By Tom Demerly
Nothing impacts our performance more than training. Nothing influences our training decisions more than the information we have about our workouts. The most important equipment you can own is the gear that gives you the most information the easiest. That is what inspired the Timex Ironman Global Trainer.
The cloud of data that surrounds us is a crowded place. A device that manages that data effectively, providing us with all the information we need in a digestible format is a valuable tool. The tool becomes more valuable when it includes the ability to expand your analysis into greater, personalized detail. That is the Timex Ironman Global Trainer.
The Timex Ironman Global Trainer is a portal through which extensive training and racing data is collected and its interpretation can be done. It is not just a sport watch, GPS or other telemetry device. It’s a through-way for data and training analysis. The value of the Timex Ironman Global trainer is that it may be the only training telemetry tool you need to own. That makes its $359.99 price tag potentially a bargain.
“The Timex Global Trainer is an analysis tool and portal through which other sensors can provide data for easy interpretation and analysis.”
The new Timex Global Trainer joins a growing category of wrist computers/appliance interfaces that use GPS and sensor telemetry combined with an on-line portal to supplement data storage and analysis. You aren’t just buying the wrist top unit; you are also buying in to the on-line portal along with the unit’s connectivity and interpretation of your sensor input, i.e., power meters.
“You aren’t just buying the wrist top unit; you are also buying in to the on-line portal along with the unit’s connectivity.”
The daunting thing about making a buying decision is that you buy into not only the device, but the device family- all the attendant software and web resources. When you make a buying decision you need to evaluate those resources as well. It isn’t as simple as surveying the hardware units themselves. It’s like a big wedding- you better like the family too, once the deal is sealed you’re stuck with them too.
Timex has a legacy of adapting other technology to suit a need for their brand. This is the modus operandi of most wrist top computer companies. Garmin bought their portal, Garmin Connect, from the original developer of Motion Based, an online agent for mapping and geo-data interpretation. Timex has teamed with Training Peaks in a similar arrangement so the new Timex Global Trainer has a data agent for uploading, storage and interpretation.
These alliances aren’t new in time keeping. The original Timex, The Waterbury Clock Company, borrowed technology from a women’s pocket watch called the Ingersoll Midget and combined it with a “wrist strap” to innovate a “wrist watch”, a small clock worn on the wrist by artillery gunners in World War 1 for timing bombardments. The jaunty military styling and practicality of an arm-clock caught on and became the modern day wristwatch. The Timex Global Trainer comes to us from the company that invented the wrist watch.
History aside the Timex Global Trainer is an elegant exercise in benchmarking the other devices and threading the needle of what the rank n’file consumer really wants and needs. When you open the Timex Global Trainer you may be struck by how little “stuff” is in there: The watch itself, a charging and communications cable with wall plug adapter, a handlebar mount, a heart rate strap on the heart rate equipped version and a concise 23 page mini-owner’s manual and warranty. Given its capabilities it seems like there should be more “stuff”.
When the Timex Global Trainer first hit shelves there was buzz about its size. I’ll suggest this is a non-issue. The Timex Global Trainer is very close to the competing Garmin Forerunner 310 XT in weight and dimensions. The Timex Global Trainer weighs 84 grams or 2.9 ounces. The Garmin 310 XT weighs 75 grams or 2.6 ounces. That 9 gram weight difference is the same as the combined weight of a U.S Quarter and Dime.
A number of customers asked if you can swim with the Timex Ironman Global Trainer. The answer is absolutely yes. There is no reliable GPS positioning/distance measurement when worn on the wrist as we’ll discuss.
The Timex Global Trainer interacts with the Timex Device Agent 3.0 stored on your computer via download and the Timex Ironman Powered by TrainingPeaks on line training and diet log website. As of August 20, 2010 there was no available download for Timex Device Agent 3.0 compatible with Mac computers but one is promised.
The interplay between ease of use and capabilities determines how good these units are, and Timex scores very well against comparable Garmin units with the Ironman Global Trainer.
