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Gear: Fitness Devices

Here are my experiences with specific fitness devices as of October 2016:

GPS Watches (Running, Cycling and Hiking)

I started out with the Garmin 305 when I took up running seriously here in Amsterdam.  The 305 was a good runner watch for its time and it helped me train for and run three half-marathons. I ended up killing it during a very rainy training run in 2012 and picked up a 610 to replace it.  The 610 was also pretty solid as a running watch. The major downside of my 610 was the wristband; I like many others managed to rip the anchoring pin through the band itself.  I ordered a replacement but found the 610 design had changed slightly over time and the new band would not fit my older watch.  Some black electrical tape fixed the problem.

In 2015, I started to read more about the new multisport Fenix 3 and thought it would be a good upgrade on the 610.  I’m happy with the Fenix 3 in every way; it’s a very impressive piece of technology and looks good enough to wear for daily use. The management of workouts, the handling of various sports and the increase in precision are all upgrades over previous Garmins.  Even something seeming unimportant as the ability to change the watch face is really well implemented and various 3rd-party developers have produced some beautiful watch faces, giving the Fenix 3 a lot of style. Definitely recommended.

Heart Rate Monitors

Like most users, I started with the chest strap version for measuring heart rate. And like many users, I had a constant battle with chaffing, scratching and communication dropouts.  I finally decided to try an optical HR monitor and haven’t looked back. The Mio works well and has proved very reliable. Its only downside is that its Bluetooth transmission distance is relatively short, so I have to wear it on the same arm as my GPS watch. I’m not going to win any fashion contest this way, but the elimination of my chaffing issues with chest bands makes this a small price to pay.

Handheld GPS Navigators

While I started out using these Garmin units for geocaching, both proved to be equally useful as navigation units for cycling.  Paired with the open-source mapping initiative, OpenFietsMap, these Garmin units will route cyclists on bicycle paths throughout Europe. I’ve always got the Oregon on my Santos when out cycling, and it’s a good geocaching device as well.

Activity Monitors

I got a Fitbit One soon after they came out and found it to be a positive influence on my lifestyle, especially around work.  Paired up with the FitBit app, I found that I could watch my food intake and energy output more directly and made some good strides in getting aspects of my weight under control.

When I unfortunately lost my FitBit in the summer of 2015, I decided to move to the Charge HR, which includes an optical HR monitor.  While I don’t use it during fitness activities, I have found the HR measurement, especially the resting HR calculation to be very valuable to assess my basic health (am I getting sick? have I over-trained?).  I also like the auto-calculation of sleep intervals; it works well and it’s one less thing that I need to remember to start and stop on the FitBit One.  The only downside of the Charge HR was a bit of chaffing on my forearm in the early days, the shorter interval for recharging (the One would get a week or more out of a charge; the Charge HR got 3 days maximum).

In September 2016, I replaced the Charge HR with the brand-new Charge HR2, as I managed to delaminate the Charge HR sensor from its integral wrist band after a year of fulltime use.  I really like the new larger display and the new band attachment system; this should fix the delamination problem.

Software

SportTracks 3 fundamentally changed how I tracked my fitness and outdoor activities.  The ability to analyze the GPS and HR time series captured by GPS watches made detailed analysis of my training very easy. I can also summarize a variety of activities, answering questions like how many cycling trips from Amsterdam and what is the total number of miles I’ve run in a year.

While SportTracks is fundamentally powerful, it is the capability for others to develop plugins that yields some of its most powerful functionality. I use the following plugins almost everytime I used SportTracks:

  • Elevation Correction
  • Calculated Fields
  • Training Load
  • Weather
  • GPS2PowerTrack
  • Dobrou Extensions (stopped working in 2015)

I used Garmin Connect account to manage my Fenix 3. In addition, I have a SportTracks.mobi account to get the workout information from Garmin Connect to SportTracks 3.

Like the Fenix 3, SportTracks gets the highest recommendation from me.

