When Data Matters Most


Last month two of our athletes jumped into the water at Ironman Chattanooga 70.3 and for differing reason, neither one had data for the entire race. When they looked at thier watches there was time, but no other metrics  that we typically use to race pace. 

For many athletes, this might cause a mini meltdown, but for these two particular athletes, they bounced back and went on to both post PRs and sub 5 hour performances.

Now, we are not for one second claiming that if you don’t race with a watch, you will PR – rather, this is about when we need data and when letting go of the data might be your best bet – or if you can’t live without it (I have had emails that said, I heard you “took” away so and so’s watch, please don’t do that to me) then what to do if you lose all data. Oh and for the record, I have only once taken away a phone during a trainer session. I may have been a teacher for many years, but I don’t really take away anyone’s watches – or at least not yet!

Data matters most in training! And here is why:

1.       For many athletes not using any kind of metric or feedback means that many or even most workouts have no purpose or goal – they are most often done at a pace too fast or too slow to make any gains. When you add in data driven workouts – athletes make gains because they are working hard on hard days and easy on easy days and not in the grey zone as we call it at Evolve.

2.       Data day in and out in training allows each athlete to gain a better understanding of what it feels like to be in a particular zone. If you train with HR feedback then you know what it feels like after a while to be in each zone – you become very in-tune with how the legs feel, how the lungs feel and how your mind feels in each zone. The data affirms those feelings. This is certainly what aided both of the aforementioned athletes on race day.

3.       Data really helps your coach to know when to push and to pull back, it also helps to pace a race. At Evolve we have certain key sessions that allow the coach’s to see the fitness level in order to set them up for race success – the data here is very helpful.

This is when data is most powerful – in the weekly sessions!

Here is why data can be detrimental in racing:

1.       People get obsessed with it – to the point that the focus changes from working in and focusing on the moment, to mental gymnastics that slow down and distract an athlete. When an athlete starts to get fixated on pace and run numbers in his or her head, he or she is not working to max (or the rate that we want them to work). Math on the bike and run are rarely a good idea. It is very hard to find the zone when you are in the midst of worrying about pace – this is an example of outcome driven vs process driven.

2.       People can also let the data define them. When a mile split time pops up this can be a mini-judgment on performance – if that number is seemingly too fast this can cause negative feelings, and if that number is too slow, this can cause some serious race day mental anguish. We would argue that in both cases the performance suffers.

And yet – there are times when data is really helpful in racing!

1.       On the bike – for the athlete who tends to go as hard as possible and then crash on the run. If you are that type of athlete, then having data driven parameters help to pace you in a way that allows for a strong run performance. Remember triathlon is swimbikerun and if you go too hard on the bike then the run will suffer – the longer the race the worse this become – the back half of an IM marathon is a very long walk for minimal gains on the bike!

2.       On the bike for an athlete who is scared to find their edge and just if out for an easy ride. This is more for the seasoned athlete – but data on the bike can help the athlete to reach his or her potential.

3.       Early on the run to hold an athlete who goes fast out of the gate back. This can save someone’s race later down the line.

4.       On the run as carrot – we often use HR numbers to motivate – as in I know my HR max is XXX, so I am clearly not going to die at this effort level ;-)


Next time you toe the line – think about how you will use data – we would suggest that freeing yourself from a metric such as pace, might just be your key to success!