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Gear Review Round-Up

Posted Sep 01 2008 7:07pm

Garmin305 team raceAthlete has some of the most web savvy Bloggers and Podcasters this side of the digital divide. Here are just a few gear reviews by the team along with a some new reviews for all of you looking to get some new swim, bike or run gear.

Testing the Garmin Forerunner 305 by Nancy Toby

My training buddy David kindly let me borrow his Garmin Forerunner 305 and I tested it out on our local high school track. It's a wrist unit that combines readings for time, position via GPS, and heart rate (with chest strap). I was able to get it up and running quickly with just a few glances through the manual.

I put it on the "running" setting, wore it over to the track, started up the timer and ran a mile (4 laps), walked a quarter mile (1 lap), reversed, ran a mile including three 50-yard pickups, and walked a quarter mile.

Loading the data analysis program onto my computer was seamless and I was able to look at the charts (YAY! CHARTS!) of my workout easily within five minutes:
First impressions:

1) Manuals and setup are surprisingly easy and user-friendly.
2) The wrist unit feels a bit big and clunky, but I could get used to it.
3) There is some 50 feet of play in the position data, even though I ran in the same inner lane every lap.
4) Total distance ran a bit high - distances measured around the track ranged from 0.25 miles to 0.28 miles. It probably would work better in straight-line running. It really got mad when I reversed on the track.
5) The heart rate meter was a little flaky at times (notice some anomalous readings in the red line, plus it started beeping at me for low heart rate once while walking), although it did find the 3 brief periods of elevated heart rate in the pickups I did in my last 3 running laps (while the pace data was too variable to pick out these increases).
6) The pace readings were a little high because the unit was measuring distance about 6% long.

Garmin track results Still, it was fun to play with (I love CHARTS! Even though it seems to auto-calculate the axes to include the anomalous data spikes, and they don't seem to be user-scalable) and I think it would be helpful for heart-rate based training - especially for running on local roads and doing followup post-run data analysis. I also think it would be fun to use during races. There are tons of features that I haven't tried yet - like the virtual running partner to help you pace yourself with, or using it on the bike. I wish it were waterproof enough to use during pool swims or open water swims, too.

I may just buy one for myself as a reward toy for reaching a weight loss goal. But that will have to wait a while until I actually reach said goal, about 25 pounds from now.

Would you like to read more from The Nancinator? You can find her at Nancy Toby's: Run Big!

Fuel Belt Helium by the T-Shirt Guy

To all my new readers, and old, let me make this as clear as I can. I LOVE NEW STUFF. I not only love getting it, I love testing it, I love bearing it up and my favorite thing is to see how it compares to the other similar products.

So when I received my brand spankin' new Fuel Belt Helium belt last week, I was very excited. Ever since I began competing in endurance sports about 5 years ago, I have used a Fuel Belt and have always been impressed with the fit and durability of the products.

When I first heard about the Helium in December from Patrick McCrann of Performance Training Systems and Fuel Belt Training, I was excited and couldn't wait to get one of these new belts. Unfortunately I would have to wait several months until their release in May.

My first Fuel Belt dates back to the winter of 2002 with a product that was little more than a nylon strap with velcro up front. The bottles held 6 oz. of fluid and had flat backs. Although archaic by 2007's standards, it was a cutting edge product that made running long distance by oneself possible without a support crew or stopping to buy drinks at a store.

In January of this year, I was in desperate need of a new belt. My original belt was on the fritz due to countless miles on the road after 4 years. I really wanted to wait to get a Helium, but I knew the release was still a long way off. I traveled to my local running store and picked up the Endurance 4-bottle belt. Immediately I noticed the ergonomic design and the extra padding. Another great feature was the Velcro pocket in the back that was the perfect fit for my iPod Mini, an energy gel and my keys. I immediately wondered how the new Helium belt's would be a step up...

Front View:Rear View:
Enter the Helium Collection. The belt is very similar to the Endurance design, but with some noticeable differences. First, the padding on the back and on the front part of the hips is greatly enhanced with small holes to allow better air flow. The bottles (like the Endurance) hold 8 oz. of fluid and are contoured to sit better around the waist. The pocket is removable and has a very smooth zipper and it holds 4-5 energy gels. Fuel Belt really paid attention to details.

