Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Looking Forward...

With this season all but wrapped up, it's time to start thinking about what comes next. The original plan was to focus on refining my marathon performance and focusing on getting it down to 3:10 in order to qualify for Boston. Playing around with Triathlons, however, has drawn my attention away from that singular target so things are a bit more complicated at this point. Trying to get to the point where I can run an entire marathon at a 4:30/km pace is a daunting task in and of itself, and trying to do that while I'm also training for two other sports may not be realistic.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I thoroughly enjoyed the Triathlon that I did back in September and would like to push forward on that front. Over the last couple of years, I have constantly been pushing out towards larger goals down the road. Training to improve my marathon times was enjoyable, but simply being a refinement of an already achieved goal wasn't quite the same as aiming for something new and untested. As such, my secondary goal of pulling off my first triathlon became more and more significant and the excitement of mixing in the new sports helped to drive me on.

Looking at the race schedules for next year, it doesn't really look like the Triathlon events start until June. As such, I'm tentatively thinking about focusing on a spring marathon (probably Mississauga on May 16th) and then switch gears to Triathlons for the fall season. Aiming for a 3:20 target at that point is likely within reach, and if that goes well then I can try for the elusive 3:10 in a following year. That would allow me to exclusively focus on the training for each sport in separate seasons, while allowing me to track both of my goals without too much overlap. The only concern is how quickly I can recover in time for an early-June Triathlon following a marathon in mid-May.

If I do follow this plan, my year would look something like this:

Winter/Spring Season (Marathon):
I'd like to work the Sporting Life 10K into there as well, as I've heard a lot of good things about it but that will depend on it's proximity to Mississauga (they havn't published a date for 2010 yet). Working in the Chilly Half Marathon would be nice as well, but it's a week before the Achilles 5K and I'd like to take a chance of beating my personal best at that race once again.

Summer/Fall Season (Triathlon):
After which, I'll decide what to do in August and September based on how well I do in the above races. Ideally, I'd like to work up to a half-Ironman distance by the end of this season but that's a big step so I need to judge how well my body deals with the above first. I'm very comfortable running the half-marathon distance and covering the bike leg distance (90km) at this point but the swim will be challenging as will the task of doing all three in succession. With that said, I've got ten months to build up to it so hopefully that will be enough time ;)

Worst case scenario, if I determine that I'm not up to the task of such a race I can fall back to shorter distances or even just aim for a fall marathon. I don't want to step into a 5-6 hour race without sufficient preparation, so I'll have to see how the Olympic distance race goes and determine whether or not it is realistic. With that said, if I do try the half-ironman distance, the goal will simply be to finish and not so much to go all out - that will have to wait for a future year ;)

Either way, I'm still considering my options but the above is roughly what I am hoping to achieve in the coming year. It is undoubtedly an aggressive plan one way or the other and it may need to be scaled back, but I'd rather aim high and have to pull back then aim low and wonder if I could have done more ;) For the time being, my focus will have to be on improving my swimming and getting my base fitness up to the level that will be required to train for this schedule. I also have to look into getting some books on Triathlon training so that I can build a formal schedule to work my way up this ladder.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Week 44: Review

For the early part of this week the weather was pretty bad once again, making it difficult to get out on the bike. Monday would have worked, but as I did last week's long run in the morning I figured it wasn't wise to risk heading out for a bike ride (especially considering I also had the Triathlon swimming clinic in the evening). Unfortunately, both Wednesday and Friday saw heavy rain so there wasn't much of an opportunity to safely head out on the bike.

Things cleared up a bit for the weekend, so I managed to get rides in on both Saturday and Sunday. Unfortunately while Saturday ended up being decent, the forecasts were showing unpredictability and there were some very strong winds out so I stayed on a route close to home to play it safe. As this meant riding on residential roads rather than arterial roads, however, it was difficult to get a good workout in so I called it after a couple of laps and headed home after a little less than 15K.

