Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Suunto T3

I haven't reviewed products before, but I have been using a Suunto heart rate monitor for a little over two years, and thought I'd give a report on it. I have a Suunto T3, which I got in October 2007. With it, I have a heart rate sensor, a foot POD for running, a bike POD for the bike, and a PC POD for downloading the data to my computer. Suunto has now upgraded to a -c version, which has added benefits I'll cover below. But I think my experience will apply to the T3c as well.

With the T3 I have heart rate zones established, which I use and track in Training Manager Lite (Suunto), and also in Training Peaks. I generally use the autolap feature, set at one-mile intervals, which I use to benchmark and compare performance over time. There is an interval feature in the T3 which can be used to warm up, then train at set intervals, with an alarm tone sounding for each transition. For me though, the alarm is too quiet, and at a tone too high for me to hear well at all, unless I'm in a quiet room and it is near my head. I think the issue is my hearing, and not the watch.

The recent logs (fifteen most recent) are easy to call up, and I like the built-in summaries (this week, last week, and monthly going back six months). You can quickly see summaries for distances (running POD, bike POD, GPS POD) and calories. If you want more specific summaries or data, you can simply look in Training Manager Lite.

The T3 tracks calories burned, which helps assuage the guilt for eating certain things. I can't evaluate the accuracy, but I have read it may be underestimating by 10-20% (cool!).
Triathlon transition - easy to use, just quickly cycle the watch (press a button three times) and the watch picks up the foot pod and says you are running. Once the foot POD is on, it overrides the bike POD.

The training effect feature allows you to use the watch to set an intensity level target, but I tend to use it as and after workout evaluation of what I did.

Someone who works for me was shopping for a heart rate monitor, and asked me about Garmin. I told him about my experience with Suunto, after which he purchased a Suunto T3c, which has some added features, including bicycle cadence, pace data, and a button lock. I found much of this while I was helping him set up heart rate zones.

I really like this watch, and it just fuels my desire to upgrade to a newer model, either a T3c, or maybe even a T6c, which I can use to easily upload data to Training Peaks. I have been considering it for some time, but cannot justify the expense, given my T3 is working just fine. With the addition of the above features (especially the cadence and pace features), I am really tempted to upgrade. Now if I can just get the Mrs. to understand that I need this... And some Zipp race wheels... And more destination events…

Battery life - I usually don't wait for things to stop working, though I have found the shoe POD battery (AAA) gives me little warning before the battery is too weak (the light blinks quickly meaning change battery NOW). The HRM and watch use a CR2032 (conveniently available in two-packs at Wal-Mart). For me, I change the watch battery after every other HRM battery change. It may be premature, but I do this a couple of weeks before my spring and fall marathons, as I don't want to find out about battery life at that time.

HRM - The strap is comfortable, and clean-up is simple (I rinse the unit and strap in the shower, and wash the strap in the machine with my workout gear when I do laundry). As for accuracy, my great uncle was looking for a HRM that he could use in addition to a tabletop unit he has been using for many years (he has had heart surgery). We compared the results and they were the same, giving some validation to the accuracy. I have used this indoor at a gym, and at every race, including some very large races (Big Sur marathon), and with the many other HRMs around, never had an issue with interference.

Foot pod - over 2000 miles accurate (compared to G-Map), recalibrate with new shoes, maybe once halfway through shoe life (200 miles), marathon showed 26.5 miles, accuracy issues when running strides, or other intervals with unusual strides.

Bike pod - accurate, compared to G-map. Turns on automatically. Really nothing to say, other than it works, and is nearly transparent.

GPS POD - I do not have this item, as I have both shoe and bike PODs. I considered it, but it seemed redundant. Additionally, I don't think these types of GPS units are as accurate or responsive for this purpose (I base this on performance of friend's Garmin GPS).

Training Manager Lite - Very easy to use. Simply plug in the PC POD (USB) and press a button on the watch. It will download in less than a minute, after which you can name the workouts, make notes, and analyze the data. The detailed graphs are good visual representations of the workouts, but it's important that you either have the Autolap feature on, or you manually hit the lap button.

Warranty - My heart rate sensor started acting strange (giving strange readings, then jumping to normal). I sent it in for repair, and it was replaced under warranty. It took a few weeks to get the replacement, but I was very happy to have a replacement and pleased with the process with Suunto.

Friday, January 8, 2010


I'm tired of the cold weather. It isn't that I don't like cold weather; I just don't like being cold. And due to global warming and climate change, it has been cold for many weeks. It has been low to mid teens more days than usual, and I don't really care to run outside when it goes below 20. I'll do it, especially since I have been desperate to hit the road, given my complete lack of physical activity for some time (my pants are getting tighter). I have gone out for a few runs this month, but there has been ice in the streets, which I don't care to run on, especially when combined with sub-20 weather. I tried to run at Ft. Harrison this week, only to be defeated by strong wind and light snow – I was freezing, then burning up when I turned back. I should just accept it and hit a treadmill. And my bike trainer (though my garage has been quite cold as well).

I really don't mind weather in the 20s. 25-30 would be great. I actually prefer it to the wet spring weather, as this causes muddy dog feet that need to washing every time they go out. Especially Bandit: being a German shepherd he is lower to the ground and trots around getting his legs and entire undercarriage muddy, every single time he goes out. At least Sadie has ground clearance. So, frozen ground and snow = cleaner dogs. I just want clear, dry streets.

So, while I whine about the weather and make excuses for not training, I look at a list of potential races and think about how the April opportunities will not work unless I get my butt moving very soon. I'm looking at a spring marathon somewhere in April-May, and have considered St. Louis, Nashville, Cincinnati, or Illinois. I have heard St. Louis is a nice race, but it is the earliest of these (4/11), and I'm not sure how motivated I am to get started yesterday. Nashville (4/24) would be cool, as I can visit dad and heard it's a great race, especially now that it's a Rock & Roll brand. But the down side is with the new branding, the entry fee is a bit high ($30-40 more than others). I like expos and races with good schwag, but for that much more I can just buy stuff. Illinois (5/1) might be cool, and then there is The Flying Pig in Cincinnati (5/2). These races are nearly a month later, allowing more time to prepare. I'm a bit torn on the Cincinnati. I didn't have a good experience there last year (which I wrote about HERE), and I seem to recall telling myself I would try a different spring marathon in 2010. So why am I even considering it? I don't know. Maybe it's a way to beat it. It was hillier than I thought, but that's what training is for.

Besides the spring marathon, I'm looking at an April sprint triathlon too, but unless I get started again and quickly, I should just save my entry fee for later races. For the season, I have been looking at about two races per month, a mix of duathlons and triathlons, with a bike time trial thrown in for fun. I'm considering the Muncie Endurathon for this year, but I will hedge that until I have a solid training plan to which I can commit.