Saturday, February 8, 2014

TrainingPeaks (Free Version)– A Frustriduciton

Continuing on the reviews, we’re going to move onto Training Peaks. As previously alluded to, they are widely considered the Masters of training and racing with a powermeter. Their offline software, WKO+, has been used by major coaches all over the world.

As with SportTracks.mobi, there is things that I didn’t have a chance to look at and missed. However, I plan on updating things further when I figure them out. There are some issues with Training Peaks that make the user experience painful. I’ve used a demo of WKO+ 3.0 before and I’m very excited about 4.0 even with what seems to be never ending delays.

Training Peaks Online

Training peaks is strongly associated with Hunter Allen and Andy Coggan, the authors of Training and Racing with a Powermeter. This is the book I previously recommended. They are coming out with a new version of their offline software, WKO+ 4.0 and have been running webinars about some “Black boxphysiology math.

What I mean is that you give it your input (your ride / test data files) and it gives you back and output such as telling you your FTP has increased, decreased, etc – but it neglects to tell you how or why. I’m a big fan of open source hardware and software which is where the beginnings of this blog originated and will continue to support in various projects. Feel free to make your own comments and share your opinions on Black Box technology. Personally, I feel disdain for it.

So onto the web app. This is the first page you’ll see: It gives a nice calendar view which provides a great history. You can switch to weeks, list and day views. You’ll notice I don’t have any data here – we’ll try and fix that next.

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Let’s upload some data to Training Peaks. It is seamless with Garmin Connect, SportTracks and Strava, and others I’ve tried – and maybe this is because I have two of the most popular devices (Garmin Edge 500, Forerunner FR910xt). So I need to find that pesky upload button. It doesn’t seem to be on the main page (or every page on almost every web app I’ve tried). After a little searching I figured this is because they are focusing on the new beta page and maybe this is a legacy thing. I assume that the new beta page will have an upload button in the corner.

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Still no upload? I have barely ever read a manual in my life, and I’ve never seen it required with a web page. However, I’m getting seriously frustrated so I’m consulting the help file

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I read that my options include:

  • WKO+ Desktop software (I’m looking at WKO+ 4 purchase whenever it comes out), but the whole point of a web app is access everywhere and not having to install software on every computer
  • TrainingPeaks Device Agent – Seriously? I already have the Garmin ANT+ Agent, I need another one! Strava can upload via the Garmin Communicator plugin, this is more than surprising.
  • Upload from Quick View – File upload; I’ll tired this first.  Why is this practically hidden?
  • Upload from the item picker – Again, file upload like above. Again, nearly hidden!

I’m trying method 3, upload from Quick View. I click on a day (the wrong one – intentionally, because I want to see what happens – the .fit files have embedded time and date stamps as well as GPS data) and I’m manually uploading:

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I specified Jan 13 and tried forcing Jan 22’s run.

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So now I’ve put the 22’s run on the 13, the 20th’s run on the 14. Not a single issue here doing it. It didn’t pop up, or alert me, or just override my choice. Curious.

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I have a huge issue with this. I want the ability to override things, but in the day of web apps and GPS watches / cycle computers / smart phones where time and date are set via GPS or Cell tower data I shouldn’t have to specify the day for each file. I can manually upload to the Garmin Connect site with the communicator plugin. So lets put this all right in terms of the dates. I’m downloading the Device Agent.

From the help page link I’m confronted with a 404.

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However, finding it via Google to a live link on their site I download the TrainingPeaks Device Agent 3.0 and install it. Once open I select the Garmin Forerunner 910xt and click open files (That’s questionable; why not upload?).

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I’m shown a listing of files in the Garmin Folder. I’m confused to say the least. I downloaded a Device Agent to talk to my device, which I have with me.

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WOAH! Hold on now!!!! It is just linking to my files on my hard drive that would only be there if I used the Garmin Agent. I’m not even 100% sure that Sporttracks or Strava doesn’t do the same for ANT-FS based devices, but it does it without me thinking. With the Edge 500 they both talk directly to it (because it shows up as a drive, the FR910XT needs to use ANT-FS)

This TrainingPeaks Agent didn’t communicate to my Device via ANT-FS to get the fit files directly from the device, it went to the Garmin folder for the Garmin ANT Agent. This is a hack / cheat / workaround if I ever saw one – and having “Hack” in the name of my blog means I love hacks – but why did I have to download a piece of software to do this? If I didn’t have Garmin ANT+ Agent installed and uploaded to the Garmin Connect site via the Agent method then it sounds like I couldn’t use the files. Maybe others are using this cheat too, but I manually had to select the files to upload via the web interface (one by one) and tell Training Peaks when they happened unless I use the Device Agent – whose only benefit is to read the time and date and put it in the appropriate date.

