photo by Steve Penland

Friday, July 8, 2011

Data, Data, Data

My friend Melissa skated my workout with me this morning. Here's the oval, resplendent in the early-morning sun, and delightfully Skate Park Patron free at the moment...

Anyway, as we got ready to skate I couldn't help but notice the difference between our equipment.

Besides clothes, of course, here's what Mel wears when she skates:
Clockwise from the top, we have a helmet (with sunglasses inside), and skates.

And here's what I wear:
Clockwise from the top, we have skates, "string thing," helmet, stopwatch, dorky prescription glasses with "transition" lenses, heart rate monitor, and palm sliders. Missing from the photo is my Timex "IronMan" watch, which I forgot to take off my wrist for the photo.

When I skate on trails, it's even worse. Subtract the stopwatch, add in a Camelback--complete with mace dangling from one shoulder strap--a pair of kneepads and an old-school first generation iPod shuffle, and you've got a skater who needs a Sherpa to shlep her gear around.

Part of the reason that I dress like a Girl Scout trying for a Preparedness merit badge is, of course, that I like to be prepared (I'm the one that slept with a flashlight in her hand when the power went out, remember?). I only recently shed the kneepads when skating at the oval, and I never even stand up on my skates without a helmet and hand protection.

Quite a few of the items I wear, though, relate to data collection. (That's "data" with a long "a," like the guy in Star Trek. Just so we're clear on that). I believe I mentioned, in a preceding post, my numerous 2-inch binders of workout data. Well, all that data has to get collected somehow, doesn't it?

Actually, the data collection is a 4-step process. It all starts with this:
This is the "raw data" notebook, a battered little 200-page "Fat Notebook" (and let's just keep our comments to ourselves, shall we?) In it I write the date, temperature, wind speed (which usually is adjusted up after I skate a few laps; I'll write "light wind" and then cross that out and replace it with "windy"), timing of thyroid meds, and the workout for the day. Then I fill in lap times as I do them, and any other pertinent info (today's entry contained the reminder "DVD;" I was supposed to bring a DVD of a local race for Mel which, thanks to the reminder, I did). The beauty of the raw data notebook is that it holds data from all the way back to a year ago, so I can look up a similar workout from a year ago and quantify exactly how badly I suck, before I even get home to look up the info in Step 2.

Step 2 is a transcription of the raw data into a Word document, which I print off each month and put in the mighty 2-inch binder. I also put in narrative info in these entries, such as what technical skills I was working on that day, how many SPP I had to dodge, and what bits hurt more than usual during the workout.

I got fancy with the current 2-inch binder...

Step 3 is also in the 2-inch binder--a simple calendar page for each month, on which I record my morning weight, morning heart rate, a 1-10 rating of how I feel about the workout before I do it, and a 1-10 rating of how it went (lately the workouts have been scoring 1's and 2's, which is way to the "suck" end of the scale). The ratings and the morning heartrate are intended to be indicators of possible overtraining; the morning weight is an indicator of definite overeating.

Step 4 is new--a Google Document spreadsheet (prepared by Coach TieGuy) of the year's workouts (subject to tweakage as the year goes on, of course). I fill in data as I complete the workouts, and TieGuy can look up how I'm doing if he's ever bored.

Obviously, there's a bit of obsessiveness going on here; TieGuy frequently mumbles things like "you're overanalyzing again." And I admit, I do like my data.

I do think there's a logical argument for collecting all that info, though. I recently read a blog entry by a triathlete coach about the difference between training using qualitative versus quantitative data (his training program is called QT2 Systems, Quantitative Triathon Training Systems, so you can guess which side he was on. I'd post a link, but I don't know how. Heck, I just figured out how to put the pictures where I want them...). I agree with his premise that, to really know what's going on, you need to measure it. And having all these measurements to look back on has been extremely helpful for me in troubleshooting my 3-year-long (so far) battle with the misbehaving thyroid.

For example, today's intervals felt decent. Not fantastic, but decent; a little snap, a little drive, a little need (for the first time all season), to actually put my hands on my knees and gasp for air after some laps. I gave it a "5" on the 'ol 1-10, and there haven't been many 5's the last 2 months. Lap times were 43's and 44's, which I knew were a bit slow...but I didn't know how slow until I paged back through the Fat Notebook. Hmm, last year a similar workout was 40's...but two weeks ago a similar workout averaged 46's. So, improving--but certainly not there yet. And I've got the data to prove it.

Sure, I know there are times when you need to go by "feel," or perceived exertion. And I do a pretty good job (when I'm skating normally, anyway) of throwing down the right lap time by feel, thanks to thousands of laps where I heard the time in my earbud immediately upon completing the lap. But for me, right now, I need the numbers, I need the heart rate data, I need the lap times.

And, in a very few days, I'll need a new little Fat Notebook.

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