Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tracking Your Training, Part II--Analyzing

Back here on an earlier post on Crashing the Boards, we talked about items that will collect data and how you can use them to help along with your training.

Well, now that you've had the time to go and buy something, and start to fiddle with it a little bit (the advantage of me not doing this post on time, I suppose), what on Earth do you do with all of the information that you've collected?

There are numerous options to track your training with. All of them follow the same module, though: we want to be able to store the data in a safe spot, so that you will be able to go back and take a look at it and see what did and did not work over the course of your training. There are three major types of storage options which we will review below. I've used all three, and I will rank them from my least favorite to most favorite.

These are typically spiral-bound books that include either a training program with them, or other tips and tricks to keeping your information down. There are generally spots for you to write in your heart-rate, pace, weight, what you ate, etc.

I find that this type of training log is most effective for the person who is having a lot of trouble keeping to a schedule. Seeing that Monday-Sunday laid out, with blank pages, is intimidating. You don't want to have to write in that you didn't do something on a particular day. It is extremely valuable as a motivating force.

On the flip side, though, these logs tend to give you very little space to actually analyze what you have done. You usually have no more room than an inch or so to cram in all of your information. This is truly ineffective for those who are looking to be able to write out what they thought based off of the data pulled.

Therefore, I recommend this product to people who are having a tough time staying motivated in their workout routines, as well as those who are looking to pace themselves ONLY off of the numbers they generate, rather than a mix of raw data and intuition. Not necessarily a bad thing, just not my preferred method.

The class leader, by far, in this category is TrainingPeaks, with their free and pay-to-play options. The free data source is excellent to pull all of the information of your device (such as the Timex Global Trainer or Garmin Forerunner 310XT), and compile it into a workout schedule for you.

TrainingPeaks is also excellent for you to analyze data, what with their utilization of WKO+ and TSS. Without going into too much detail, these metrics will tell you how sore you will feel off of a given workout, as well as giving you your maximum threshold (e.g. the pace that you can hold for one hour), which is what you would then try to base all of your other workouts off of.

This option is also enticing for coaches, and their athletes alike, as the data can be uploaded by an athlete, and then reviewed by a coach. A coach may then upload a week of training, and have the athlete upload the data based off of that training into TrainingPeaks. Another intimidating factor, eh?

Coach: "So, why isn't your stuff up on TrainingPeaks?"
Athlete: "Oh, uh...I forgot to turn on my Garmin?"

The problem with TrainingPeaks, of course, is that it can be information overload--you have SO many metrics available to you, and so many different ways of toying with them, that you can wind up getting lost in the numbers and lose your focus instead on the training itself. So if numbers are intimidating to you, this may not be the best place to go. However, if you are being coached, are a coach, or love playing around with data, this is by far your best option.

Yes, I'm serious.

Stop laughing.

No, really.

This is how I track my training.

Now that you've gotten your ab workout for the week, let's talk about why I use a cheap $5 notebook instead of some of the fancier toys to look at things.

A notebook is a blank canvas. Divide it up how you want. Write as much, or as little, as you want. Get context for specific situations. Star workouts that you loved. Put big black letters of NEVER AGAIN! if you hated something. It really gives you options.

But really, it makes you think.

You have all of this data sitting in front of you: elevation. Pace. Top speed. Average heart rate. Transition times. Power. Cadence. So many metrics. The thing is, you are going to have to put these numbers into context with your workout, and have to think about why certain things came up, rather than a computer telling it to you.

To me, this forces you to be intuitive about your body: know when it is feeling good off of a specific pace, rather than being told that you are supposed to be holding X pace at Y interval. This helps develop a better mind-body connection, which in turn, should help reduce the rate of injury overall. You are only as good as your mind can go with.

In other words, your training is a blank canvas at the start of the year, and by thinking, and by training hard, you will paint something that you can call your own. Review that work. Think about it. And try to get better.

After all, isn't that what we're doing this for?

Programming Note: Upcoming blog posts will talk about my own swim focus, and another running gait post. If you have topics that you'd like me to cover, e-mail me.

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