Sunday, however, saw near perfect weather (clear skies, ~16C and only moderate winds) so I put my long run off to today and took the bike out instead. Unfortunately I couldn't get out until about 2:30, and as the sun goes down pretty early this time of year that limited how far out I could go. I wanted to head up to Newmarket and back, however that's between 80-100km (depending on the route) and I simply didn't have the time to pull that off. As such, I headed out for my normal 50K route and figured I'd play it by ear.

As I headed north via Jane, I saw that the fall colours were pretty much out in full force at this point. Unfortunately, there aren't a whole lot of trees along that stretch as it's mostly farmland so when I got up to Kettleby, I headed through the town and took Keele back. That is a much hillier route than Jane is, but it goes through a few pretty dense forests so the scenery on the way back was quite impressive. Either way, it was a good workout as it's been a while since I've taken that particular set of hills ;)

Running-wise, I ended up missing a couple of sessions (Tuesday's 8 miler and Saturday's 4 miler) due to logistical reasons, however that's not such a critical thing in base training so I'm not too worried about it. The speedwork session I did on Thursday was a little rough as I did some relatively intense breathing exercises in the pool a few hours earlier, and that resulted in a couple of side stitches when I was pushing it on the road. Fortunately, I fought through and got all ten of the scheduled intervals out in respetible times.

Like Sunday, today's weather was pretty much textbook perfect for my long (16 mile) run. Due to this, it was a bit of a fight to try and keep my pace down as everything felt so comfortable, but other than that the session went quite well. I'm not likely to push my long runs much further than this until I start formally training again, however I would like to get my mid-week distances up a bit more and settle at a 30-40mile/week level.

In the water, things went quite well this week. I'm starting to get the hang of the proper stroke at this point, and it's feeling a lot more natural. It's going to take a while before it's ingrained enough that I don't have to think about it, but it's taking less and less effort to accomplish. As the technique drills last week worked out well, I decided to continue doing them this week despite the clinic being back. As such, after each of the 3.25K swims I did a short technique session (450 and 800m respectively) to work on my problem areas. Aside from the second session's effects on my interval session, this worked out quite well so I think I'll keep up with it for the time being (although I'll probably try squeezing the running in before the pool if possible).

Week 44 Totals:
Running: 40.3km (25.0mi)
Walking: 1.7km (1.1mi)
Cycling: 78.8km (49.0mi)
Swimming: 8.7km (5.4mi)
Total: 129.5km (80.5mi)

Year to Date:
Running: 2,142.8km (1,331.5mi)
Walking: 211.0km (131.1mi)
Cycling: 3,481.0km (2,163.0mi)
Swimming: 91.4km (56.8mi)
Total: 5,926.2km (3,682.4mi)

As I didn't manage to get all of the sessions in as planned this week, I'm going to aim to try and do the same thing I intended to do once again. The focus at this point is getting used to longer mileage in the mid-week sessions, so getting comfortable with a pair of 8 milers rather than the 6 milers I've been doing is the main focus.

Mon 16mi (25.7K) LSD*, Tri Swim Clinic
Tue 2.5mi Swim, 8mi Recovery
Wed 40K Ride, 10K Recovery
Thurs 2.5mi Swim, 8mi GA w/10x100m
Fri 50K Ride
Sat 4mi Recovery, 100k Ride
Sun 16mi (25.7K) LSD
* Counted towards this week's mileage, as it was simply postponed from yesterday.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Week 43: Review

Had everything gone as planned, yesterday I would have run my fall marathon and I'd be looking at recovery at this point. The weather turned out to be as close to ideal as possible, and it would have been the perfect conditions to push out a more aggressive time. Unfortunately, the nature of this sport is that injury is part of the equation and while I didn't get my chance yesterday, I have learned a lot in this cycle and will hopefully be able to apply it come spring!

