Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Garmin Training Center

It's probably time I post a full on review of the Garmin Forerunner 305, since I've had a few weeks to use it now... but I haven't gotten all of my thoughts together (some bad, mostly good), so I'm going to post a bit about the included software as a sneaky way to discuss my interval workout that I tried (and liked) yesterday.

The software is pretty basic and disappointing, I'd say... though I'm not comparing to any other kind of training software (as I've never used any), just to what I'd like to be able to do with my own data. You can graph up to four variables at once in different colors: pace(minutes/mile), speed(miles/hour), heart rate (beats per minute), cadence(rpm), grade(%), and/or elevation(ft). To plot heart rate and cadence you need the heart rate monitor and foot pod(optional accessory) respectively. They can be plotted vs. distance or time and that's basically it. You can zoom in or zoom out, but can't actually set the axes range or zoom into a box you draw. You can use a "selector tool" to see exact value of a variable like "pace" and where the data point is on the map, but even if you have four variables plotted, it will only show you the value of whatever you have plotted in the first slot... which seems like a big oversight... why not show me everything in a pane or something? Why make me switch the variables if I want to know what the exact values of my heart rate and pace were at a certain point in the course? In addition, the ability to compare runs to each other is very poorly implemented. It's great that you have the ability to compare any two activities, but for some reason, even though part of (my) attraction to the watch was the ability to set an arbitrary course using the GPS that you could race against your virtual self on... there is no inherent way in the software to compare how you were doing on a section of the course to past performances. You can look at, say, your pace vs. distance on two different runs of the same course (or two completely unrelated activities) but for some reason the comparison comes up in a very very tiny little window, and it seems obvious that you'd want to compare it visually on the map to see how you did compared to your best or ideal run on a certain hill or whatever.

Which brings us to the map, for which it only takes a second to see that it is pretty awful. According to Garmin, a good portion of my run occurred on the surface of the Charles despite my not being Jesus... and besides obvious inaccuracy, it's just really ugly and lacking in detail. I can understand why such a map would be fine for a car navigation system, but this is a device that is meant to allow people to run on trails and in parks with accuracy approaching a track... so wouldn't you think they'd want something more than rough street locations?

On the less visual aspects, the statistical totals it provides are pretty comprehensive and I don't really have a problem with them at all... can't guess what else I'd want here:

So, as an example, you can see for my 4 minute run/1 minute rest interval workout, I clearly lost steam as I went through the repetitions... not exactly a surprise since I'm woefully out of shape. However, though the picture doesn't show it, my overall pace even with the rest time was actually better than I had been managing with the pain in my legs. It felt like a good workout and spared my legs for the most part as I build strength up in them... and the heart rate responses support the idea that my pace slackened because I'm just not in good shape, not because I wasn't working hard.

Getting back to the software, I should note that there is also a workout section that I have yet to use (I think I need to be much more fit before I can get much out of it). It seems pretty nice as it has a wide variety of running and cycling workouts that you can pretty fully modify and then download into your watch. This allows you to do things like ladders out on a trail or on the street, where traditionally you'd need to be on a track.

In addition, MotionBased is a website owned by Garmin (soon to become Garmin Connect with new and improved features) and it has much better maps and has some interesting features that are absent in Garmin Training Center... so perhaps, especially with improved features coming at the end of May, you don't even need to worry about what Garmin Training Center really does... maybe everything you want is web based, and your PC ends up as just extra storage space. We shall see.