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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Misfit Flash in for Review

Today the postman dropped off a new product which turned out to be the Misfit Flash. I have been looking forward to playing with the Flash ever since Misfit announced it earlier this year. The big selling point of the Flash is all of the my detailed review of the Misfit Shine (Review).
Misfit Shine's functionality at a retail price of only $50! That is a lot of features for a not very large price tag. I don't think anything else in that price range will come close to rivaling the Flash. Now the Flash builds upon the platform that was already established with the Shine so in many ways it is just the Shine repackaged to lower the price. It still uses the same Misfit app and has much of the Shine's functionality. So here is a link to

Physically the biggest change from the Shine to the new Flash is the hardware of the device. The aircraft grade aluminum of the Shine has been replaced with plastic for the Flash. I am actually not disappointed with the plastic body of the Flash at all. Apples to apples I prefer the aluminum but then again it costs twice as much. Now one HUGE change that I love is that the Flash has a physical button for clicking on the device. The whole face of the Flash is the button so one click down will display your % towards your step goal using the clock style 12 lights. Which I should note are now red instead of white which I really like. Three clicks on the face will engage one of the Flash's activity tracking modes such as swimming, cycling, basketball, or soccer. Which mode is activated will be controlled by the Misfit app.

Now outside of the changes the Flash still uses a coin battery like the Shine. So that means you will get 4-6 months of usage without charging the Flash. When the battery runs out your can just replace it with another for a couple of bucks, pretty easy. Also the Flash is still waterproof to 30 meters which covers just about every aquatic scenario I think most people will encounter. The Flash like the Pulse can be worn anywhere on the body via the sport band or the belt clip although you can also just throw it in your pocket if that is your style. One appeal to many users of the new Flash will be in the increased number of color options with 7 rather colorful varieties to choose from. I guess the days of just black or white are gone!

One of the big changes (for the better) is the packaging of the Flash. Clearly some costs have to be cut to half the devices price tag and I feel like packing is a pretty painless area. It still works well and as you all know I am a big fan of proportional packaging. The Flash's packaging is just less elaborate than the Shine's was. In the box you will get the Flash device, the sport wristband, a belt clip, and instructions. The instructions are brief but then again they don't need to be too detailed given that operating the Flash is pretty much mindless.

The sport band and belt clip have seen a pretty large redesign for the Flash. It clearly was done to decrease costs as the built quality is not at the same level as the Shine's. On the other hand the Flash not fits into the pieces from the back so it does seem like it will be harder to lose the Flash. I had my Shine fall out on a couple of occasions. I am not sure if the cheaper quality will make much of a difference but definitely something I will see over time. Again there are trade offs
when you bring down the cost of a device.

All in all I thin the Flash is a great move for Misfit. I think we are going to see a two way split in the activity tracker market. On one hand there will be smart connected devices like the Garmin Vivofit that display cell phone notifications and such; which will compete with the new Apple Watch. On the other hand there will be a new wave of budget focused activity trackers to directly compete with cheap or more likely free apps available for smartphones. I think the days of $130 activity trackers are over due to the pressure of free apps but I think there will still exist a market for budget devices like the Flash at around $50. Especially if Misfit can continue to build out features for swim, cycling, & sleep tracking; an area that free phones app have been unable to compete so far. Anyways I will get to thoroughly testing the Misfit Flash so that I can deliver one of my overly detailed reviews. In the meantime feel free to check out Misfit Wearables site for more info on the Flash and to pre-order.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Olympic Road Race Format - Throwback Post

Picture: CXMagazine.com
Given that the UCI World Championships just recently happened it reminded me of two articles I originally wrote a LONG time ago.  One was my article on national teams versus trade teams which I already posted here (National Teams at the World Championships) but the other one was this article here.  Yes, I get it’s about the Olympic road race but at the end of the day that format is almost identical to the world championships format so I am calling it relevant.  Granted how teams qualify for riders isn’t but it is the same in that different nations qualify different numbers of riders for both the world championships and the Olympics.  Oh by the way huge congrats to Michal Kwiatkowski and the whole polish team for that gutsy win.  Definitely hard earned!  But enjoy this throwback article.

Picture: SteepHill.tv
Now it is quite possible that I am still to new to cycling myself to fully understand it but the Olympic road race does not make any sense to me.  Obviously there are significant differences between the Olympic road race and traditional bike races but the format doesn’t really make sense at all.  I feel like the format is caught between trying to pacify two different stances on cycling and therefore does a poor job at both.  My big problem is that I feel the Olympic road race can’t decide if it wants to be a team or individual event.
           