With that said, many people did run yesterday and there were likely a lot of PBs set in the process. Included in that bunch was a friend from college, yumke, who managed to finish in a little over 3:12, good enough to get the elusive Boston qualifier. He ran with me for most of the Mississauga Marathon, and was a huge help in getting that first 42.2 in the books so I'm glad to see him reach his hard fought for goal!

As for my week, things went quite well this week thanks to the beautiful temperatures we've been getting. While the normal population is hauling out the winter jackets and cursing the cold, this ~5-10C weather is just about perfect for running. Cool enough to stay comfortable in even the hardest sessions, but not so cold as we have to start taking out extra clothes. Naturally, normal people think that I'm nuts to be in a t-shirt and shorts in this weather, but you can't really argue with what's comfortable.

As such, I managed to squeeze in most of the running mileage that was planned. I did end up moving the speedwork to Thursday, as I had done last week's 14 mile long run the day before and didn't want to risk anything. My Wednesday session was also about half the distance that was planned as my running group was back from their BQs in the Chicago marathon and needed to take it easy while they recovered. The weekend was a little busy as well, so I ended up shifting Saturday's 4 miler to Sunday and Sunday's 16 miler to today. It was a bit messy, but I got most of the planned mileage in so I'm calling it a success :oP

Unfortunately, the cooler temperatures do make cycling a bit more challenging. When rolling down the road at 30-40km/h, the wind blowing over the skin makes it feel a lot colder than it actually is. It's easy to keep the body and legs warm, but both the hands and face catch the brunt of that cold air and it's difficult to cover them up. The strong need for situational awareness on a bike (high speeds + riding with motorized traffic) makes normal face coverings impractical, and full fingered gloves make it hard to properly operate the shift/brake levers. Fortunately, it's been pretty sunny this week so it's been easy enough to warm up at stop signs, but that's not necessarilly going to be the case in the future.

Compounding this complexity is the fact that my saddle appears to have developed a small hole on the right side of the nose. This is rubbing against my cycling shorts and wearing out the material, so I cut back on my mileage a bit this week until I can get that addressed. On the rides that I did do, I took an older pair of shorts along so that I don't burn through the new pair too quickly. Not sure when I'm going to have the chance to bring it in, but I'm likely looking at buying a new saddle and have to figure out whether to stick with the current design or play around with some other options (this was the stock saddle that came with the bike, so I havn't really tried much else). The new version of this saddle (Selle San Marco Ponza) seems to have a redesigned nose section, so I'm guessing that I'm not the only one that's had this issue. See below for a picture of the problem:

As for swimming, due to Canadian Thanksgiving on Monday our clinic group didn't meet this week. As such, I added some technique drills to the end of my Tuesday and Thursday swimming sessions to try and keep up the practice. On Tuesday I did a number of form drills, worked on my kicking (which still needs some work) and did a few short breathing exercises. On Thursday, I focused mainly on the breathing end of things and did a number of freestyle lengths with progressively longer between breaths (including lengths with no breathing (12) and some 3-5-7-11-25m drills (3)).

In the sessions themselves, I've been focusing a lot on changing my technique and it's starting to pay off. I still have to think about it so my turnover is slower than it was before, but I'm covering a lot more distance per stroke at this point so that's offsetting those losses. Hopefully when I get more practice and the form feels more natural, my turnover will increase again and I'll see some significant gains in speed (right now I'm about on par with what I was before). I've mostly got the body roll down at this point, however I still have to work on my kicking and getting my breathing rythum aligned with the longer strokes.

