool with snorkel as part of their standard swim bag of tricks and, up until recently, I’ve just brushed it off as a “nice to have, but not necessary” novelty item to play with.  Before this, the only other people I ever saw using a snorkel were those weirdoes, old people particularly, who spent their time doing this strange dead man’s float thing from one end of the pool to other.

In my pool specifically, there’s a guy older than time itself, who uses a snorkel along with his fancy aquatic gloves and booties to do this odd limp movement that makes him look like a bloated flog struggling to make it to the other end of the pool without drowning.

Oh, and of course, there’s always this pop culture classic to consider (click HERE).

So, yeah, a snorkel never really weighed as an important “must have” tool for my own swim bag of tricks.

However, as I mentioned before, when I started to see other swimmers showing up and utilizing their snorkels I admit to becoming a bit curious especially when those swimmers started swimming the 100m quicker than I could.  Now, in all honesty, I’m still focused on distance over speed at this point in my training given the Frank & Friends 10k Swim for Strong Kids coming up but, still, their speediness in the pool were no less significant so I started to reconsider my stance on the whole snorkel issue and soon enough I was curious enough to actually consider investing in one.

A quick Google search on triathlete and swim boards revealed that a snorkel is actually a pretty handy thing to enhance your workouts; basically, adding the ‘zippidy’ to your ‘doo dah’ in the pool, so to speak.  Apparently, a snorkel has the ability to improve body position while maintaining a smooth breathing pattern, as well as enhancing your V02-Max as it strengthens your lungs by making them more expansive.  It seems that the restricted airflow creates a hypoxic effect (and, seriously, who enjoys hypoxic drills?), mimicking the decreased oxygen in every breath that an athlete would experience during, say, training at high altitude.  Even when swimming easy, the snorkel might improve breathing by encouraging the swimmer to maintain a steady exhalation between inhalations.  Okay, that makes sense to me.  The main reason swimmers feel out of breath is that they hold their breath with their face in the water (something I definitely used to do and had to work hard to correct), and a snorkel can help with that.

The most basic application though is that it helps improve your technique.  And, as you all know, technique is everything when it comes to swimming.  By removing the necessity of turning your head, you can simply relax in the water and focus on the small details of your stroke like the single-arm drill, the catch, the pull or even the finish phases of each arm, and even to help maintain a streamlined position while doing your dreaded kicking drills – definitely my least favorite.

Sounds to me like the total shit, right?  Sold!

I want me a snorkel too.

So got me a snorkel I did.

finis-snorkelA humdinger of a snorkel if I do say so myself: a flashy, hydrodynamic, center-mounted “Freestyle Snorkel” by Finis, the gods of all things swim equipment related (fuck Speedo).

Apparently, this was the same snorkel endorsed and used by the US Olympic Swim Team and a favorite tool by Olympic champions Dara Torres (a twelve-time Olympic medalist and former world record-holder in three freestyle events) and Eamon Sullivan (three-time Olympic medalist, and former world record-holder in two events).  The package boasted using centrifugal forces during flip turns to greatly restrict water from entering the tube, the ability to maintain a natural, rhythmic breathing pattern due to easy body placement in the water, and a purge value to increase lung capacity to clear water from the tube.  Shit, ask it nicely and I’m pretty sure it will make you a decent stake of pancakes in the morning.  Unfortunately, it ended up sitting in my swim bag for approximately two weeks before I even considered using it.

You see, it also scared the living bejesus out of me.

The whole concept of breathing underwater seemed about as counter-productive and ass backwards.  It was like considering running a marathon on stilts. I like my air…a lot…especially when I swim.  But, eventually, I knew I had to justify this $40 purchase (not to mention the long drive to Team Aquatics in Burlington), so it was with great reluctance that I eventually strapped it to my head and prepped myself mentally to do a few laps.

Okay, snorkel: amaze me.

Now, I’d like to say here that my first few laps were graceful and fluid, a true thing of beauty to behold in the water, but they weren’t; far from actually.  In fact, I made it (maybe) 5 meters from the shallow end wall before I was sputtering and geysering like a dying sperm whale.  I just couldn’t wrap my lizard brain around inhaling underwater and when I made the initial effort I did so through my nose like I might if I was running or cycling.  In the water, though, this is not good and I almost drowned – quite literally.

