Tri.with.me

thoughts from a new triathlete

RunSaturday vs. Beginner Triathlete

Posted by triwithme on June 28, 2009

I have been refraining from writing my own training log website because there are so many in existance.  I have not found one that is 100% what I want in a training log tool.  I have used several desktop applications and have not been bowled over by them.  However, I have been using web-based apps with some success. One in particular, RunSaturday, with much enthusiasm, and another (by request of my training group leader), BeginnerTriathlete, with much chagrin.  As such, I shall compare them on the things I deem important as a (newbie) triathlete, software designer, gadget enthusiast, and super-user of the internet.**

For this review, I look at two websites:  RunSaturday and BeginnerTriathlete

1. Usability & Navigation

Perhaps the most obvious question when I try to learn a new tool is “Can I figure out how to do what I need to do without consulting the directions?”.  I consider myself an above-average technology-proficient person, and as such, since most sites are built for the average user, I should generally be able to get around without much trouble and figure out how to use the site’s basic functionality without much help. The basic functionality of these sites is to be able to load up all my training data into one place and to then be able to analyze it, look at it, and feel like I am one heck of an amazing human being for all that I do. 🙂  After that, it is good to connect with friends and be able to share workout info with others.

Run Saturday, I give props to on this.  I was able to register, login, and upload my data from both my old nike+ account and my garmin 305 without much hassle or configuration.  I did run into problems with the garmin plugin using Safari 4, but I think it is a Garmin issue, and not a RunSaturday issue. I fixed it by using a different browser (Firefox), and all is well with the world.  I found the friend page, and saw that I had a wall (similar to facebook), to which the creator of the site posted a personal welcome message to me within a few hours of me joining. Adding a friend is no big deal, just clicking a link and that’s it.

Beginner Triathlete, I had no problem registering, but past that, it was very hard to figure out where to add things and what I needed to do.  It’s layout is busy busy busy and the ads steal your attention away from what is actually important. I spent 10 minutes trying to figure out how to add info to my training log from my garmin, and turns out you have to PAY for it to do it directly, so I must enter all the numbers manually (and there are a lot of numbers). I don’t have the time or money for that mess, so I will likely use this site for the 12 weeks I’m training with the group and then get the heck out because it’s clunky and takes more effort to enter info than the benefit.  You don’t get graphs for free, either.

The other part of usability is Navigation.  Both sites are a bit clunky, but RunSaturday is the clear winner because once you’ve found what you need, it is not listed in different places that aren’t consistent in the destination.  For example, BT has two links called “Training Log”, one graphical and one textual.  Well, the graphical version takes you to your expected destination of your training log, but the textual one takes you to articles discussing the log (or something).  Misleading and confusing, both.  My thoughts with RS is that I probably would have put links in different places, but that’s a difference in how people think as opposed to being confusing and overwhelming.

Winner:  RunSaturday

2. Price

RunSaturday is completely free.  Beginner Triathlete is partially free, but if you want anything more than a spot in the database table, such as graphs and garmin uploads, it will cost you at least $50 a year, up to $170/year for the most all-inclusive package.

I guess for me to pay for something, especially a subscription based something, I need to like it very very much and plan on using it for the duration of the subscription. And, there needs to not be an equivalent (or better) option that is cheaper (or free).

Winner:  RunSaturday

3. Compatibility

Compatibility with training gadgets is important to me.  I’ve used Nike+, Polar, and now Garmin for tracking my runs/bikes/swims, and I like to be able to see all my stuff in the same place.

RS:  I can upload from SportTracks, Garmin, Polar, Nike+, Nokia, or I can upload by directly entering information.

BT:  The free version only allows directly entering information, but I *could* pay for the ability to suck it off my Garmin automagically.

Winner:  RunSaturday

4. Shareability

Being able to show off my progress, brag about the miles I’ve covered, encourage non-triathletes to get off the couch and start moving, or compare stats among my friends requires that I be able to share my data.

BT allows friends to see your “training blog” if they are part of the BT userbase and identified as your friend.

RS allows friends to see your training data, but it also allows you to share via Twitter, facebook, or a number of other social networking outlets.  For example, I upload to RS and tell it to tweet my workouts, and it adds the info to my twitter feed that then displays on this here blog.

Winner:  RunSaturday

5. Futurability

When thinking of a training log, I want to be able to use it for a good long while, somewhat like a Maytag Washer and Dryer…you expect it to work for years to come.  As such, I believe software much be developed in such a way to provide a sustainable product even though gadgets, internet browsers, operating systems, etc, may change.