Either way, things are getting back into the normal routine at this point. The weather is going to get progressively colder over the new month or so, and the winter gear is going to have to start coming out at that point. As such, I have to do my best to enjoy it while it lasts ;) As for the cycling, I'm going to need to move the bike inside to the trainer pretty soon, but I'd really like to squeeze in at least one more good long (ie 100km+) ride before that point. Naturally, mother nature will be the arbiter of that, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we get a day suitable for that! I'd like to do that as a group ride, but most of the others appear to be already thinking about moving inside so I'm not sure that I'll be able to talk anyone into going with me on that one ;)

Week 43 Totals:
Running: 56.3km (35.0mi)
Walking: 2.1km (1.3mi)
Cycling: 92.3km (57.4mi)
Swimming: 7.9km (4.9mi)
Total: 158.6km (98.5mi)

Year to Date:
Running: 2,102.5km (1,306.4mi)
Walking: 209.3km (130.0mi)
Cycling: 3,402.2km (2,114.0mi)
Swimming: 82.7km (51.4mi)
Total: 5,796.7km (3,601.9mi)

As for the upcoming week, pretty much more of the same. We're back to the swim clinic tonight, and I'm looking forward to refining things a bit more. I'll be slightly increasing the mileage on my mid-week runs, but likely keep my long run at the same distance as this week. I'm effectively into base training at this point, and going beyond 16 miles isn't really all that necessary. With respect to the bike, that's going to depend on the weather and when I can get the saddle repaired/replaced so the following is a pretty rough estimate.

Mon 16mi (25.7K) LSD*, Tri Swim Clinic
Tue 2.5mi Swim, 8mi Recovery w/10x100m
Wed 40K Ride, 10K Recovery
Thurs 2.5mi Swim, 8mi GA
Fri 50K Ride
Sat 4mi Recovery, 100k Ride
Sun 16mi (25.7K) LSD
* Counted towards this week's mileage, as it was simply postponed from yesterday.

As noted in previous weeks, the Toronto Marathon weekend was pretty much the last set of races for the season so I'm effectively entering the base training period at this point. I'm still not sure what my primary goal will be next season (ie working towards Boston or working up to a half Ironman). Don't have to worry too much about that in the near term, but as I get to the end of this period I will have to figure out which sports to focus on.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Week 42: Review

As expected, the weather this week was a bit unpredictable but fortunately we got enough decent weather that I managed to fit in a few of the cycling sessions. There was isolated showers pretty much all day on Monday, but as I really needed to get out there I looked for an opening and headed out when I got the chance. I did get rained on a few times out there, but the rain wasn't really that heavy so safety wasn't really an issue and I pushed through. Wednesday was a lot more dodgy so I kept off the bike, but as that was only a 30K ride I wasn't too worried.

The weather reports unfortunately called for more rain on Friday, so I elected to swap my Thursday sessions around with it and managed to get a good 50K ride in. On Saturday I hoped to get a long ride in, however between other obligations and watching Kona I couldn't really find the time to do much more than 35K. I had to take an intermission from watching the race to fit in my 4 mile recovery run, but fortunately with an 8+ hour race missing a half hour isn't really a big issue ;)

As for my running, things mostly went as planned. The only major hiccup was that I ended up having a late lunch on Tuesday, and that didn't agree with my digestive system when I went out for a run in the afternoon. I had originally planned to do 6 miles with 6x100m speedwork, but while I pushed through the discomfort for the warmup it was evident after the first interval that it wasn't going to work. As such, I turned around and ran back home at a relatively slow pace (it didn't seem to bother me when my HR was below 160bpm, so a ~5:15/km pace wasn't a big problem) and only got 5K in.

As such, I elected to simply move the speedwork to my Thursday session and potentially find a way to squeeze the missing three miles into other runs. Unfortunately as my Wednesday running group was tapering for Chicago I didn't want to ask to extend the route any more than planned, and time constraints made it difficult to fit anything extra onto the other runs. Either way, missing 3 miles isn't really all that significant, especially as I'm not really following any formal plan right now ;)

Since I moved my Thursday running sessions to Friday to fit the bike ride in, that meant that I had to deal with rain during my speedwork session. At first I wasn't really looking forward to it, but once I got out there it was actually pretty pleasant to run in. The rain was pretty light, and as I only had to go 6 miles I didn't really get all that soaked, so the cooling effect was quite helpful. Everything, including the intervals, pretty much felt effortless so it turned out to be quite a nice day for a run. Since I was feeling so good, I even threw in a hard finish to get a little extra speedwork into the mix ;)