I felt let down for believing the hype.  And that was that, I put it away in my swim bag and didn’t touch it again for another month or so.  But, it continued to taunt me from the pool deck until I decided to give it another go.  This time, however, instead of strapping it to my head and just launching myself off the wall willy-nilly ‘Hunt for Red October’ style, I decided to spend a few minutes at the end practicing inhaling and exhaling with my face in the water until I was confident enough to attempt to swim a lap or two.

I definitely found a new appreciation for the whole breathing process that beginner swimmers tend to stress over (I know I did), that’s for sure.  I mean, seriously, how often do you really think about breathing when you roll out of bed in the morning? It’s not even on your day’s Top 100 list of things to accomplish. But jump in a pool and it’s suddenly priority #1.  Get that figured out to the best of your ability and then throw in a new monkey wrench into the whole process and, voila!, you’re almost back to square one (click HERE).

Eventually, I got a bit more comfortable with the snorkel so I got cocky and attempted a flip-turn.  Again, I almost died and returned to the surface coughing and sputtering.  Doh!  I decided then and there to fuck flip-turns altogether for the time being and simply add that to next years’ list of goals.

Instead, I decided to use it while doing some kicking drills in the streamline position as I’ve seen and read on many a swimmer on-line tutorial.  Now, this was fun; especially with my fins on. I felt like Aquaman, gliding effortlessly through the water with my marine buddies (even if that’s only Grandfather Time in the other lane).  At the end of the lane, instead of flip-turning, I executed this 360° turn with my face still in the water just as I’ve seen Grandfather Time do countless times in his Slow Lane.  Who knew that I’d ever be taking swim tips from some guy in aqua booties?

That’s fucked up, I know.

Anyway, after 200m or so of joyous streamlined kicking, besides counting every stray hair, random fuzz ball, spec of grit and water-logged Band-aid (an unfortunate drawback to using the snorkel I’m afraid), I began to realize that my sinuses were beginning to this, shall we say, ‘full’ feeling (lest we forget: click HERE). So at the next wall, I stopped and as I raised my head and removed my snorkel a complete deluge of pool water poured from my nose.

Dis-gust-ing!

And for the record, I think I’ve forgotten how to do long division.  Maybe it was washed away along with the pool water.

With a little more practice I learned that it was more efficient to inhale through the snorkel, yet exhale through my nose just as I do when I swim freestyle normally.  Why this didn’t occur to me at the beginning I’m not too sure; again back to the thinking of breathing, or the lack thereof.

Now, having figured this out, it’s actually helping me reinforce what I’m already apparently doing well in the water which, when it comes down to it, is the number one continuous need that trumps everything else: breathe.   When that need is satisfied and natural, the ability to relax in the water is ultimately achieved.  And believe me, when you’re spending upwards of three hours plus in the water, 3-4 times a week, the ability to relax is important.

So while I’m not exactly Eamon Sullivan yet, I definitely am beginning to see some of the possibilities for future improvement in my on-going swim development.  I certainly plan on continuing to learn how to utilize my snorkel after this 10k business is over and I start to shift gears back to speed and form.  My ultimate goal being to turn myself into a born again speed demon in the pool heading into competition season, and if that means mastering this whole snorkel thing, flip-turns and all, then so be it.

I admit that – like every other triathlete on the planet I suppose – I absolutely LOVE my gear.  I bond with it; I name it; I build meaningful relationships with it.  Of course, this is all well and good as long as we’re talking about shoes and bikes, but when the subject suddenly turns to technology (i.e. gadgets and gizmos), well, not so much.

You see, I’m a technology Neanderthal.  Seriously, I’m about as close as one can get to actually being anti-technology in that I have never owned a cell phone and the digital clock on my microwave flashed 12:00am  for approximately 10 years when I lived on my own.  Now setting the clock falls under Kelly’s umbrella along with updating the computer software, programming the cable box, adjusting the settings on the tablet thingee and locating addresses on the GPS in the car.  Me?  I bitch.  That’s pretty much my jam when it comes to technology.

