Gadget Overkill

Thoughts from a Luddite

Gadgets and Motivation

I have never been particularly big on gadgets. Maybe it’s the instruction manuals that I won’t read or the maintenance that I will never do, or more likely that I just don’t want to know the information. I’m the type of person not driven by numbers. I’m not particularly interested in training benchmarks and hitting times, in fact most of the time those types of numbers demotivate me. It must be the way I tick but when I aim for and don’t hit the numbers, rather than try harder, I’m more likely to quit. Swimming and track are the worst culprits; I’ve jumped out the pool and walked off the track because I’ve failed to hit the targets set out in my plan. I’m sure if I had a power meter I’d hop off the turbo too and I need very little excuse to do that under normal circumstances.

I think it’s because sometimes, training is actually a chore. I don’t leap out of bed every morning thinking “Yes! Intervals to work and 30 x 100 in the pool”. Sometimes I do, but a lot of the time it’s a battle just to start the session and being constantly reminded of how badly I’m doing is not the best help to finish a session.

I’m lucky enough to be able to afford the services of a good coach who understands that pace times in the pool are more likely to result in a DNF than a new benchmark PB; sure I time the session for duration and rest intervals, but nothing else. I don’t have a bike computer; none of my sessions are set in distance, altitude gain, heart rate or weather (other than an alternative session if the weather is too crap to train outside) so there’s really no need for a gadget to tell me this information.

Pace versus Effort

I know if I’ve not slept well or I’ve been working long hours that my pace won’t be as sharp as it might be. Similarly I know if I’ve been training hard for the last couple of days, my pace in the pool is likely to be slower than on a totally fresh day. But that’s not always the case either, there are those sessions where you expect to feel sluggish but something clicks and you’re flying – how do you compensate for this if the programme says 100’s off 1:45 and you’re struggling to hit 1:50 or cruising on 1:40’s? To me, it’s a lot easier when it’s RPE based – hard is hard regardless of pace, easy should always feel easy…. 80% of FTP – is that supposed to be easy/ moderate/ hard? It could probably be any of those depending on what you did before in training and what’s going on in your life outside of sport.

Anyone managed to knocked out a PB when their little one is teething?

This is where a session in isolation, regardless of the genius or science behind it, is only as good as where it fits within a programme. I’m a strong believer in that what you do now is determined not only by your goals but what you did last and what you intend to do next; that’s my take on periodisation in a nutshell! I am in no way claiming this as my idea, it’s just what I believe.

I know there are people out there who are polar opposite to me in this regard – targets motivate them and push them to get the most out of each workout – but I’ve seen people burnt out chasing numbers in every session and being a champion trainer but underperform in their A event and left scratching their heads as to why.

Pseudo-science?

Another thing about these gadgets, there now appears to be a pseudo-science around the data gathered by these tools; Training Stress Score, Chronic Training Load, Acute Training Load, Training Stress Balance etc. The fact that these terms are trademarked should signify something – these are made up, non-proven principles. I’m not saying there’s not something to them but I dont hold with blind faith in artificial formulas – do they take into account your work stress, sleeping patterns or other life stressors?

Just be wary of chasing graphical perfection – a session or a number of sessions might make a lovely chart but may not actually be the optimal training regime for you. Saying that, I’ve not looked into this much despite using Training Peaks to log training for years now.

Don’t rely solely on gadgets

We spend many, many hours for weeks, months and sometimes years preparing for our A event, for example trying to qualify for Kona. Just make sure when the time comes you can perform to your best with no gadgets, not reliant on pacing on a clock, heart rate or power. You wouldn’t be the first person to crumble mentally if the gadget fails or is knocked off your bike. These are all supplemental tools in your armoury, you need to be able to race “old school”, on feel and effort.

Pacing versus Racing

The last part of this ramble is Pacing versus Racing. With power meters there’s now an obsession with the Variability Index (VI) of an Ironman bike ride. I once read a race report where the blogger was delighted with how incredibly low his VI value was. The fact he was 90 minutes slower than me in the event seemingly meant nothing when he wrote “check out my WKO+ file!!!”
Whilst the smartest way to race an Ironman may indeed be to have a constant and smooth power output you need to remember that it is actually a race. I’m a big believer of pushing the hills and headwind and cruising downhills, flats and tailwind sections. I’ve no doubt my course choices and riding style would result in a very poor VI, but I only care about the finishing time – the only metric that really counts.

So I am all for racing smart, but a big part of the enjoyment of racing lies in feeling part of the race. You might find that by getting caught up in the actual racing that you push yourself to a result that you didn’t expect. You don’t really know your limits until you push too far and blow up spectacularly – hopefully not in your A event but it’s fun pushing that envelope!

Festina Lente

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2 comments

  1. I’ve got my feet in both camps. I train with a Garmin for all three, but my best ever Ironman performance both in the way I felt and enjoyment of the day was done with just a watch, no heart rate data and no distance data, JFDI

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