I also ended up moving my 14 mile long run from Sunday to today as it just wasn't logistically feasible to do it yesterday. The family gets together for Thanksgiving on the Sunday, so I didn't have a lot of time to fit in a multi-hour run unless I wanted to get up really early (which I didn't much feel like doing). As such, I headed out this morning to get the run in and asside from overdressing a bit (wore a jacket when a T-Shirt would have been more than sufficient) it went quite well.

Week 42 Totals:
Running: 53.6km (33.3mi)
Walking: 1.6km (1.0mi)
Cycling: 137.7km (85.6mi)
Swimming: 7.4km (4.6mi)
Total: 200.3km (124.5mi)

Year to Date:
Running: 2,046.2km (1,271.4mi)
Walking: 207.2km (128.7mi)
Cycling: 3,309.9km (2,056.7mi)
Swimming: 74.8km (46.5mi)
Total: 5,638.1km (3,503.4mi)

This week is going to be more of the same, but fortunately it looks like there will be enough openings to fit things in. As I did my long run today, I'm not planning on doing my normal cycling session today so I'll be a little low this week. I'm also going to have problems trying to fit much in on Saturday, as my brother is flying out in the morning and will likely need help getting to the airport. Additionally, the Toronto bicycle show is on that day as well so I'm likely going to head down as there are a few things I need to pick up and they usually have some pretty decent deals.

Tue 2.5mi Swim, 6mi Recovery w/6x100m
Wed 40K Ride (if weather permits), 10K Recovery
Thurs 2.5mi Swim, 8mi GA
Fri 80-100K Ride
Sat 4mi Recovery
Sun 16mi (25.7K) LSD

Longer term, I elected to skip the races next week as I'm not likely to improve on my times significantly and the logistics would be somewhat difficult. I was hoping to push out a 3:20 marathon next Sunday, but the injury threw a wrench into those plans. As such, I was considering doing the half marathon, but I'm still working myself back into shape and I figure continuing base building is likely more important than fitting in an extra race.

In other news, the rest of my Wednesday running group headed down to Chicago for the marathon and all managed to qualify for Boston (IIRC their qualifying times were between 3:30-3:35, but all of them managed to get under 3:30). They've been training quite hard and all of that effort appears to have paid off quite well! Hopefully I'll be able to join them in future years, but for now I simply offer my congratulations!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Danger vs. Anoyance...

As predicted, the weather this week has continued to be unstable so it's been a challenge to work everything in. While I'm generally pretty thick skinned when it comes to running, I tend to be a little more sensitive to weather on the bike. Risks are certainly higher given the speed and proximity to fast moving traffic, however it's easy to lean on those excuses and avoid a session because of unpleasantness. Sorting out where the line lies between what is merely an annoyance and what is a legitimate danger is often not such an easy thing to do, especially for a relatively new rider like myself.

As such, I headed out on Monday despite the unstable weather. I got rained on a few times during the ride, and had to slow down due to slick roads in parts, but that's pretty much par for the course this time of year. Aside from the safety aspects, riding in the rain is a lot worse than running in it as (a) those droplets can hit like bullets when you are moving at 30-40km/h and (b) you have to control descending speeds a lot more (60-80km/h is dangerous when your brakes are wet) which cuts down momentum that would normally help with the climbs. Adding to the complexity is the fact that cars tend to get a lot more unpredictable, so you really have to watch out.

With that said, I did stop at 50km as I didn't want to get too far from home in these conditions. When the rain gets really hard motorists visibility gets reduced and they can't always see you quite as well, so one has to be cautious. Further, if electrical activity starts up it's generally not the wisest move to be out in the middle of nowhere ;) Normally I'd just schedule around crappy weather, but as we've had it continuously for the last little while there really isn't an opportunity to do that.