To me cycling is a team sport plain and simple Wiggins didn’t win in Paris, Team Sky did.  Now, I don’t think anyone would really disagree wholesale with that but there is room for slightly differing views.  I prefer watching stage races and grand tours so I come from a much more team oriented position within the sport.  Lots of people love to watch the spring classics that are one day races where the emphasis is more on the individual, although any winner will still say that his team was still key in winning of the race.
           
However, the very structure of the Olympic road race makes it extremely confusing to me.  Some teams qualify with a full Olympic compliment of 5 riders, compared to the 9 in the Tour de France; where as other smaller nations will get 1, 2, or 4 riders.  If the event is a team event why even bother giving a nation only 1 or 2 riders?  It is worse than pointless if you would argue that it is a team event.  Furthermore, if it is a team event 5 seems an extremely small number especially when compared to traditional team sizes in UCI World Tour events.  Therefore I would argue that the Olympic road race tries to satisfy both points of view, that it is a team event and that it is an inclusive event that could allow a small country with only rider to win, yet does a bad job at both!


There is a solution to the problems and that is changing the team sizes.  Either every qualifying nation should get the same number of riders presumably three so that variances in team strategies will be determined by a team’s riders not the number of riders.  There is an alternative which is to field larger team of 7 or 8.  The World Championships use larger teams so why can’t the Olympics?  If I recall correctly from watching the road race there were only like 160 riders in the race which really isn’t all that many as the Tour de France fields almost 200.  Either idea, smaller or larger teams, is a valid option but one or the other should be pursued over the current format.  I can embrace either view but the current setup is a compromise of views that creates a worst of all situation.  There was no way Team Great Britain could have brought this year’s race to a sprint finish and it only gave false expectations to think they could with 5 riders.  If they had a full compliment of 8 riders Team Great Britain could have done it or if they had only 3 riders they would have pursued a different strategy from the outset.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Email Newsletter

I am getting ready to start an email newsletter from Jarredscycling.com so you'll have just one more way to get all of the super important info I create. In the event you don't consider it to be super important but maybe you'll find it at least entertaining. To sign up for the weekly newsletter fill out the form below or the form in the sidebar to the right.

Thanks again!



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

My Triathlon Transition Bag

Sadly no, Nike is not a sponsor
To go along with my post about my Triathlon Finish Bag aka the Sparkly Bag (link) that posted last week here is my post about what goes into my triathlon transition bag. Now this is the bag that I actually carry into transition and where all of my gear goes that I will either set up in transition or wear during the race. As it is set up below though is for sprint triathlons as I haven't done anything longer this year. So obviously that means less water bottles and food than for someone doing a longer triathlon.

Shoes - My transition bag has three compartments. The main compartment, a front pocket, and then a side compartment that takes up spaces in the main area but is separated by fabric and accessed through the side of the bag rather than the top. This is where I store both my cycling shoes and my running shoes as it keeps the main compartment at least a little more clean. My tri shoes go on the bottom with the cleats down and then my running shoes fit right over the top of them to occupy the rest of the space. At home I always change my normal laces out for speed laces on my running shoes if they are not already on there.

Main Compartment

The main compartment on my bag is where most of the junk I take to a triathlon goes. Starting from the bottom up here is what I packed for Tri at the Lake.

Extra Cycling Gear - Because there was a possible cold start at the bottom of my bag I pack any additional but not normal cycling apparel. This time that included a long sleeve tech shirt, cycling arm warmers, and my gilet (rain vest). These are not normal pieces of gear but are extras in case they are needed due to low temperatures on the bike leg.

Swim Gear - This includes my swim goggles, a spare strap, and a spare swim cap. Most Basically every race gives you a cap but I have heard of the odd duck that doesn't so I feel it is better to be prepared. Also, I would never want to really ruin my swim by breaking the strap right before the event start. Spare straps are like 99 cents so it just seems prudent to always have a spare handy. And goggles are kind of just a given right?

Sunglasses & Run Stuff - I always store my sunglasses back in their hard case that came included when I purchased them to prevent them from being smashed to pieces in my bag. Along with them I also throw my race number belt and my running hat into about the same area of my bag. I always take with me a running hat mostly because it keeps the sweat out of my face but it does also offer some protection from the sun. Honestly it only takes like 2 seconds to grab on my way to the run out so I usually end up wearing it.