Front View:Rear View:Inside View:
I tested it out on Saturday on a 5.5 mile run around the town I grew up in. I felt this was the ideal place because of the short steep uphills and bad road conditions. I found that it sat on the hips and around the waist without moving at all, even during the sprints up the hills at the end of the run. It also felt significantly more comfortable than even the Endurance belt, due to the increased padding. They removed the elastic bands that held the bottles in on previous belts which made it easier to return the bottles to the belt after having a drink.

The one thing I didn't love compared to the Endurance belt was the zipper pocket. I found the Velcro one easier to get stuff out of and also the pocket in the rear was a better location than on the side. I do like the option the Helium has to remove the pocket altogether or add a second one to the other side (not included with belt purchase).

With a cost of $39.95 for a 2-bottle belt or $44.95 for a 4-bottle belt, the cost is incredibly reasonable, especially when you factor in the drinks you would purchase at a convenience store on a long, hot day. Comparing to previous Fuel Belts, this is a large step in the right direction.

T-Shirt Guy recommendation: If you don't have a Fuel Belt GET ONE. Of all my running and tri gear, this is right up there with my sneakers or my bike. If you already have an original one, REPLACE IT. You will be shocked by the difference. If you have a newer model (Endurance Belt or one similar), put this on your holiday gift list. You will love the new model even more than you old one.

For more reviews by the T-Shirt Guys click HERE.

NikeNike Imara Women's Heart Rate Monitor by Amanda Chadwick
Website Link
Cost - $99.00
Rating: 1.5 Lattes

Use nothing new on race day. It is a rule many live by, myself included. However, I would like to append to that phrase: Use nothing new OR IN A DIFFERENT WAY on race day. I had been using my Nike Imara heart rate monitor (HRM) for close to six months and had been pretty happy with the results. However, I had never used it while swimming. When I used it in my first triathlon of the season this year, I was not happy with the results. After achieving a personal best on my swim, I hopped on my bike and was pedaling away. I checked my heart rate, and the numbers on the face were fading a bit. Thirty minutes later, NOTHING! By the time I got to the run—and I am a firm believer in the run/walk—trying to use a watch with no numbers, I was not a happy triathlete. Now the notes in the user guide say the HRM is water resistant up to 50 meters. There is no mention of the amount of time it can be in the water, so I figured I was okay. I broke the cardinal rule: nothing new on race day.

Up until this point I was very satisfied with Nike's HRM. I found it really easy to use; it gave me my stats on average heart rate, how long I was above/below my target range, and the total amount of calories I burned (aka the amount of food I could eat at my next meal). I could turn on a beep to let me know if I was above/below my target range, or I could keep it silent. This HRM had everything I needed and nothing extra to confuse me.

I really like the size of the watch, too. It is not bulky like a lot of the other watches out there, and it is even smaller than some of the other "female specific" models. At one point, I even suggested to some friends that this was the best HRM ever, especially for the price.

The chest strap is good. Apparently, some HRMs have chafing issues with their accompanying chest straps. I had no problems in that area, and it fits snugly under my sports bra.

After the water incident I thought the problem with the HRM might be a dead battery, and I was a victim of bad timing. Changing the battery was very easy; I found the needed replacement battery at the drugstore down the street. However, nothing changed. There were still no numbers, sounds—nothing. Just a blank watch face.

Even though I had great success during the first six months of use, I can only give this HRM 1.5 lattes. The product overview says that the watch is water resistant to 50 meters, and it is not true. That fact completely dropped my rating. There is even a swimmer on the user guide!! If you are using this HRM for just biking or running, it's great. Just don't get it wet!

Amanda Chadwick is an almost 30 single gal living in the Nations Capital. You can visit her blog by clicking HERE.

EveryMan "Gotta Have" Latte Rating Scale:

Rating Scale (based on the amount of lattes per day you'll give up to buy this product)
• 4 Lattes: A must have product that will make your friend's jealous and your competitors cower in undisguised fear and trepidation
• 3 Lattes: A very good investment in well worth forgoing a year or two of your children's college fund
• 2 Lattes: One of those products that actually does what it says it does, but with the same pizazz as a Q-Tip
• 1 Latte: The best thing said about this product is that I wouldn't send it back if I got it for free
• No Latte: So excruciatingly lame that you would get more value by crossing the street for some discarded and well chewed gum before buying this product

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