Microadventure: Bolwerken

Between our house and Oosterpark, we pass by a plaque in the sidewalk that indicates that Bolwerk Muiden once stood there. Intriguingly, the plaque has a URL link engraved on it: “www.bolwerken.amsterdam.nl/22”. Finally a few months ago I looked it up.  It turns out that this plaque was part of a project to mark all 26 bolwerken  that protected Amsterdam during its golden age.

I saw this as an opportunity to do a second urban microadventure in Amsterdam. I could not find any more information about the location of the plaques other than some handmade drawings on the website. So I did the best I could in translating the drawings into GPS coordinates. The final step was to load the coordinates into my Garmin Oregon 450.

When I explained the idea to Robin, she thought it would be a interesting day out, so we planned to go the next nice Saturday or Sunday. We arose on Sunday October 9 to a great weather forecast and so decided to go. We took the tram into Centraal Station and then walked out towards the first plaque from there.

Things did not start too well as we could not find the first plaque (“Blaauwhoofd”) after 15 minutes of searching. But we soon hit our stride and found four plaques in succession. Unfortunately, number 6 (“Karthuizen”) eluded us. After finding the 8th plaque (“Reijkeroord”), we crossed the canal and had a quick lunch at the outdoor cafe at Morgan & Mees.  Back on the walk, we found most of  the plaques except for numbers 10 (“Nieuwkerk”) and 16 (“Reguliers”). Starting with number 17, we then hit our best stretch of the day and found 8 straight plaques.  The day finished on a down note as we did not find number 26 (“Zeeburg”) before the rain started. Interestingly, a week later I was going through photos of my 2014 microadventure and found a photo of the 26th plaque.  Robin and I returned to the location on our Sunday run and photographed #26.

The gpx file below contains accurate coordinates for the plaques we found. In addition, it has the rough locations of the bulwarks for the ones we did not find (marked as DNF). If you find our missing plaques and take the GPS coordinates of them, please send them along.

All in all, this was a great way to see the city in a way we hadn’t done before.

Microadventure - Amsterdam Bolwerken

Microadventure – Amsterdam Bolwerken
Distance: 18.3 km
Download the gpx file of the coordinates of the plaques.

Hike: Harderkulm

Since my train back to Amsterdam after the photography workshop did not leave until 1:00 pm, I had a morning in  Interlaken to do something outdoors. With the Hardergrat rising some 800 metres just north of the city centre, hiking to its western summit, the Harderkulm, was an easy choice.

The weather continued to be less than stellar as I awoke to the sound of rain. I set out in the dark, rain gear on and my cameras packed safely away in my weatherproof backpack.

The climbing started immediately after passing the funicular station (which of course is the easy way up). About half way up the rain finally tapered off and I continued to walk through intermittent clouds. The trail broke out of the trees a couple of times: once to cut across a picturesque Swiss farm; another time for a lookout view over Interlaken. After a lot of uphill walking, there was a nice stretch of relatively flat hiking as the trail headed the west end of the Hardergrat ridge. A short climb later, I reached the Harderkulm station. I was definitely the first person up for the day and had the whole observation deck to myself.

And what a view awaited me! The clouds were moving quickly through the valley and the sun was in the right position for some terrific Jacob’s Ladders. I spent some time trying to find the best photograph in the quickly changing conditions; the one above is my favourite.

All too soon, it was time to head back down. I quickly saw that this was a popular fitness hike with the locals as I must have passed 10 to 15 people hiking up as I descended. I retraced my steps back to the hotel, and celebrated the end of a great long weekend in the Alps with a hot shower and a good breakfast.

Harderkulm-9-19-2016

Hike: Harderkulm
Distance: 10.7 km
Elevation Gain: 750m
Download the gpx file of my hike.

Adventure Sports Workshop Wrap-up

Visit the photo set 2016: Adventure Sport Photography Workshop on Flickr.