Electronic Goods - I can usually be a little top heavy here given that I might be testing various products although at Tri at the Lake I had a rather normal load being the end of the season. I used the Sigma Rox 10.0 as my cycling computer with the Stages Power Meter already on the bike. I then started my swim wearing both the Wahoo TICKR X and my Garmin Forerunner 220 for heart rate and my run times. Considering both are waterproof I prefer to wear them throughout the entire race plus the TICKR X does record and save my heart rate during the swim. But just to make sure I don't lose anything all of this is stored in my transition bag and put onto me or the bike when I am setting up. It just prevents me forgetting something or knocking it off while loading or unloading my bike.

Tri Top - Because I don't just love wearing around triathlon gear and I prefer to stay comfy as long as possible I usually only wear my tri shorts to the actual event. Putting those on at the site is just much more complicated than putting on a tri top. So I just throw my tri top in my bag and put my heart rate monitor and top on when I am done setting up my transition area.

Towels - At the very top of my bag I pack two towels. The first is a large bath sized towel that I fold in half and lay down on the ground to make the base of my transition set up. That way I can step on it to clean my feet but it also serves to keep all of my other stuff off of the ground. The second towel is much smaller about the size of a hand towel which I used to clean my feet quickly in each transition as well as to wipe my arms down if it is a little colder out. I have found that a small towel works much better for this purpose than a full sized towel which is both overkill and a space waster. The towels are packed in last because they form the base of my transition set up. So the first thing out of the bag is the last thing in!


Front Pocket

Food - also known as energy gels and gummies. I usually throw 2-3 of each in there just so I have them but I usually only have one energy gel about 20 minutes before starting a sprint triathlon. I just feel like more isn't really necessary for a sub 90 minute effort. Clearly with a longer event you would use more. But to be safe I do always lay at least one gel out in my transition are just in case I am feeling a little drained after either the swim or the bike. Also, if I traveled the night before and didn't stay at home I throw in a couple pouches of Starbucks Via coffee just in case I am craving my coffee fix and there is none to be had.

ID & License - One of the most important parts for triathlon, I have my Driver's License and my triathlon license which are usually both required to pick up your packet. I store them in the outside pocket so that I can easily get to them and it also means I don't have to carry around my wallet with me.

Rubber Bands - No transition bag is complete without some little rubber bands! These are what I use to keep my left shoe up in the right position so that I can quickly mount by stepping down on it. Now finding the right rubber bands can actually be pretty difficult as they need to be strong enough to not break holding the shoe up there but then not so strong so that once you start pedaling they don't snap. Whenever I find some that work I usually try to hoard them so in the outer pocket of my transition bag you will always find some little rubber bands.

Water Bottles - Lastly there is a side mesh pocket where I store two water bottles. One has Skratch Labs Lemons & Limes drink mix in it and will go on to my bike. The other bottle has just plan water and it will sit at my transition area in case I need it to spray down my feet after the swim. To keep them straight I use two completely different bottles

Helmet - My helmet gets clipped onto the should strap of my bag as there really isn't room for it inside the bag. Plus whenever you enter transition your bike will be checked to verify it is within the rules and your helmet will also be checked. Therefore it just strikes me as easier to keep the helmet out and accessible rather than to rummage through my bag trying to pull it out at the transition entrance.

So that is about it! Not to long of a list for a sprint triathlon and a lot of it is more about having extras or doubles than really the gear you have to have. If you are a first time triathlete you can get by on a lot less than you think.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Tri at the Lake Race Recap

Last Sunday I finished my last triathlon of the season, Tri at the Lake, in Heber Springs. I can't say I am completely thrilled with my results as my time was worse than the CATS Sprint Triathlon just a couple of weeks before. Although I did improve my placing by winning my age group; I'll just neglect to tell you all how many people were in my age group. I do wonder why turnout was so low for the race this year with only about half the number of participants versus previous years.

Travel to Heber Springs

Being that Heber Springs is around 90 minutes from Little Rock Nicole and I were not overly enthusiastic at the idea of waking up around 4:30am to drive to the triathlon. Luckily my parents came to the rescue as they decided they wanted to watch my race but were going to make a weekend of it by getting a cabin in Heber Springs. It is kind of a small resort esque town with a nice golf course and they LOVE to golf! Their condo rental had a pull out couch so they invited Nicole and I to come up the night before so that we didn't have to drive. I haven't slept on a pull out couch in years and now I remember why but it probably beat the 4:30am wake up. So we drove up to Heber Springs late Saturday night after we both got off of work arriving around 9pm or so. After we spent some time catching up with my parents it was off to an early bed time around 10:30pm because even without the drive we were still looking at a 6am wake up; definitely early by our standards!