Now, I have been using a Garmin Forerunner 305 (which, for the record, is practically obsolete) for running and biking for about six years now, but I really only use the most basic time/distance/pace features.  In other words, I only use about 10% of its overall capabilities.  In other words, if you ever dropped me off in the woods somewhere and asked me to only rely on using the GPS coordinate tracking features to get out I’d be fucked; total bear bait.

For swimming (both in the pool and in the open water) I have been using the Polar F6.  This too, is a pretty basic device.  It tracks my heart rate, total time, calories burned and…that’s it.  It has no GPS feature so I have to manually calculate all my distances and then do the required math to figure out my pace which, of course, I never do.  It’s just a way of logging my total time spent in the water and the amount of calories I burn.  And if I should ever forget what lap I’m on, I’m pretty much screwed.  The real downside with the Polar monitor however is that it comes with that blasted chest strap which I have had to replace now at least a zillion times as the chlorine tends to eat through it like battery acid given the amount of time I spend in the local pool.  Plus it’s annoying as hell; nevermind that it makes me look like a dinosaur.

However, I have just recently taken a huge step forward in my embracing of technology by purchasing the new Garmin Swim device.  My Coach has one and she sure loves it and I see some of my training peers on Garmin Connect using one and their data is pretty cool to look out so, yeah, I was certainly tempted.  I figure I have to get with the times sooner or later and Lord knows I love me my swim workouts and I am looking to improve even more so it appeared like a good investment.  So I reluctantly slapped down the $140 on my credit card (at Giant Tiger no less!) and five days later, there it was sitting on my front door step.

Bedhead not included

Bedhead not included

Now, I won’t lie…at first, it scared the bejesus outta me.  So much so, that upon arriving it sat in the package for at least three swim workouts.  You see, I am not necessarily what you would call an “Ambassador of Change”, particularly when it comes to anything resembling modern technology.  I tend to look at new technology – specifically the “wireless” kind – the same way a mid-16th century pioneer might view, say, a 3D hologram – it’s witchcraft.  I just don’t have a very good track record when it comes to these kinds of things.  Will it work?  Will I be able to make it work?  Will it be accurate?  Etcetera and so forth.  It all kept me up at night.  But finally, I opened the package and decided to give it go.  It’s a brave new world after all.

My first course of action was to attempt to figure what the buttons – all six of them – actually did.  By comparison, my Polar only has one and I only ever use the ON/OFF and Start/Stop features (two buttons in total) on my Forerunner.  SIX?!  Fuck.  I might have to take a night course to figure all this shot out.  Furthermore, the direction manual is only a whopping four pages…FOUR!  It’s madness.  The user manual for my Forerunner rivaled a Chinese telephone book and that learned me how to use two buttons…so what are four measly pages going to teach me?  I wanted to package it back up then and there, admit defeat and ship it back.  It seemed hopeless.  Fortunately, a buddy linked me to a website by a guy named DC Rainmaker (click HERE) who featured an “easy” step-by-step review of the Garmin Swim device.

Easy, eh?  I’ll be the judge of that.

As it turns out, programming the initial settings (you techies might refer to this process as “presetting the data”) was pretty easy.  So, yeah, I got the date and time and even my weight (never you mind) programmed successfully.  Yay me!  Take that blinking microwave.  I was feeling so confident that I even programmed the pool size (25m) as well.  Booyah bitches!  Take that you nerds.  So, okay, so far so good.  I was actually ready to start swimming.

So far this Garmin Swim thing is pretty awesome.

After hitting the ‘Start’ button (I’m pretty good at that by now) in the pool, I swam a length and paused to check out the results and – sure enough – it had registered 25m.  But…but…how?  What kind of sorcery was this?  I was flummoxed.  Like I said before…witchcraft.  But cool witchcraft for sure; so I kept swimming .  And it all was all going great until I tried to do some drills, then…nada.  No distance logged.  Huh.  Then I tried to do some kicking.  Nothing.  Did it somehow loose its voodoo all of a sudden?  What gives?

