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Benefits of Technology in Training

This is an excerpt from Triathlon 2.0 by Jim Vance.

In all my days of racing as an elite triathlete, there was never a single piece of equipment I could use that would allow me to train poorly, or dumb, and make up for it on race day. There was no magical wheel set, aerodynamic frameset or helmet, pair of race shoes, or innovative wetsuit that changed the fact that how well I trained on a daily basis made all the difference on race day.

Look in most transition areas and you'll find the latest and greatest of these items, but probably few items devoted to executing daily training better. Most of the athletes who come into these races are undertrained or overtrained, and no bike or other piece of equipment will change that fact to any significant degree.

A small segment of athletes in the race are poised to do well. They have figured out how to balance training stress, recovery, life and job demands, and family commitments. They were able to see the signals that their training was going well and were able to keep it that way. They are likely the athletes you train with and are beating in the sessions but somehow lose to each race. Or they are the athletes who never seem to have a bad race. Or they're the athletes who always seem to peak perfectly at the biggest races. To many, these athletes are either very lucky or they know some magical formula we're all dying to know.

Many athletes scour articles and blogs, reading all they can, trying to process all the information out there, convinced it will make clear how to train. What tends to happen though is the exact opposite. Athletes read and try to put into practice everything they read about the latest interval set, or strength equipment, or long ride with big gear climbs, and so on. With so much information bombarding athletes, they get more confused and never stick to one plan, trying to do every plan out there, much of it not addressing their own needs, just what is popular.

Athletes get power meters, heart rate monitors, and GPS systems and look at screen after screen of data from their training, trying to figure out what it all means and where the secret information within it shows what to do next.

There is an infinite amount of information available on training for a triathlon, but in the end it is all about filtering that information so it makes sense for the individual athlete. This is the purpose of this book. We can't all be Ironman world champions, so training like one isn't going to work for the majority of athletes. Athletes simply need to understand their own goals and then decipher the information from their training that matches their goals, according to the time of year and amount of time until race day.

Athletes who have purchased generic training plans or taken a free one out of a recent magazine inevitably find some challenge with it, because it can't account for their whole race schedule, their past training history, their strengths and weaknesses, and what training groups and resources are available in their area.

A frustration I've had with most training plans, and many traditional coaches, is the belief that there is a set number of weeks to devote to a specific type of training. For example, many coaches say that athletes need 12 weeks of aerobic base-building work and then 12 weeks of race-specific work to be ready to perform well. That might work for some, but what if they really need 16 to 20 weeks of aerobic base work? What if their basic aerobic fitness is lacking so much that it should be almost all they focus on for many months? Otherwise, the athlete is coming to the start line with not enough aerobic fitness to make any race-specific work worthwhile. If an athlete hasn't shown he or she can last at an aerobic intensity for 12 hours, how is he or she going to break 12 hours in an Ironman? These things can't be rushed, and setting some arbitrary number because of historical norms doesn't help the individual athlete meet his or her specific needs.

What if the athlete has been doing multiple long-course races each year, for many years? Do you think that athlete needs to still do 12 weeks of aerobic base-building work? No, of course not. The athlete's aerobic fitness isn't lacking; it's the ability to hold a higher intensity during the race that needs to be addressed. This athlete would waste 12 weeks of opportunities to address his or her weakness and miss the potential for a huge breakthrough!

The Power of Data

I run into many athletes who think power meters and other technological tools are a waste of money. It's ironic that usually these athletes own some sort of smartphone, use complex software at their day jobs, or use computers in just about every aspect of their daily lives, and yet there is a disconnect that prevents them from realizing that technology could be as much of a benefit to their training as it is for their daily life.

If you're still wondering if using technology is best for you, let me ask you a few questions. What if I told you there was a way to determine exactly when you had enough aerobic fitness, so you could maximize training time by focusing more time on weaknesses, instead of aerobic work?

What if you could see your exact weaknesses and get direct, measurable feedback on how well your training is addressing them?

What if you could see exactly how many intervals you should do in a workout to get just the right amount of training stress, so you can recover quicker and pack in a better week of training?

What if you found the perfect tapering strategy and wanted to replicate it perfectly for each major race? What if you could actually see into the future to where your fitness will be down the road and how well your taper will be executed?

