Today I finally managed to make it out to training for me next event:

FAU Tough Owl

I’ve always wanted to do a strongman competition, ever since I was about 14 or 15 years old. Now I finally have my chance. Let me say this: this was hard as hell. I thought I had been working out recently with odd shaped objects or in awkward positions but nothing prepared me for today. Absolutely nothing.

FYI: Weights are approximate, I have no idea what anything weighed and neither did the coach/trainer. That’s either a tactical move to keep us guessing or he seriously didn’t know (my guess). Except for the farmer’s walk, everything was in one of three weight categories: light, medium, heavy.

Workout
Atlas stones, lift and drop:
1×5 – 125lbs
1×6 – 125lbs

Log clean and press, Slater Log’s Jr Log, approximate weight 80-100lbs (according to Slater’s):
1×5 , log only
1×3 , log+10lbs plate

Farmer’s walk:
2x100ft , ~85lbs each hand
1x80ft , ~135lbs each hand

Tire flip:
“Medium” tire, ~150lbs
2x100ft

“Heavy” tire, ~300lbs+
1x75ft

Sand bag (not an event):
~100lbs, 50ft walk each side

Sledgehammer (also not an event, ~12lb hammer):
2-hand slam, 3 rounds alternating 5/5
10-10-8 2-hand overhead slam
1-hand slam, 3 rounds alternating 5/5

I figured I would take it easy for this post-SuperHERO Scramble workout. It turned out differently.

Warm up
Dynamic stretches
90 seconds jump rope
12 push ups
90 seconds jump rope
10 push ups
5 pull-ups with FatGripz
5 toes to bar
3 pull ups with FatGripz
3 toes to bar
1 pull up without FatGripz, held at top position for 10 seconds
1 toes to bar

Workout
45 lbs farmers walk, 104ft with FatGripz
35 lbs, 104 feet with FatGripz
45 lbs, 110 feet without FatGripz (frankly, my forearms gave out)
35 lbs, 104 feet with FatGripz

6-4-2-1-1 Zercher Squats ladder
95lbs
115lbs
135lbs
155lbs
175lbs

Went a little too hard on the last rep, I was struggling for optimal position and rounded my back a bit, I’ll stay below 175lbs for now.

5-5-3-3-1 Strict military press ladder
95 lbs
115 lbs
95 lbs

Cool down
3×5 sec L-sit on parallettes
3×5 sec Pike on parallettes
8 dive bombers
6 dive bombers

About two weeks ago, I took part in the Spartan Sprint in Conyers, GA. This race was my second one for the year and was almost as tough as the first one, the Super Spartan in Miami at the end of February. I’ll tell you, I was shocked at the level of difficulty in the Sprint as I realized I was totally unprepared for it entirely. Obstacles were no contest, for the most part, because I’d seen them all two weeks prior, but it was the terrain and order that obstacles came in that beat me up 1000% more. Beaten up and cold, I finished in 1 hour 41 minutes for an overall placing of 1410 and took 231 in my age group, not bad for racing on a sprained ankle.

Frankly, I’d spent the entire two week interval between the two races worried about my sprained left ankle that I suffered in the Super Spartan; it hurt on an off for two weeks and I could find no discernible method to quell the pain. Ice, heat, stretching, compression, nothing really worked more effectively than just staying off my feet, something wholly untenable but I did what I could. When we got to Georgia, things got even worse as the cold front that had rolled through put my ankle in pain overdrive. When we left Florida, it was in the 70s, so my muscles were adequately warm and loose but it was in the low 40s when we got to my mom’s house, a temperature difference I certainly did not anticipate and it put my entire race on Saturday in jeopardy knowing that two weeks after the Sprint, I had another obstacle course race in Miami — the Superhero Scramble, held in the same park at the Super Spartan — and there was no way I was going to take myself out of that race as I’ve been looking forward to it for months on end. So I took as many precautions as I could to keep warm and stretchy, which I have no doubt did absolutely nothing to aid in recovery. But on the flip side, holy cow did we eat well that weekend. My mom grilled up some amazing steaks while my girlfriend fixed an excellent batch of mashed sweet potatoes. I must have eaten nearly a pound of those alone! It was an awesome meal and a great way to end the night before the race.

