Training Tuesday: putting TrainerRoad on my handlebars with the Dell Venue 8 Pro

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the basics required for indoor bike training. I recently made a couple of tweaks that have made my setup much more pleasant to use and I thought I’d document them.

First, I still use TrainerRoad whenever I ride indoors. Their training plans have a huge variety of workouts for whatever you need, and the custom workout creator makes it easy to build whatever odd interval combinations Alex assigns me. I’d been using it by either propping up my Surface Pro 3 or MacBook Pro in front of the TV, which was suboptimal because it required me to drag a laptop over near the TV, set it up, and hope that Pancake didn’t knock it over.

Then it hit me: I had a perfectly good solution right on my bedside table in the form of my Dell Venue 8 Pro.

First, I needed a mount. A little poking around on Amazon yielded the Arkon SM632 for $18. It has four little prongs, two of which are spring-loaded, that hold the tablet or phone in place. There’s also a safety strap that goes across the device for extra security, but I didn’t bother with it. It installed easily in about 2 minutes and easily held the Venue 8 Pro. So far it seems quite sturdy, but I’m not about to ride on the road with a 7″ tablet on my handlebars.

The Venue Pro 8 has a single micro-USB port, so I needed an adapter (and had been meaning to buy one anyway). For $7, Amazon was happy to sell me a two-pack of USB On-The-Go (OTG) adapters.

The hardest part of the install turned out to be getting TrainerRoad set up. It installed easily but I had to tell it to use the virtual power feature, which required me to pick the trainer I use from a drop-down list. It is impossible to do this using the on-screen keyboard (since it doesn’t have up/down arrow keys) and there’s no way to scroll. I ended up plugging a mouse into the USB adapter and that did the trick.

The picture below shows what I ended up with; you can see the USB adapter and ANT+ stick just to the right of the tablet screen. Works like a champ!

TrainerRoad on the Dell Venue 8 Pro

TrainerRoad on the Dell Venue 8 Pro

 

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Training Tuesday: half-marathon now, triathlon soon

Time for a progress check-in on my training plans.

First, CHP. I am still delighted with the coaching I’m getting from Alex and the accomplishments and support of my fellow athletes is very motivating. For example, Dani Overcash, a 123lb woman, just set a new US record for deadlifting 402lbs at the RUM powerlifting meet this weekend. It is really cool to look in the FB group and see how many people are setting PRs, winning competitions (in powerlifting, strongman, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and triathlon, among other sports), and generally being badasses.

Second, I started the Fleet Feet half-marathon program a few weeks ago. The program is pretty typical of half-marathon training programs: one long, slowish run on weekends, speed work one day a week, and a couple of shorter tempo runs. There are a few people in the program I know from the local running / triathlon community, which is fun. The long runs are Saturday mornings at 6am, which I semi-resent since that would otherwise be one of the few days when I don’t get up early. The program overall has a different vibe from TRI101, too, in part because of the different mix of coaches, and there have been a few hiccups with organization and logistics, but I am enjoying it and it should be good preparation for the Bridge Street half-marathon.

Third, I signed up for my first two triathlons of the season: the New Orleans Sprint on March 29 and the Lake Pflugerville Sprint in late June. There will undoubtedly be others in between (including the Issaquah Sprint, I hope!) Signing up was sort of a forcing function; I have been doing mostly weights and running, with occasional rides on the trainer, but I knew it was about time to switch to a more tri-focused regimen. I told Alex Sunday that I’d signed up and he immediately scheduled me for a brick Monday– and tomorrow I swim. Time to get back to it!

Fourth, I’m still debating which of the two local Olympic-distance training programs to sign up for. Note that I’m not debating whether or not I want a local group program. I do, because I like the energy and social connection of training with others. Fleet Feet is doing their TRI201 program, which I expect to be just like TRI101 with different distances, and local tri legend Rick Greif is doing his own program. Rick’s program is more expensive but includes some extras (including race registration for Renaissance Man), so I am leaning towards that.

I have a bunch more posts that I need to write, including an explanation of the setup I ended up with for bike training and a race report for the most excellent Tick Ridge Trek trail 10K I ran this past weekend, but this’ll do for now. See you on the road (or in the pool, or on the trail, or maybe at the pasta buffet!)

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Getting started with indoor bike training

A coworker was asking me about indoor cycling, so I took a few minutes to put together some notes on the configuration I use. He wanted a basic setup that would let him train indoors and minimize time spent away from his family. Here’s what I told him.