I was supposed to go out today for a short ride, but the winds are brutal out there and I've elected to skip it due to safety concerns. Looking at the weather station, I'm seeing a 60km/h base wind and gusts above 90km/h around here. While the headwinds would make the ride hard (although the tailwinds would likely be awesome), crosswinds of that intensity could easily be a serious hazard when riding alongside traffic. Getting used to dealing with strong winds would likely be beneficial, but given the sheer strength of the winds today it's likely not the best time to do so ;)

As far as the rest of the week, Friday is looking like it will be pretty bad but fortunately tomorrow looks decent so I might just swap tomorrow's run with Friday's ride. Saturday is looking like it might be good as well, so hopefully I'll be able to squeeze in a good long ride. With that said, these reports have been pretty fluid all week so the outlook could easily be very different come tomorrow.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Week 41: Review

Weather this week was pretty unpredictable, so I didn't manage to get any of my cycling sessions in as planned. Nearly every day was composed of isolated showers, so while it didn't amount to a whole lot it was enough to make me think twice about getting too far out. I'm likely going to have to take a few more risks in heading out in these circumstances in the future, as the forecasts are showing more of the same for the next week. Tomorrow doesn't look too bad, luckily, so I'm going to try and fit in a long ride (~100km) to make up for the lost mileage this week.

What I should ideally do is grab another rear wheel for my fluid trainer so I can just bring the bike inside on weeks like this. As it stands, however, I need to change out the tire and skewer to switch over and that pretty much means that I only change over when the winter begins in earnest (ie riding outside is largely impossible). Being able to switch between riding on the road and trainer at a whim would help a lot during these transition seasons, as it would allow me to maintain the consistancy of training I'm used to regardless of the weather. Fortunately, there is a bike show in a couple of weeks so I'll keep an eye out for any decent deals.

Fortunately, this type of weather isn't really a problem for running so I managed to get most of those sessions in. I did loose one run on Tuesday, but that was due to scheduling conflicts (a MVP get together surrounding TechDays Toronto) and not so much the weather. To make up for the lost speedwork session, I pushed a little harder than planned on Thursday and added another mile to my long run this morning.

While it has been cool, the humidity has stayed extremely high (usually in the 90% range) despite the rain so it's been difficult to figure out what to wear. I've added a technical t-shirt over my singlet for most of this week, but when it isn't raining that starts to get uncomfortably hot. Unfortunately, the rain is quite cold as well so if it does decide to come down and I don't wear it, I end up freezing. Either way, not a whole lot that can be done about it and fortunately most of my runs are still pretty short due to my recovery so it hasn't been a huge problem. With that said, most people out there likely think I'm insane either way as the general public appears to be getting into the winter mode already (big puffy down coats, toques, etc.) ;)

On the swimming front, I had my first clinic with the Tri swimming group on Monday and it looks like it will be quite helpful. My training until this point was pretty much just a matter of accumulating miles, but as swimming is a lot more dependant on technique than running or cycling, having some properly guided drills should help a lot. I've improved a lot over the last few months, however I've been stuck at the 2:00-2:15/100m pace for a while now so hopefully these clinics will help me accelerate a bit more. Either way, my second session is tomorrow and I'm looking forward to it. One thing I forgot to ask about last week was to get some post swim stretches from the instructor, so I'll have to remember this time around.

Week 41 Totals:
Running: 43.7km (27.2mi)
Walking: 3.2km (2.0mi)
Cycling: 0.0km (0.0mi)
Swimming: 7.5km (4.7mi)
Total: 54.4km (33.8mi)

Year to Date:
Running: 1,992.6km (1,238.1mi)
Walking: 205.6km (127.8mi)
Cycling: 3,172.2km (1,971.1mi)
Swimming: 67.4km (41.9mi)
Total: 5,437.8km (3,378.9mi)

As mentioned above, the weather report for this week is looking just as sketchy as it was last week so fitting in the cycling sessions is going to be tricky. Tomorrow looks pretty good, but the rest of the week is still up in the air and I'm going to have to be flexible about where I fit in the miles.