The next day, it was just as chilly as ever and my body was stiff as a board, thanks to a combination of sleeping on a bed stiffer than a board and the fact that it was 35F when I woke up. After a hearty pre-race meal of some stout coffee and a banana, we were off to the International Horse Park in Conyers that was built for the Olympics in ’96. I was still contemplating not running, everything was riding on how I felt after a warm up. I was worried all morning and everyone could tell because I was pretty much a jackass to everyone; my pre-race jitters typically only include a decision on whether I’m going to wear a shirt or not, but today was different and I had a decision to make since this was not my “A” race of the season. I was freezing cold and nervous but I picked up my race packet anyway and proceeded to bib-up, get my numbers scribbled on me, and generally act like a fool. I warmed up and got in the zone by jamming out to some Throwdown and Fall of Olympus.

Note: sexy shorts

Note: sexy shorts

Then I made my way to the starting corral and readied myself to run. I was there, so I was going to do it. If push came to shove, I could just walk the course.

My goodness, this race started off so easy, the first mile was the easiest part of the whole thing to be honest. After that, it was literally nothing but hill climbs and trudging through freezing cold water all day. All. Damn. Day. In fact, the second obstacle was jumping over road barriers into 1 foot deep troughs filled with freezing water…five times in a row. So not only was it about 45F outside, I now had freezing feet and little did I know that was going to be the theme of the entire race. Like I said at the beginning, the obstacles didn’t beat me, this course did, it was brutal. Living in Florida, I have almost no way to train running hills on a trail because we have no hills anywhere around here to run on. I can run stairs but it’s not the same thing, it won’t compare to trying to maintain grip with a shoe caked in mud. My lungs were on fire from the cold air, something I can train in only about two months out of the entire year.

Within the first two miles of the race, we were forced into a single track creek run that was probably about 100 yards in length and freezing, of course. After that, more hills and some obstacles. I was not prepared for the hills at all and it’s now my secondary training goal for the rest of the year. If this had been a flat course like the Super Spartan was two weeks prior, I would have finished much more quickly, probably. Once I ran what seemed to be another 100,000 miles up hills covered in pinestraw and Georgia red clay, I hit the course’s true equalizer: a 500 foot long mud crawl, complete with water troughs and a 15 foot sliding descent. Even if you could speed through the hills and the obstacles, the amount of stamina needed to crawl that far under barbed wire — complete with getting mud completely caked inside your shorts — was unreal. After the slide down, I noticed that most people had to stop and rest while realizing we were only halfway done with the crawl. Frankly, the race could have finished after the mud crawl and that would have been great, but no, it was back to more hills, seemingly another 15 bazillion miles up and down. But I only realized the worst was yet to come. The spear throw was comically put after that mud crawl, what a cruel joke. I missed the mark and did my first set of burpees for the day, the first of many.

The next fun obstacle that caught my attention was a sandbag haul up a hill whose height, at the time, seemed to rival the Himalayas or at least Stone Mountain on the other side of Atlanta. This hill was my breaking point at which I was either going to finish the whole damn thing or give up because my ankle was barely able to contend with hauling the 50lb sandbag up the 600 foot hill and back down, I slowly limped away grimacing in pain. Then came the course’s other torture device: a marsh run/walk. I’m sure I cursed in my race video but as I approached this, I knew the RD was simply torturing all of us by this point. I believe this “obstacle” was a 600-700 foot trudge through freezing thigh-deep water with a nice log in the middle we had to swim under. You can imagine my reluctance to do that one. But hey, the finish line was just on the other side of this cold, wet hell.

I managed to nail the rope climb this time, complete with hitting the bell! I still fell off the horizontal wall climb, it wasn’t worth it. Then at the finish, one of the gladiators slammed his giant Q-tip straight into my elbow, tip first, granting me a safe passage across the finish line with a massive bruise. Thanks, guy! This was also the first race I’ve completed where I have been completely dehydrated at the end, nearly vomiting as soon as the girl handed me my finisher’s medal. That sucked, badly. So then I pounded a quart of chocolate milk, washed the 15lbs of mud off my freezing body (with water that was colder than ice), iced up my arm, drank a beer and then met this guy.