Pre-Race

My parents picked a great cabin located about only 5 miles away from the transition area. Literally the bike course went by the location and it went further than the cabin was. I could get used to that part. So a short 10 minute drive got us to the location where we were parked by members of the national guard. The packet pick up line was non-existent so I grabbed my packet along with some race goodies. Then a quick stop at the chip timing table for my ankle timing chip and it was off to transition.

For some reason the volunteers at this race were a little over eager and refused to allow Nicole into the transition even though it hadn't been a problem two weeks before at the CATS Sprint Triathlon which was like three times the size. I grabbed a spot on the middle rack about halfway down which gave me quit a bit of room as the racks didn't completely fill up. I then set into my usual tasks of getting everything laid out and ready for transition.

Setting up next to me was a really nice lady who was doing her very first triathlon! I'm not exactly sure it is the wisest course to choose for one's first triathlon as the both the run and bike courses are rather lumpy and the bike course includes one monster of a hill: the Bayview Heights Climb. The Strava segment lists it at 0.6 miles long with an average gradient of 9%. But the real leg killer is the first section where the gradient tips up to 25%!!!!!!!! But she asked my advice on a few things so I guess I must look knowledgeable on the topic of triathlon although I'm not really sure how that can be really.

The head referee was nice enough to help me place my bike frame number on my bike which I really appreciated! I usually don't take a flat kit with me on a sprint course but the roads around Heber Springs are a little rough so I opted to keep my saddle bag which made putting my number there difficult so he showed me a way to rig it to my toptube and downtube. After that was all done I headed out of transition to meet my family and then listened to the pre-race info. Then it was down to the beach for the swim start.

Swim - 500 yds. 10:35

I think this had to be one of the more imposing short swim courses as the first buoy was 200 yards straight across the lake. It literally looked like you would have to swim most of the way across the little channel before turning. But the entire race started as one wave given that the participation was so low. Although the water was cool enough that wetsuits were legal I don't own one so I was kind of out of luck. Honestly it is probably one of only 2ish races all year in Arkansas that are wetsuit legal so I just can't justify spending money on a wetsuit.  Luckily water temperatures were still in the mid 70's so actually pretty comfortable; warmer than it was outside.

I started towards the front of the far side of the start line so that I wasn't in the middle of the scrum. This swim was much more serene than the CATS tri as I only ran into one other person although in hindsight maybe that helped me focus less on how much my arms hurt. It seemed like ages before I finally hit the first buoy and after making the turn I headed off for what I thought was the 3rd buoy. Luckily I was a little suspicious of its position so when I raised my head to sight again I figured out it was actually the third buoy I was heading to. But being so early and such a funny shaped course it really didn't put me off course by much. After the minor correction I rounded the second buoy to head towards the beach. The final buoy just guided you in and you didn't actually have to round it.

After I swam up to the beach I realized how much finishing on an actual beach completely sucks. The sand just sucks at your feet making it all but impossible to do more than just trot. Most triathlons I have done lay a carpet down for the swim exit but not here it was right up through the sand. As you can see from the pictures I was not particularly enthusiastic about it.

Transition 1 - 01:22.

The run through to the transition area seemed exceptionally long but once I made it there I set in grabbing my stuff. I am usually pretty quick in transitions just grabbing my sunglasses and helmet before heading out. This time I took the time to spray off my feet with my spare water bottle to try and get as much of the sand off as possible. Although this did have an unintended consequence of making it hard to mount my bike.

See when I stepped down on the left shoe and mounted smoothly at a light jog I thought I was looking good. I could tell I overtook a couple of people in the transition alone but then my feet just kept slipping off of my triathlon shoes. Every time I went to peddle that foot slipped off. I am guessing it was due to them being so wet still because it has never happened before. This made it really hard to get any sort of speed built up so I just kind of wobbled down the road until I managed to get both feet in and start picking up some speed. It definitely slowed down the first minute or so of my bike leg.

Bike - 13.5 Miles 48:11

After I finally managed to get my feet in my shoes and I could actually pedal the bike course got going properly. The first 5 miles of the course were rolling and although I could just tell I didn't have great power I did okay for that period. I averaged 18.7 mph on 196 watts. So probably about 20 watts below what I should have had but not horrible.