There are six main menus on the wrist top display broken down as follows:
1. Performance: You will use this one for most of your training. It is for recording swim, bike or run workouts or two “custom” data collection screens that you configure. Very easy to use: pick swim, bike run or one of your custom fields. Do your workout, after hitting “STP” in the lower right hand button labeled “DWN/STP/RST” you’ll then hold the “STP” button in the lower right corner down for 2 seconds and “SAVE WORKOUT AND RESET”
2. Multisport: An easy mode for timing a triathlon or other multisport racing/training. It is already configured for “SWIM, T1, BIKE T2, RUN, FINISH”. Remember the GPS does not work when submerged. Some early adopters got a GPS signal by placing the wrist unit inside the back of their swim cap while in the water. You then have to switch the unit from inside your swim cap to your wrist during T1.
3. Navigate: A rudimentary GPS navigation mode that features a decent compass mode that also displays speed. A waypoint page, a list of routes and a very basic mapping function.
4. Review: The page that lists your workouts by time and date and indicates how much memory you have left. You can page through your splits, pace and other data from ANT + sensors like a power meter and heart rate strap included with the heart rate model.
5. Configure: The mode you’ll use to set up your display formats, your user info (weight, time zone, etc) and to set alarms and acquire the signal from ANT + devices like a power meter.
6. PC Sync: Used to communicate and exchange data with a desktop or laptop computer and interface with Training Peaks.
On a day-to-day training basis you will go to “Performance” and pick your sport. You have already configured how you want your display to look in “Configure”. You hit “START/SPLIT” and go.
It may take a moment to acquire a GPS signal once you’ve stepped outside the first time you use the unit but is noticeably quicker after the chip has learned whether you are in Paris, Hong Kong, Bahrain, Sydney or Tucson. The SiRFstarIII GPS microcontroller chip used in the Timex Ironman Global Trainer, built by SiRF Technology, provides rapid and accurate satellite and position acquisition. Speaking of SiRFstarIII, This new high sensitivity GPS chip does improve position accuracy and refresh rate. Older GPS’s had significant “lag” during speed changes and did noticeably deviate from hardware based cyclocomputers such as a carefully calibrated Cateye cyclocomputer that uses a magnet sensor on the wheel. SiRFstarIII GPS is almost as fast as a conventional cyclocomputer and nearly as accurate. Positional accuracy as displayed on a satellite photo or map in TrainingPeaks is improved also. I ran down the right side of a trail on an out-and-back and the left side coming back. As I zoomed in on the satellite photo of the trail in TrainingPeaks I could see exactly where I was on the trail going out and coming back- a difference of only 6-8 feet.
You do your workout and hit “STOP” (DWN/STP/RST) then press and hold that button to save your workout. Now you hold the button at the 9 O’clock position labeled “BACK/PWR” and return to watch mode. Once you get to your computer you can download the workout from your wrist unit to your computer, which will upload it via the Timex Device Agent 3.0 to Timex Ironman Powered by TrainingPeaks web resource.
Now you can interpret and analyze your data.
There is the axiom that the data you collect is only as good as how you use it. I discovered a few added benefits to the enhanced perspective Timex Ironman Powered by TrainingPeaks provides. I tested the Timex Global Trainer on several bike commutes and training runs immediately after riding. When I viewed my commute home in Timex Ironman Powered by TrainingPeaks the speed graph showed I was inadvertently doing an interval workout everyday on the way home from work because of the Tucson traffic lights. I would do an effort up to 25-27 M.P.H., hold it for a couple minutes, and then have to stop at a traffic light. Once the light changed it was back up to speed and repeat. When I got home I would go for a run and my legs felt dead. If you do bike intervals every day and run afterward, your legs will feel dead. This is the perspective afforded by accurate data collection and analysis. I didn’t see how obvious these impromptu “intervals” were until I viewed them as a speed chart in graphic fashion. I got another surprise when I viewed the profile of my ride to work in the morning. I always feel “flat” on the ride in despite a cup of coffee and a Red Bull. I learned the commute to work is a substantial net elevation gain. That enhanced perspective helps account for my speed going home and my sluggishness riding in.
Two minor criticisms of TrainingPeaks, but not of the Timex Global Trainer itself: I checked a box somewhere that authorized a daily e-mail summary of my planned workouts. I did indeed receive it every day whether I had a workout or not. Some of the usability functions of TrainingPeaks are a pay-subscription option, although the bulk of the usability is absolutely free.
As with every training tool that gathers, stores, displays and interprets data there are a set of things you’ll need to learn to navigate the Timex Ironman Global Trainer. I love technology and animated depictions of my training telemetry but I am short on patience when it comes to learning owner’s manuals. This may be the greatest advantage of the Timex Ironman Global Trainer: It’s easy to learn to use.
