What to do With All This Data?

"There is no point in analyzing data you are not willing to act on."


Yesterday I was supposed to ride 80+ miles with some friends. It was designed to be a key training ride, with some long intervals thrown in to keep things honest. I made it about 15 miles before realizing I needed to pull the plug. No honest athlete likes quitting a workout, but there is a time and place when cutting a workout short makes more sense than pushing on. The technology I was wearing helped me confidently make that decision. 


Less than forty years ago, a basic Timex was the most advanced piece of technology on an athlete's body. Of course if you were a triathlete you had to own the Timex Ironman edition. It was cool for its time: waterproof, "indiglo" backlight, and had a built-in stopwatch with the ability to take lap splits. 


Training back then was simple: athletes only cared about one metric: time. Ultimately we race for time, whether it be against our prior best time, or the fastest time on the day, or for the fastest known time, and so it made sense that the quality of any given workout was based on your time for that workout. Athletes compared times and obsessed about times because it was easy to measure. 


In 1982 Polar released the first wireless heart rate monitor, and soon after athletes became obsessed about heart rate. We could now measure heart rate in real time, and compare our splits to our relative effort. 


In the late 1980's power meters began showing up on bicycles, and now cyclists had a new metric to obsess over and analyze. The smart cyclists noticed the correlation between power and heart rate, and changed their training and racing strategies to leverage this new data. 


It was yesterday's correlation between my heart rate and power that confirmed I needed to pull the plug on yesterday's ride. Years of training have shown me what a typical heart rate should be for any given power output. When those two numbers were well off their baseline, combined with a general "feeling off" sensation, I knew it would make more sense for me to rest and recover than to power through and hope for the best.


Quitting a workout is never a decision an athlete should make lightly. Our training is designed to build positive habits that result in optimal performance. We do not want to train ourselves to quit just because we're not feeling 100%. But being able to make an informed decision on when to pull the plug, and to do it without guilt, is an important skill an athlete must develop, and it's a decision in which today's technology can assist you. 


My best advice for those who use wearables and general athletic technology: there is no point in analyzing data you are not willing to act on. What's the point in wearing a HR monitor if you're not willing to slow down occasionally in training? There is no point in looking at your power meter data in a race if you're going to disregard your pacing strategy. Nor is there much point in tracking your sleep metrics if you're not going to change your sleep patterns, eating habits, TV watching habits, etc. The whole point of collecting and analyzing reams of information while sleeping, walking, cycling, running, etc is to take intelligent action and change your behavior in a way to positively influence your health and performance. 


I'll try the ride again next week. I'll make some changes to my rest/recovery, and see if I can do better. As cool as today's wearables and technology is, it still cannot do the single most important thing: get us out the door to put in the time, miles, and work that must be done to be successful. 


- Antonio Gonzalez



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