Well, as it turns out, the Garmin Swim (like the Forerunner 910XT/920XT and the Fenix 2) houses a sensor, called an ‘accelerometer’, which measures motion.  With software specifically designed to analyze motion, the device will measure three basic metrics for swimming:

  • Stroke count – counts a stroke for every full cycle of the arm wearing the watch
  • Length count – counts pool lengths by detecting your turn or stop; one length count is one trip down the pool (25m in my case)
  • Stroke type – displays different types of strokes detected by specific swimming motions

Pretty neat-o, right?  But here’s where it gets even neater.

The stroke count and length count are used in combination with timing to compute other swimming data, such as distance, pace, stroke rate, and your “SWOLF”.  What is “swolf” you ask?  Well, swolf is derived from combining the terms ‘swimming’ and ‘golf’.  The swolf data adds the time and the number of strokes it takes to swim a pool length.  For instance, 30 seconds and 10 strokes to swim the length of a pool will equal a swolf score of 40.  A lower score is better, just as in golf.  So this gives me something to measure my overall efficiency with.  I like that.  Who knew that all those years caddying for my grandfather would actually pay off?  Well, okay, it didn’t really…but it’s still kinda neat.

Here’s what the drill sets look like in Garmin Connect (of course, getting to this point to view them was a completely different challenge, but I’ll come to that later):

Swim1

Pretty bad ass, huh?  But what are those blank parts between the colored bits?

Well, the problem is that without that motion, the device can’t register its distance (lengths) properly.  Crapsticks!  Not so neat.  So after returning home and scanning DC Rainmaker’s post a little more, low and behold, it turns out the device has a solution for this problem.  I learned that I can log “drill time” with the watch similar using its “Drill Log” feature the same way I would add a manual entry on the Garmin Connect site.  In essence, while in this mode it keeps the timer running and allows you to manually set the swim distance after you’ve completed that drill set; essentially an override.  So I returned back to the pool to give it a go and, well, I completely fucked it up.  But after a few swims – not to mention a ‘cheat sheet’ of instructions (thanks Coach!) – I finally managed to use all the buttons to log my drills correctly.  The real amazing thing about all this is that now I am using not one, two or even three buttons in conjunction with one another…but FOUR!

So, apparently, the watch even makes you smarter as well.  How awesome is that?

So those blank parts between the colored bits I pointed out were the points of my workout where I enabled the Drill Log, so despite still swimming (be it drills or kicking or whatever) the timer was kept running but no actual lengths were recorded by the device itself.  I just entered the drill distance manually and it then added that measure to my overall accumulative distance.  Am I kicking technology’s ass or what?

Winning.

The next challenge, however, was bit more dubious: connecting all this shit to my online Garmin Connect site.  It’s one thing to have the information, but it’s entirely a different thing to actually be able to review it.  I.e. look at the pretty colored graphs n’ shit and, hey, let’s face it, I loves me some colored graph shit.  Now I mentioned before that the Garmin Swim is “wireless” (which still sends shivers down my spine just to type it) but fortunately, despite my still running off the stegosaurus of operating programs (Windows XP) I am still able to use Garmin Express to upload my workouts to my Garmin Connect site…barely…except this didn’t go as easily as you might expect.  Ha!  Who am I kidding?  This was bound to be a disaster and it was.

For uploading from my Forerunner, Garmin Express completely blows.  I basically have to download the .tcx file (whatever the fuck that is) from the Garmin Training Center after I sync my workout, then manually upload it to the Connect site afterwards.  It’s a bit of a process but I manage to get it done.  Now, for those of you in the know Garmin has been experiencing some, shall we say, “issues” with its online site.  Don’t get me wrong, their customer support (when you can get through to them) is amazing n’ all, but the fact that I now know them all by name might give you some idea how utterly shitty their website is right now.  So my first effort to sync my swim workout to the Connect site crashed and burned and, ultimately, my workout disappeared like Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.  Even after spending an hour on the phone with Lars from Garmin, we still couldn’t retrieve the file from my device and successfully upload it to Garmin Connect.

Shitsticks!

