Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Garmin 910XT Review

The highly anticipated Garmin 910XT has made its way to my wrist. I've read about it for months and finally brought one home with me in mid-January when they became available in stores. Firstly, please note that this is a User Review and not a Product Review. My review is based on real-life use in the field and in the pool. I will not fill your time with techy specs that are not easily translated without a PhD in robotics. I also want to make it clear that I am not sponsored by Garmin in any way, not that I haven’t tried. I’ve been a long time user of Garmin multisport products. I used the 305 for years and more recently the 310XT. Before becoming serious with racing Tri’s I had used Timex and Polar products but switched to Garmin in 2007 before the first time I raced Ironman Coeur d’Alene.

Garmin 910XT
 I’m assuming that most people reading this post are already familiar with the 310XT or at least other Garmin products so I won’t go into details of what it does compared to the competition; only the new features that the 310XT doesn’t offer. If you want to look at the specs you can go to Garmin.com or I’ve provided a link to compare the 310XT and 910XT here.

Garmin 310XT

Don’t be fooled by the size, the 910XT is not any smaller than the 310XT and even slightly longer according to Garmin…longer by like 0.2” but I think the completely new design helps it fit better on my small wrist. The 910XT does sport a slightly thinner profile which I’m hoping to be beneficial when stripping my wetsuit in T1. Aside from slight measurement differences these 2 watches are very similar in things like weight, battery life, display size, screen resolution, blah, blah, blah…yep there are only a handful of improvements technology-wise that make this stand apart from the 310XT and the competition.

Firstly, the 910XT has a gismo called a barometric altimeter. Why a barometric altimeter? Let’s clarify first that an altimeter is an instrument to measure altitude. But the 310XT did this too, right? It did but it relies completely on GPS signals which mean if you combine that technology with a barometric altimeter then the elevation gain/loss data from your workout is more accurate. For you techies, here’s what Garmin says "Combining both GPS and barometric altimeters, Garmin GPS units are able to provide the most accurate altitude readings of any handheld device. Absolute location is provided originally by the satellite to help auto-calibrate the barometric altimeter, then the barometric altimeter is used to provide a more stable elevation change. The barometric altimeter also allows us to provide elevation readings even when GPS signal is not available." I compared the data from rides with my 310XT on the same course, 6 days apart and there was a difference … but I don’t lay awake at night because my total ascent was 2,786 instead of 2,843. For me, I haven’t found a real-life experience where this is going to make that much difference for me…yet.

Next, Virtual Racer ™…this is pretty cool. The 310XT has a Virtual Pacer that I used almost every workout and especially for 40k TT rides or a swing pace on my run. So what’s the difference? With Virtual Pacer you manually configure a static pace and the "computer runner" just sticks to it. Virtual Racer is different in the aspect that you can upload what you or someone else did on a previous run or ride on the same course and your “computer runner” replicates it. So theoretically you can upload something like Chris Lieto’s crushing ride or Miranda Carfrae’s smoking marathon at Kona last year and be able to compare yourself to how they were doing at that exact same place on the course; even taking hills into account. I don’t know for sure whether either of these workouts are on the Gamin database, I haven’t played with it that much. The coolness factor of this feature rates pretty high for me and will help me as judge my fitness throughout the season.

