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After starting to talk about this application last October, Garmin has finally launched the application publicly. The delay was due to the fact that it needed the latest version of Connect IQ 2.4, which was not widely deployed until December 8 to all supported watches.
In order to obtain data from these applications we need an external sensor to provide data, it is not enough to install the application on the clock. And not all clocks are compatible because, although it may seem that having a Connect IQ 2.4 compatible model is enough, Garmin has put in more additional requirements.
I haven't had much time to test the Garmin application, but I've been using Stryd at my trainings and careers and watts have become one of the main metrics I pay attention to, so I'm pretty clear on what I can expect from the Garmin application.
So I'll go straight to explaining what it is and what you can get from the new Garmin application (more like apps).
Garmin Running Power, what you need to make it work
There are a series of conditions that you must fulfill in order to have this application running on your clock, and each of them eliminates candidates. Remember the game "Who's Who" in which you ask questions and cross out those characters that do not correspond to the same characteristics? Well, let's play the same game.
First of all, I'd like to introduce you to the game board, which is basically the models compatible with Garmin Connect version 2.4, called Biker Monkey.
Indeed, this leaves out some models that might otherwise be fully compatible, such as the Fenix 3 or the 920XT. Unfortunately, their internal memory capabilities are not sufficient for the latest versions of Connect IQ and they have been "stalled" for some time in the first version, but until now we have not seen the real consequences of falling behind. Welcome to obsolescence.
Clearly the first question we have to ask: is it a clock? Because the application only supports clocks and not other devices. We start to remove.
The next requirement is that we need a barometric altimeter, since changes in altitude (up or down slopes) is one of the fundamental elements in the calculation algorithm. This makes us eliminate a couple of models from the list (goodbye, FR735XT).
And as I said at the beginning it is not enough with the data provided by the clock, we also need race metric data provided by one of these Garmin sensors:
- HRM-Run pulse sensor in either version (black with white dummy or red)
- HRM-Tri pulse sensor
- Running dynamics pod
And not all watches are compatible with the advanced racing metrics provided by the sensors above. So we move on to say goodbye to the Vivoactive HR and Vivoactive 3.
And as of today neither D2 Charlie nor Quatix 5 have updated their firmware (although I don't think there are many users of these watches around), so the list is reduced to only the following models:
- Garmin Fenix Chronos
- Garmin Fenix 5 in any of its versions (5S, 5 or 5X)
- Garmin Forerunner 935
The bottom line is that only top-of-the-line Garmin models are compatible with the new application, whether we like it or not:
- It has a barometric altimeter (eliminating Vivoactive, FR230, FR235, FR630 and FR735XT)
- Compatible with Connect IQ 2.4 (eliminating the above plus Fenix 3 and FR920XT)
- Compatible with stroke metric sensors (eliminating the previous ones plus Vivoactive HR and Vivoactive 3)
Available power applications
I'm talking about applications, but actually these are data fields to be used in the career profiles. This has its positive and negative aspects as we will see later on. But I will start with the 5 versions that we can find in the application store at the moment.
The first thing that stands out is that the data fields are not created by Garmin, but by a new developer called GarminLabs. It's a way of "disguising" the fact that we are dealing with something in the development phase and that the data has to be treated with tweezers. Because talking about "beta" always looks worse to the gallery (although it works for Google).
There are five versions available and each one shows different information on the clock. What you should be aware of is that no matter which one you are using, the data recorded in the activity file will always be the same and you will be able to consult it later in the synchronised training. But the field must be active in the profile you are using, not just downloading it.
This is what each one offers
- Average Running Power: Average power for the whole workout
- Running Power ComboOne screen with current power, lap power, last lap power and average training power, the other four data in one
- Lap Running PowerAverage power for the current lap
- Last Lap Running PowerAverage power for the last completed lap
- Running PowerInstantaneous power
Which one to choose from all of them will depend on what data you need to have in the training in question. If you have gone out to do interval training you will not need to know the average power of the whole training, in that case the average power for the current lap would be the most appropriate option, being able to combine it with other data fields.
Each time you press the lap button a new lap will start, and the watch will record the average power of that interval.
The combo may be the most interesting, but we lose the possibility of combining it with other metrics such as time, distance, rhythm or heart rate since it is a complete page with the four data.
I was saying earlier that choosing data fields over applications had its good points, and this is one of them, since you can easily integrate the power into any race profile you have along with the rest of the selected data.
