That Which is Measured Improves

As I start to gear up for 2013, the past two weeks have been particularly test-heavy: swim test, bike test, run-till-you-puke-test. The only problem is that testing for fitness isn't exactly something you can just cram for like semester finals. As a result, sending results to the coach can sometimes feel a little something like this:

Screen Shot 2012-12-10 at 9.30.45 PM

Testing might be painful and unpleasant and not too pretty but I find that it's nice to either 1) see progress or 2) identify areas where I'm slacking. Seeing faster 100m swim splits or (conversely) a slower 5k time is a great motivator to pull yourself out of the pool and drag your rear to the pool at 5:30a.m. when it's freezing rain outside and all you want to do is hide under the covers (cough, cough, this morning).

The good news is that I'm on track for a good 2013, but have plenty of work to do. But more importantly, I wanted to bring this up because all of my recent triathlon testing has corresponded nicely with a blog post by Joe Friel regarding fitness indicators during training [side note: if you don't already follow Joe Friel on Twitter, drop what you're doing right now and go follow him because he consistently has the best posts on training, racing, periodization and just plain motivation. Good stuff].

While his post doesn't focus exclusively on routine testing (like I've been doing), it does cover his suggested strong, moderate and weak metrics that double as predictors for race day performance. Like he discusses in the post, you can get quite a few of the metrics via TrainingPeaks (shoutout, great software!) but almost all are pretty straightforward or easy to figure out:

[copied from Joe's Blog—see link for full post]

Weak Performance Predictors

  • Max or lactate threshold heart rate
  • Average cadence for a workout or week
  • Weekly miles/kilometers/hours/TSS
  • Calories/kilojoules expended/produced per week
  • Feet or meters of vertical ascent in a week (“VAM”)
  • Time in heart rate/power/pace/speed zones per week

Moderate Performance Predictors

  • Minimal heart rate increase or power fade at aerobic event intensity – “Decoupling” (P:HR)
  • Improving power/pace relative to aerobic HR– “Efficiency Factor” (EF)
  • “Performance Management Chart” data – “CTL,” “ATL,” and “TSB.”
  • Distance/duration of key workouts
  • Event-specific pacing of key workouts (“Variability Index”)
  • Power Profile comparisons
  • Event-specific calories/kilojoules expended/produced in key workouts
  • Event-specific “Training Stress Score” (TSS) for key workouts
  • Previous performance in the same event
  • Time in power/pace zones in key workouts
  • “Rate of Perceived Exertion” (RPE) relative to power/pace

Strong Performance Predictors

  • Functional Threshold Power/Pace (“FTP”)
  • Peak power/pace for event-critical durations (6 sec, 5 minutes, 30 minutes, 3 hours, or etc)
  • The accumulation of seasonal-best peak power/pace in the last few weeks of Build
  • Event-specific power/pace for an event-specific duration
  • Recent tune-up race performance

To bridge the sports- and work-worlds: if triathlon was a business, these would be your KPIs. And since a growing trend these days is to boil down big data in a targeted way (i.e. how to make sense of alllll of the data points collected using the above), you'll then want to limit some of the above to better focus on the truly meaningful. So if I was going to pull out the targeted metrics central to my 2013 training plan (without revealing my coach's secrets!) they would be:

  • Swim: 100m pace in a couple of key workouts
  • Bike: W/Kg (aka getting stronger AND fitter/lighter is key), target watts
  • Run: HR and (occasionally) pace

Using my swim, bike and run tests, I can very easily figure out most of the metrics in the last "strong" category. Maybe I'm a data nerd but I find translating the ups and downs of triathlon training across various sports, workouts, etc. into more tangible black-and-white "facts" to be extremely fulfilling/fascinating. My coach uses that collected data to then suggest pace and power ranges for swim, bike and run training... that's not saying I necessarily stick to them, but I try my best! :)

This was my third or fourth round of testing so it's nice to have a history of performance gains (or losses...) to use in gauging progress, determining pace/power for workouts and just for overall motivation. What are some of your favorite training tools/metrics? How do you determine and track progress?