The next feature on the 910XT that the 310XT doesn’t offer is the Training Effect (TE). According to Garmin, “Training Effect measures the impact of an activity on your aerobic fitness, which essentially helps you train more efficiently. Your Training Effect is calculated based on your user profile, your heart rate and the difficulty of the activity.” I’m a huge advocate of training smarter, not harder and this feature will help you determine whether your workout is maintaining your current fitness level or improving it. For those of you familiar with CompuTrainer or have a power meter, it’s similar to TSS. For those not familiar with TSS, Garmin will rate your activity with a TE scale of 1-5. 1 – Minor; 2 – Maintaining; 3 – Improving; 4 – Highly Improving; 5 – Overreaching. Every workout starts at 1 and then progress throughout the workout to determine your final TE. I’ve enjoyed a similar feature for cycling and it’s nice to see that I can put it to use for running as well. Since this is calculated by your heart rate, you cannot get a TE for swim workouts and Garmin says "the Training Effect value may seem high at first until the device gets to know you and your workout patterns". Can you do without this? Sure. I’ve trained for years without it but you need to make sure you know how your heart rate zones work and what workouts you should be training in which zones and for how long. There’s a lot more to this than getting a number after every workout that says you’re improving your fitness because there are times when you shouldn’t be doing more than a TE of 1. Read more on Training Effects at FIRSTBEAT .

The last feature new to the 910XT is the Swim Metrics function that automatically captures your stroke type and stroke count along with your distance. I’ll admit that the swim is my weakest discipline and I feel as natural in the water as a cat. Two seasons ago I discovered that at Ironman Worlds I put myself at a deficit coming out of the water because I swam 2.6 miles instead of 2.4 miles like everyone else. I don’t recall whether I was following a school of fish or a sting ray but I didn’t do myself any favors tacking on the additional time. This led me to work on sighting during my open water swims last season which helped considerably, as long as I made it out of the underwater boxing match unscathed. One of the first things I realized when testing out this feature in the pool is that I don’t know how to count; my 1,000 meters is apparently 50 meters longer. I’m not sure how it figures out the stroke type but it does. The only flaw I have found with this is function is I can’t figure out how to capture kick sets. Obviously my arms aren’t moving so it captures the time as a rest period. This throws off my SWOLF (the time in seconds plus the strokes it takes you to complete one pool length. For example 30 seconds plus 25 strokes equals a SWOLF score of 55).

Overall, the Garmin 910XT makes it into my must-have list of tech tools simply because of the added swim features but is debatable whether it’s a tool that everyone shouldn’t live without. At certain levels of competition you can do just fine with the 310XT and be successful at racing. The 910XT certainly adds some nice-to-have features and will help every athletes train and race efficiently. Anything that can help me train smarter to minimize the amount of time I spend on each discipline during the race will make it into my must-have list. If you’re on a tight budget, you can save some cash and go with the 310XT and do just fine but I won’t be giving up my 910XT any time soon.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Optimized Fat Metabolism (OFM) Part 2: Variability

For those who read the Introduction post of Optimized Fat Metabolism, here is the second post that continues with the explanation of how we fuel our bodies and why VESPA works so well with our bodies. I forgot to mention in the Introduction post that I started using VESPA last season after listening to a short presentation from Peter at a pre-season clinic I hosted and was amazed at how aligned we were on nutrition. I’ve had an extensive history of racing and suffering with GI issues at almost every race, especially races where it was hot and over a ½ IM distance. I would oftentimes even have GI issues on shorter training runs and rides. Some of this is just me, my guts suck! I have trouble with gluten, dairy and eating certain foods especially if they are greasy so I’m not considered the typical athlete. You’ll always see me with a salad at the pre-race spaghetti feed, not because I’m a vegetarian, trust me…I love my red meat, but because I can’t eat anything else they are offering. I was not completely sold the first time I used VESPA but continued with it because I wanted to believe there was a product out there that could help me finish a race without looking for porta-potties on each horizon. I used VESPA for the first time during a race at Wildflower last season (2011) which ended up being a warm April day, by Idaho standards. I was not acclimated for 80 degree temps which typically would have resulted in me reading dozens of “tweets” on the back of porta-potty doors throughout the bike and run. I had a frustrating race but walked away relieved that I didn’t have any GI issues. I was converted and used it all of the 2011 season without any GI issues regardless of training or race conditions and distances. I also noticed that while using VESPA that I would not have sore muscles from lactic buildup. This was groundbreaking for me which is why I contacted Peter to learn more. For those of you who know me, I’m a straight shooter. If I don’t like a product, I won’t sugarcoat my review and won’t promote it either. VESPA has worked miracles for me and I encourage everyone reading these posts, regardless of whether you have ever experience GI issues during a race, to seriously consider using this product as part of your nutrition for this upcoming season. - Trish