He did though encourage me to give it another go upon my next workout suggesting that it might just be a corrupt file or something; just my luck.  But try I did two days later.  I swam in the morning, logged in my drills, swam my intervals, stroked my swolf’s and what have you, and then went to work.  Now I think it’s worth mentioning here that the Garmin Swim is just hip and ungawdy enough that you can actually wear it throughout the day as a normal watch without attracting negative attention.  Try doing that with your Forerunner 305!  Anyway, when I arrived home it wasn’t without a certain amount of trepidation.  So much so I just dropped the watch on my desk figuring I’d play with it after dinner, maybe give Lars another dingle to say ‘hi’ and simply go from there, but I hadn’t even gotten 5 ft. from my desk when my computer beeped and happily announced that my “data had been transferred”.  Really?

I immediately checked my Garmin Connect site and…AWESOME!

I almost did a happy dance right there on the spot.

More happy colored charts to peruse.  Here is what the displayed interval information looks like:

Swim3

Notice how the device recognized and listed my stroke during my warm up interval as either freestyle and breast stroke.  Notice how the second interval is listed as “Drill”.  Also listed in there is my rest periods (in grey) as well as my third interval which was actually the first interval of my main set and I can scroll down to see the rest of the intervals to boot.

Yup.  Witchcraft.

There is even a Table display that shows the data for each of my intervals, telling me the number of lengths, my times, average pace, best pace, the swolf, total strokes, average strokes and, shit, it even tells me how many calories my fat ass is burning per lap.  How fucking sweet is that?

Swim4

I wonder if Gandalf has it this good?

So, yeah, initial spooks aside, it turns out that I love this thing.  Heck, I might actually even try to figure out how to set that microwave clock next.  It’s all enough to make me reconsider my views on technology and embrace all things modern…almost.

How To Make Your Own Cycle Rollers

Posted: December 12, 2014 in Bike, Financial
Tags:

I’ve always wanted a set of rollers for my indoor bike sessions but, really, I’m just too cheap.

Why rollers you ask?  Well, there are two major benefits to rollers when compared with using a regular trainer which is what I’m currently utilizing (like most, I assume). The first is that riding on rollers is a fast-track method to improving your balance and bike handling skills.  If you struggle on the road with basics such as holding a straight course when getting a bottle out of its cage, digging an energy bar out of your jersey pocket or putting on a waterproof on the go, then you could definitely benefit from the balance and core stability training that rollers deliver.  The second is that the high cadence workouts typically performed on rollers are perfect for developing a super-smooth, even and efficient pedal stroke.  Poetically described by the French as ‘souplesse pedaling’, it’s what pro riders spend most of the winter working on and what separates great riders from the merely good.

Another benefit is that you get a more interesting workout than on a normal trainer because you have something to concentrate on. The ease of setting up is also a bonus – you don’t have to bolt your bike on – and rollers are less stressful on your bike because it’s not fixed in position and subjected to unusual loads or random torquing of the bike’s frame during moments of intensity.

But, still, there’s the whole cost factor; something I’ve yet been able to bring myself to fork out for being the total tightwad that I am.  Hey, decent rollers can cost upwards of $300.00, and that’s a hard expenditure to justify.

Anyway, I think I may have just found the perfect solution:

Now I have all the craftsy-DIY skills as, say, a newborn baby Beluga, so if any of my fellow tightwad triathlon friends and peers are looking for a great (and cheap!) holiday present for me this year, this novel gift idea would be both completely awesome and well appreciated.

I thank you in advance!

Ode to my Water Bottles

Posted: August 22, 2014 in Equipment, Financial
Tags: ,

“See, if now I fly, you must follow;

Your cool spurting gifts, you soon must offer;

For if not, I will surely die;

Lost if not for your precious life force;

On the hot pavement of life…”

In case you didn’t immediately pick up on it – this is a love poem dedicated to my faithful water bottles.

Lord knows that I am a creature of habit.  I typically use the same workout clothes over and over again (clean – usually – of course), I follow a pretty set schedule as to which workout happens on which day and, yes, I use pretty much the same two water bottles.  Call me obsessive compulsive, call me overly loyal, or just call me plain stubborn, whatever, I literally use these water bottles every single day.

And these water bottles and I have been through a lot; four years of completion actually.  Not only does that include one Ironman, five Half Iron competitions and more Sprint and Olympic events that I can remember.

Okay, 15 Sprint and 5 Olympic…but who’s counting?

