Triathletes, Gadgets and Gifts

Triathletes love gadgets, just look at the abundance of GPS watches, heart rate monitors, power meters and compression socks around. Present us with the latest technology or gimmick and chances are we’ll give it a go. With Christmas almost a week away chances are some of these items have made it onto our wish lists. There’s a huge market out there for kit, training aids and equipment so it’s hard to know where best to put your money.

Life as a full time athlete has made me very space and budget sensitive. I’ve nowhere to store anything, don’t want to take it with me and insufficient funds to warrant buying the latest kit. This wasn’t through poverty, but directing my funds towards training and racing. I own all the equipment I need. A better bike, power meter or race wheels might improve my results, but that money could also fund weeks of hard training or races in exciting new venues.

Bikes, GPS devices and heart rate monitors come and go, the latest equipment today ends up in the back of a cupboard or on eBay. Investing time and money into improving the training you do can have long reaching affects on your fitness and performance. A training camp, coaching or swim analysis are just some of the ways you can work towards improving performance even if they don’t give you something tangible for the price. Fitness can end up in the back of the cupboard too, to make the most of these investments you have to continue to work at it.

Despite this I appreciate the desire for new kit, I read the magazines and websites and lust after the latest equipment it’s just rare I actually purchase anything. When may family pushed me for a Christmas list I came up with warm training kit (I’ve not needed it for a while) and some new trainers. Footwear, tyres and tubes are a good investment, these are the things that keep me training. I’ll admit to one indulgence on the gadget front, knowing the value of pace as a run training tool I added a Garmin to the list.

If you’re going to invest in new equipment there’s a few areas I’d consider. I’m assuming the majority of my readership already own a heart rate monitor and are considering more advance tools. These are items I feel were good purchases, with any kit judge it’s value in terms of how much it will enhance your training and racing. Tools are only as good as the usage you make of them.

My first recommendation is a power meter, used well it can greatly enhance the focus of your bike training and the monitoring of performance. It’s not a cheap option by any means, but if your budget can stretch to it this is the piece of kit to consider. I’ve used a Powertap for three years now and have been very happy with the it, it’s more affordable than an SRM and has proved reliable. Were I in the market now I’d be considering the Quarq. If there’s one limitation to the Powertap it’s built into the hub, easy to change from bike to bike, but if you want to race with power you either need it in a race wheel. The exact model you opt for isn’t important what matters is taking the time to learn how to use power to enhance your training. Anyone investing in a power meter should also buy themselves a copy of Training and Racing with a Power Meter to get a grounding in its usage.

I’ve written about utilising pace for managing run training, it’s effectively the run equivalent of using power for cycling. Pace is a measurement of output and performance (allowing for gradient) where heart rate can be influenced by other factors pace is simply what you’re doing. Despite seeing the benefits when I run I use nothing more than a watch and online mapping tools once I’m home. This year a pace measuring device made it onto the wish list and if I’m lucky from Christmas onwards I’ll have a more precise knowledge about how I’m training. I don’t think it will lead to radical changes, but more information always gives the potential to make enhancements.

Pace measurement is becoming increasingly common mostly via GPS, I’ve opted to go for the more compact and cheaper option of a footpod with the Garmin FR60. It’s a personal preference, I’m not keen on bulky watches and my requirements are quite minimal – a rough idea of pace as I run, recording data and ANT+ compatibility so it works with my other tools. The FR60 ticked all those boxes so why spend more? I won’t deny the higher end GPS watches look cool, but I know I never use more than bare bones capabilities.

I opened at the top end of the price bracket my last suggestion offers better value for money. Get yourself a disc cover, especially if you’ve got a Powertap training wheel. A couple of circles of plastic you attach to your back wheel, they don’t look flash, but they’re a value for money investment in aerodynamics. A fraction of the price and a bit of extra weight for all the benefits of a disc wheel. If you’re considering a set of race wheels how about a power meter and disc cover instead? I think it’ll do more for your performance in the long term than the latest set of Zipps.

My frugality aside I’m well that the best investments I’ve made haven’t been the gadgets. Kit is part of our sport, but it’s the mundane items that are most important, replacing worn out trainers or clothing keeps you on the road. The expenditures that’s returned the most took me to warmer climates, superb training venues or enabled me to train with others and learn in the process. I’ll still have the memories of those experiences long after a new watch has ended on the scrap heap.