From Peter:
While most athletes recognize there is hard work involved and are willing to do it to achieve results, culturally most of us are looking for simple answers or that “formula for success” from the experts they look to for advice… much of the time the consumer is “sold” or “told” exactly what they wanted to hear…“a formula for success”. This could not be further from the truth.  While most of you want to cut to the chase and get an easy answer, like training, there are no easy answers to the myriad of variables and how they interact with each other.
So, what are the variables?
The genetics card is in inevitably one of the first mentioned when it comes to variability and one most people resign themselves to as fate. While genetics do play a role, it is crucially important to understand environmental factors (variables) influence genetic expression. Bad genetic lines tend to be eliminated pretty quickly in nature so if your family genes got them this far it is a pretty fair bet the genetic expression is triggered by other factors.
Where do I begin? There are a myriad of factors ad infinitum but here are some of the main ones we will be addressing in future posts:
Diet & Fueling
Rest & Recovery
Lifestyle Balance
Temperature, Humidity, Weather condtions, Altitude etc.
There is wide variability within the human population to these environmental variables. The point here is what works for you is vastly different for what works for your training partner or friend, however, by understanding how the variables interact with each other often strategies can be found to improve performance health and recovery.
As you can see all these variables are closely intertwined with each other so a change in one variable creates an impact on all the others thus impacting an athlete’s performance. Don’t overthink this because that is easy to do, just understand it happens.
Another very important concept for the athlete to understand about the variables is many which impact your performance are “dynamic”. This means they are constantly changing and not static so as they change an athlete has to understand how to compensate for the shift. A good example would be heat….as temperatures rise an athlete must become much more cognizant about their hydration including both water and electrolyte intake. If temps rise even more hydration/electrolytes becomes critical, and backing off of pace and caloric intake become necessary….so you can see from this example how dynamic many variables are.
So, while the basic principles of OFM apply to virtually all athletes how each athlete achieves results is highly individualized due to the myriad of variables involved and their dynamic interactions.
Finally, do NOT let the complexities scare you! Understand this is complex, but also recognize that by understanding the basics of the how variables influence your physiology and following basic guidelines based upon the science achieving OFM is very doable for just about anyone!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Optimized Fat Metabolism (OFM) - Introduction

Over the last year I've had a lot of people asking me about VESPA and what makes it so different than other supplements on the market. I have a basic understanding of the product but I have limited understanding of the science behind it so I've asked the man behind VESPA, Peter Defty, to help explain why VESPA works so well and explain it in a way that it makes sense to everyone. I know this can get rather lengthy so Peter will break this down into a couple of informative posts over the next couple of months.

From Peter:
With 2012’s racing season on the spring horizon many of you are looking to January as a time to ease into your training, fueled mainly by guilt from the Holiday over-indulgence. This is still an off period for many but the most serious, yet this “off” period has a vital role in the overall human performance paradigm. Not having to manage a tight schedule of training and competition let alone making our athletic passion fit in with the rest of our busy lives has several benefits both physically and mentally.