That all ended with the climb up Bayview Heights! There is no way around it that climb is a beast and sucks to be the halfway point for the course. The bottom section is so steep at 20-25% that it just completely kills your legs. Before I had been on the climb 30 seconds I was down in my lowest gear, out of the saddle just trying to keep some semblance of forward movement. That section sent my heart rate up to 195 bpm and I averaged 377 watts to go just 6.7mph!!! It was literally a wall! After the first switchback turn the gradient lightens up but still maintains an average for the entire climb of 9%. Normally I should have managed a much higher speed up the second half of the climb but after that first section I was content to just keep moving forward. Up ahead of me a guy got off of his bike and literally walked up the climb which seemed oh so tempting but I pushed on to crest the climb. Not long after the climb is the halfway turnaround point although of course you go slightly downhill to reach it so that there is still some climbing to do on the second half of the course. For the entire climb I averaged 277 watts.

After the turnaround it was nice to go down the big ass hill but sadly without knowing the route a little better I didn't feel comfortable just completely hauling down it. Which kind of sucks given that I was on a road bike and it was an opportunity to pick up time on the tri bikes. On my way down I passed quite a few people struggling up and I definitely wanted to give them my sympathy!

For the back half of the course I did pretty well at keeping my power and speed up somewhere reasonable although the hill did some damage. My power fell to an average of 180 watts for the flat section on the way back in. But I must have had a tailwind as my average speed was 18.8 mph.

For the entire bike leg it took me 48 minutes and 11 seconds which comes out to an average speed of 17.3 mph at 187 watts average. I can't say I was thrilled with my bike time given that at the CATS tri I actually rode an additional 1.5 miles but did it almost 2 minutes faster! I guess there is just no accounting for huge hills.

Transition 2 - 00:44

This went much better coming off of the bike then getting on. I pulled my feet out a couple hundred yards from the line and pedaled with my feet on top of my shoes the rest of the way. No issues here with my feet slipping off which is why I think the T1 issues were due to my feet being wet. I probably jumped off of my bike a tad earlier than I needed to due to the exuberant flagging of an over eager volunteer at the dismount line. No biggie I don't exactly think I'm in the competition group where a couple of feet matter but it was kind of funny!

Running to find my bike spot I did make my only mistake in T2 which was to accidentally stop one rack short of my spot. So my mind quickly turned to outright fury at the thought of my bike rack spot being stolen. Seconds later I quickly realized that my bike rack had not been stolen and that instead I stopped one rack short! So a quick step down a little further and I was back at MY bike spot which surprisingly was unoccupied. After that I grabbed my shoes and my running hat; then it was on to the running course.

Run - 3.5 miles 28:13

There wasn't a whole lot to the run as the field was pretty well spaced out so much to the point that I didn't pass anyone and only two people passed me. And that wasn't due to my "terrific" run speed. The course was a lollipop design so a long straight run out followed by a little loop and a long straightaway back to the finish. Surprisingly so given the area the course was a little as I like to say: Lumpy! Pretty much the entire course was either uphill or downhill.

My run pace was pretty much completely off of my normal pace. My first mile was pretty slow at 8:01 and I even slowed down a little bit more on the second mile down to 8:24. Not exactly race pace in my mind but hey I made it. For the last mile I did manage to at least sty the bleeding on my pace by increasing it marginally to 8:22 for the last mile.

All in all it was a very slow run but towards the end of it I was just happy to actually finish the run!

Total Time - 01:29:07

I was a little disappointed with time given that it was almost a full 7 minutes slower than my time a couple weeks earlier at the CATS Sprint Triathlon. To be fair the courses didn't even compare but then again I did at least improve my placing from 2nd to 1st. It isn't quit as satisfying to win a 2 man age group and I would rather finish 2nd or 3rd out of a larger group but a podium is a podium! I really appreciated Nicole assuming her usual Sherpa/Soigner duties and carrying all of my junk! I really don't get how I could go about doing triathlons without her help. Definitely a lot of work and hugely appreciated.

It was also nice having my parents there to cheer me on as well. I definitely know it is a little tough getting up so early in the morning and spending their day out in the cold watching me run around all day. Plus they treated us to breakfast afterwards although I'm pretty sure it was a pretty um "rural" location given they didn't accept credit/debit cards. Might be some tax fraud there or they just for some unknown reason find them just overly complicated.

Bike


Run 

 
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