Sunday, October 31, 2004

Winter is here

It creeps up on you slowly. First you're wearing arm and leg warmers once in a while. Then a long sleeve jersey starts to become the norm and booties are required for all rides, not just the wet ones. Soon you're always heading out the door wearing a base layer and carrying a rain jacket, just in case. Yep, winter cycling season is now in full swing in the pacific northwest. It isn't necessarily the weather that makes me say that, in fact, today was beautiful. The time change is the clincher. From now on a headlight is required equipment for the commute home. Lightweight racing wheels have been replaced with heavy 32 spoke paperweights shod with thick wire bead rubber. And what does all this add up to? Slower riding....

I won't even go into the tortue of the indoor trainer. I guess there is nothing we can do but suck it up, get the right equipment and tough it out for the next few months.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Polar s725 Review

I finally got around to putting together a review of the Polar s725 over on Amazon, complete with a bunch of pictures. Since one extra click to read the review is a lot of a work, I'll spare you the trouble:

I purchased the s725 as single device to replace my heart rate monitor and bike computer. The s725 seemed to offer all the cycling features, in addition to being a full featured heart rate monitor. While it was certainly not cheap, I am satisfied with my purchase.

In terms of cycling features, it offers everything you would expect: speed, altitude, temperature, cadence and power (both with optional sensor). Both the speed and cadence sensors are wireless and have worked very well despite my worries (I don't own the power sensor, so I can't comment on how well it works). The only time I have encountered interference is when I'm using my HID headlight, and even then it doesn't happen very often. My only gripe here is that both the speed and cadence sensor are kind of big and ugly. Also, the speed sensor can only be mounted on the front of the bike (or so they say). I'd like to have the option to mount it on the rear wheel so I can record speed and distance while using an indoor trainer.

The more general features of the s725 really set it apart from other HRMs. First, each type of data, including heart rate and all of the cycling data can be recorded for the duration of your workout. You can select a sampling rate of every 5, 10, or 15 seconds to ensure the s725 has enough memory for your workout. I record every piece of data except power at 5 second intervals and can usually store about 8 hours of exercise. This is very convenient since you don't have to download your data after every workout.

While I'm on the topic of data recording, I should mention the included software since it is a key piece the s725's appeal. Using an infrared link you can download and manage your workouts using Polar's software. It keeps track of your workouts using a calendar view and allows you to see (and customize) graphs for each of your training sessions. Additionally, you can program the watch (intervals and other options) using the software, saving yourself the fumbling with the small watch buttons.

Anyway, back to the main functionality. During your workout the screen shows three rows of data, which you can rotate using the various buttons on the watch. I like to keep heart rate in the large middle row and then rotate among cadence, time and other pieces of information in the top row as my workout progresses. If you go outside any heart rate bounds you have set the watch will warn you by blinking the heart rate display or emit an audible signal.

So what's wrong with it? My biggest gripe is that the interval training functionality is very inflexible. An interval is defined in terms of heart rate or time, an optional recovery period after each interval and the number of interval repetitions. This means that every interval must be exactly the same. Unfortunately, I have some interval workouts where each interval is a different length. There is no way to program this into the watch so I have to punch the "lap" button every time I begin/end one of these intervals and monitor the lap time throughout the interval. An HRM in this price range should really have more flexible interval configuration.

Before I wrap up, I should mention that the chest strap is vastly improved and much more comfortable than prior models. All but one short segment, which sits in the middle of your chest, is entirely flexible, even the electrodes.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

CTS Update : 10/6/2004

Over the past few weeks my training program has progressively gotten more difficult. Both in terms of overall hours per week and activities performed during workouts. Last weekend seemed to be a peak. Saturday's scheduled called for a overall workout of 2 hours (not bad), but incorporated 3 climbing repeats into the time. For the climbing repeats I had to find a hill that could provide 12 minutes of climbing at my climbing lactate threshold (approx 166 bpm). 12 minutes up, rest for 8, repeat 3 times.

I chose the notoriously challenging Cougar Mountain (Jim thinks highly of it too) for the task. Climbing it probably takes 15-18 minutes at a good pace and it kicks up to something like 17% in parts. Overall, the workout was really tough, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Hill climbing leaves you with a certain sense of accomplishment. Take a look at the elevation plot.

That was Saturday. Sunday called for 3:15 of endurance riding. Because of the hills around here, my elevation gain on Sunday was about as much as Saturday... just not as intense. The good news is that it looks like my schedule is easing up a bit in the coming weeks.

I figured a tour of the CTS website would give a better idea of what you get for your money, in addition to someone telling you what to do. :) The website was just completely revamped, so now seems like a good time for a review.

As you can see in the schedule view below, exact workouts are prescribed for each day of the week. An overall workout is given (such as "endurance miles") and is usually accompanied by a specific task such as intervals. Days are color coded to indicate how your did compared to your planned workout.

After a workout, your results are recorded in the calendar:

That's pretty much all there is to the coaching tool. The rest of the site contains lots of articles about training and nutrition, as well as members forums. Pretty standard stuff and nothing worth taking screenshots of.