Thursday, January 26, 2012

Train hard now, and then what...?

One of the typical issues I face with my athletes this time of year, (off-season or pre-season), is a desire to do more, and train harder. Never mind that most of my athletes live in climates that make outdoor training rather cold and miserable, many still want to push hard, large volume, and be ready to race at their peak come the first race of the year.

I always ask in response, "If we train specifically and hard for your goal race right now, we'll see a plateau in about 12-16 weeks. Then what do we do?" Most don't know the answer to that question. They all know that plateaus can happen, but when you put it on the calendar and can pinpoint the time they will see it, it becomes clear that their plan likely won't work. They likely will reach a mental plateau as well, and by the end of the season when the most important races come, and everyone is looking to peak, those who trained at the highest level early in the year are hanging by a mental and physical string.

So instead, I push for the athletes to focus on their weaknesses during this time, with quality being high, and volume being low. This prepares athletes for the season, yet allows us to still have something to build on thru the year. We focus on individual metrics within each phase, trying to improve the skills and abilities that we can build in succession thru the season, to the key races.

So if you're training now like it's the middle of the season, what are you going to do when that plateaus?

Coach Vance

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Training with Data on a Budget

One of the biggest roadblocks for most people to use data in their training, is the cost. But this becomes less and less of a real issue everyday. As new models of power meters and GPS come out, they simply add a bit more bells and whistles, and the products that still collect data and allow athletes to download and analyze it, become cheaper and cheaper. This is really all you need. Keep it simple, and you'd be amazed how cheap EFFECTIVE training can really be!

Let's say your budget is $1500. I have taken the liberty to show you how you can begin training using data for less than this budget.

Combination #1

Run data collection
Garmin is the major player, dominating the market, and even as they have introduced nicer models, they have also introduced cheaper models with effective features, such as downloadable data, ANT+,  and done it with much more aesthetically pleasing watches, unlike their original and bulky Forerunner 205/305/310XT models.

I recommend Garmin's Forerunner 210 model. It does it all, small on the wrist, acts like a normal watch too, at $299 on Amazon. There's a 110 model for cheaper, but the 210 gives you all the important data of pace, heart-rate and cadence on the run, (via foot-pod). The 110 is not as good, as the 210 comes with everything you need to download the data as well,  is the better investment.
Power data collection
I recommend splitting up the computer units you'll use for the bike and run. Come race-day, this is faster and  easier. Also, it helps to save battery life if one unit isn't doing all the work. When you have a dead battery, you have no data.

For the bike and power data, a single wireless unit with ANT+ capability, like the Garmin Edge 500 is a great unit, available at Amazon for $249. You can purchase this model without a HR monitor, because the one with the 210 is compatible with this one as well, so two for the price of one!

Power meter
The easiest power meter on the market is the Powertap, and it is priced extremely cheap at $660, with ANT+, on an excellent training wheel at Competitive Cyclist. You won't need the computer head, because you've got the Edge already.

Total cost for this combination: $1208, ($292 below budget!)

If you want a race wheel, you can use the savings from the budget to buy a nice front wheel, and then go to Wheelbuilder and get a disc cover, (Aerojacket), for your training wheel. It will make it suddenly a great racing wheel, and in some studies, even better!

Combination #2

Run data collection and Power data collection in one unit
Though I mentioned above that I'm not a fan of one unit for both, some people are. The best unit for this is either the 910XT, ($449 at Amazon), or the 310XT, ($349 at Amazon), both listed with the heart rate monitor.

Here's the 910XT and the 310XT...

You will want to buy the foot-pod, as cadence data can tell you a lot of information about how your running is. It is $88.94 at Amazon, and is compatible with both the 910XT and the 310XT.

Power meter
Again, the Powertap from Competitive Cyclist at $660, with no computer head, is still the best deal.

Total cost for this combination: 
$1197.94 for 910XT, with foot-pod and Powertap
$1097.94 for 310XT, with foot-pod and Powertap

This last single-unit combination is not much lower in cost than the 2 unit combination, so consider the advice of separating the two. Also, you can use the savings to get a disc cover mentioned in combination #1.

Analysis Software
And last but not least, is the software to analyze. This is the best part, TrainingPeaks is FREE! If you want some bells and whistles, you can pay for a premium account, but if you have a coach who uses it, you likely get the premium account included in their services.

You can truly see how a $1500 budget is more than enough, and as little as an $1100 budget will get you using data and taking your training and performances to new levels! No more excuses, time to do it right!

Coach Vance

Friday, January 6, 2012

Making sense of the data

As you probably know from reading this blog, I am big "data-guy" when it comes to coaching athletes. Yes, I believe in coaching technique and especially the mental side when athletes have high goals, but in the day-to-day training aspects, data tells us how the athlete is progressing.

Much of the posts I've shared here have been where the data is clearly showing improvement for an athlete, but it isn't always easy to see improvement, and sometimes different data collections may tell a different story. So, making sense of the data collected is the biggest challenge, especially when you can get conflicting stories.

Here's an example of a PMC chart for running files from an athlete: (click on images to enlarge)

You can see I've highlighted an area where it appears we have some plateauing, or even some possible regression. The dots with lines represent the 10 best performances in the time period, over certain time intervals, such as 30 seconds, 1 min, 6 min, etc. Ideally, we want to see these lines on an upward slope, representing faster speeds produced.

However, we still see some of the 10 best performances of the time period so far. Not only do we see these happening, the 60 min samples are the best so far, and the ATL, (pink line, Actue Training Load representing load or fatigue of the athlete), is far and away the largest the athlete has experienced so far. The athlete went on a holiday vacation and was able to run a lot more. The fact he was still able to show some of his best performances in such a fatigued state, is encouraging. But again, this is only one data collection, so let's look at some other data and try to see a more complete picture.

Here is a chart from the same athlete, which tracks their average run pace per week, for ALL runs. This shows his average pace is at its highest. This data could be skewed if a certain workout was designed to be faster, but that hasn't been the case. This athlete has focused on Zone 1 run economy, and one run per week with 15 second surges, so the training has been consistent and inferences of improvement can be drawn.

In fact, this athlete lives in a very flat place in the US, and for this vacation went to a very hilly part of the US. The fact these paces were achieved in a more challenging terrain, under higher fatigue levels is encouraging. But let's continue to look at the data in a different perspective...

These charts take the best 30 min sample in a single week of run paces on the left, watts on the right, and plots them on the graph. You can see the trends are continuing up. The outlier on the left chart is a test workout. When we look at this, considering the whole picture of the data, and then look at the summary chart of the training so far, we see improvement across the board. The only value not showing improvement so far is 20 minute pace, because of a test workout to determine run FTP.

So even though the run PMC chart at the top showed a plateau of performance, when we considered all the data points, and even the subjectivity of where the athlete was training over the holidays, we can be fairly certain and excited that the athlete is progressing quite well with the current training focus, and there is no need to change the current course, yet.

If you have data collected, and are interested in having me view it and share what I see, contact me at coachjimvance at g mail dot com.

Coach Vance