Hobie Call, the nation's best obstacle course racer

Hobie Call, the nation's best obstacle course racer

Hobie Call, ’nuff said. I’ll be seeing him again in Miami at the Scramble. Overall, this race was 5 times more difficult than anything I had anticipated and clocked in at nearly 5 miles, 2 miles further than I had expected. Clamoring up and down the side of Georgia hills for almost two hours was extremely humbling but I’ll be returning next year but this time, I’ll have a race partner: my mom! She was so geeked up about the whole experience, she has pledged to run the race with me if her doctors clear her to compete, she has to make sure her hip holds up.

This makes me more proud than anything I did that day. It made catching a horrible cold completely worth it, my mom has made me so proud.

Today was the first time I’ve done one of the Spartan WODs, and really, it was my first structured workout in a while. It SMOKED me.

Warm-up
1 round of 10 push ups, pull ups, dips, sit ups, air squats (original WOD said 3x, I didn’t remember that)

Workout
For 30 minutes AMRAP
800m run
20 burpees

In 30 minutes, I ended up only 150m short of 4 rounds. But I still finished the 4th round and burpees after stopping my watch.

Cool down
Walk, stretch, talk to some people, L-sit on parallettes

Back in November, I got my hands on the Timex Run Trainer and I’ve been using it everyday since then. And not just for its functionality as a GPS-enabled fitness watch but as an everyday watch as well. So now I’ve got over five months of experience of using this and I want to provide an update to the previous review, which was only based on having it for about a week.

DISLIKES:

I still think the watch is literally huge and at least 20%-25% of size could easily be shaved off to make something less unwieldy. Again, my Garmin FR210 has 90% of the same software functions and is half as large. Just to give you an idea of the size difference, here’s a shot of the FR210 on top of the TRT itself.

Size comparison: Garmin FR210 on top of the Timex Run Trainer

Size comparison: Garmin FR210 on top of the Timex Run Trainer

If they make a 2012 or 2013 version of this watch, they need to seriously shrink it down. Size aside, the weight is hardly noticeable once you wear it after a while, I hardly ever notice it on my wrist unless it gets caught on something because it’s so damned large; I can barely put my motorcycle jacket on without either taking the watch off or undoing the cuffs to their largest diameter first. But enough about its mammoth girth.

This thing seriously needs a new strap design. The stiff rubber doesn’t conform to any wrist shape I’ve ever seen in my entire life, but it’s perfectly round enough to fit around a bottle with no issue. Conversely, the Garmin FR910XT makes use of an ingenious design: make one arm of the strap swing freely like an actual watchband. Imagine that, a technology company using a piece of design tech from a regular watch, something Timex has made since 1854. Seeing this literally blows my mind, they got scooped at their own game. I cannot decide if Timex designed the Run Trainer to fit bicycle bars or bottles, but it wasn’t made for a human wrist, that’s for sure.

Indiglo still sucks horribly but I’ve learned when to use it most effectively. It’s truly only useful well into the night, it’s pointless at or around dusk. Fiddling with the contrast helps some but I still firmly believe that a color inversion on the display would work better, something Suunto has done with success. The actual brightness has taken some getting used to as well, but it’s usable. Not great but not bad, but not really good either. It’s there, so you use it or you don’t.

While its functionality is still designed by engineers — you can tell a UI or UX designer never came close to touching this thing — getting acclimated to how it works does not take very long, especially if you read the manual. It still has operational or design quirks that I think would have been normal 5 years ago but should never occur today (e.g. all sensors stay on until you manually turn them off, I don’t know of any fitness watch that doesn’t turn those functions off after X minutes). Luckily, this is 100% fixable through a firmware update but getting Timex to actually fix that is another point altogether. Their support on their Facebook page is extremely responsive but does not always follow through.

