A new training partner

Check me out, with my state of the art gadge! My longest running sponsors, mum & dad (& my brother & sister), bought me the brand new Garmin 910XT multisport watch for my birthday! Thanks everybody!

As I train on my own and often these things are my constant and primary companions. Sometimes you set them running & forget about them until you analyse the data at home, and sometimes you’re watching the numbers almost constantly, trying to maintain a pace or effort gasping for air.

So what’s special about the new Garmin? If you’re a triathlete it does the business. At last.
In May last year I wrote a blog entry asking Garmin to make a watch that would do a bunch of things for me the triathlete. A little while later they announced the 910xt in development and it pretty much ticked everything on that list. Great!

The new 910xt will do everything my old red 305 will do, which is great. The stuff like GPS tracking your route, measuring your distance travelled, speed, time, and heart rate is all still in there. You might have seen how I use the Virtual Partner function to take data from old rides and race myself a year later. That’s in there with some little tweaks to make it even easier to use. Auto-lapping by distance or location (great for marking the exit from transition in a multisport race while running with your bike and not having to try and press a button) is still in there, as is the ability to swap the sport mode from biking to running.

So what’s new? The major change is that the 910xt is now properly waterproof. I used to stick my 305 in a ziplock bag under my swim hat for open water swims, which works great but you can’t see any of the numbers while you’re bobbing in the sea having a rest. Because its under your hat. The 910xt, with waterproofing and some clever software that takes care of the problems of dunking the watch in the sea every other second, will measure your distance while swimming and show you your speed and time, and whatnot (like your stroke rate and number of strokes). Very clever. If its strapped to my wrist I’m a little less likely to lose it to Davy Jones’ locker too.
Most of us train regularly in the pool though. The 910xt uses accelerometers to note when you’re swinging your arms around and when you stop and turn at the end of the pool. Tell it how long the pool is and it’ll count the number of laps and tell you how far you’ve swum. And how fast, with what stroke rate, how efficient you were, what stokes you swam with, and so on. It’s clever, but it’s not perfect. You can confuse it by swimming drills (not a normal stroke) or by pausing partway along a length or by changing stroke. The lap button seems to help with getting the number of lengths right, but it’s important not to change your swim drills to match the watch! Hopefully Garmin will work out how we can edit out these problems when we’ve downloaded the data for analysis.

One other thing the 910xt does that the 305 doesn’t, is pick up power from Ant+ compatible power meters. It ain’t getting nuffink from my iBike though, so no doubt it needs some sort of firmware upgrade to enable this, even though if you buy the same model now it has this function built in, and mine already works with Garmin speed, cadence and hear rate sensors. I’ll have a chat with the iBike people to see what’s up here.

No doubt you’ll be hearing more about this here as time goes on. You can also follow the data it delivers at Garmin Connect and the RSS feed in the bar on the right hand side. It was great on the bike yesterday; buttons seems to be in slightly better places, the vibration warnings are great (very clear), and the screen is very clear. I like the blue backlit display, but then, I like the green backlight of the 305 too. I tried it in the pool today too, and I’ll need to modify what I do a little (mostly pressing the lap button a little more often – I normally use a nice, clean, simple old Garmin 50 for recording times in the pool) but I was happily shocked by the new types of data available to me. I had an idea of the number of strokes I take per length, but I had no idea of my stroke rate, or how my stroke rate changes with pace, how my pace changes with longer intervals, or how my efficiency changes when I get tired. Lots of data to come. Lovely. It’ll be interesting to see what Training Peaks makes of the data.

(I love the fact that Garmin Connect works on the iPad now too, and the lack of Flash seems to cut the number of browser problems on my Mac too).