Sunday, September 23, 2012

Playing podcasts of music through a Bluetooth Headset on Android

I like to listen to many podcasts on my Android phone. When running or on my bike I tend to listen through headphones. However, it feels strange to plug in headphones while driving in my car. I bought a lead which allows me to connect my phone to the sound system in my car via a cable plugged into the headphone socket on my phone.

This arrangement worked reasonably well until recently when the cable connection started to get loose and crackly. Rather than buy a replacement cable I thought it should be easier to use the Bluetooth hands-free unit to connect  my phone to the car's sound system, but I searched in vain to find a system setting on my phone which would allow me to direct the Bluetooth connection.

After a bit of searching on Google, I found the BTmono application which adds this simple feature. This application is very simple, but effective. When the application is running audio which is normally directed to the headphones (e.g. music or podcasts) is instead sent to the connected Bluetooth device. This means that I can now listen to my podcasts in the car via the sound system or even use a Bluetooth   headset to entertain me while running.

I think this is a clear example of why the Android open model is better than the close system run by Apple for their iPhones. I am guessing that this application would probably not have been allowed into the Apple AppStore.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Is it safe to listen with headphones while cycling?

One of the hotly debated issues about cycling is whether or not it is safe to cycle while listening to something through headphones. I can certainly understand the view that it is important to be able to hear what is happening around you as you cycle. I personally like to use the time I spend on my bike to catch up on podcast episodes and/or music. However, I would like to do so safely.

I tried using the Around Sound application which is a cool application fro Android devices which measures the ambient sound and automatically pauses your music/podcast whenever the ambient noise exceeds a threshold. The intended use of this application is when you might be listening to music while working in a quiet office environment, but when your colleague comes up behind and asks you a question you would like your music player to temporarily pause to allow you to hear him/her. However, I found that I could not find a suitable volume threshold setting that worked well while cycling. Instead I use a low-tech solution of only attaching one of the earphones while leaving the other ear free for listening to traffic. In order to protect my ears from any potential long-term damage from earphone use I constantly switch ears.

Research shows that the biggest factor in determining the risk of using a mobile phone while driving is the content of the conversation. Apparently you are at much less risk of crashing while having an idle gossip with the phone held to your ear than if you were conducting a stressful interview through a hands free device. Using a similar logic I choose to make sure I am not overly concerned if I actually hear all of the items I listen to while cycling (e.g. I listen to a general chat about the news of the day rather than trying to take an on-line course which would require me to pay close attention - therefore if the traffic situation requires my close concentration, I am not worried about missing part of what is said on  the podcast.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Triathlon Report

Glynn-O'Donovan Triathlon Team 
As you may have noticed, I have been doing a lot of talking recently about my triathlon preparation. The big day finally arrived on Sunday and I was quite nervous when I got up, especially when I looked out over the lake and saw that there was a strong wind blowing and hence the lake was quite rough. My worries only increased when the rain started to fall shortly afterwards. However, I had committed myself to completing the triathlon in such a public way that I couldn't back out and so I proceeded to the start point.

Luckily the weather began to improve as the day went on and when I saw the under-age competitors (starting with the under 8 event) I began to gain in confidence. When the rest of the family team arrived along with a vocal group of supporters I even began to change my focus from competing the event towards achieving a good time. The wind also died down and the lake was quite calm.

When the swim started I hung back near the back of the group to avoid getting crowded. Unfortunately many of the swimmers at the back were doing breaststroke rather than crawl and hence were taking up more room and it seemed to be equally crowded. At one stage I decided to put my head down and swim hard, when I lifted my head to look around a canoe based marshal was shouting at me "turn right you are off course". Although this detour added to the distance I had to swim, it was probably a good move overall since I was then separated from the crowd and able to swim in peace from then on.

When I got out from the swim I got a big cheer from my extended family and so my spirits were lifted. I struggled getting out of my wet suit, but when I got on my bike I saw that it was only 24 minutes from the start so I was ahead of my schedule. I cycled steadily and I managed to complete the cycle leg in slightly over 40 minutes. I almost got a penalty as I  went through the second transition because I thought I was allowed unclip my helmet  immediately after dismounting - luckily the marshal knew that it was an honest mistake and so he let me off with a warning.

The began to fall towards the end of the cycle, but this didn't really interfere with my progress because it was only light and helped keep me cool. I struggled on the running phase, but just concentrated on keeping moving rather than trying to keep a fast pace. The full results are now available on-line and I have been credited with a time of one hour 35 minutes and 4 seconds which seems a respectable time for a beginner.