To get the data off the watch, you have to use Training Peaks’ Device Agent, which isn’t bad, but it’s another engineer-designed app, just like their website. It’s all about getting data in front of your eyeballs, regardless of format or how it looks. Besides the fact that TrainingPeaks’ website is god awful confusing for most people to use, locking users into using it is a very poor choice, especially for first time users. I’m not saying Timex or TP should debut a site as easy to use as Garmin Connect, but they do need to make strides to make the site (and software) far more usable for those users that aren’t high-level athletes with coaches. Or they need to do something else: allow easy export (in part or whole) of your data into a .FIT file or similar file format. I’ve searched their forums and tried everything in TP’s site but there’s no easy way to export your data to any other service such as Garmin Connect, RunKeeper, Endomondo, or anything else. Instead, you have to rely on exporting the .PWX.GZ file generated by the Timex Run Trainer and then using a 3rd party site to convert to .FIT, .KML or another format for use on other services, which tends to not be the most reliable data output you’ll get. These results tend to be hit-and-miss at best, with data points getting dropped, munged, or other data left out altogether. The worst fun part about this is you have to export each workout data set one-by-one and TrainingPeaks have no plans to offer any type of mass export. They want to keep your data in their analytics package and do not want to let you have data portability. And if you want any type of advanced analytics, you have to pay for their premium package, all to get the same results from other services that offer it for free. While this isn’t necessarily a problem with Timex, it is their problem in that they only allow you to have one single data output format and analytics dashboard, but the other problem lies with TrainingPeaks to make getting your data out of their walled garden difficult, much to the dismay of their own users. I have a feeling this partnership came to fruition because Timex has a share in TrainingPeaks and making sure its use grows. Companies need to realize, as end users, we like choice and options to view our data and forcing us to use a single application to view that data is not a wise decision. If I’m paying over $200 for the Timex Run Trainer, the least they could do is pair it with a free year of premium TrainingPeaks access — I realize there is a “special” Timex-branded dashboard account you can get but it only offers up a few free training plans (all of which are only useful for marathoners or triathletes) and one or two extra analytics options, none of which is any use to me. The upside to getting the branded dashboard is that it removes TP’s annoying ads.

If you like using a footpod, just get yourself a Forerunner 210 or a much more expensive watch. For whatever reason, Timex decided that if you use both the GPS and a footpod at the same time, the watch needs to trust the footpod over the GPS for distance and speed data. That’s right: it uses the footpod over the GPS…BY DESIGN. That’s great if you’re running on a treadmill but then, you don’t even use the GPS anyway, you’re inside. Every other watch will combine the data from both to give even more accurate results or will switch over to the footpod for distance and speed when there is weak or no GPS signal. With the Timex Run Trainer, you get the choice of using the GPS or the footpod, not both. Timex designed it this way on purpose, which is why I’ve never even synced my footpod with the watch.

The watch has different activity modes for stuff like walking, hiking, running, cross-training, and so on. But the manual doesn’t talk about them at all so there’s no explanation of why these modes are there, why you can configure them, or if they calculate the data slightly differently. The only reason I can see for them being in the watch is so that when you import the data to TrainingPeaks, it can be automatically color-coded for that particular activity. Other than that, I’ve found literally no difference in how ‘run’ and ‘crosstrain’ are used or calculated. They could excise this “feature” altogether and use the extra bits to make the backlight time out configurable.

Honestly, most of my complaints 5 months down the road in owning this are almost identical to the ones I had after using it for a week. I’m used to them now, but that doesn’t make them any less annoying or boneheaded. If Timex doesn’t fix such rather simple issues in their next iteration of a GPS-based watch, they should seriously consider not making them any longer. This is a crowded field and is getting more crowded by the year, and while Timex has only made two GPS watches (three if you count the soon-to-be released Marathon GPS T5K638 which removes HRM functionality), they’re getting beaten by everyone else, including the Soleus 1.0 which is the first GPS-based watch from Soleus and pretty much everyone loves it. If Timex is getting beat by someone as small as Soleus, they have little chance of stealing market share from Garmin or people armed with smartphones and Wahoo Bluetooth dongles.

LIKES:

After my first week of using the watch, I hated the mushy, crappy buttons. Well, my mind has changed a little over time, but only a little. I still hate the mushy feedback and the fact that I hit them randomly from time-to-time with the back of my hand, but I’ve come to enjoy the feel of them. They’re huge buttons, that’s a definite plus. The mushy action does help prevent accidental presses sometimes but doesn’t always succeed, it’s a very mixed bag. But this mushiness is a champ when you’re slogging through a mud run or heavy rain and the waterproof rubber under those buttons keeps the watch running. Timex gets an A for the idea, B- for effort. They could have rubberized the outside of the buttons and made them 100% waterproof with a really good functional amount of button travel. Maybe in the future. Perhaps they’ll poach some of Garmins design engineers to do this since they’ve done it for a few generations now.

Last time, I thought the backlight timeout was too short and by default, it is. But I recently discovered that if you hold the INDIGLO button down until it beeps three times in succession, the backlight stays on. WIN! On every night run I do, I leave the light on the entire time now. I just wish it mentioned this in the manual. By measure, you need to hold down the INDIGLO button for about 8 seconds before it beeps three times.