First, you should know that you can train in two ways: 

  • Structured workouts that target a particular power level (your functional threshold power, or FTP). An example workout is here. For example, you might ride a warmup for 10min at 60% of your FTP, then do interval sets of 80-115% FTP, then a cooldown.
  • Workouts where you ride for a set distance or duration while keeping your heart rate and/or pedal cadence in a certain range. These are akin to what you might do in a spin class, although a good instructor will provide a much more structured experience with intervals.

Both of these depend on having a way for something to measure how fast the pedals are going (cadence) and, optionally, your heart rate. Structured power-based workouts require you to have some way to either measure or estimate how much power you’re putting on the pedals.

Assuming you want to spend as little as possible, here’s what you need to get started with bike trainer workouts:

  1. A bike trainer. This DC Rainmaker article is the canonical list of recommendations for every price range. I got one of the Performance Bike TravelTrac units for about $100. I had borrowed a Kinetic Road Machine and loved it; it is much smoother than the TravelTrac but also costs 2x as much. 
  2. Speed and cadence sensors for your bike. There are two sensor protocols: ANT+ and Bluetooth Low Energy. You may be able to use BLE sensors with your phone and selected software, and it might work with your laptop, depending on what kind of gear you have. ANT+ is much more widely used for these sensors. I have a Wahoo ANT+ speed/cadence combo sensor but Garmin and several other companies make them. (Ignore the price at that link; sensors cost from $35-75 depending on brand).
  3. If you want structured workouts, TrainerRoad or some other training software. TR is $10/month, has a full money-back guarantee, and is very well worth it. TR will calculate what they call “virtual power” based on your pedal cadence, wheel speed, and the type of trainer you have. You will also need an ANT+ USB stick for your laptop so the TrainerRoad app can see your cadence and heart rate data. I use a $17 one from Amazon.
  4. If you want cadence / HR-based workouts, you need some way to see what your cadence and/or heart rate are. You can use a phone app for iOS or Android such as Strava or Wahoo Fit, the TrainerRoad app if you’ve subscribed, or a bike computer or watch that speaks ANT+. Beware that not every ANT+ device can display all types of sensors. For example, the Garmin Forerunner 15 running watch will display ANT+ heart rate data but ignores cycling sensors because it’s a running-only watch.
  5. If you want to gather heart rate data, you’ll need a heart rate monitor. I use the Scosche RHYTHM+ because a) it’s an arm/wrist strap and not a chest strap and b) it can transmit both BLE and ANT+.

There are lots of other ways to spend money on this stuff: there are computer-controlled trainers that adjust the resistance to give you realistic uphill and downhill rides, power meters that measure your power using strain gauges, bike computers that display your cadence, speed, etc. on a handlebar-mounted unit, and so on. But with the basic stuff above (which I’d estimate will cost less than $200 all in) you can get a terrific training experience without leaving your house.

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Universal version of Outlook coming to your phone

Big news from today’s Windows 10 announcement: Microsoft will be shipping a “universal” version of Outlook that works on Windows tablets, phones, and PCs. This is a really interesting move, and not something I expected based on the existence of OWA for Devices (MOWA) on iOS and Android. The universal Outlook uses the universal version of Word as its editing engine, a huge plus because it delivers all the rich formatting tools available on Windows PCs (and which are still, sadly, missing from Mac Outlook, hint hint), and during the demo, Joe Belfiore showed a fluid touch-based interface that nonetheless preserved much of the look and feel of Outlook and OWA.

This announcement raises a lot of interesting questions, though. A partial list, just off the top of my head… (and a disclaimer: I haven’t seen any preview versions of Office 16 so perhaps these are naive questions that have all been well dealt with in the code)

  • Is this new version of Outlook a replacement for, or a complement to, the existing rich Outlook client? In other words, will it be able to do everything that I can do with Outlook 2013 on a Surface Pro 3? If not, what will they leave out?
  • Will this app replace the native WP calendar and contacts app? I’d guess not, given that the People app got a lot of play in today’s announcement.
  • Outlook’s resource requirements would seem to be a poor fit for phones and low-end tablets. I’d imagine that we’ll have sync controls similar to what exist on WP8.1 to allow users to sync a certain amount, but not necessarily all, of their mail, but it’s going to take a lot of optimization to provide acceptable performance on these devices.
  • Will this version of Outlook support on-premises servers? If so, that means it probably won’t rely on MAPI over HTTPS, which isn’t widely deployed. But it’s hard to imagine Outlook built completely on Exchange Web Services.
  • Will the universal Outlook team match the slow release cadence of desktop Office or the faster cadence of, say, the Lync mobile clients? One of the nicest features of OWA for Devices is that new OWA/Office 365 features (such as Clutter and the People view) just automatically show up in MOWA because it’s essentially a container for OWA views. How will the universal Outlook team bake in support for new features as Exchange and Office 365 ship them?
  • Will Exchange ActiveSync-specific features (especially remote device wipe) be included in this version of Outlook? They aren’t included in the existing Outlook family, of course.
    • If the answer is “no, but you can use InTune or Office 365 MDM”, that’s going to displease a lot of existing users. On the other hand, you can’t remotely wipe a desktop Office installation, something which has led several of my customers to block Outlook Anywhere so that people can’t easily use Outlook from personal machines.
    • If the answer is “yes”, then it will be fascinating to see how Outlook interacts with native data such as contacts stored on the device.
  • What does this mean for OWA for Devices? I’d guess that we won’t see Outlook for iOS and Android, but I wouldn’t necessarily rule it out. Maybe we’re headed back to the days of yore, where the premium clients run on Microsoft operating systems, with a sort of best-effort client set for competitors.
  • Is this the logical vehicle for incorporating the technology Microsoft acquired from Acompli? Or is that being baked in somewhere else?
  • When can I get a Surface Hub?