The off-season is also a great opportunity to evaluate what we are doing in our training and racing and, thus, consider changes. Most often these changes are incremental as we gain experience and knowledge, however, at times, a paradigm-shifting concept occurs and the world is not the same. So, as you now consider shedding those few extra pounds of body fat you’ve picked up since the end of the racing season have you ever wondered why so much effort and discussion has been placed around utilizing carbohydrates as an energy source and so little around fat?...after all, even the leanest of triathletes has more than ample body fat to easily complete an Ironman.
OFM represents such a paradigm shift and the absolute best time for an athlete to consider making that fundamental physiological shift to “fat as fuel” is now before the training load ramps up.
A few, triathletes and their coaches (Trish Deim being one) are well-aware of the importance of improving fat burning. Mark Allen and Dr. Phil Maffetone, using “The Maffetone Method”, demonstrated how training to burn significantly more fat during aerobic exercise created a string of Kona victories. Today, coaches like Bob Seebohar and Ben Greenfield, are writing and talking about the importance of fat metabolism. So, you may be wondering, “What is so paradigm-shifting about OFM?”
OFM integrates diet/fueling, training, rest/recovery, and lifestyle with the all-natural supplement, VESPA, to make a fundamental physiological shift to metabolizing fat as the primary and preferred aerobic energy source. What sets OFM apart are three things:
1) Not only does fat become the primary aerobic energy source, but saturated Fats, the most calorically dense nutritional energy source, are a key component and not the health demon they have been made out to be.
2) OFM challenges the conventional carbohydrate centric approach toward athletic performance and human health using latest in cutting edge nutritional and physiological science to help guide the on-going program.
3) OFM does NOT eliminate carbohydrates but makes “strategic” use of concentrated sources of carbohydrates. Additionally, how the athlete consumes their concentrated forms of carbs is very important to the OFM program. Through OFM, carbs are actually utilized more effectively and efficiently to yield sustainable high-level performance while minimizing oxidative stress.
OFM is NOT a Low-Carb diet though many principles used in OFM are taken from research in Low-Carbohydrate dietary regimens, including Nutritional Ketosis (not to be confused with keto-acidosis). OFM is not exactly a Paleo Diet because, in many cases, people can tolerate certain dairy products and other foods prohibited by hard-core Paleo advocates.  After all, we want to make this as doable as possible in the context of modern life. 
Bear in mind much of the Paleo Diet material out there is what I term “PC Paleo” because the “F” word for Fat is not mentioned yet clearly comprised most of the calories consumed in Paleolithic times (this will be discussed in a separate post). Especially for endurance athletes adding calories in the form of fat as training load rise is crucial to success.
Another divergence form much of the Paleo community is OFM does include lots of cardio training with some higher intensity training. When burning fat as the primary aerobic energy source cardio provides nothing but benefits, it is when burning glucose that long cardio workouts have some issues.
So, Why OFM?
Consider for a moment some basic facts: The human body stores a tremendous amount of calories as fat while very limited quantities as glycogen. Even the leanest athlete has more than enough calories of fat to complete an Ironman, run a 100K, or ride a double century. Yet most sports nutrition has focused upon greater and greater carbohydrate use and thus, dependence upon glycogen storage and exogenous intake of “easily” digested complex carbohydrates and simple sugars.
Next consider that humans, for most of our existence, were hunter/gatherers and nomadic herdsman who could not rely upon a constant supply of carbohydrates and simple sugars for energy yet had to be physically fit and alert to survive. Anthropological studies strongly suggest “primitive” man was as fit, if not fitter, than today’s elite athletes [i][ii] all on a dietary intake which was, for most of the year, low in concentrated carbohydrate sources…so, what was their fuel?…fat!
In light of these physiological and anthropological facts it only makes sense the human body should actually prefer to metabolize fat as aerobic energy and reserve glucose and glycogen as a “fight or flight” fuel. Guided by integrating the latest science, OFM offers a pathway to get the athlete back to this natural state and reap the performance and health benefits it offers.
In upcoming posts we will be breaking OFM / VESPA program down into various areas relevant to the athlete so they can understand the science and physiology behind the concepts presented then be able to effectively implement OFM principles into their life. The goal is to explain, in layperson’s terms, the basics of some very complex physiology to better understand how the human body works. While much of what we will be posting will heretically counter conventional sports nutrition concepts the information is based upon sound science. Much of this science is actually non-controversial and generally accepted among health professionals, however, there exists a disconnect when it applies to sports nutrition.