It’s been a week and a half since I’ve been home from Viewfinder Center’s Adventure Sports Photography Workshop. The workshop exceeded my expectations in almost every way. Many thanks to Dan and Janine Patitucci, the workshop instructors, and the other five attendees for a great experience.

Although the weather was less than stellar, we did get three shooting sessions in and learned how to make strong images of people in the great outdoors. We spent the rest of the three-day workshop in deep discussions about photography theory, Lightroom, and the complexities of running a photography business in 2016. The experience has really helped to shape my plans of moving Station Studios from a hobby to a second-career business.

One Photo – Port Stanley

Robin and I spent a quick week back in Canada starting on the Labour Day weekend. On one of the mornings we spent in Port Stanley, I got up early and went for a walk on the new western breakwater and watched the sun come up. The photo above captured the mood well, with the sun breaking out over the bank of early morning clouds.

Camera: Sony DSC-RX100
Lens: Zeiss 18-100mm f/1.8-4.9
Focal Length: 37.1 mm
Exposure: 1/125 sec at f/11
ISO Speed Rating: ISO 200

Cycle: Katwijk

Like 2014 and 2015, scheduling the 2016 edition of my Metric Century Ride to occur on Father’s Day proved to be difficult (here are the links to my 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 rides). Robin and I were at sea on Father’s Day proper, heading towards Copenhagen. Subsequent trips to Belgium and Texel chewed up another few weekends and finally a two-week business trip to Houston in early August left me with only one weekend to get my ride in before September.

Looking at my cumulative map of places I’ve cycled out of Amsterdam, it was clear that the biggest gap was to the southwest. So I set up a plan to cycle west to Zandvoort, head along the North Sea coast to Katwijk and then circle around Leiden before heading back to Amsterdam. This would represent the longest distance so far on these century rides. Unfortunately my fitness level this summer was probably the lowest it has been in the five years I’ve been doing these century rides. So I knew I would have to take things easy, especially early in the day.

Leaving home around 8:00 am, I picked up the long-distance cycle route LF20 out towards Haarlem. I’ve done this part of the trip many times and with the wind at my back, it was a pleasant way to start the day.

Just past Haarlem in the village of Duinwijk, I picked up the LF1 route. I guess I didn’t read the signs well here as I ended heading north on the LF1 when I should have turned southwest.  The upshot is that I likely added 10 km to my ride by reaching the seaside at Bloemendaal aan Zee.

I started southwest with the North Sea on my right and the dunes to my left. At Zandvoort, I rejoined the LF1.  The LF1 from Zandvoort to Katwijk was the scenic highlight of the day; the lead photo shows the LF1 cutting through the dunes just south of Zandvoort. I refilled my water bottles at the water spout at the south end of Noordwijk; a welcome gift from the city.

Arriving in Katwijk, I stopped for a few minutes for a rest.  I like the way the city put the parking for the beach underground; it really made the approach to the beach much more scenic. I also really liked that the city provided free washrooms at the entrances to the parking garages.

Leaving the LF1 at Katwijk, I realized the wind would be in my face all the way back to Amsterdam and the second half of the trip would be challenging. my goal was to circle the central train station at Leiden, a place I travel through at least once a week on my way to the offices in Rijswijk. I enjoyed cycling through Leiden; it reminded me that Robin and I should visit there again and see more of the old city. I also enjoyed the villages of Ode Ade and Rijwetering. Finally I reached Leimuiden, a place I had cycled to several times before and therefore had a good idea of the work ahead of me to make it home. I stopped in Rijsenhout for water and a Coke, my go-to drink for a long cycle. Before much longer, I was back on familiar ground in the Amsterdamse Bos and back home 20 minutes later.

Physically, this was probably the toughest century ride yet for me. I just didn’t have enough cycling miles under my belt this year to sustain a high speed into the wind from Leiden home. On the other hand, it was a beautiful day and I did get to see some very scenic parts of the country.

Katwijk_8_27_2016

Cycle: Katwijk
Distance: 120.9 km
Download the gpx file of my cycle.