What if I told you that once you hit a certain performance marker in your training, the chances of achieving your goal or exceeding it just increased dramatically?

What if I told you we could look back at your training from the past season or longer and see where you made training mistakes or errors in judgment for your training load, what training load got you sick or injured, or where you plateaued, all in a matter of minutes?

What if you could be shown your training tendencies so you could come up with a new and better stimulus to get the fitness and performance jump you're looking for?

Believe it or not, all this can be done, and it really isn't that hard. You just have to know what data to collect, the elements of the data to look at, and when to look at them, according to your goals and timeline to race day.

What data should you collect? Depending on how many variables of your training you want to control, you should consider a power meter for your bike, a speed-distance device for your running (GPS or accelerometer-based watch), a heart rate monitor that will work for both devices, and something that can measure your swim pace and distance. If you have and regularly use all of these, you will be able to do all the things I've mentioned.

If you've been training old-school style, without any of these tools, this book will show you how to begin training by the numbers and open up a whole new world of training performance and efficiency. With so much data collection it appears difficult to isolate what is important, but that is exactly what you will learn to do in this book, making training with these tools simple and rewarding.

Everyone knows there's more than one way to train, and that's the fun of training in general, to find your own way. It's why I enjoy coaching athletes so much, helping them find the way that works for them. What way best helps athletes to reach their potential, given the resources available, strengths and weaknesses, and race goals, can be calculated and measured, giving you the freedom and power to create your best way of training.

Going by Feel

I once had a very famous and successful triathlete tell me he liked "to go by feel" in his training and therefore didn't want to use data. It is perfectly fine to go by feel; no one is saying athletes should be robots and simply follow a set program of numbers. At the highest levels of the sport, athletes must use their feel and sense of their bodies to get that extra percentage point of improvement and performance. But collection and analysis of the data are what helps an athlete better understand and improve his or her sense of feel. In the end, the data are simply numbers, representing what has been done in training and helping us project what still needs to be done. The real art of coaching and training comes from the decisions made from what the data tell us. Those decisions become easier with a clearer picture, as we begin to know more and more about the athlete.

Data and the Mind

In all my days of racing, the differences between my best races and my worst races usually only came down to one thing, and it wasn't health, injury, or equipment. It was what I was thinking on that start line. When I was timid and unsure of myself, I raced poorly. When I knew I was ready, I was eager to prove myself against the best. It wasn't really my training as much as my confidence in how the training had prepared me. When you've been tracking and seeing the improvement in your training, it is hard not to be confident in the preparation, which keeps you motivated to train and step to the start line ready to race.

About This Book

Part I, Triathlon Training Technology, will introduce you to the key training devices for cycling, running, and swimming. These chapters will help you make intelligent choices if you decide to purchase a new training device. Before using these devices in your training, you will need to assess your current fitness level and then set some training goals. That's where Part II, Planning Your Training, comes in.

Every training and racing decision you make, including equipment, nutrition, volume, and intensity, along with timing, depends on your goals. Determining the training to meet your goals in different times of the year, is where individuality is most important. The training decisions you make should support those goals and your needs as an athlete. In Part II we dive into better assessing your needs as an athlete, using the data from these tools, and then planning on how to meet those needs through the season, according to the goals you have set.

In Part III, High-Tech Periodization, we go step by step through the season, understanding how to prioritize training needs and analyzing how effective the current training decisions are, according to the goals you have set and the timeline available until race day. This allows you to make sure you are on a consistent improvement track and preparing to meet your goals.

In Part IV, Race Analysis for Winning Results, we use the data from prerace, during the race, and postrace, as well as from the entire season, to better examine athlete tendencies (both positive and negative), what types of race strategies and training the athlete responds best to, and how effective the overall training decisions for the season were. We can also use this to better plan paces and even nutrition strategies.

As an added benefit, many of the figures provided throughout this book are screenshots from actual races or training sessions with the coach's notes and comments left exactly as they were in real time, giving you an inside look at the coach/athlete relationship.

This book is a guide on this journey to help you find your best way of training, so you can be on the start line confident and ready to maximize your fitness and training. Let's get started.

More Excerpts From Triathlon 2.0