And it’s not just during these events that they get used either.  No sir!  These trusty companions have also endured more kilometers, time, and training workouts than I could ever calculate.  And, believe me, that includes lots of sitting proudly on the pool wall, or guarding my towel and car keys dockside during long swims, riding in my battle cages for thousands of long (and short) bike rides, and countless He-man sessions at the gym.  Oh, and then there’s the yoga and spin classes, car trips to and from stuff, sitting at my desk here at work (as well as at home) so, yeah, you get the picture.  I use these things a lot.

Too much I’m afraid.  I think I might be killing these things with love.

Sadly, for the past four years I knew this day would arrive as all good things eventually come to an end: my fat shorts, my favorite running socks, etc. – don’t even get me going on all the pairs of goggles and running shoes I’ve gone through (for whom the Bell tolls by the way). Let’s just say I can get pretty attached to stuff and these water bottles (i.e. ‘Pillars of Hydration’) might just be the hardest yet to part with yet.

DSCF1946

Here’s another pic of them in action:

Belly not included.

(Belly no longer included)

Aren’t they beautiful?

These water bottles came to me at exactly the same time I purchased Lucille from Enduro Sport in Toronto (five years ago).  They fit into Lucille’s bottle cages perfectly so you can see a lot of wear n’ tear on them; which are just beauty marks as far as I’m concerned.  In over five years of riding, they may have fallen out, maybe, twice.  And that was more likely due to my own error in returning them back into their cages mid-ride than anything else.

They are made of that soft squishy plastic – sorry to go all technical there on you – I like as opposed to those harder plastic bottles I find hard to use.  I hate having to fight with a water bottle to hydrate myself and if I need two hands to squirt its precious contents into my mouth then it’s more or less useless to me.

In an effort to combat the typical wear and tear and prolong the general life expectancy of these things, I have employed a rather rigorous cleaning regimen (click HERE) to limit the amount of mold buildup and therefore, hopefully, maintain their overall dispensing efficiency.

Regardless, the day of reckoning has finally arrived.

Keeping these bottles sanitary has now become a losing battle.  Their nozzles are leaky and the twist-on-top’s no longer keep a watertight seal so they don’t dispense water so much anymore as they serve as the mere vessel for ineffectually transporting fluids.  On my bike rides, the water splashes from their tops each time I hit a bump in the road and soaking me in the process.  Half the contents will squirt over my face and run down my chest into my bib shorts whenever I try to take a sip.  Furthermore, there’s about an inch of crusty funk built up around the inner lip no matter how often I scrub them (which, truthfully, isn’t as often as I should).

In short, it’s a lost cause.

But it’s not as easy as simply running out and buying more water bottles – oh no! That’s crazy talk.  I just can’t use any water bottle; it has to be the water bottle (there’s a huge difference)…and even then there has to be two of them.  If Enduro Sport wasn’t also a 2+ hour drive away I would just go back and purchase two more but, alas, I am too cheap to pay the gas simply to replace water bottles.

Believe me though, I did consider it.

So I’m on the prowl now to find the perfect replacements, or ‘substitutes’. I will call them ‘substitutes’ because these two Enduro bottles will always occupy a permanent place in my heart.

However, water bottles are something that the inner miser in me would never pay for.  I am a Tightwad Triathlete after all.  In the case of my Enduro sport bottles, they came free with the bike.

No. One has to come by water bottles freely, whether they’re earned or acquired it doesn’t matter but you never pay for water bottles.  I think it’s a law or something.

For shits and giggles, let’s review a few of the candidates currently in contention at my home:

1. The Big Move:

DSCF1947

I have volunteered with the organizers of The Big Move (100k) as the sweep rider for the past few years so I also have lots of these water bottles lying around.  Alright, I have exactly two.  Or I thought I had two anyway.  So maybe I only have this one. Whatever.

I use this bottle periodically and before that Kelly used it on her bike before she ‘purchased’ (yeah, I know) her own.  It fits into the bike cages well enough but they’re made of that hard inflexible plastic I hate so unless I can use both hands to squirt its contents into my mouth while riding, or somehow manage to work my suck into an industrial vacuum-like power, it is rather difficult to use. It can certainly be used periodically – like, at work or something – but it will never be part of my permanent rotation.