Given the upcoming availability of previews for Windows 10 for phones, I suppose we’ll get the answers to these questions soon.

 

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Training Tuesday: a few odds and ends

No time for a real post this week, so instead you get the dreaded random-list-of-bullets…

  • I’m still loving the Garmin 920xt. After teaching it about my phone’s tethered wifi network, I can now upload workouts from wherever I happen to be, which is handy when I’m on the road. The ability to set high/low alerts for pace and heart rate is very useful too.
  • I’ve been working with Alex Viada and his posse at Complete Human Performance for about six weeks now and I am already seeing some differences that I really like. I thrive on structure so having a training plan to follow works really well for me: I just show up, do whatever workout I’m assigned according to my TrainingPeaks calendar, and call it good.
  • The other day I deadlifted 315 lbs. While this is a small amount in the grand scheme of the powerlifting universe, it was a huge milestone for me. The bar actually bent when I lifted the weight. I had a huge ear-to-ear grin after completing the lift, and it inspired my 13-year-old (who was trying to reverse-psych me before the lift by saying “I don’t think you can do it, Dad”) to hit 135 x 5 for his own deadlift PR. Then I followed that up by setting a new bench PR of 135×2. Headed in the right direction!
  • Last night I had a 45-minute run where my target was to keep my heart rate in zone 2. I set a high/low alert on my watch and kept it right around 150 for a steady 45 minutes without stopping. If you had told me a year ago that I could run 4.5 miles without stopping I would’ve laughed in your face.
  • My Z2 pace is about 10:00/mi, while my flat-out race pace is about 8:30/mi for 5Ks. I need to do some more 10K distances to see what feels good at that distance; I’ll get the opportunity when I start my half-marathon training in a few weeks. My tentative goal for my first half is to get it under 2:15.
  • I need to spend more time in the pool. I always say that, and yet I rarely do it.
  • Working in an office has made it harder for me to consistently eat well. Since we have a full kitchen, this is more of an excuse than an actual problem; I can cook proteins, mix shakes, and so on at work just like I can at home, assuming a) I remember to bring the ingredients and b) my coworkers don’t eat them.
  • Is it triathlon season yet?

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Microsoft sneaks out Mac Outlook update

Good news: Microsoft just issued an updated version of Outlook for Mac. (I guess that’s the official name, as opposed to the older Outlook 2011). The list of fixes is pretty nondescript: you can change calendar colors, add alt-text to images, and use custom AD RMS templates. I suspect most of the effort for this release was actually focused on the “Top crashes fixed” item in the KB article.

Bad news: you have to manually download it from the Office 365 portal. The AutoUpdate mechanism shipped with Office 2011 doesn’t yet know how to handle updates for Outlook for Mac. I suppose Microsoft could either update the Office 2011 AU mechanism or ship a new one as part of a future Outlook update; presumably the latter choice would actually deliver the Office 2015 update mechanism, since there’s undoubtedly going to be one.

The real news here is how quickly Microsoft released this update. While this is only one release, it’s an excellent sign that we got it quickly, and it makes me hopeful that we’ll see a steady stream of updates and fixes for the Mac Office apps in the future— with a cadence more akin to the Lync Mobile clients releases than the glacial pace of past Mac Office updates.

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Training Tuesday: Upgrading to the Garmin Forerunner 920xt

When I saw that Garmin had a new triathlon watch on the way that included an SDK, I thought “hey, that might make a neat upgrade” and ordered one. Unfortunately, production delays dragged the release date out, so I ended up canceling my original order and reordering. I got the new watch about two weeks ago and have been putting it through its paces since. I’ve used it on the bike indoors and out, for outdoor runs, and while weightlifting. It’s also an activity tracker that tracks steps and sleep and uses that data to estimate calorie burn. Here are a few of my thoughts based on my experience so far.