On the upside, my heart rate is finally starting to fall back into the range it was at before the injury, so I can start pushing the running mileage back up once again. With the Goodlife Marathon in a couple of weeks, I'm still debating whether or not I should bother with the half. My fitness is coming back at this point, but it's still not 100% so I'm not sure that I can beat my previous time. I'm flirting with the idea of just focusing on my base training at this point and worry about racing next season. Either way, I'll try pushing a bit harder this week and make a decision based on how things work out. With that said, this close to the race my decision may be made for me if it sells out ;)

Mon 100K Ride, Swim Clinic
Tue 2mi Swim, 6mi Recovery w/6x100m
Wed 30K Ride (if weather permits), 10K Recovery
Thurs 2.5mi Swim, 8mi GA
Fri 50K Ride
Sat 4mi Recovery, 80K Ride
Sun 14mi (22.5K) LSD

Friday, October 2, 2009

Power Meters - Metrigear Vector

As an engineer, the idea of a power meter on my bike is an extremely attractive one. The basic concept of a unambiguous, objective method to monitor performance that can cut through all of the outside influences (fatigue, wind, drafting, hills, road surfaces, etc.) is a powerful training tool. Unfortunately, the cost of these sensors is often difficult to justify unless you are a high level athlete (which I'm most certainly not). Most of the solutions out there cost upwards of $2000, and at this juncture there are other things that would likely be more beneficial for me at this point (eg a dedicated TT bike).

The Saris PowerTap is probably the closest direct measurement power meter on the market right now, and while it can be had for less than $1000 it needs to be installed into a wheel (or purchased with one). Unless you are planning on upgrading wheelsets, that means that the effective price of adding one of those units is a good deal higher. Further, eventually I'd like to have a separate wheelset for racing vs. training, and with the PowerTap solution that means buying more than one power meter.

Polar's CS600X power meter falls into a lower price bracket and, as it is external to the powertrain, doesn't need any modifications to the bike. Additionally, Polar does offer a lot of interesting information that other vendors don't - such as left-right balance and indications of the roundness of the stroke. How accurate these values are I'm not sure, but for someone still relatively new to the sport they could be quite useful for improving technique. Finally, Polar's heart rate straps are much better than the Garmin ones used on all of the ANT+Sport units that work with the aftermarket power meters, so that's a big plus on their side (Suunto has competitive HRMs, but they appear to use a different variant of the ANT protocol that is incompatible with other products).

Unfortunately, the more that I read about it the more concerned I am about its accuracy. It measures power indirectly, by picking up chain speed and vibration and working back to the power number. This is an ingenious idea in-and-of-itself, unfortunately it is susceptible to noise introduced from road vibrations and varying distances between the sensor and chain as you change gears. Due to this, it is very sensitive to how it is installed on the bike and as I have yet to find a local store with any experience with the unit I'm a bit uncomfortable with the concept. If I could find a store that has installed a few dozen of these I might think about it, but unfortunately that doesn't appear to be an option around here.

The most promising solution I've seen until recently was the iBike line, which doesn't so much measure power output but measures the opposing forces and figures out how much power would be required to explain the current velocity/acceleration. Aside from providing power readings, this solution has the benefits of also recording exactly where that power is going - having airspeed measurements and a proper inclinometer (ie not just dividing elevation change by distance covered) could be invaluable for analyzing a ride after-the-fact. Further, when paired with another ANT+ power meter it can provide real time readings on your aerodynamic drag coefficient (great for fine-tuning body positions on the bike).