2. Ironman Gummies:

DSCF1948

The plus side here is that this water bottle is made of that soft squishy plastic I like since it’s really meant for kids (hence: Iron Gummy vitamins).   It also fits perfectly in my bike cages, which means I could easily use it while riding without any extra effort or care.  Likewise, the seal is fantastic so it doesn’t drip or leak, like, at all.  Sure it does have a rather childlike feel to it seeing as how it’s from a kid’s triathlon series but, hey, that’s as good a program to endorse as any.  It was however, supposed to be the kids’ water bottle and this kid likes to chew her nozzles.

Just look at this madness:

(WARNING: this following picture depicts scenes of graphic violence. Viewer discretion is strongly advised)

DSCF1954

Unfortunately, this is the only one of its kind in our possession that doesn’t also look like it’s been attacked by beavers. I will surely need to protect and preserve this one with straight up Diane Fossey type fervor…however, we definitely have a keeper!

3.  Whatever the fuck this thing is:

DSCF1959

Who the fuck knows where we got this thing from but it’s completely useless; needless to say it’s doesn’t leave the shelf very often.  Personally, while I see people (typically the older people) using these types of water bottle at the gym, I firmly believe they should never – ever – leave the house. Certainly not for a workout, like, anywhere! In this one and only case, style trumps cost.  Do us all a favor, unless your 90 years old, leave the shitty Rubbermaid on the shelf at the local DollarMart and spend the money something else.

This bottle is definitely OUT.

4. The Cancun 70.3 Souvenir Bottle:

DSCF1957

I kept a few of these bottles as souvenirs after my Cancun 70.3 competition back in 2011. It has the perfect ‘Swim, Bike, Run’ advertising on it and it definitely worked at the time but now, well, not so much. Its make-up and over all squeezeability’ is pretty cool but it only contains 400ml of fluid which is well under my usual hourly intake (550ml). So I would have to refill this thing a shit ton more just to keep my current hydration strategy alive and well.

Plus, it’s that ugly fucking orange color (or ‘persimmon’ which makes it sound even worse) is hard to accessorize around.

Sorry.   Won’t work.

5. The Canadian Tire special:

DSCF1960

Beats me how I came into possession of this bottle. It completely solid (i.e. you can’t squeeze it) and it doesn’t fit into my bikes bottles cages making it practically useless on the bike. Likewise, even though it’s measured out in ml’s which might be nice if I was, say, mixing a protein shake or something, for workouts it’s practically useless.   And, really, what the fuck is with that propeller thing on the top anyway?

Basically, this is the water bottle equivalent of any cheap ass water bottle you might find on the shelf in the ‘Kitchen Crap’ aisle at Canadian Tire. Pass.

6.  Don’t even get me fucking started:

DSCF1961

No.

7.  What the fuck is this thing anyway?

DSCF1962

Again.  No.

8.  The Tin Man:

DSCF1964

We use this to send the kid to camp with because they’re unless you’re backing over it with a tow motor, they’re practically indestructible.  Other than that feature, why do they even make metal water bottles anyway?  They’re impossible on the bike and pointless anywhere else.  In fact, unless you have this thing properly clipped onto your Outward Bound backpack while hitch-hiking around, say, Europe, or you’re planning on having to fend off marauding zombies, this type of bottle is just a huge, heavy, pain in the ass.  It should definitely never be used for a workout.

9.  Maybe at my desk perhaps:

DSCF1965

Not sure how this would work on the bike.

10. TryForce

DSCF1963

This is another type of souvenir bottle I got from my triathlon group.  In fact, I have a few of these.  Honestly, I do.  I should be using these bottles given I love my training group and whatnot, but I hate it.  It’s the same 400ml as that Cancun shit thing and it’s that hard plastic I despise, plus it also rattles in my bike cage which drives me nuts.  I want to love it – but I just can’t.

When I do use any of these bottles I inevitably feel like how Hugh Grant might have felt when he was caught cheating on the beautiful Elizabeth Hurley with the likes of Divine Brown – dirty.

Anyway, I am aiming to finish the season with my current two trusty and faithful Enduro bottles but, beyond that, the search will indelibly continue until the perfect two bottles are ultimately located, procured and otherwise assume a regular place in my daily training routine.