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I want to quickly visit the top bar of other sites though.

Garmin Connect

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SportTracks.mobi

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Strava

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Cycling Analytics

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And Training Peaks has an “Upgrade to Premium” button instead. Even the Beta has a big upgrade and not upload button.

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As a reminder, tapiriik doesn’t work unless you upgrade.

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After this frustration fest I now have data. Lets look at the Dashboard. I’m starting off in negative calories which is concerning but I assume I need to put in dietary information.

It’s giving me very little in terms of summary. It’s highly customizable though which is similar to WKO+ 3.0 which is nice. However, nothing is setup as a default to give me summary data.

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You might be asking why I’m giving TrainingPeaks a hard time on this. The simple reason is that their desktop software was one of the first and widely considered the best, and they’ve spent a lot of time migrating almost all of that functionality to the web because it needs to almost fully complement WKO+ for the WKO+ desktop to web app uploading, but they seem to have forgotten that web apps aren’t just straight desktop translations and that their customer base have $200 – $1000+ in hardware that they want seamless integration and are given that with almost all of the competitors.

I like Specialized Bikes motto: Innovate or die.

Something cool happened after I had data into the site. I got an email notification when an algorithm detected something – though still not a fan of Black Box Algorithms but I did like the nice clean email that notified me of this stuff.

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Bottom line:

Honestly, this has been the most frustrating web apps to track my data that I’ve seen. I’ve spent way more time on this site than any other and found I was quickly going nowhere. I desperately wanted it to work well and I tried and tried. I wanted the kings of power to help me analyze my training plan data going forward, but I found I barely had data into their site. If you’ve more experienced with WKO and their products, it might be easier since you know the tricks to make it work – but my point is that the competitors “Just work”. If you’re new to tracking your data, this experience will leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Pro’s

  • Customizable everything, from charts, dashboard, etc 
  • The “experts” in power

Con’s

  • Actually using it
  • Getting your data in
  • Upgrade instead of Upload

I’m hoping I’ll come back to it when I upgrade to Pro so that:

  1. Tapiriik works – Seriously that is a laughable childish money grab rule to make your API only work on the paid version. Garmin works, Strava works, Dropbox works, and more
  2. I can explore all my historical data
  3. Explore annual training plan – apparently also a paid feature

However until then I feel I’ve invested too much time already. If you can’t just switch on and start using something like this, you’re doing it wrong. It’s hard to give money to something that doesn’t work well in the unpaid version, it’s a fools errand to follow through on a paid version hoping it’ll fix that.

16 comments:

  1. All apps depend on the ANT Agent to get the data from an ANT-FS device, there really isn't any getting around that (except, the Wahoo App with their adapter - but that has some sport limitations around swimming). So, all require the ANT agent.

    In the case of Strava and ST/Mobi, they're leveraging the Garmin Communicator plug-in. The challenge with doing so is you introduce a dependency on another service - one that's somewhat notorious for being finicky. But, you'll notice that Strava's default choice is to actually just have you find your own file through the explorer picker. Nonetheless, for the ANT-FS files they're all simply enumerating the same cache on disk, be it direct file access or via the GC plug-in.

    I would say the the one thing that TP could do to make it easier is to figure out which files are which from the ANT-FS items, but parsing the .FIT names.

    I think you're workflow is a bit different though that most TP users. If they're agent based, it will automatically put it on the right date. It does this for me every day. If however, I go to the calendar and create a workout, then it's going to attach the file to wherever I want it.

    But on a workflow standpoint, I think you're seeing the variation between Strava and TP from a 'what do I use it for' standpoint. Strava, it's a bit 'fire and forget'. You upload a workout, and you may poke at it briefly, but it's really there to stake a claim on a piece of ground, or to show to your friends.

    Whereas TP is targeted at the analysis side. For me, that's allowing a coach to analyze what I've done. For many others, it's the same. So the fact that you end up on the dashboard is pretty much OK, because ultimately - that's where you want to go anyway. Also, ensure that if you're looking at Strava and comparing it to TP, that you're comparing non-paid versions. And same goes for paid versions. That's where you really see the massive analytic differences between Strava and TP.

    Finally, as for the cost for the API - keep one thing in mind: Garmin officially doesn't have an API, and, they've started to rate-throttle Tapiriik now. Further, there's a lot of hints coming that things are going to get worse.