First, IMHO it is ugly compared to the Suunto. That’s partly a result of the white/red color scheme but also because there are lots of little 1970s-style touches (the GARMIN logo, the little red pinstripes around the bezel) that don’t need to be there. It is substantially smaller than the Garmin 910t and about the same thickness as the Suunto. The band is comfortable enough for daily wear.

Paul robichaux net 20141214 001

Side by side, I prefer the appearance of the Suunto.

Setup was very straightforward. I signed up for a Garmin Connect account, plugged in the watch, and that was about it. Suunto requires that you set up most aspects of its watches (including which activity types will be available on the watch) using their web site. This is very flexible, and generally easier than punching buttons on the watch, but it means that you can’t customize anything on the watch itself— a drawback if you get to a race and notice “oops, I forgot to enable open water swim mode” (which I’ve done!)

As typical, the first thing I did with the watch was play with all the settings. For example, at first I thought I’d want the “auto scroll” option on so that the watch would flip through all available data pages. It turns out that auto scroll means whenever I looked at the watch, it was likely to be showing me anything other than the data items I was most interested in at that point in time, so I turned it back off.

A few things I particularly liked:

  • Garmin’s Connect web site is much more attractive and more useful than Suunto’s. I love seeing weather conditions recorded along with my workout. (Take a look at this workout as an example).
  • Being able to set a target pace, then have the watch buzz / beep any time I deviated from it, is a great help. I’m still not quite sure at what interval the watch checks pace.
  • Wireless sync via wifi is brilliant. I was on the street corner outside my house, walking back in, and the watch buzzed to tell me it had uploaded my workout.
  • It was trivial to pair the watch with my bike sensors, my HRM band, and the TrainerRelay feature in TrainerRoad.
  • GPS acquisition seems just as fast as the Ambit 2s, which is noteworthy for its fast sync.

The watch has a few drawbacks, too. I don’t have a phone that works with the 920xt’s Bluetooth features, which means I don’t get notifications on my wrist, can’t use live tracking, and so on. The chances that Garmin will support Windows Phone are just about nil, so I have to decide if I am willing to switch to a supported platform if I want to have these features. The jury is still out; there are lots of things I prefer about WP compared to iOS, and I am loath to give them up just to have wrist notifications. I suppose that’s not the watch’s fault though, especially since the Ambit 2s lacks those features altogether.

Another annoyance: you can’t customize the data fields in the same way that you can with the Suunto. There I was able to set up a custom screen that had exactly the data fields I wanted, no more and no less. On the 920xt it looks like you can enable individual data pages, but you can’t customize the fields that appear in those pages. For example, when cycling I want a page that shows current speed, current cadence, and total distance. The 920xt has all that data, but not in a single page.

There are some things I don’t understand about creating workouts in Garmin Connect and sending them to the watch, too. It looks like the workflow is to log in to GC, create the workout, then plug your watch in for USB sync. When I do this, sometimes I get the workout on the watch and sometimes I don’t. This may be a watch problem, a Mac sync connector problem, a GC problem, or some combination thereof. I haven’t done it enough yet to have a really solid repro case.

The social features of Garmin Connect are poor, too. In fairness they are no worse than Suunto’s, but compared to the features in Strava, MapMyRun, RunKeeper, and Fitocracy, they stink. It’s hard to find friends, to name just one flaw. I’d love to see them fix this in a near-term update.

A few tips for things that were not obvious to me at first:

  • You turn the backlight on by pressing the power button. By default, it shuts back off after 8 seconds. This is adjustable: go to Settings > System > Backlight and you can change the delay. The Ambit 2s had a lock button that you could use to lock the light on; there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent.
  • On the Suunto, you define a multisport activity on the web site, load it to the watch, and transition between activities. You can do that on the Garmin as well, but you can also just switch modes on the watch— so you can go from weightlifting to running to open water swim to cycling all within a single activity. The Garmin Connect web site still seems to have some issues dealing with multi-activity files, or it’s possible that I have something set up wrong.
  • The activity monitor knows when you’re moving your body, but it doesn’t know when you’re unable to move, e.g. sitting in a car in traffic, so it will buzz you anyway. Such is life.

Overall I’m delighted with the watch so far. Garmin has been the gold standard for multi-sport watches and I expect that, as I learn to use it, I’ll get more useful training data from it. The ability to easily do intervals and to track my pace are already making a different. Bring on race season!

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