I cannot say where the future of sites like these are, but I can say that BT seems to be focused on making money off of you and RS seems to be focused on providing a helpful service to fellow athletes.  However, I do know that RS has provided a data access api where I could go and create my own applications and suck in data from my account in RS’s database.  (At least that’s what the developer made it sound like.) If I absolutely cannot live without some analysis feature, I could write it myself and plug-in to the website.  I like that open mindset among developers, and I think that will payoff in RS’s future.  I have no idea how BT works on the inside of it’s system, but if they aren’t willing to suck data in from my garmin for free, odds are there is no way to freely access my own data off their system.

Winner:  RunSaturday

————————————————————————————-

**In all fairness, I should probably note that I have only been using BT for less than a week and my frustration level with it is what is motivating me to write this entry.  As such, my review, although I tried to base it in objective fact, could be skewed by my subjective opinion that RS is by far superior to BT.

***I am also aware that some may disagree with me or value other aspects in their training log software tools or find my analysis unscientific and statistically insignificant.  As long as you find what works for you, I don’t care if you agree with me.

****Lastly, I do realize there are a lot of tools out there that I do not use or know about. There could be something better than what I have found, and if you have found it, I would be glad to hear about it.  One of my friends uses The Daily Mile and likes it pretty well.  I haven’t had a chance to use that one, but perhaps in the future I will review it as well.

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Flats & Hills (and another $75)

Posted by triwithme on June 26, 2009

So a delayed post about my award-winning ride about a week and a half ago now…~16 miles, 2 flats, and that really stinking awesome hill that I mentioned before on Turkey Mountain.  We were aiming for a 20+ miler, but about 6 miles in I took a curve too fast, almost landed on my side, and ended up flattening my tire.  Of course, I’ve never had a flat before, so I didn’t realize it was flat for another 100 yards or so.  So I weakened the sidewalls of my tire doing that, which I think added salt to the wound of the second flat.  We spent about 20-30 minutes fixing flat #1, and got it all back on and continued our journey down to Turkey Mountain.

ChartImg.axd

Riding with Craig meant we had to go up the hill if we’re going to ride that far down.  So I started pedaling fast in my big gear, trying to rev up for the upcoming climb I knew was coming.  Unfortunately I turned it on a bit too early and was not as fresh as I wanted to be at the bottom of the hills.  But I was smart this time and put the front gear on the middle ring instead of being naive and trying to power down the gears and popping off my chain again.  I made it up the first one, not quite in granny gear by the end, and geared it back up to start the second hill.  I was definitely in granny gear on that one, and quite excited there was no one out there to witness my sweet climbing skills because it was like a drunk elephant trying to weave through traffic.  It was not very pretty, but I made it!  I made it to the top, and was enough ahead of the other two I was riding with that my breathing was almost back to non-embarrassing levels by the time they finished climbing up.  Going down was much more fun, but I was a bit more cautious because it was curving and I had already flatted once.

Well, as Julie always says, flats seem to happen in two’s.  So about halfway back from the hills, I did something, I think simultaneously hit a sharp rock at the same time I was hitting a dip in the road, and it punctured the tire and tube, and I heard the rotating “psssssss…….pssssss……..pssssssss” sound as the tire exhaled through the hole and passed under my fork.  I think it’s the fork.  It’s the part that attaches to the front wheel. So I stopped, noticed my tire had a divot in it, I guess where the impact was, and that the pressure was rapidly approaching zero in my front tire.  So we flipped the bike, and prepared to change it again.  Except this time, the sidewalls started warping and doing some kind of funky dance as though to say they did not want to be ridden on any more.  We got it all back on after much sweat and grit, and plugged in the C02 cartridge and the tire did not want to inflate without the tube coming out of the tire.  We tucked it all back in and tried it again, but it did not want to behave.  So we got it aired up maybe to 75 or 80 psi (my normal is about 120psi) and I rolled home very carefully and tried to imagine myself being supported by helium balloons so that my tire wouldn’t be so encumbered.  I made it, even though it meant cutting our ride a little short.  Broke all 3 of my flimsy plastic tire levers, used 2 spare tubes, 3 C02 cartridges, and lost about an hour of our wednesday night riding time.