The problem with this unit is that its design has a lot of rough edges (kludgy non-customizable UI, wireless radios not build into the head unit and insufficient battery life) largely due to them using the same hardware platform for their $199 and $799 products. Further, its heavy reliance on the airspeed sensor means that it can't provide accurate power readings when riding in heavy rain (as the port gets plugged with water). Still, it's an excellent concept and its shortcomings should be easy for Velocomp to address in any future iterations (ie add at least two bitmapped lines to the display for proper alphanumeric menus, add the capacity to customize the data fields shown on screen, put the wireless bits in the head unit rather than the mount and move to a bigger battery (eg a CR123 or even rechargeable cellphone batteries)).

Looking over the coverage of Interbike last week, however, a company called MetriGear caught my attention with a new power meter called Vector. Rather than measuring at the crank (SRM and Quarq) or hub (PowerTap), they put a small sensor in each of the pedal spindles. As such, they are trivial to install and don't require you to replace any major components of the bike. Further, as each foot has its own sensor this technology has the potential to be able to provide more detailed information about how the rider is delivering that power. This means they could provide the left-right balance and stroke quality readings like Polar are providing, but with a lot more detail as these values could be directly measured rather than extrapolated (although this will be dependent on a head unit that can capture and record this extra data).

Adding to this, like the PowerTap it should be very easy to move one set of sensors over to another bike as necessary. As such, if I do eventually get a dedicated TT bike to go along with the road bike, this would make it feasible to have a single power meter that could be used by both. The crank-based designs are a pretty complex ordeal to swap over (especially for someone like myself with limited experience changing out parts), and while the iBike is pretty simple the fact that they put the wireless bits in the mount means that it's an expensive proposition.

The big news, however, is that they are talking about comming in at a price below $1000 including the pedals. That's still not innexpensive by any means, however it does fall into the range where I might consider picking up a power meter. The price doesn't include a head unit (they don't appear to have any plans to make one), but as they are ANT+ compatible they will work with a number of offerings already on the market. The question remains whether the aftermarket head units (Garmin's 310xt, 500 and 705 and the iBike Pro and Aero products) will be able to understand the unique data these sensors can capture as the current firmware seems to simply understand basic power data.

At this point I'm not really in a position to buy one of these (not that it matters as they won't be available until Q1 2010), however I am in the process of buying a new cyclocomputer (as I've written a few times here) and this development is enough for me to strongly re-focus on products that will be compatible with this unit. The Polar CS600X (likely without power) was strongly leading the pack before this announcement, but now I'm seriously reconsidering the Edge 705 or potentially waiting for the Edge 500 as they will both be compatible with the Vector. I've always preferred much of the hardware design of the 705 over the Polar, but I'm still a bit concerned about its perpetually crappy firmware (stability issues, horribly inaccurate caloric readings, unreliable elevation recording, etc.). The Edge 500 may address those issues as it's a much simpler design, but it gives up a lot of what made the 705 attractive (street level mapping, ability to upgrade memory, etc.).

The iBike iAero is also an option, although that is a more costly option and, as above, I have some reservations about their design. I was hoping that they'd announce a fourth generation design of their product this year, but it doesn't look like that is going to happen. They have made great strides on their firmware over the last little while, and appear to be by far the best at addressing user concerns with periodic updates. Unfortunately, firmware upgrades can't address the fundamental shortcomings of the underlying hardware platform so it remains an unlikely choice despite its compelling feature set.

Either way, it seems that every time I'm about ready to settle down for one choice or the other a wrench like this gets thrown into my plans ;) Garmin is good at making excellent hardware, but they aren't very good at the firmware side. iBike, on the other hand, is great at squeezing every last bit of capability out of their devices with firmware updates, but their hardware is limited due to their insistence on a single platform for such a wide range of price points. Polar was the happy middle ground (not the most feature packed, but exquisitely engineered hardware and software), but their lack of support for the ANT+ protocol is a big limitation with the advent of power meters such as the Vector.

With the Toronto bike show comming up in a couple of weeks, I'll probably go and see if there are any decent deals on these things. Barring that, I'll just have to mill over the choices a bit more ;)