And you can continue to use it with all the other settings you've been using so far, such as alerts, auto-returns, or while you're navigating a route.
But there are also downsides to consider, such as the limitation on clocks that prevent us from having more than two Connect IQ fields active in the same application. You can have many downloads, but in the race application you're going to use you can only have two active. And the restriction is even greater when you consider that you can't reuse the same Connect IQ field on multiple pages.
For example, it is usual that in the race profiles we have configured a page with general data and another one with specific data of the current lap. In this same example we could not have the same instantaneous power data in those two pages.
If you now have two active Connect IQ fields, you will need to discard one of them to accommodate the power.
For the power calculation it is of utmost importance that the weight and height data are correctly established in your profile, as they are the important data for the power calculation. Depending on your height the interpretation of the race dynamics data will be different (vertical displacement, etc.), and of course you do not need the same power to move 50 kilos or 90 kilos.
The application has another possible configuration, which is to use the wind data for the calculations.
If we activate this option, the application will take into account the wind data it obtains from nearby weather stations. Among the currently existing race power meters (RunScribe and Stryd mainly), it is the only one that offers wind correction, as none of the others take it into account.
But in my opinion it's more facing the gallery. Those data obtained... are they from the same area where you're running, or from a quite distant point? Because there's not the same wind in an open space as running between streets inside the city. Nor is running in a forest protected by trees to running in a meadow.
Is the power data accurate?
I'm going to be totally clear from the beginning. NO, they're not. But don't get me wrong, it's not like Garmin has developed a faulty application and the rest of the competitors offer totally reliable data. None of them do.
The first thing to understand is that, unlike cycling, there is no sensor between our feet and the ground. In cycling there are strain gauges that can provide data with a fairly small margin of error. Here we are talking about algorithms that use user data along with accelerometers and barometers.
(Yes, there are some developments that try to obtain data in a much more precise way, but they are not exempt from other problems that at the moment make them impractical)
We must be clear that we are always talking about estimates, and it is something that no manufacturer tries to hide. And we must also take into account that there are other very important variables involved in the effort that are not being counted, such as headwind or land surface mainly.
Everyone knows that it does not require the same effort to run with a headwind or a tailwind, and that running on asphalt is not the same as running on grass or sand. Stryd, RunScribe or Garmin do not take these facts into account (only Garmin the wind, and with many objections).
It is commendable that all three companies are quite clear about this, and that they provide documentation to know what they base their calculations on. For example, Stryd sent a link to the study that reflects why they believe their method of measurement is the most accurate.
Certainly, they are the only ones who have done tests with equipment in the laboratory, guaranteeing the accuracy of their device. But we have the mania of running outside, so a closed environment such as the laboratory does not extrapolate perfectly to running outside.
Garmin also has a Quite extensive FAQ to try to solve all the doubts you may have about why they come to the data they do.
At this point you're probably wondering how the results of one and the other compare and if there's a correlation between them. So let's go with a test in which I've tried to include all the possible variables to analyze calmly. You can see it directly at this link and do your own analysis.
Taking advantage of the fact that I had to do a session with 100m intervals, I took the opportunity to extend it a little bit and include some other daily situations of any training. I detail what are the steps of each part.
- A first segment of warm-up at a progressive rate, starting very gently and increasing gradually
- 1.2km climb trying to maintain a constant pace of 6:00 min/km
- Go back down the same slope trying to keep the same pace again, so you can compare how it affects the power displayed
- 100mx10 with 30 second rest. Very short and intense intervals
- Very smooth cooling trot
To help you distinguish it, the grey graph is the one for Garmin Running Power, while the graph with the orange line is the one for Stryd.
I do not want this to become a comparison between Stryd and Garmin Running Power, nor do I want to determine which of the two is more accurate, because as I said earlier, it is impossible to say exactly. There is no current technology that allows this to be done.
So let's go with the first part. It's a 10-minute run on practically flat ground, increasing the pace little by little.
The first thing that stands out is that the Stryd data is much more filtered, while the Garmin graph has much more variability. This is something that I have also been able to appreciate while running, although it is also true that in the clock I use the Stryd field of the 3s average precisely to avoid these oscillations (this does not affect the data recording, which is 1s regardless of what the clock shows).
Otherwise, when the rhythm is smooth both measurements are quite similar, but as we increase the rhythm the power marked by Garmin's algorithm increases more than that offered by Stryd. At least for the moment...
