Cat Gaskell of Human Race tests the Garmin Forerunner 920XT
16th September 2015
I have always said I would never do a triathlon, mainly because I hate swimming…. I started as a runner, turned to cycling and dabbled in a couple of duathlons, including the Winter BallBuster Duathlon.
After joining Human Race I thought it was time to give swimming a go. Although recently I found I’m actually pretty strong at breaststroke, just 2 months ago I was unable to do anything that resembled front crawl in the slightest and the idea of open water swimming was seriously scary. Several RG Active pool sessions later and I finally started to ‘get it’ and now thoroughly enjoy swimming. I’ve been using Garmin GPS computers for years, for both running and cycling, but have never had the opportunity to use a watch for swimming, so I jumped at the chance to try the Garmin Forerunner 920XT which is the newest Garmin multisport watch. It was quickly apparent that this watch was far superior to any of my previous devices with many features being completely new to me. It even alerts you to ‘Move!’ if you’ve been sitting around too long!!
At first glance, the watch seems very big, especially on a small female wrist. However I don’t mind this as it makes the display far easier to read, especially when in the water. The absence of a touch screen is also a good thing in my opinion. Pressing/swiping a screen with wet hands is never going to be a good idea. It was important that the watch was suitable for swimming. I wanted to be able to record my distance, stroke and speed and see if I was improving. In fact, just being able to time my swim was new to me. The Garmin Forerunner 920XT has both open water and pool-specific activity profiles and the distance of the pool is manually set. The first use of this watch was at a training session in an open air 36m pool. GPS is not used in pool mode, whether indoor or outdoor; but there is an accelerometer which detects when you reach the end and turn around as well as measuring the pool distance data, which ensures the laps are accurately recorded.
This watch worked really well for a coached session and all the stop-starting and drills that go with it. The watch can detect automatically which stroke you are doing, although I only tested this doing breast stroke and my version of front crawl, which I was pleased to see was a recognised stroke! Firstly, there is a resting mode so you can time rest periods between intervals. Secondly, there is a drill mode. This is a really useful feature of the watch as you can still time your laps when you are, for instance, using a kickboard, and then you can manually enter the distance travelled afterwards. The accuracy of distance recording relies on arm strokes so manual input is required when not using your arms. In previous sessions I had no idea of how far I had swum so it was great to have all this information.
I tried the Garmin Forerunner 920XT once in open water before my triathlon. Outdoors the watch used GPS but unfortunately the signal only transmits when above the water so the distance travelled was a little out. I have heard that tucking the watch into your swim cap helps with this – if you are not bothered about being able to see stroke information. In my case, as I was swimming around a course of a known distance I used the watch purely for timing, and was pleased to see my time for 750m wasn’t too shabby! I tend to run with the aim to just go longer and/or faster with no specific training. I am aware that there are features on the Garmin Forerunner 920XT for testing VO2 max predictions, recovery monitoring, cadence and ground contact time, some of which require you to wear a specific HRM-RUN strap, or a standard HR monitor. You can also set a metronome to beep or buzz at a specific cadence as training to have a higher leg turnover is generally a more efficient way of running.
As a runner and a cyclist I have used a fairly basic HR enabled Garmin run watch and a Garmin 810 on the bike. The great thing with the 920XT is if I want to go and do a bike-run brick session, this watch is power meter enabled so I can still get the power stats for the bike section and there is no hanging around waiting for my run watch to get a GPS signal as this provides an all in one solution.
Along with race day nerves came the confidence that I knew I could record my whole event on one watch, which for a nervous first timer was one less thing to worry about! The triathlon mode was great as every time you press ‘lap’, it seamlessly moves you onto the next section of the race and gives you your new pace, time and distance information for that discipline, including transition (when you remember to press the button!). There is no need to wait until you get home to upload your data either as you can sync it to upload to your phone via Bluetooth.
There are so many features on this watch that I have yet to explore! This was a great piece of kit to help me focus my training, and allowed me to analyse my swim sessions in the same way I do my rides. I have already entered my second triathlon and I reckon this watch will be the perfect training and race day tool to help me achieve my goals and keep me motivated.
If you would like to hire a Garmin at your next Human Race event, click here