I love everything about the Freelap timing system, except what it’s telling me. And it’s screaming that I’m “OLD AND SLOW”!!!
What is Freelap? Well, that’s easy to answer; it’s a very precise timing system that an individual can use without or without a coach. Imagine the timing system they use at the NFL Combine (Brower system), but way cooler! It comes in several configurations, including a starting finger pad or foot pad, timing gates, and a watch with hip strap (they also make systems for mountain biking and swimming…very cool, but not relevant to a track blog). How it works is also easy; the timing gates emits a magnetic fields which is detected by the watch and registered. The watch will record each time you pass one of the timing gates (called TX Junior). The watch can store a boat load of times (over 700) and those can be transferred to a computer via infrared…there’s a lot more to be said about what Freelap is and you can find it on their website: http://www.freelaptrackandfield.com/ Watch the video below to see exactly what I’m talking about:
But what it DOES FOR YOU is not immediately apparent. When I first saw it online, I thought mildly, “that’s kind of cool.” But now my eyes are open. It’s not “kind of” anything. It’s “way way cool.” It gives me extremely accurate timing with almost no effort…but more importantly, it changes the way I plan and execute my workouts. I can now start breaking down my splits, evaluating my strengths and weakness, and confidently know that after I make adjustments and train, I can absolutely test again with the confidence that I’m comparing apples to apples. And for me, a master’s athlete who typically works out by myself, this is empowerment squared.
Now, back to the old and slow. I did a couple test days a few months back and measured my 30m start, 30m fly, 100m start, 150m fly, 400m, and 40 yard (not all on the same day). My times were horribly disappointing. 30m start: 4.61 (does not include reaction time), 30m fly: 3.49, 100m start 13.03 (no reaction time), 150 fly 18.48, 400m of 57.45 and 40 yards: 5.24. Yeah, I know, it’s like I’m a freshman in high school again — and getting smoked by all the sophomores. But hey, at 42 I’m kind of proud to be running like a 14 year old.
My personal training plan is to train like a decathlete (if I actually end up doing a decathlon, that’s yet to been determined). So, 100m, 400m, and 110H are my races (I don’t really believe in training for the 1500m, except for race modelling). Moreover, the three jumps are also speed/power events. So, as a decathlete, maximum velocity, speed endurance and special endurance are key focuses. Looking at my test results reveals a few things. First, comparing my 30m start to my 30m fly, there’s a discrepancy of 1.13. Add in .2 for reaction time, and we’re talking 1.33. Not good, but not bad either…and clearly not a key place where I could make gains.
Second, comparing my 100m time to my flying 150m reveals that my speed endurance is good. Adjusting for reaction time and then adjusting for blocks-to-flying, my 100m fly time is +/- 12.13 (13.03 + 0.2 reaction time – 1.1 start-to-fly = 12.13). If I could keep my average velocity from the 100m all the way through 150m, I would have run 18.20 — which is only at 0.28 drop-off.
To confirm this, I did a little Usain Bolt comparison. If you take his world record 100m and his world record 150m, adjusting each for blocks-to-flying, you’ll see 100m pace would have taken him through a 150m fly at 12.57. Compare this to his 150m world record 14.35, adjusted to 13.25 and you get a drop off of 0.68. Sure, you could argue that his 150m race is not at his peak, so the comparison is contrived…but who cares. It’s in the ballpark…I’m in the ballpark. And that means speed endurance is not a key issues.
What about Special Endurance? Well, my test days didn’t reveal much about that, but my workouts did. For example, while doing a 10×100 workout, I reviewed my results and noticed I had robot-like times. All of my times were within hundreds of each other. This isn’t exactly the definition of Special Endurance, but for a decathlete who has to warm up and compete many times over an 8+ hour day, that’s what it means to me.
At the end of the day, what I learned is that “I’m slow because I’m slow.” While that’s fun to say, it actually wallops a big punch. I’m slow because I can’t create high enough Maximum Velocity. My flying 30m of 3.49 is the key too everything. Consider this, my high school mile relay splits were in the high 48s (on a good day), which translates to an average 30m fly time of 3.66 (48.8). How deflating — my “all out” maximum velocity at 42 year old is just a little faster then my floating 400m pace as a senior in high school. Man I’m old!!! So, obviously, Maximum Velocity is where my focus should revolve (bummer, as that’s the hardest thing to train — especially for a master’s athlete who has to be especially careful dodging injuries — but knowledge is power).
Flash forward to now and I’ve spent a couple months with Freelap. My times are dramatically better. My first official 100m race was 12.92; my second was 12.54. But more importantly, in practice my jog-in 100s are around 12.00…and my 30m flies are 3.41. And that is while nursing hamstring tweaks. I’m no Troy Douglas or Willie Gault (the two fastest sprinters ever in the 40+ age group), but I’m more like a sophomore in high school than a freshman. Inch by inch, it’s a cinch.
Freelap has changed the game. I never could have analyzed (and continue to analyze) myself before. Recording 30m starts or 30m flies with my trusty Timex Ironman is out of the question. Even with a coach, the precision is questionable (not to mention the coach’s attention is focused on timing and not coaching). Timing myself at longer runs with my wrist watch was doable, but the accuracy is so crude that making any fine tuning decision is impossible. Only high-level, large differences are measurable with a wrist watch…and sprinting is a game of milliseconds.
And it doesn’t just help on test day. I use it everyday! I get perfect timing on every sprint and thus can be assured that I’m really keeping all my sprints above 95% (or whatever). Moreover, I use it for timing my splits between hurdles (I wish I had more timing gates) and my last 10m on my long jump approach. It’s my “coach in a bag”.
In the end, I love Freelap. Is it perfect, no. But it’s really damn good. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of it’s downfalls, but they are minor (kind of). First, it’s not cheap. You are going to drop several hundreds of dollars on this. The “Sprint Athlete” bundle with the touch starter is over $500 ($620 if you want the bag). If you’re like me, a lone master’s athlete, it’s hard to tell the wife that you’re spending $600 on what she would consider a glorified watch. But don’t let this deter you. Think outside the box, because it’s worth it. Find a couple other athletes or see if you can create/join a track club…and buy one or two sets to share with some friends. Now, compared to the Brower system, it’s a steal. Brower runs $1,500 for a similar setup. Adding an additional timing gate is only $114 with Freelap, while it’s $500 with the Brower.
Second, the way the lap functionality is not ideal. As a sprinter, I want to time my sprint and then time my rest. However, the lap function shows your lap time for 10 second (awesome) and then resets to show the cumulative time (not so great). For example, say I want to run 6×150 with 8min rest. I run the first 150 in 18s, which the watch will show me right after I pass the finish. It will then switch back to displaying my cumulative time…so I should start my next 150 at 8:18s (or so). That’s fine the first time, but the second time I’ll be looking at 16:36s, then 24:54… obviously not ideal. It would be better to have the option to show running lap times instead of cumulative times. Again, don’t be deterred. You can work around this very easily…I just stop the watch and restart before the second sprint.
Oh yeah, and by the way, a bunch of really good guys use it too. Justin Gatlin, David Oliver, Kellie Wells, Veronica Campbell-Brown… But what do they know 🙂