Read time: 3min.
By Coach Yan Busset
The Double-Edged Sword of Data in Endurance Sport:
When Numbers Help and Hurt
My coaching approach is science-based, so I use data extensively. The adage "You can't improve what you can't measure" is certainly true. However, data is not the be-all and end-all. Decades of experience as an athlete and a coach have also taught me to listen to the inner cues of our body. I see data as a self-learning tool rather than something to follow blindly and be enslaved by. Today, we'll explore why sometimes, your body knows best.
When Data Plays Tricks
Imagine gearing up for a race and your trusty bike computer or power meter decides to take a nap. Nightmare, right? Over the years, I would say that about 20% of the race feedback I hear includes a story of a piece of tech failing. So, if you are 100% dependent on your device for decision-making on race day, you are taking a big risk.
Always Have a Plan B
Here's where knowing your body comes in handy. You need to use numbers and tests to put metrics in front of feel, and increase your self-knowledge about pacing. For example, in long-distance endurance racing, energy management is crucial. You only have a few "matches" to burn, so you need to cap your effort pacing. In long-distance races, your aerobic threshold (VT1/LT1) is your upper limit. The good news is that you can self-assess this easily by listening to your body's cues. Think of the aerobic threshold as your "chit-chat pace"—can you talk in long sentences or breathe through your nose? You're good. Can't talk or need to shorten sentences? You're going too fast!
Feel Over Numbers (Actionable tip!)
Here's a golden nugget from one of my past coaches. This exercise will help you develop your feel for pacing. During swimming intervals, instead of announcing our times immediately, we were asked to guess them. At first, we were way off the mark. But with practice, our guesses became more and more accurate, eventually coming close to a 0.5-second/100m precision. You can apply this to biking or running; for example, next time you jump on the bike trainer, cover the wattage display and start guessing your output. Initially, you'll be off, but eventually, you'll become a watt-guessing wizard.
The Ultimate Goal: Intuition
I'm not saying to dump data; I'm saying to make it your sidekick. Turn those numbers into your sixth sense.
The Art of Racing
You are the artist, and data is your palette. Mix them well, and you'll create a triathlon masterpiece.
Training Workload Tracking
What applies to racing also applies to training: there is a limit to data. Let's take the concrete example of measuring your weekly training load. If you're familiar with training apps like Training Peaks, you'll know that it's a wonderful tool for coaching. It has developed metrics like Training Stress Score (TSS), Acute Training Load (ATL), Chronic Training Load (CTL), and Training Stress Balance (TSB) to assess metabolic impact and workload. These are great decision-making tools in theory, but their accuracy depends on the quality of the data you input. Remember, garbage in, garbage out. That's why my number one decision-making tool for adjusting an athlete's training load is direct feedback and communication about their level of readiness and fatigue. Apps like Training Peaks also offer perceived exhaustion scales, which can be equally helpful.
Data is cool and essential for anyone looking to improve performance, but it's not your life coach. Personally, I view training a swimming, biking, and running as life hack/ excuses for self-development. Using technology is fantastic, but for me, the ultimate question is, "Will this make me a better version of myself?" We live in a world where technology, especially with the raise of AI, is revolutionizing our lives. While it's crucial to embrace these advancement and to make the best out of it, we should see them as tools that amplify our own abilities, rather than as entities to which we delegate our senses of feel and intellectual process. So the next time your gadget goes bananas, remember: you're the real boss!
Thank you for reading and see you next week!
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