Friday, December 17, 2010

Gadgets, Gizmos and Goodies (part I)

I love gadgets and one of the best things about triathlon is that there are at least three times as many excuses to buy them. I own and use all the following and am not in any way endorsed, sponsored or encouraged to use them by the manufacturers (although it would be cool if they decided to appoint me as a beta tester...).

Garmin 310xt

I've no doubt about it, this is my desert island gadget, the one I would keep if I had to sacrifice all the rest. I previously had the Garmin Forerunner 305 which was also a great gadget but the battery died on me (at the start of my second half Ironman, of all times!). I loved it so much that I was not angry with it - on the contrary - I had a perfect reason to upgrade to its big brother.

Both models have a lot in common:
- an accurate and fast syncing GPS that measures pace (well) and altitude (not so well)
- a heart rate monitor and possibility to add foot pod (for cadence and indoor speed) and bike cadence sensor
- and a very intuitive user interface with a highly configurable display which, believe me, is ever more important the more tired you are when you are using it.

In fact, I really couldn't think of how the interface could be improved until I started using the 310xt. They've made a few little tweaks, like the ability to configure 3 different bikes and an extremely handy real time heart rate graph that I must say I was missing from the 305. The more significant differences are that the 310xt has a 20 hour battery life (good for Ironman!), it is waterproof (good for triathlon in general), it has a much more accurate calorie counting algorithm and it synchronizes wirelessly with the computer. Actually this last point is the thing that least interests me as you still have to have the dongle plugged into your computer (that's to say, it doesn't use Bluetooth but its own communication protocol) and it can be slightly annoying if you find that halfway through your indoor training, it starts syncing to your computer that happens to be sitting within range!

I also bought the quick release kit which is very neat and a slightly better design than the 305 counterpart. The watch twists in and out of the watch strap and the bike attachment with a very reassuring "click" (although it's true that, at one point in the San Sebastian Marathon, a guy accidentally knocked into me and the watch clicked out of position and nearly went flying!).

The software that comes with it is fairly basic but there are many other more sophisticated shareware / freeware packages out there that are compatible. It's relatively straightforward to view your workouts in Google Earth but it is quite fiddly to import a route from Google Earth as a course. It really is an invaluable tool to be able to compare your current level of fitness with how you were in previous seasons.

Compex Runner

If you are sceptical about electrostimuators then you are right to be. If you are surprised that this gadget will set you back something to the tune of 350€-450€ then you probably expect it to either be genuinely effective or priced so that it looks as though it must be genuinely effective. I can happily say that the former is the case. I can also say, from my own experience, that the cheap electrostimulators do what you would expect - precious little. I don't really understand why the budget companies have not been able to emulate the programmes on the Compex models - maybe there is a patent issue (don't get me started on patents!).

I first came across Compex after a 10k race which I had started with very sore calf muscles from the training I had done prior to the event. I made my way to the massage tent to find that, rather than a "hands-on" massage, what was being offered was to be wired up to one of these things. The sensation is quite strange, that of your muscles pulsing without you telling them too but, as long as you have the contacts on properly, it is quite pleasant. The day after the 10k, my legs were noticeably better.

The Compex Runner offers lots of different programmes, from strength and endurance to recovery and relief from tendinitis. It even has a programme for "long run optimization" which is supposed to help increase the capillaries feeding your muscles with oxygenated blood. Some heathly sceptiscism is in order here, I think, as I am not convinced that it can really do all of those things. One thing is for sure is that it works very well for recovery. It is also incredibly powerful. To give you some idea, stimulating my quads at 150 starts to get painful and yet the machine can go up to 999! I have managed to get up to 999 on my stomach muscles (each group of muscles has a different response and tolerance) so, if anything, I think I know what it must be like to give birth.

It is very easy to travel with so I often take it with me to competitions and amuse locals by wiring myself up in the restaurant where I have my post race lunch. Its very expensive but the price equates to about 15 massage sessions. Still, I have to be honest, there is still no substitute for a good massage performed by a real human being.

Masster Plus

This is the nearest thing I have tried to a real massage. It is basically a Thermomix with a rotating set of rollers that vibrate your muscles at a very high frequency. For some reason, it is marketed as a miracle cellulitis reducer - hence the photo on the left and the pink box that it comes packaged in - but, don't be put off, it is also used by professional massage therapists and sports phsyicians alike. (By the way, if you click on the photo I will be able to know who you are!! :-) )

Unfortunately it is not cheap either. It weighs in at about 1,000€ due, I suspect, to its very high quality and hefty motor (and, no doubt, the desparation of some people to lose celulitis, with which it may well help for all I know).

More soon!


  1. I don't find the Masster Plus a real gadget but it looks cool.The price is way to high btw!

  2. hi hans

    yes, it is very expensive but you gets what you pays for... there are a lot of massage devices around and nothing i have seen comes close to this. maybe not a gadget but a goodie! :-)