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    1. Ray, as always you're making some great points. I've been poking at the other web apps since and you're right... they are just leveraging the files on disk and the communicator plugin. I'd like to see ANT-FS more interoperable without that.

      The use case of Strava is certainly different. Training Peaks is going after higher end competitors and athletes. I think that they might be a couple of years behind in terms of getting this Beta going though. It's great to have the underlying features worked out, but their "classic" interface feels dismal. Strava is more about the gamefication aspect and now they are adding in the higher end features to create paid value.

      I didn't realize Garmin didn't have an API... Tapiriik is such a great system but if Garmin tries to push them out I'm sure it'll end up being negative press.

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  2. For the upload issue, on the new Tp web app you can just drop a compatible file and the program will upload it and put it in the right place. The only cons is that this functionality is a little buggy, so sometimes you'll still need the Tp device agent

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    1. They tweeted me shortly after posting. It's very good I find. It even takes my old .csv files replicating powertap's format. I'm not keen to have so many agents installed. It feels cluttered to me and I hate things running in my background. The beta is much better, but it has some missing features with regards to training plans which they are still implementing.

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  3. I would recommend to have a look to http://www.cyclinganalytics.com/ . In my experience, that site offers the best analysis software online if you have no power meter for 10$ per month. With power meter I would recommend strava.com at 6$ per month.

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    1. I've talked with David from Cycling Analytics a lot. I'm going to be doing a post about his soon too. I really like cycling analytics, it's clean and very customizable. David's been very quick at implementing new features which is great! I've used Strava's paid edition before, but I didn't take advantage of it. It seems to have a lot more features now. Thanks!

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  4. Open source is cool. Speaking of which, why aren't you blogging about development of your power meter anymore?

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    1. Best if you read this post.

      http://keithhack.blogspot.ca/2013/11/do-you-want-to-build-fifty-in-basement.html

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  5. "Con’s

    Actually using it"

    Ugh, doesn't sound too promising on first pass! Well, if you keep digging and find that once you jump through all the hoops, the TP free version, or maybe the paid version if you get that far, is actually useable and a good training, recording and analytical tool, I'll consider putting in that effort if it's useful enough. If you can't get it to work easily, I'm in trouble.

    Glad you're going through all the frustration and not me; not sure all the grief would be worth it for me. Reminds me of the old joke, why bother buying a voltmeter when you have a Newfie friend. (Ray, this is directed at Keith, not your other half).

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    1. The beta is much much beta I'm finding. I'm hoping to put up a post about it.

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  6. Oh oh, first big problem: WKO+ is only available for Windows. Is TP similarly PC specific? That would likely be a deal breaker for me. Too old to go back to Windows.

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  7. I have used Garmin, SportTracks, Nike, MapMyWhatever, RunKeeper, SmashRun and probably a couple of others I am forgetting about.

    TP just works for what it needs to do. It really is simple once you get used to the uploader. I use Tapiriik to push to Strava, but really just use Strava for fun. It doesn't have the planning and tracking capabilities that TP has. TP is really good at things like bike and shoe milage where others fail.

    I still like the old version. I don't really care if it is pretty or not in the way of an interface as long as it works.

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    1. TP's new Beta has been a much nicer feel. You're right, there is value in the high quality analysis TP provides in Classic.

      TP does a lot that others can't or don't yet, but I liken the Classic interface to Linux. Sure I can do most of the things I do on Windows / OSX on Linux, but it doesn't mean I love jumping through hoops necessary to do simple things. For some, the power and control of Linux is worth all those hoops, but for the mass market, it does not -- they will go elsewhere.

      I think tracking shoe mileage might be useful, but I make comment in my new Beta look at that I don't see the value in tracking it for a bike but that's my personal opinions. I'm sure some people would rather wait until something breaks or jams or just doesn't work before they get it looked at and at the other end of the spectrum some might just have maintenance done every xxx kilometres. Me, I scrutinize everything every ride. If something doesn't feel right then I'll look at it.

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    2. I have been doing the bikes just to have some idea of the time on chains/gear/etc. Doesn't replace observation, but serves as a reminder at least.

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    3. Jim, that is a good point. It never hurts to have reminders about this type of stuff. I've certainly been caught looking at my chain thinking "I should probably degrease and re-lube that... but after this ride" only to forget about it after a shower until I do the same thing in a couple of days.

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  8. http://www.hacktoolnew.com/ offers programs, codes, hacks, tools, cheat for free download :)

    ReplyDelete