There might be issues of carrying a phone, where to put it, having a smartphone that will work with an app and many more practical issues. There’s also the scenario where the tracker apps on smartphones kill batteries and drain them within a few hours while the GPS tracking is enabled.
Lets also not forget that on race day, many races do not allow cell phones on the course. How is your support crew and sherpas going to find you throughout the day over 140.6 miles of triathlon course? Lost on Donner pass at Lake Tahoe climbing at 3 mph? Need a boost to see your kiddos screaming and holding motivational signs reading “GO MOMMY GO” and “YOU CAN DO THIS” and of course, “140.6, Because 140.7 would be crazy”? Well, they won’t be finding you very easily with thousands of spectators and racers over hundreds of miles.
What’s an Ironman in training and racing to do?
Some companies have come up with an effective solution for tracking athletes that’s no bigger than 4 AA batteries strapped together. A lot of them utilize existing cell phone services and towers to triangulate your position and relay that information from the GPS tracking unit to their website and phone apps for your fans to follow you.
My Athlete (www.myathletelive.com) is such a service. Their My Athlete Live tracker can be worn for a race or training and anyone with your tracker site information can log on and follow you along. It’s a legitimate solution to an age old triathlete problem. We tested them out for Ironman Lake Tahoe and below is our report of the experience.
Packaging / Shelf Appeal / Marketing
At the moment, My Athlete is not selling the units out right and they are not available on store shelves. You will have to contact them and order the unit on a monthly or event basis. So, there’s no real need for glitz and glamor packaging to sell them in the mainstream.
When you do receive your tracker, you get the tracker, race belt with belt clip, seperate clip to use on a waistband, charger, instructions and a pre-paid addressed USPS package envelope to return the unit back to My Athlete. Straight forward and covers the bases. My Athlete is on Facebook and they have a pretty beefy website with cool and snazzy graphics. The site isn’t going to win any marketing awards, but it gets the job done. They invested their resources on the back end to get the data from the tracker to a usable format to viewers online and on smart phones. If it doesn’t work, you can polish a turd all you want and you know what you will get, a polished turd. There is no turd with My Athlete. There’s also not as much shine with the marketing and look of their website, but their product works, and that’s what matters most.
Form / Construction
When you get the tracker device, it’s a rectangle around 2 inches by 1 inch by 1 inch (very roughly). It’s solid and all of the connection ports have protective rubberized covers that fit snugly into the ports to protect them. The covers are flush, for the most part, with the tracker device, so there is nothing to snag on or catch on clothing. It looks like it could take a few drops and be fine… or even a large drop. But, we weren’t interested in destructive testing, so we played nice with the My Athlete tracker.
It was surprising that My Athlete created race belts branded with their logo and name for the belt clip for athletes to use. It works well for those that use a race belt as My Athlete’s belt had the clips for a bib. In essence it was like racing with your regular race belt with the only addition being the pouch and tracker device on the belt.
They also sent a belt clip for an option aside from the race belt. The clip appeared to be pretty sturdy and wasn’t some flimsy piece of plastic that would snap at the first sign of distress. We didn’t end up using the clip, but we would not have hesitated if we needed it.
The only real issue is water proofing. The device is not made to withstand swimming or being submerged. It requires an extra step of making sure it’s on your person and turned on after the swim, but after that you can forget about it. But, as most triathletes know by now, GPS devices are not very good in water anyways since being submerged cuts off GPS signals and makes tracking pretty pointless anyways. It might have worked in a swim cap, but we didn’t want to take any chances getting it wet.
Fashion / Appearance
As mentioned above, the device is small and discrete. It can easily fit in a jersey pocket or on a belt with the clip. It’s not as huge as a smartphone that you would bring along for GPS apps. Don’t let this detour from taking your phone, as it’s always smart to bring your phone for emergencies.
Basically you can wear it on your person and no one would be the wiser that you’re being tracked. Even with the race belt option, it blends right in as if you were wearing your regular race belt for riding and running.
The My Athlete logos and graphics that come on the race belt and devices and reading material is attractive and won’t make you want to hide it from your friends. Unlike a wart on the end of your nose, if someone sees it, they won’t shudder or avoid looking you in the face.
Fit / Function
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. If it doesn’t work, My Athlete is out of a job.
We used our My Athlete tracker before the race in training and during Ironman Lake Tahoe. We were in Kansas City and then flew out to California for the race, so we used the tracker on runs and rides in two distant locations.
The directions to turn on the tracker and assure that it’s up and running were not exactly as coherent as we had hoped. They send a printed instruction page and they have instructions listed on their web site, however they weren’t uniform from one to the other. We also received an email from the group closer to the event day with additional instructions. The flow and feeling of cohesiveness from one instruction medium to the next was a little jagged and rough. It felt as if one had information that the other did not.
