121 days: The Garmin blessing… and curse!

I have a plan to raise $10,000 for some awesome organizations by Sept. 22, 2013 – the day I run in Ironman Lake Tahoe. Just 17 weeks away! Raised so far: $5,947! Want to increase this total? Chip in a few bucks to one of our causes here, or leave me a comment in the space below – I will follow up with more details.

Suzanne and Tawnya are on the march! Follow along as they trek the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, “The Way of St James” – a 500 mile pilgrimage starting in southern France and across northern Spain. They’ve posted several updates during the first week of their journey.

Please sign up for the Kyle’s Special Heart 5K/10K! June 8 in Rainier, WA! Details and registration information are here – please help out my cousin and his wife as their newborn son Kyle fights with the fury of a thousand ninja babies to heal from his congenital heart issues. More information about Kyle and his fight can be found on their blog. I won’t be able to make it – I have the Redondo Beach Triathlon that same weekend – but I will be there in spirit!

The Garmin Blessing… and Curse!

I love gizmos. Stashed away in a closet in my house is a shelf populated with remote control toys (various cars, a Robosapien, an airplane, and even a T-Rex!). Walkie-talkie wristwatches (we used to deploy them when shopping at our local Costco to find each other before the new cellular tower made phone use possible in there). My favorite watch is of the self-winding variety. And don’t get me started on my obsession with TV and home theaters (our home has three bona fide home theater systems… one of them an actual home THEATER).

So, it should not a be much of a surprise when Garmin – the company that is essentially synonymous with ‘GPS’ – came out with their GPS-enabled sport watch series about a decade ago, I was an eager early adopter.

My first was the beloved Garmin Forerunner 201. It was big. It was clunky. It took forever to lock onto a GPS signal… and would lose it in a heartbeat under tree cover, in the midst of tall buildings, and even when running along the Tiber River in Rome (big stone walls line the river). But I loved it. Every run and bike ride dating back to sometime in 2004 were captured on that device… and downloaded to SportTracks.

My first GPS-enabled running watch: the clunky, finicky Garmin Forerunner 201. It served me well for quite a while...

My first GPS-enabled running watch: the clunky, finicky Garmin Forerunner 201. It served me well for quite a while…

And then the Forerunner 305 was released. Less huge (but still large), far less clunky, far more accurate… and locked on to the GPS signal much, much better. Plus this one supported heart rate monitoring! It locked on to runs and rides through dense forests, even on long runs along the river Seine in Paris (lined with big stone walls! It passed this test!). I loved this watch… until a couple of years ago I accidentally slammed it shut in the back hatch of the car. Amazon had a new one on my doorstep just a couple of days later.

The Garmin Forerunner 305 was the upgrade! Smaller (yet still large), faster, rock solid GPS performance... I loved this watch!

The Garmin Forerunner 305 was the upgrade! Smaller (yet still large), faster, rock solid GPS performance… I loved this watch!

About 6 or 7 years ago I started to become more serious about my cycling activities. One of these days I’ll write a post about my bikes – I have many… and love them all. For a while it worked out well to use my Forerunner watches on the bike rides – if you buy the quick release watch strap and bike attachments, they moved nicely and worked quite well… but the screen was small and the ergonomics best suited for running. So Lauren bought me a Garmin Edge 500 cycling computer (full disclosure: she has purchased most of my GPS devices as Christmas/birthday/Fathers Day presents). It had all the features of the Forerunner 305, plus a barometric altimeter, thermometer, a larger screen, and ergonomics designed for the bicycle rider. Every ride since then has been a blessing – I cannot imagine riding without one.

My Garmin Edge 500 GPS-enabled cycling computer. This thing pretty much rocks...

My Garmin Edge 500 GPS-enabled cycling computer. This thing pretty much rocks…

Everywhere I go I am either running, or riding, or both. Thus, everywhere I go, I am accompanied by at least one sports GPS device. They have served me well for almost 10 years now… and it is apparent that I have grown dependent on them. So, it should come as no shock or surprise when I was devastated last week by the following event:

I was headed out for a Saturday run – the last run just for “fun” as my dedicated Ironman training program was set to begin the following Monday. I had plans to go on a wandering, aimless path and go only as far and fast as felt fun. The Forerunner 305 was locked into the GPS satellites, I was slathered up in sunscreen, and ready to rock the asphalt. I got to the end of the block, made a right turn, and started accelerating down the road… this run was feeling good… I looked down to see just how fast I was moving. Heart rate: 135 bpm. Right on target. Pace: –:– min/mile. Blank! WHAT!?

For the next 20 minutes I was that raving lunatic standing along a busy road, in my skimpy little running outfit, wrist raised to the sky trying to get my watch to lock onto an elusive GPS signal, cursing like a sailor. The next hour at home wasn’t much better. Firmware updates (none were required). Hard reset of the system (didn’t work). Clear out the history in case there was a memory issue (still wouldn’t lock). We had to be in Beverly Hills by 12:30 to meet up with John & Alex for lunch and to do the Beverly Hills Art Walk – and there was no way I was going to be able go for a quality run after that (our experience at the art walk usually goes something like this: look at a few booths… visit the wine garden… visit a few more booths… go spend some more time in the wine garden… you get the idea).

After at least an hour of fiddling around it had become apparent that this watch was not going to cooperate. And if I was going to get in that run, I had to leave immediately. So I did something I haven’t done in almost a decade: run without my GPS watch. At every stoplight I would reach to pause it… only to hit my naked, empty wrist. Running on the Strand along the sand in Hermosa Beach I encountered a fast runner – we joined forces and were FLYING down the path, whizzing by other runners, walkers, and cyclists – we must have been going at least 5:00/mile  or faster… dang, no watch to confirm this! I felt completely awkward and naked running along without that big hunk of plastic and electronics strapped to my arm.

Immediately upon returning home from my standard 5-mile beach loop, I jumped online and ordered its replacement.

(Cue up the scene where the clouds part to let a shining light through, to the chorus of a thousand angels singing). The replacement watch: Garmin Forerunner 910XT. The holy grail of multisport GPS-enabled watches. All the features of the Forerunner 305 (and the Forerunner 310 that I didn’t feel the need to upgrade to) plus some other bells and whistles: swim metrics (strokes per lap, lap count and timer), wireless computer syncing, refined charging cradle, barometric altimeter, thermometer, heart rate based calorie computations, sound and vibration alerts… and more!

The fancy schmancy GPS watch - the gizmo supreme. Bow down before it... willingly... or it will make you!

The fancy schmancy GPS watch – the gizmo supreme. Bow down before it… willingly… or it will make you!

The new toy arrived yesterday (Thursday), and I took it out for its maiden adventure on a 45-minute interval run. It was comfortable… it was streamlined… it was intuitive and easy to set up… and I am in love.

How the new Garmin (the 910xt on the right) compares to the old one (the 305 on the left). Yeah... a lot smaller... and has a tons more features. So excited!

How the new Garmin (the 910xt on the right) compares to the old one (the 305 on the left). Yeah… a lot smaller… and has a tons more features. So excited!

I can’t wait to get that thing in the pool later today! Time to start measuring my swim metrics with more accuracy!

Note: after letting it rest for a few days, the Forerunner 305 did start working properly again. I used it without issue on Tuesday for a 5-mile run. For nostalgic reasons I may even pull it out of the drawer and use it every once in a while… but I don’t expect that to happen with regularity now that I have the new toy. And, don’t worry, the Edge 500 will still be the gizmo of choice on bike rides… until I replace it with the new Edge 510 cycling computer…

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