How a balloon and a rubber band helped me swim faster

Indicative of my triathlon dreams

Firstly, an apology. I know there wasn't a column last week, which is mostly down to me being on holiday at a hotel without the internet. It felt like holidaying in 1995.

I even brought the laptop with me, but I think that even if I'd been able to I would have been in serious trouble for sneaking off to post the column. On the plus side, I got the chance to get some hot weather training in… which will be entirely useless when I get to the startline at Windsor in just over two weeks and it's smashing down with rain.

Recon Jet – a month in

I've been using the Recon Jet headset for a while now, and it's been an interesting journey so far. The initial reaction of 'My word, there's a big thing on my head!' has been mitigated somewhat as I've got used to it – although I'm still deciding on the usefulness of it in certain situations.

Let's talk about the really good bits –for cycling, this thing is a dream. It connects up with all manner of sensors (with heart rate monitors especially helpful) and pumps info that right into the eye.

It's not always the easiest to get that screen in your eyeline (a fair amount of finesse is needed to wiggle it into view using the small joystick) but at least it sticks there once it's done.

Recon Jet

When you're out cycling, the information you need is right there in front of you – and you can customise it using the computer interface when you connect up the Jet. There aren't a lot of fields to choose from, but the main ones are all there – meaning you can see everything from average speed to heart rate to distance.

There aren't the fancy features I love on dedicated fitness watches – for instance, you can't set a target and have a constantly monitored view of how you're getting on – but pleasant dings pop up when you set new speed or distance records, to show the headset is smart.

The reason I'm all about these for cycling is that there's no rigorous up and down motion, unlike with running. This means no jiggling of the heavy headset (although at 28 grams it's not too bad, and the balance is perfect by having the battery one side and the screen the other) when you just want to get out and run.

Recon Jet

The info is simple and easy to read

I'm not sold on the Recon Jet for running just yet, as they don't stay in place during a run and really mess with depth perception. However, I can see on a winter's night having the info right there would be amazing rather than scrabbling for a watch.

I'll keep going with these – there are some big updates coming soon, so I'll be intrigued to see how I get on when new powers pop into my vision.

By the power of Greyskull

The results of my time at the GSK Human Performance Lab are finally in, and they make for some interesting reading. The idea was to get a broad idea of what information a 'proper' athlete would get from doing all the bouncing around while scientists watched…and let's just say the results are, well, rather varied.

Swimming (with the phrase 'not as bad as I was expecting' still slapping into my ears every time I slide into the pool) was very much average. I swam at a manageable speed, then sped up to something more challenging, and the analysis showed that my swim efficiency quickly dropped at higher speeds. Fingers crossed that this will be brought down as the technique improves.


Looks fancy, means I'm not great at cycling

The cycling test – with stepped gradients of power being monitored with oxygen output and lactate levels (through a finger prick that GSK's Matt Furber promised wouldn't hurt but it TOTALLY DID) showed a pretty average level with 175 watts the beginning of the crossover where my legs started to get all hurty and stuff.

I still have no idea what watts mean in terms of helping me with cycling, but if I can get hold of a power meter for the bike at least I'll be able to track it and share watt-based stories over power drinks with other cyclists while we wear exceedingly tight shorts.

The running was, by far, the highlight of the results. A constant speed and gradient increase was designed to push me to the maximum and thus give me my VO2 Max level, the amount of oxygen my body can pump around the muscles. More O2, more runny run. Simple equations.


Couldn't get to VO2 Max. Must try harder.

It was clear this was the one I'd trained for, with the guys at HPL noting it straight off. A VO2 Max level of just under 60 is pretty good, I'm told (the words 'well trained athlete' may have been mentioned shut up whatever no YOU'RE bragging) although the idea of the test is to get to a point where the body isn't increasing the amount of oxygen being pumped around the body, which I didn't quite achieve.

Sadly, I can see this test result dropping when I return to see how much I've progressed in three weeks time as I'm not spending anywhere near as much time running as I have been normally while I have to do all this stupid swimming.

Fancy food man

While I've decided to eschew a trainer (why would you need someone proper when you've got the internet with all those conflicting pieces of information on how to train, eh?) my nutrition needs a big overhaul.

I've started working with the guys from Maxinutrition to get an idea on how I need to eat – I've had a vague idea gleaned from various sources over time, but never anything definitive – and having to keep a food diary and show it someone was hard.

Also having to tell him 'No, I don't usually go to weddings' and 'I only had a Twix and cake because I'd done a triathlon' made me feel like a five year old… but I will never regret a good Twix.

The good news is I'm now back on the straight and narrow with dedicated targets of protein, carbohydrate and fat each day to hopefully get me fitter (and get rid of this lovely little puffy belly that means skin tight tops are certainly not my friend).

Get better at swimming with a balloon and a band

Finally, I wanted to share something with you that's decidedly non-tech. While out on holiday I looked at my schedule and realised, if I was going to stick to my plan properly (and I really have to, given how poor I am at swimming and cycling) I'd have to do some swim drills during the week.

Swim drills need one thing: a float so you can hold onto it while only kicking, or stick it between your legs when pulling with only your arms. I did not bring a float. I don't even own one.


My seaweed-filled nemesis

So I looked around the hotel room desperately…10 minutes later I was in the kids pool, a rubber band tied between two balloon and a quiet desperation that nobody would see me. One balloon did burst, but hey – did the job.

I also got into the open water for the first time in my wetsuit: 17 minutes of thrashing about in seaweed while constantly washing myself ashore through my inability to swim in a straight line did not do my new 2XU A:1 wetsuit any justice.

I did manage to rub a lot of skin off my neck though, thanks to my fear of putting my face in the water due to the high* risk of sharks. This meant my head forced upwards and, well, the whole exercise being totally useless.

I managed to get a little bit of running and cycling in, despite the excruciating heat and the world's smallest gym with one exercise bike that had half the saddle missing - damage limitation was the name of the game.

In short, I need to get in the open water otherwise I'm screwed. But I have found out I'm resourceful enough to be a member of the A-Team.


Gareth Beavis
Formerly Global Editor in Chief

Gareth has been part of the consumer technology world in a career spanning three decades. He started life as a staff writer on the fledgling TechRadar, and has grown with the site (primarily as phones, tablets and wearables editor) until becoming Global Editor in Chief in 2018. Gareth has written over 4,000 articles for TechRadar, has contributed expert insight to a number of other publications, chaired panels on zeitgeist technologies, presented at the Gadget Show Live as well as representing the brand on TV and radio for multiple channels including Sky, BBC, ITV and Al-Jazeera. Passionate about fitness, he can bore anyone rigid about stress management, sleep tracking, heart rate variance as well as bemoaning something about the latest iPhone, Galaxy or OLED TV.