The next day, I went to the store, and restocked my flat kit and got my tire replaced.  Of course they did not have a matching tire, but I am trying to get over the non-matching tire aspect of my bike.  I didn’t realize a flat would be so expensive, it ended up costing me about $75 all said and done (ugh!):

  • 3 C02 cartridges @ $3.50 each
  • 3 tubes (one in the tire, 2 spares) @ $5.99 each
  • 1 tire @ $29.99
  • 2 higher-quality tire levers @ $3.99
  • labor @ $6.00

But as all those credit card commercials say, the result is priceless.  The wind in my face, the ground whooshing by, riding miles on end, clearing my head, proving to myself I can do things I previously thought impossible or daunting, and all the other things that go with biking are absolutely priceless to me.  I enjoy running, but I love biking.  Swimming, too.  And I am getting stronger and healthier, and running doesn’t hurt me anywhere close to as much as it did several months ago. In fact, I have been able to run without knee braces for a couple months now. (Yay!)

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30 miles and 50 bucks

Posted by triwithme on June 17, 2009

Last Saturday me and my biking buddy Julie went on our longest ride EVER…34 miles!   It was fantastic.  Yet a little boring because we were looping around about a 10 mile loop, so we kept seeing the same people over and over.  We did however, almost get hit by a mower because the city believes saturday mornings are great times to mow the sides of the trail.

We got to mile 10 and had gone on a trail we hadn’t been on before and ran into a mountain.  Seriously I thought it was going straight up, and I looked at map my ride for an approximate elevation calculation and found one place where it said it was a 7-8% grade and another that puts it more at a 2-3% grade.  My chain had popped off halfway up the hill before that one, but I did discover that the last half of the Reckless Redneck 1 mile downhill race is held on this hill so I’m not the only one that thinks it’s a doozy.  Here’s the elevation chart:  (full version)

elevation

I’ve also been on the lookout for a new pair of cycling shorts because I only have one and riding multiple times a week means lots of laundering.  So I stopped by a different store than normal and hit the jackpot…TWO pairs of $90 shorts in my size and I snagged them for $24.99 each.  So I got two pairs of really good shorts for less than what a normal pair would cost ($55-75) and saved $130.  Evidently they were leftover from a sale they had a while back, and the tag in them says they are a few years old of a style, and I can tell that they are dated a bit because the seams aren’t flat sewn and the pad is a little stiffer, but they are a great steal at that price.  Especially because the ’09 version of the shorts is priced at $100.  I was stoked.  Woohoo!

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Retail Therapy: Buy a New Jersey

Posted by triwithme on June 13, 2009

I bought a new Jersey the other day because I was disgusted that it rained out our wednesday evening ride.  Well, it was lightning, not just raining.  We would have ridden in the plain jane rain cos if we’re crazy enough to go ride a long way, we’re crazy enough to do it in the rain.

superstar jerseyThis jersey, the Pearl Izumi Superstar Jersey, in the Flamingo color, is FANTASTIC.  I’m not your average sized triathlete who wears size 4 jeans.  I’m more of a skinny couch potato who needs a bit more material to cover me up than those “average” triathletes.

(Insert Soapbox)

For some reason it’s okay for men to be big people, even beer bellied people, but women, nope, we should be super extra no bigger than a size 12 because that’s what a normal women’s XL triathlon apparel is sized as.  For example, my bike shorts are a women’s XL and fit perfectly, but I tried some tri shorts made by the same company, and the XL was at least two sizes smaller.

And while I’m discussing sizes, let’s look at shirts, where every brand fits EXTREMELY different.  I wear a XXL mizuno women’s shirt, an XXL New Balance women’s shirt, an L or XL men’s New Balance short sleeved shirt, a M men’s long sleeve shirt, and everytime I sign up for something and they want to know what size I wear and pick just one, I have no earthly idea what to put down except a range of sizes depending on what kind of shirt they are ordering.

Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to see all the skinny ones strap on an extra hundred pounds and go do a triathlon just to see what happens…lol.  (Sorry if you’re one of those people.  I don’t hate you, I just think it’d be entertaining. 🙂 )

(Stepping off Soapbox)

So I wore it for a 12 miler yesterday and a 33 miler (longest ride yet!) today and it was fantastic.  It comes down further than my other jersey, which I like for biking.  Running in it, if there is anything in the back pockets, they flop around terribly.  But my other jersey is considered an elite jersey whereas this one is just a normal jersey (for whatever that means).

The fit is what you would normally experience in a shirt, not the I have to suck in so hard I think I will break the seams if I let go kind of fit, and not the this is so tight that when I tried it on in the store I got it halfway over my head and it got stuck and spent 20 minutes trying to get out of it without hitting the “you break it, you buy it” limit.  (Not that i’ve ever experienced that.)