A quick search on YouTube revealed a catalog of nicely produced video tutorials from Timex that demonstrate ways to use of the Timex Ironman Global Trainer. I’m posting the links here since they provide valuable insight on how easy the unit is to use and detailed insights into the wealth of data gathered. These are effective sales tools also. Garmin has similar resources on their blog for their units, but not on YouTube.
YouTube “Quick Start” for Timex Ironman Global Trainer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mIjD-RyVig
YouTube “Running Guide” for Timex Ironman Global Trainer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bpy7uq7izXU
YouTube “Multisport Setup” for Timex Ironman Global Trainer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9p0yt1iTh0Y
YouTube “Multisport Training” for Timex Ironman Global Trainer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNVM333g-hw
As more training monitors become available our expectations of what they can do keep going up. I’ll argue the Timex Ironman Global Trainer clears the high bar of our functional expectations but there are a couple limitations worth knowing.
The Timex Ironman Global Trainer does not have footpod capability. You can’t use it for run distance measurement indoors. The competing Garmin 310XT does have a footpod option for treadmill or indoor use. Like all civilian GPS units, Global Trainer’s GPS will not work when submerged- even slightly. That I’m aware of only the Navy has truly submersible/waterproof GPS in the form of their “MUGR” (Miniature Underwater GPS Receiver) along with the obscure French ACSA submersible GPS’s. One user suggested putting the Timex Ironman Global Trainer inside the back of your swim cap for accurate GPS plots while swimming. While this may work you won’t be able to read it, would have to switch it to your wrist in transition if racing and risk losing the unit if it falls out of the swim cap. Although the unit is swimmable Timex warns against pushing buttons when in the water. Somewhat oddly, you cannot set an alert for a time value that I could determine. In other words, if you want to go for a 30 minute run the thing can’t be programmed to “beep” at 30 minutes. Also, this unit is not a full feature watch- there isn’t multiple time zones in the watch mode and there is no alarm clock. It takes its time set from the GPS constellation. If you take this training tool with you travelling you’ll also need a standard wristwatch in my opinion. You are tied to the recharging unit at some interval although our test unit held a charge for four continuous days of testing that did include a few plug-ins to a PC to upload data. Finally, while the screen and displays are configurable the text in the alerts that come up during training are so small I can’t read them while running.
Those minor criticisms aside the unit does have extensive user-tunable features that are all relevant. I love the configurable displays- you pick the information you want to display on the screens. The controls on the watch are easy to actuate and can be locked out to prevent accidental button pushes. You can configure the watch without a computer so if you travel you don’t need a laptop with you. You can program up to five different wheel sizes into the unit for different bikes, a 700c user can use the same watch as a 650c rider and a separate 26” or 29’er mountain bike. The download of TrainingPeaks software only took 40 seconds and doesn’t take up much space. The battery in the heart rate strap can be replaced, unlike some earlier versions from other manufacturers where the strap had to be replaced. Garmin’s 310XT heart strap also uses a replaceable battery. While this is a nit-pick against Garmin the $399.99 Forerunner 310XT did not come with a Handlebar mount. The $359.99 Timex Ironman Global Trainer did.
The “meat” of the Timex Ironman Global Trainer is the logic loops and the format of displays. The primary ones are “Performance” and “Multisport”. Both are well organized and easy to learn how to use. As with either Garmin or Timex the learning curve steepens when you interact with the download/upload capability and working with the software. I’ve used both but I resist the suggestion that one user interface is better than another since I have a lot of time on one but only a week or so on the other. As a consumer it makes sense to browse both of the user interfaces before you make a buying decision.
“Given its simple operation and vast capabilities the Timex Global Trainer is the easiest of the wrist top training computers to use. For some users that may make it the best choice.”
The Timex Ironman Global Trainer enters the market as a viable contender with Garmin units that have been at the top of the category for years. It was a high bar for Timex to clear and they did it. Given its simple operation and vast capabilities the Timex Global Trainer is the easiest of the wrist top training computers to use. For some users that may make it the best choice. I found the Timex unit easy to learn and use with no major missing features or quarks. I may suggest the Timex Ironman Global Trainer is an easier unit to gain familiarity with at start up. Given a reasonable price and extensive capabilities combined with good user interface the Timex Ironman global Trainer may just have nudged the personal GPS bar up a notch.