Monday, February 1, 2016

Using Technology

Part One was written for the TrainingPeaks blog
Part Two is a bit of additional insight based on my work as a coach and my journey as an athlete


PART ONE - Six Reasons To Use Technology

Have you ever stopped to consider why you use technology in your athletic life?
Here’s my answer.

1 – Learn Faster
I came to sport late in life, starting triathlon when I was 30 years old. Over the first six years of my career, I took my Ironman time from 11 hours to 8:29 and won Ultraman Hawaii. Technology, most specifically my heart rate monitor and powermeter, played a fundamental role in helping me beat my competition, quickly.

2 – Create Visibility For Errors
Did you see the movie Days of Thunder? In the movie, Robert Duvall checks the max revs on tachometer after Tom Cruise blows his engine out. I use post-session analysis of power, and heart rate, to do the same thing for my own training.

3 - Quantify Work
Triathlons are 1-17 hour time-trials where there is a HUGE performance benefit from energy-pacing towards your run. Trouble is… how do we know what we have to work with? Enter your power meter.

For “fast” Gordo, an Olympic Distance race requires ~2,000kj of total work (swim/bike/run). An Ironman is going to require ~7,500kj. There is a big difference between rides of these two energy amounts at any work rate.

When long-course triathletes fall apart using top-down pacing strategies, don’t blame nutrition. Review their average weekly kilojoules as well as quantifying the output from their longest training days.

Work before work rate, is a key aspect of my approach to long-course triathlon.

4 – Learn From Success
As a coach, it is easy to get into the habit of looking for errors and mistakes. Spikes are easy to see on Training Peaks. Tools such as WKO+ let us calculate decoupling with ease.

Be sure to spend time reviewing your successes – learn from what works.

5 – Learn Feel
When I started exercising, I expected training to be quite painful and I received what I expected, Pain!

By using my heart rate monitor, I figured out a safe level of effort that would enable me to complete my sessions. As my knowledge increased, I was able to interpret the science to what I actually saw in my own performance.

The training zones that you read about have a physiological basis. Understanding how science feels does not come naturally for us. Most specifically, most athletes will notice a loss of rational capacity when their heart rate crosses about 155 bpm. Technology can help you see when you might be losing your mind (we all do).

6 - Superior Communication
The auto-notify function (on TP) is a great tool for initiating coach:athlete communication with remote relationships. However, most important is a reliable log of what you actually did. It is amazing how we ALL tend to remember our best sessions as our standard workouts! Being able to see what we actually did last year, or the year before, can go a long way to settling the mind down.

Quantify, Assess and Apply!

PART TWO - Bonus Thoughts

Technology isn't a cure-all. Remember:

  • Technology is most useful when combined with long-term real-world data

  • Every season is different

  • Athletes are dynamic, not static // there isn't a algorithm that 'solves' each of us because we are operating in an environment of incomplete and changing information

  • Just because a machine produces a number, doesn’t mean that it’s accurate - know the error rates of your favorite equipment and test/calibrate. I've seen LARGE differences between powermeters and it's screwed up my training (and certainly my head) before.

  • Highly motivated athletes can “game” the system // be careful with chasing watts to "prove" your fitness. Likewise, high fitness and deep fatigue can look very similar in your Steady and Mod-hard training zones.

Quick Hits On How Tech Helped Me:

  • Heart Rate Monitor – probably the best value per dollar for an athlete. Enabled me to do more training and stay injury free when I started running consistently. Also, very helpful to see when body is "too stressed" (impending illness, dehydration, excessive training load). Of course, I often learned those lessons by ignoring the warning signals.

  • Bike Fit – Key tips for you here are get to a fitter that fits to your body, not to the fitter’s educational background. We spend a ton of time unwinding the damage done by amateur triathletes cramming their bodies into elite road cycling positions.

  • PowerMeter – in terms of absolute performance gains, this tool gives the largest edge. My choice is PowerTap SL+ with Zipp 404s. My PowerTap gives me comfort that I'm going "hard enough" as well as enabling me to learn from my mistakes when I blow myself to bits (yes, that still happens!).

  • Understanding Pace – I think the value of real time pace is overstated for endurance training as most of your mileage should be governed by effort. However, I do a lot of measured course runs for sub-maximal benchmarking and I borrow my friends' GPSs for that.

  • Progressive Sub-maximal Lactate Analysis – If you are a coach, or high-performance athlete, then this method (and its tools) are essential to understand optimal effort/pace/power to target slowtwitch and intermediate fibers. You can estimate zones from various heart rate tests but lactate analysis gives a much deeper insight into what's happening at the muscular level.

  • Video and Photo Review – the way we move isn’t always the way it is! BIG help to me as a guy that learned to swim in his 30s. Analysis is most helpful when fatigued because it is easier to fool the camera when fresh. Race run footage is highly valuable.

  • Gas Exchange Analysis - we wanted to be world-class in our ability to learn about, and coach, performance. As a result, we invested in a Parvo Medics met cart. The other carts are not as accurate (we're using the same equipment as the Olympic Training Center and the Aussie Institute of Sport).

Click to share on Twitter and Facebook    Tweet This!