The feel is quite comfy.  The material is thicker than your average jersey (or the ones that I am acquainted with), and I found that it was a bit more forgiving of my very much imperfect midsection and a bit more absorbing of sweat, but it may have just dried quicker in my other jersey. But it wicked it away and kept me cooler than I’m used to.  It is loose yet fitted, and exactly what I like.  Plus it was made for a woman instead of a man like my other jersey, so your spandex encapsulated behind is not so exposed (less feeling like my rear end is already big but now looks ginormous with these darn PADDED spandex shorts on)  and the sleeves were shorter and it just felt better, plus I don’t have nightmares of the zipper falling ALL the way down cos this one only goes partway down whilst my other one goes 3/4 of the way down.  I also liked the high collar in the back because it caught a lot of the sweat from my head before it rolled all the way down my back.

There’s none of that rubbery stuff that lines some jerseys around the back edge hem and the sleeve cuffs, and I both liked and disliked that fact.  Liked because I didn’t feel like it was grabbing and pinching me at unfortunate angles and my arms felt more free to move.  Disliked because the back pockets stay put better with the rubbery gripper things.  (And yes, that IS the technical term for it.)  Another reason to like it is that when you get the worst arm sunburn of your life, the sleeve line won’t be absolutely distinct, more of a gradient fill instead.

And, perhaps the better part of this purchase was that it was only a $50 investment, which turns out is on the cheaper end of jerseys.  So thumbs up on this one.  🙂  Plus it made me feel better since I couldn’t go ride that day and could make up for it by looking super cute yesterday when the sun was shining (or as much as is possible while wearing spandex, perched on a 4-inch wide triangle of a seat, hunched over with helmet hair protruding at every angle, pedaling through muddy water, sporting well-defined biking sunburn lines, and sweating your eyeballs out).  lol.

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My thoughts on Socks…

Posted by triwithme on May 29, 2009

We’ve all heard “cotton is rotten”, but there are a ton of non-cotton socks out there.  Which ones are the best?  Well, everyone’s different, but I can give you my opinions…

Balega:  super soft and comfy, thinner on top, no toe seam either.  I find the no-show height are quite a bit more comfy than the ankle height ones.  I also like that the no-show ones have a thick piece on the back of the heel that keeps them from sneaking down in your shoes while you’re running.  These run $12-$15/pair.

Zulu:  these are actually a sister brand to balega…same comfort, but MUCH cheaper.  Of course, they’re not as full featured, but they are good socks.  The main difference is that there are S/M/L/XL sizes that they don’t have a shoe size lined up with, and there is one style, the ankle-height sock.  There is also a toe-seam.  But they are every bit as comfy if the toe seam doesn’t bother you. These run $15/3 pair-pack.

Smart Wool:  I like the Ph.D. running socks.  These seem to have a different feel than the others, probably because they are wool-based.  They have some extra support built in for the different zones of the foot, and that is nice when your feet are a bit tired.  I have worn the ankle-height ones, and they are nice.  I also have the no-show socks that I like to wear biking.  I wear them running, too, but these feel especially great in my biking shoes.  They do have the thick piece on the back to keep that from happening.  And their color choices are better than other brands…I don’t know that I’ve seen a plain white pair of smart wool socks.  Price, somewhere between $13 and $16/pair.

New Balance: I have gotten several pairs of their ankle-height socks as freebies, and I like that they have some built in arch support. I also bought a 2-pack from a New Balance store, and the ones I paid for are better than the freebies.  But in comparison to Balega and Zulu, they are probably the least comfy.  But they’re fine socks.  Price $10/2-pack, give or take.

Thorlo:  I love thorlo socks in the winter.  They are thick and cushiony and warm!  I like the ankle-height ones and also have a pair of crew socks for the really cold days. They’re a staple of every runner, I think.  Although they can be a bit thick. I have also tried their new Experia style, and I like them in all ways except sizing.  They have women’s colors and men’s colors, and I have large feet, so I tried the largest women’s size and it is just a bit too small because they sneak down in my shoes while I wear them.  I could have bought the men’s version, but the women’s colors are just so much cuter.  They are a nice weight and definitely cool for the summer, but still cushiony with a thinner version of the thorlo pad.  Price:  about $12-14/pair.

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P/S: Squeaky Shoe Syndrome

Posted by triwithme on May 19, 2009

Problem:  My shoes squeak when I run because of my insoles.

Solution:  Buy some foot powder, take out the insole, put some powder in the shoe, insert insole, shake it around a bit, and that should do it.  May have to repeat a few times to get the powder in the right spot.

Posted in Problems & Solutions, Running | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

P/S: Chain Grease

Posted by triwithme on May 19, 2009

Problem: I always get the inside of my right leg covered in chain grease/lube when I go biking.

Solution: Use mineral oil / baby oil before using soap. Works like a charm!

(Thanks to Julie for that tip)

Posted in Biking, Problems & Solutions | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »