Heart Rate shouldn’t be this hard

In the 13-odd years I’ve been racing kayaks, I’ve come to rely on having my speed and heart rate displayed in front of me to help with pacing, both during training and racing. And usually that’s been done with the combination of some model of Garmin Forerunner GPS “watch” and a heart rate chest strap – starting with a Forerunner 301 (which nobody except Garmin would call a watch) and the strap that came with it, going through several generations of Forerunner and occasionally replacing the strap because Garmin uses these tiny little screws to hold in the battery cover and they strip easy. I’ve got 2 or 3 of them in my drawer with stripped screws. A few years ago I replaced my Garmin chest strap with a Wahoo TICKR and it worked great. Not only does it have a battery compartment that you can open with a quarter (or the corner of your CrashTag) but it also broadcast on both ANT+ for your watch and Bluetooth so you could display it on your phone (with the help of the Wahoo Fitness app).

Fast forward at bit. After a couple of years of the TICKR working great, I lost it. No idea what happened to it, it’s not in any of the places I’d normally put my strap between workouts, or any of the places where Vicki would throw it on “cleaning lady day” to get it out of the way, nor even any of the 3 gym bags or rolly bags that I normally use for travel. It just vanished. I bought a new one, which has been redesigned and is now in “stealth black” instead of blue and white. And it just never worked right – it displayed ridiculously high numbers all the time, both on my watch and on my phone. I returned it for a new one, and the same problem. After a lot of trouble shooting, I got Vicki to put it on and it reads right on her, so I know it’s not the strap. But meanwhile I’ve got no reliable heart rate.

So I bought a Garmin HRM:Dual, which is their newest heart rate strap – the “Dual” meaning that they too now broadcast on Bluetooth as well as ANT+. It worked pretty well for about a year on ANT+, but it’s *never* worked right on Bluetooth, at least not on either Wahoo Fitness or Kinomap. Ok, Wahoo Fitness might just be that the Wahoo app doesn’t work right with Garmin straps, and Kinomap is… quirky. Also, in the meantime I’ve also got a Garmin Fenix 6X Sapphire watch – it does everything the newest Forerunners do, and then some. And it reads me heart rate 24×7 on my wrist. Which is great, except for kayaking I really need to put a watch on the footstrap of my boat so I can see it. I can hardly see something on my wrist when it’s flashing past my eyes 40 times a minute.

A few weeks ago my HRM:Dual started giving garbage results towards the beginning and end of workouts. The beginning I can understand, sometimes it takes time to work up enough sweat that it makes good contact, even if you remember to spit on the pads before you start. I have some electrode gel I bought a few years ago and that helped a bit, but I was still getting garbage numbers part way through a workout. I replaced the battery, and it didn’t help.

And that’s when I started a game I call “Permutations and combinations”. Using my Fenix on my wrist and my old Forerunner 920XT on my desk or on my boat’s footstrap, I started experimenting. I tried the TICKR, still garbage (shows a number, but the number keeps rising up to around 122 while my Fenix and manual counts say I’m at 44), HRM:Dual, still garbage (says it’s connected, doesn’t show numbers). Replaced both batteries, both still garbage. Used electrode gel, both still garbage. Tried the HRM:Dual with the strap from one of the older Garmin heart rate monitors – hmmm, seeing some signs of life, but still not reliable numbers. Eventually I tried shaving the strip of hair on my chest under where the strap goes. And then I got good numbers on my HRM:Dual. At least on ANT+, still nothing on Bluetooth. But I did a workout yesterday with the HRM:Dual paired with the 920XT on my footstrap, and the Fenix 6 on my wrist, and both numbers stayed pretty amazingly in sync.

Heart rate comparison
(Purple line is HRM:Dual on Forerunner 920XT, Blue line is Fenix 6X on wrist)

And I guess that’s where I’ll leave it – I’ll pair the HRM:Dual with my Fenix 6 again, and use the Fenix on my footstrap. And try to remember to shave that strip on my chest when I shave my head.

That’s discouraging

There was a discussion on Facebook about Greg Barton’s speed comparisons. In this document, Greg compares the speed of various Epic kayaks over a 10km flat-water course. He gives estimated times for both himself, and a theoretical “Intermediate” paddler. Somebody pointed out that his “intermediate” paddler paddles the 10km course in 51:55 in a V10 Sport (my favoured boat). That’s 11.6 km/hr, or about 7.2 mph. Several paddlers I respect agreed that that’s an ok speed for an “intermediate” paddler.

I’ve been racing for over 10 years, and during the season I train 7-8 hours or more a week. I don’t think I could train more even if I were retired – it’s not a matter of time to train, but more about what my body will take before it falls apart. I’ve worked very hard with many great teachers to improve my technique and abilities. But in spite of all that, even when I’m not carrying all the extra weight I put on this year, I’m lucky to exceed 10.4-10.6 km/hr for a 10km race. It makes me very sad to think that I’m not considered an intermediate paddler. It makes me wonder why I ever bother.

But then I remember days like I talked about in Flow State where I just feel so connected with my boat and my body as I stroke through calm water. I guess I’ll just keep training and racing for myself, and try not to care if everybody is laughing at the slow fat load making a fool of himself.

