I’ll get this out there. I am a coach and a rider that loves data. I find it incredibly useful for prescribing, executing and analysing my own and my clients’ training.
But there is also a part of me that hates the data because it turns everything into something that has to be measured and compared to past performances.
I started cycling because it was a necessity to get about as a teenager in the 1980s. Then we all watched ET and bought BMX bikes to race or freestyle on. This turned into a love and passion for riding that I reignited again in my mid-30s after moving back to Devon from London.
It was about 10 years ago now that I started riding with a purpose, taking up ‘structured training’ as we now call it. I was an early adopter of Strava, Training Peaks and bought a power meter in 2013. My previous life was rooted in technology, data and computer models, so the vast amount of data that cycling generated and the cool software applications that were becoming mainstream was right up my street.
I bought Hunter Allen’s book ‘Training and Racing with a Power Meter’ and I was hooked by the process driven, quantifiable and systematic training methods that could be applied with the use of a power meter. In my 7 years as a full-time coach, I have learned a great deal, had some amazingly influential collaborators and constantly strive to learn more, read lots and listen to endless podcasts. The process of training continues to fascinate me.
On the one hand, you can see how much I love and value the data. It is a very powerful tool that we can all use to improve our fitness and technique on a bike.
However, there are several things I don’t like about an obsession with data, which these days moves far wider than having a power meter. We have technology that measures everything you eat, measures your sleep, measures your recovery, tells you if you are well trained, on form or are tired and so on and so on… Ask a proper physiologist about many of these tools and they will laugh in your face. If you really believe that your watch can calculate how much REM sleep you have had, then my opinion is that you have been sucked in by the corporate profit seeking marketing machine.
... the data becomes a weapon against ourselves that can lead to feelings of drudgery and underachievement, demotivation and depression. It can cause mental and physical drain and can sap the joy from a sport most of us took up because we loved the pure joy of cycling.
As Rich Roll said in a recent podcast,
“Drain leads to burnout. Burnout robs you of the fun. The whole reason you got into it in the first place.
Instead, connect with the allure that initially sparked your interest.
Instead, find the joy.
Instead, fall back in love with the thing.
Do that and you’ll discover an inexhaustible fuel source to sustain your path.”
Many of us are at a point in the training year where we have been training systematically in a data driven environment for 6-8 months. Due to COVID, many people have been training for far longer than this with no chance to use their hard earned fitness in races or events.
If you have been training for 6 months, then you are very well adapted to the training you have been doing and gains from here, in this training cycle, are going to be very hard to come by. All training is an endeavour with diminishing returns. Other coaches might like to tell you that you can keep improving month on month for months on end, but it is simply not true. At some stage, we all plateau and need to take a break and decondition to start the process again, or accept that we now maintain our fitness level and enjoy the summer! Keep trying to ‘progress’ and you will burnout.
We had a thing in the UK called ‘Don’t Mow in May’ which encouraged us all to not cut our grass for the month of May to encourage more wildlife. As Monty Don said, "Cutting grass burns lots of fossil fuel, makes a filthy noise and is about the most injurious thing you can do to wildlife”.
I am going to encourage you all to ‘Ditch the Data in June’. Now, to be clear, I am not asking you to stop recording your rides or using your power meters. What I am encouraging you all to do is to…
If you really believe that your watch can calculate how much REM sleep you have had, then my opinion is that you have been sucked in by the corporate profit seeking marketing machine.
Train WITH data not TO data…
Taking my own advice, I have stopped wearing my sports watch for June and have removed all the data and heart rate fields from my bike computer. So today for my interval training session I rode on feel. I had an endurance ride with a block of 4x5min efforts with 2min rests at around 95% of my 90 day 5min max. Basically, this is a session that the harder you go, the more you get out, so I just rode the efforts at my perceived max that JUST got me to the end of the last effort.
The benefits of this approach were immediately obvious.
I got home, had a shower, ate some food and then had a look at how I had done today. My ‘outcome watts’ for the efforts vs the ‘target watts’ for the efforts were 5w lower. As it turned out, I was on a decent but not amazing day.
What would have happened if I had been 20w lower? The most important thing would have been that it would not in any way have taken any fun away from the ride. Because I only knew the result ex post, I would have still had as much fun as I had being 5w away. What if I was 20w ahead of ‘target watts’? Yea, that would have felt great sitting at my desk looking at the numbers, but again, it would have made no difference to my experience on the ride.
Data and technology have provided us with many great things, but have they robbed us of our intuition and independent thinking and have taken the joy away from things that we just did for the pure fun of it.
Rather than ditching the data, I want you all to change your relationship with it. Use it as a tool to help you improve, but don’t weaponise it into a thing that you beat yourself up with.
You can only train where you are at right now, today at this point in time. You can’t train to where you used to be, or to where you think you should be. Accept this and you do the best you can on the day.
Right now, I think the most important things are
With a nice improvement in the weather in the UK, get out there and enjoy the sun but remember. It’s ok to ride easy and be sociable. It’s ok to stop for a coffee. It’s ok to stop and take photographs. Maintaining a nice level of fitness for the summer is easily achieved with 2-3 well curated periods of intervals each week, which can all be incorporated into your outside riding. Get off the turbo; Get off Zwift and go and have some fun in the sun 😄
Rob Wakefield / Founder & Coach
email@example.com / 07779 136 840 www.propello.bike