I can now say that this thing is certainly water-resistant to 50 meters just like it says. Between a million showers (both in rain and in my bathroom), gallons of sweat, some beer, gobs of mud, and even slogging through saltwater, this thing hasn’t quit and died on me from water exposure. Even when I press those mushy buttons covered in mud, they still function and my watch continues to live. Although, a thorough cleaning of the watch after any activity involving something other than water or sweat is highly advised. So far, it’s built tougher than I am. The thick plastic face doesn’t hurt either, it’s extremely well sealed on my watch.

I know the watch is huge but the biggest upside to that is you get huge numbers on that display. During a run, I have my heart rate displayed in the middle on a 3-line display and there’s no mistaking or mis-reading the numbers because they’re huge. I would say that in a 3-line configuration, the middle data display is approximately one-half inch, absolutely HUGE compared to other watches. Definite plus. This large face translates well to running a 4-line display as well and I use that as my main display during non-running workout sessions. If I could configure it to a 2-line display, I probably would.

Certainly lending to its large size and tough outer plastic face, this thing is built tough. I’ve slammed it countless times against counter tops, bars, barbells, my kettlebell, and other tough surfaces and the body itself shows little to no signs of wear. Let’s just say I think it’s built like a plastic tank, tough but by no means indestructible. When I ran the Georgia Spartan Sprint a week ago, my watch face finally fell victim to a massive 400 foot long mud crawl, it’s now covered in scratches. The face is still readable but the plastic is no longer shiny and scratch-free, but matted and dull. Granted, I think just about any other watch would have given up the ghost, but the Timex Run Trainer is still working. Now I just hope getting a new screen replacement is easy.

I love, love, love the EAT and DRINK timers because, well, they’re super helpful. When I use them, I have them set up for every 15 minutes or so because I know in a 5k race, that will be about the same time we hit the first water/aid station so I can train in a nearly identical atmosphere to an actual race (they’re useless in an obstacle course race though unless you have a hydration belt or pack). But I’ve also used them as alert timers for doing drills such as push-ups or dive bombers during runs, just to kick things up a notch. Really, not much to talk about here since it’s just a timer that goes off at an interval you set.

Conclusions
Now that I’ve used this watch nearly everyday for almost 5 months straight, I’ve got a considerable amount of experience with it, as you can see. I’ve used this watch as both my daily to-wear watch and for every exercise I’ve done since I got it, the only time it has left my wrist was either to charge or after cleaning it from race-related debris. While it’s not the most fashion-forward watch, it’s not a garish eye sore either. The watch is in a tough field with a ton of choices and for the price, it does everything $400-plus watches do at half the cost, which is a definite plus. But the real question is this: would I ever recommend it to my friends as their first GPS-enabled fitness watch?

No

I’d just tell them to get a Forerunner 210. Why? Now, I love the fact that I get most of the functionality from Timex’s own Global Trainer and Garmin’s 400, 600, and 910XT series for under $250USD, but there are drawbacks. It’s rather confusing and daunting to use at first and I think that even my technology-savvy programmer friends would find this tough to use. It’s built-to-last but that makes it big, bulky, and ugly and ill-fitting. I know for a fact that this thing will last me a year’s worth of swimming and mud crawls before it dies unless I do something stupid with it first. INDIGLO could be great, but it’s not, it’s 20 year old technology that functions like it did 20 years ago. The display could use some design enhancements (ref: Suunto’s new Ambit, its display is gorgeous) but it’s infinitely more readable than others on the market. Once you get used to TrainingPeaks and how it works, it provides an excellent way to analyze your workout data, just don’t expect to use that data in RunKeeper. If this watch were Timex’s first foray into the GPS-enabled watch world, I’d say they did a good enough job and have a very stable platform to build on but since this is now their second watch released since 2010, this second generation watch should have been a vast improvement over the Global Trainer rather than acting as an incremental upgrade at a lower cost (albeit, minus much more advanced features as well). If they want to stay in this market, they’re going to have to really step up their game to come close to gaining traction.

Right now, I’ve got my complaints but the Timex Run Trainer serves nearly all of my needs without fail and until something super-ridiculous-amazing comes out to replace it (from any company), I’ll keep using it because its function in obstacle course racing is unparalleled in its price range.