We begin the climb and the descent. Here I have introduced a third variable: rhythm.
You can see how I've kept a perfectly constant pace both uphill and downhill, but it's made quite a difference in terms of the effort put in.
If we analyze it with respect to the height you can see that the climb is not almost constant in the slope. When there has been a drop in the power of both graphs you can see that it occurs because the slope relaxes slightly, so by maintaining a steady pace now it costs less effort to move.
Here the difference between Stryd and Garmin is much greater than what we could see in the first part, but I don't care about that, being different algorithms it is clear that they were not going to offer the same data, what I want is to check if it has a logical behavior with respect to the effort made.
Running on slopes is one of the most important aspects of power. In a flat race it's not very difficult to maintain a constant effort, but it gets more difficult when there is undulation in the terrain. It's quite common that when the road bites upwards we try to increase the effort to maintain a constant pace. And since you probably won't make it, try to compensate by accelerating on the descent. Result? You are running over your limits. That multiplied by many slopes means you will end up bursting before your time because even if you are in a target pace, you are not maintaining a constant effort.
So if instead of strategizing about pace you strategize about power, you can maintain a constant effort throughout the race, regardless of whether the terrain is flat or rolling. And in races with many slopes it is a competitive advantage that you should not ignore.
Let's move on to the intervals. Here in Garmin data there is considerably more variability between the different intervals than is the case with Stryd. There is also a difference in how the standing or walking moment is interpreted in that Stryd goes directly to 0 (even if it is walking) and Garmin displays data at all times (even if it is standing).
Now the third variable I introduce is the heart rate, because I want you to see another quality of training with the objective of power.
If we look at the watts, the beginning and the end of the interval are clearly defined. When you run, there is no effort, when you stop, there is no more effort. However, doing intervals with respect to the heart rate is much more complicated because of the delay that occurs.
The peak heart rate occurs just at the end of the interval (as it is such a short series) and has a much slower rise than the power that is totally instantaneous (as is the rhythm).
Finally the very smooth trot at the end where the figures are again quite even.
The first conclusion you will draw is that there is no correlation between the data of one and the other. So we can take them as valid?
I repeat that, for the moment, we cannot take race power data as an absolute number. My race power is not comparable to yours because there are many variables that interfere with the measurement and cannot be taken into account.
What's more, we can't even extrapolate our data from years of training if we change our measurement method tomorrow. We'll have to learn everything all over again from scratch. And not just because I changed brands, I could see the same difference between Stryd's data when I switched from the sensor on my chest to the sensor in my shoe.
If there's one thing I can be sure of, it's that the power in the race is here to stay. The first steps are still being taken, but it's going to be the next target for all the manufacturers.
Years ago the same thing happened with the power in cycling. At the beginning there was not much understanding of what to do with it and there was a lot of scepticism about its usefulness. Today it is the most important variable that determines training and competitions and serves to classify cyclists.
Garmin has not launched anything new with this new application nor has it discovered gunpowder. In fact it has simply taken the ideas of others and incorporated them in its own way. But what Garmin does with this entry is popularize this new metric.
And it's not only useful to give us a running power data, it's also useful to give a sense to all the running metrics we were measuring so far and that didn't offer too much actuable information, in the sense that we didn't know what to do with it. We had sensors to measure ground contact time, vertical displacement, cadence and stride length... But if all that translates into one single power data it's much easier to understand.
What is clear is that if you have a compatible watch and have the corresponding pulse sensor, adding this data field to any data page will not do you any harm, even if you do not pay any attention to it on a daily basis and simply collect data that you can analyze within six months.
Although the data obtained is not "scientifically valid", it is useful for understanding patterns. It is not something that can be used from today, you need a learning period after which it can become a data equal or more important than the heart rate or instantaneous rhythm when you are able to determine your "FTP in race", just as it is of the utmost importance in cycling.
Two years ago nobody talked about power in the race. Today there are several manufacturers with specific devices, ANT+ has created a working group to define working standards and establish key points. Who knows if this is the first step to achieve consistency in the records offered by the different offers in the market and, even more, those that are to come and offer new alternatives.
Personally, I'm clear that the future is quite exciting in terms of the possibilities that power can offer in racing and I'm looking forward to seeing all the new features that will be introduced by the different manufacturers, especially now that Garmin has made it mainstream.
And with that... thanks for reading!