Another camera, another time limitation

One of the things I liked about the Garmin VIRB 360 camera is that they actually say “Constantly record for more than 1 hour on 1 charge5 — without overheating” on their product page, which shows a lot more concern for continuous recording than GoPro. They also sell a cradle that gives external power. So I thought I’d be all set for the sort of 2 – 3 hour recordings that have been my holy grail since I got into race videos.

I’ve been running various tests with different combinations of external batteries, and never seemed to get more than 1.5 hours. And today while running a test, I just happened to be looking at my camera when I displayed a “High temperature alert” on the screen just before it shut down. Well, again, I’ve got to give them props in handling high temps better than GoPro – GoPro usually don’t even give you a beep before they shut down for high temps.

But I’m still left with the quandary on how do I keep my cameras from overheating. I’ve thought about covering my camera with tinfoil or attaching a computer CPU heatsink, but a 360 camera doesn’t give you much in the way of non-vital surface to attach things to. Freeze it? My Fenix can act as a remote for it, maybe I could just turn it off in the middle of a race when nothing much is happening?

New Camera

I decided to make a jump and bought a used Garmin VIRB 360 camera. I was going back and forth about this camera, because it’s several years old and there’s been no hint that Garmin is considering updating it or even improving the support (there are posts in the forums complaining about bugs in Garmin VIRB Edit that have been unfixed since 2016).

But there are two extremely important factors that led me to buying it:

  • They advertised that it won’t overheat even with an hour’s continuous recording. Considering how many times I’ve lost a GoPro early in a race due to overheating, that’s a good thing to see an action camera care about. GoPro seems to feel that action cameras are meant to record short clips like a downhill ski run or a sky dive, not an hour or more of continuous action.
  • They make a “powered tripod mount” that allows you to connect your camera to an external USB battery in a water resistant manner.

There’s another cool feature I didn’t know about until I got it home – when it’s paired to my Fenix fitness watch, it will start recording when I hit start on an activity on the Fenix automatically. Also I get a warning on my watch when its battery is getting low. If I get the external battery working, I might prefer not to wait until I hit start to start recording, but it seems like this is a good way to record as much of a race as I can.

I have done a few shoots with it, and so far it seems to give just about exactly an hour of video even with GPS turned on and external sensors and devices paired to it. The video is pretty good quality, and I like the idea of a 360 degree video for seeing all the action in a race.

You should be able to move the viewport around by clicking and dragging or touching and dragging, or even moving your device around if you’re on mobile.

I’m still not sure if I’d rather put up 360 video on YouTube people and hope people see which direction the cool action is happening, or if I’d like to “direct” it.

Here’s a 360 video where I use the “reorient feature” to point the default view where I think the action is, but the viewer can move the viewpoint around manually, and then when I reorient it might get confusing.

Again, you can move the viewpoint around manually, but if you don’t you can see that I’ve tried to move it myself to track things of interest.

And here’s pretty much the same “reoriented” video, but converted to flat so the viewer can’t mess with the viewpoint.

In this one I still track points of interest, but you can’t drag the viewport around to look at things other than what I want you to look at.

The camera records what Garmin calls “G-Metrix” data – i.e. the speed and distance and heart rate and other data that I love to overlay on my videos. By recording it in the camera instead of taking it from my Fenix watch, it simplifies the process of getting the data on the video, but there are a couple of major problems with it

  1. VIRB Edit lets you plonk a gauge on the screen, but it stays in the same place relative to the view, rather than to the viewport – i.e. when you move the viewpoint around, it scrolls off the screen. I’d rather there was an option to keep it static in the viewport as you move the viewpoint around. And this is still true even if you’re using what they call “Hyperframe” to convert the video to flat. You’d think once you made the video flat you could use gauges the way you do on a normal flat video.
  2. There are a different set of gauge templates for 360 videos than for flat videos, and when you use Hyperframe, they still only show you the 360 templates.
  3. VIRB Edit had terrible editing tools. You’d think the difference between doing “trim right” in VIRB Edit and Final Cut Pro X (FCPX) wouldn’t be huge, but Final Cut Pro has keyboard shortcuts as well as “blade” and “blade all” as well a the trims. When it comes to transitions and titles the differences are night and day – there are 156 transitions in my FCPX (some are 3rd party) and 5 transitions in VIRB Edit, and hundreds of titles in FCPX versus 1 in VIRB Edit. Add to that the fact that VIRB crashes with shocking regularity – like 3 times when trying to do that flattened video before I gave up and did it in Final Cut Pro X.

So yes, I can edit the footage in Final Cut Pro – I’m not sure if I can grab it directly off the SD card or if VIRB Edit has to do something first, but I grabbed a video out of the ~/Movies/Garmin directory and dropped it in to FCPX and it recognized it as a 360 video and I was able to point around and do 360 stuff immediately.

So now I’m trying to figure out what my future video workflow will be. If I’m going to always flatten the video, I might keep doing what I have been doing and making a blue screen video with gauges in VIRB Edit and overlaying that on the flat video in FCPX. But if I’m going to output 360 videos, I could stick the gauges down near my boat, and output the full video with the gauges in VIRB Edit then bring it into FCPX for cutting, adding titles and transitions.

Maybe I need to do both for a while and see what people like.