Also, before your event launches on race day, the tracking page you are directed to is more of a back-end part of the site that you get closer to raw data information. You can select days and activities, but don’t expect the same information as you would find on your activity tracking for your Garmin or Timex trainer. It serves the purpose they advertise, which is real time tracking. They do warn that the data obtained from their site isn’t really meant for training analysis.
The actual tracker is sometimes a little difficult to figure out which lights should be blinking when. There’s a power light, reception light and a few others that escape us. Depending on how long you hold the power button or other buttons, different lights will flash in different manners. We found ourselves repeatedly having to refer to the instructions to decipher what the lights were telling us. What exacerbated our situation was getting our hands on the tracker a day before we traveled to the race. So, we didn’t get as much time playing with it at home as we would have liked and limited cell phone reception and no internet access at our race lodging site caused issues trying to get used to the tracker before the race. That’s just a product of My Athlete having a finite amount of trackers going around the US and other locations and they send them when they get them. It’s just kind of the way it is, and it’s not really something they can control.
That being said, we had a hard time remembering to turn the device off as they lights didn’t always flash when we thought the device was on. We weren’t sure when it was on, off or out of battery. We could not check the device on the web or phone due to our location and lodging issues with connectivity. We were going on blind faith that we charged it correctly and it was running.
Come race day, we charged it all night and turned it on and placed it on our bike for T1. Since the device cannot get wet, we could not wear it on the swim and didn’t want to leave it overnight in our T1 bag at the race site in freezing temps and rain. My Athlete starts the timer at 7am and it’s not going to be accurate in actual race time since it does not record you on your swim. When starting the unit, we could not get a verification that it was on as no lights would blink. As a racer, it wasn’t clear if it was working, but we proceeded like it was. You have to go through the race on faith that you turned it on correctly and it’s sending info to your followers on phones and online.
One item to note is that My Athlete uses phone networks to get your location. If you are in wooded areas like Lake Tahoe, you could lose signal and updates may not be as accurate as in other locations. That’s not really something in anyone’s control, so it is what it is.
While racing, we are happy to report that indeed the tracker was on and working. Friends and family at home were able to track us during the race and see where we were at. At times, the signal was dropped, but from T1 to T2, watchers followed along.
Unfortunately in brain fart moment, the tracker was left in the T2 bag after changing for the run and the run information was not captured. We recovered it from the bag to mail back after the race, but friend and family had to go to the Ironman tracker page to keep track of the run portion.
Afterwards, we could check out our user page on My Athlete Live to see the route and tracking points and other various information.
Had we had a week or two more to get comfortable with the tracker, it might have instilled more confidence in us that the tracker was on and transmitting, but have faith as it did work.
When looking at the costs of renting the My Athlete, you have to remember that these are not for sale and you will indeed be renting them. They have set it up for events, a small time period or a monthly rate if you wish to use one indefinitely.
- 1 Weekend = $29.95
- 1 Week = $59.95
- 2 Weeks = $89.95
- Monthly = $119.95
The real value of the My Athlete is during a race. It loads the course, details where you are at, how far you have to go, almost instantaneous updates and transmits to the web and smartphone apps. Your race sherpa can follow you within a few minutes and find your exact location on the course and your fans at home sipping on their hot toddies while you suffer can follow you along vicariously on the web. That’s worth $30 for a race weekend, shipping included.
My Athlete is a great step forward for long course endurance athletes. Rather than lugging around a smartphone, you could carry the tracker device in your pocket and your friends and family can track you from their computer. You can also be tracked real-time during a race which pays dividends for spectators and supporters at the event. Even those at home can get a better idea of where you are instead of depending on the timing mats provided at the races. No longer is your spouse waiting in an hour window hoping you are still running at the pace you predicted. They can check their phone and know within seconds of where you are to get that sign and inspirational yelling ready.
The downside is that My Athlete is more for a race setting than training. The site only sets up your tracking page for races, but you would need to distribute the backdoor page web address to friends and family for tracking beyond race day. It’s possible to keep tabs, but a little more cumbersome.
It also can be a safety concern to think you are ok with just the tracker, but if you get stranded or injured, if you leave the phone at home thinking you are ok with the tracker, you may delay getting help sooner. Don’t forget to properly communicate your whereabouts and plans before a long workout thinking you are covered with just the My Athlete Tracker. It’s a good addition to your long day training gear, and a great source for race day tracking.
* Writer's note - My Athlete provided the tracker device and return arrangements for this review at no cost and did not influence this review.