Overall I was delighted to have taken part and even began to discuss about possibly coming back again next year. My father told me that he ran his first marathon when he was about the same age as I am now. I think staying active has worked out well for him and I would be very happy if I am as healthy as him in the decades ahead.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Triathlon Plan

It is now just under 4 days to go to the triathlon, so I am taking the advice that I should stop training to ensure I am fully rested on the day. I have never done a triathlon before so it is hard for me to judge what would be a reasonable time goal, but I am going to aim for 1:50 minutes in total. I am allocating my time as follows:
  • Swimming 750m in 30 minutes: In the gym I normally complete my 750 meter swim under 25 minutes (in fact often below 20 minutes), but I think that 30 minutes will be a challenging goal for swimming in a lake.
  • Cycling 20 km in 50 minutes: Based upon my training times, I think that this should be quite achievable. In fact this is where I will try to get ahead of schedule if possible.
  • Running 5km in 30 minutes: I normally aim to complete a 10km fun run slightly below the hour mark. In theory I should be capable of doing a faster pace over 5km, but the fact that this will be the last leg of the triathlon will mean that it will be quite tough to even reach this pace.

I used to think that when people spoke about their Triathlon nutrition plan they were wondering what they should eat before and after the Triathlon, but it seems that it is also important for me to plan what I should eat and drink during the race itself. My current plan is:
  • I will have porridge for breakfast the morning of the Triathlon since the slow release of energy from the Oats tends to keep me going. I will also indulge myself with a few espressos to top up my caffeine level.
  • I will have a bottle of plan water attached to my bike for consumption during the cycle. I also plan to have two power bars stored in the pocket of my cycling jersey so that I can consume as much of them as I feel able for during the cycle. During training I found that it was almost impossible to open the wrappers while cycling at pace, so I will have the wrappers partly removed before I start.
  • I don't think that I will need to eat any more during the running plase, but I will store a bottle of GatorAde in the transition area to bring woith me for the run. I think I might needs a more sugary drink at that stage of the event, I had experimented with the idea of bringing along Lucozade tablets and adding them to my water bottle, but again this is messay when I am getting tired so the bottle of GatorAde is plrobably more feasible.
  • After the race I think I will replenish my fluids with Guinness the national drink especially while watching Galway beat Kilkenny for the second time this year in the All Ireland Hurling championship.
P.S. I found out why I was accidentally posting supersonic swimming times to DailyMile. I use the Tracks2Miles application and I had set my default distance units to be Km because this makes sense for running and cycling. When I entered details about a practice swim I would enter 750 in the distance field and then click on the drop down selection box to change my distance units to meters. What I didn't realise was that the application was trying to be helpful by automatically converting the distance I entered into 750000 meters (I didn't notice this  because I wasn't paying full attention, but also because the application automatically advanced focus to the comments field and hence the distance field was no longer visible).

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Triathlon Training Update

Some of the equipment I need to bring
when going for a swim in the Gym
I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of positive reaction I got when I announced that I was going to complete a triathlon to celebrate my passing the half century mark. Lots  of people have been giving be advice and encouragement. The triathlon I signed up for is now only a week away so I thought it might be nice to share an update on how my preparations are progressing.

I am amazed at how much equipment is needed to complete a triathlon. I know that not all of the equipment I purchased is absolutely essential, but I want to ensure that I don't fail due to lack of the proper gear. In any case it is part of the fun to get kitted out like a professional athlete. One of my main worries is that I will forget to bring along some of my new gear on the day of the event. I have been told that bringing along a bulging kit bag is a sure sign of a rookie - the experienced athletes will bring along just a few essential items.
  • Initially I was most worried about the swimming. I still think this will be my weakest link of the 3 events, but I have now swam the distance several times and I am confident that I will be able to complete the swim even if my time is not too fast.
  • Since cycling is my normal mode of commuting I am confident of my abilities on this event. Since I started triathlon preparation, I switched from my normal commuting bike to my racer so that I become comfortable with it. Unless I am running late for work, I typically divert through some of the back roads of county Meath on the way to work each morning so that I can get a real training cycle in. 
  • The main area that I still need to work on is my running. I have been neglecting this a little since I thought 5km is not a very long distance, but I suspect that it will seem a lot tougher when I go straight from swimming and cycling into my run.
I didn't realize when I entered the race that it would be on the same day as Galway's first appearance in the All-Ireland Hurling final in 20 years. However, the organizers have kindly arranged a big screen at the event so that all athletes will be able to watch the match as soon as they complete their event. I suppose this will provide additional motivation not to do a slow time and miss seeing the match.