Metrics I Track And What I Do With Them

I was talking with a friend recently about how over the top I am with triathlon technology. One piece of the conversation was around software, online apps, and what I use them all for. It’s no secret I enjoy analyzing the data my devices collect and helping to track improvement. It occurred to me that I have my own unique approach to my daily routine, what I track, what I use to evaluate performance improvement, and how tracking other metrics can benefit those training for endurance events. Read on for more.

The Daily Routine

Weight

At the heart of every athlete is a daily routine. It doesn’t matter if the athlete gets up at 4 am to complete a workout or starts a workout at 8 pm. Each person has their own schedule which works best for them. My day starts off with me waking up at one of two times. If I’m going to the pool, I’m often up at 5:15 am (with the pool bag already packed). If I’m not going to the pool, I’m up at 5:45. The first thing I do is weigh  myself every morning.

12 Month Weight Trend
12 Month Weight Trend
4 Week Weight Trend
4 Week Weight Trend

As someone who has a really bad habit of not drinking enough, I find this one little daily task is the most important thing I do in a day. Since I weigh myself every morning, I can easily track fluid loss. In fact, I often weigh myself as much as three times a day (morning, after a hard workout, and before bed). This isn’t because I’m vain, but I’m really looking to make sure I replace lost fluids. A year or two ago, it wasn’t uncommon for me to head out for a long ride or run in the middle of the summer and come back 3-4 pounds lighter. That’s not healthy or advisable. So, last year, I performed a sweat loss test. I determined my sweat rate in summer is around 30-40 ounces of water per hour. As someone who only had 40 ounces of fluid on board, I realized I needed to bite the bullet and add more fluid. So with my Christmas cash, I purchased an X-Lab Turbo Wing and their Gorilla Cages. These add 40 ounces of capacity to my X-Lab Torpedo and another on-board bottle. Total on-board capacity is 80 ounces.

Adding 40 Ounces of Fluid
Adding 40 Ounces of Fluid
Full Hydration Setup
Full Hydration Setup

I now have approximately 2 hours worth of on-board fluid. This is enough for most training rides to not worry about getting to a good place to stop and refill and gives me options in a race such as the Ironman Timberman 70.3. I even added a super capacity running specific system.

Ready to Roll
40 ounces on the run. Nathan Race Vest hydration pack

I’ve found since I started tracking weight, I’m dehydrated less and my weight, for better or worse, is somewhat stable.

Sleep

I am HEAVILY invested in the Garmin ecosystem. A year ago, I picked up a used Garmin Vivofit (first generation). While this device isn’t winning any style awards, it does have one feature which is really neat. It has the ability to automatically track sleep (and quality of sleep). I don’t need to press any button to enter sleep mode, I just need to sync the device in the morning…something I usually do when I weigh myself.

Daily Sleep Quality
Daily Sleep Quality

Now, is this sleep quality chart actionable? Not necessarily. But, I like looking at trends. Did I have a good week or bad week of sleep? Can I draw any conclusions from my stress level, hydration level, time of my workout, or ability to hold the workout intensity to the quality of sleep? Some things I’ve learned since I started tracking this:

  • Ending a workout after 10 pm often results in the inability to fall asleep until around midnight
  • I’m good with 7-7.5 hours of sleep
  • This device is shockingly accurate on when I turn my light off and fall asleep
  • It helps you plan and “catchup” on sleep if I know I have a big event or training session coming up
  • Changing reading on a 7″ tablet for a Kindle Paperwhite has improved sleep quality and ability to fall asleep faster
12 Month Sleep
12 Month Sleep
4 Week Sleep
4 Week Sleep

Resting Heart Rate

There’s only one metric I haven’t been able to track easily. That’s resting heart rate. Like tracking sleep, I often forget to take the time to count the pulse in the morning. I’ve tried using my Mio Link, but usually forget to do that too. For me, I feel like this is the last thing that will tie everything together. Again, since I’m heavily invested in the Garmin ecosystem, I’m considering replacing the first generation Garmin Vivofit, with the Garmin Vivosmart HR. This little device won’t win any design awards either, but will do everything my current Vivofit does but also adds the ability to automatically track resting heart rate.

Season-Long Trend & Analysis

Garmin Connect

I’ve written previously about how I use some of the training tools to my advantage. I continue to make small modifications to the setup, but it’s still mostly intact. I setup a few high-level dashboards on Garmin Connect which are nothing more than a basic set of trends. It certainly serves its purpose and allows for a nice “finger on the pulse” style of tracking.

Performance Dashboard
Performance Dashboard

Golden Cheetah

Once I got my power meter, I  was looking for options to really dive into the performance metrics not just on the bike, but also on the runs and swims. I looked into WKO4, but didn’t really want to spend $180 on the software. Both Garmin Connect and Strava don’t even come close to the ability to analyze and trend this data. I could have subscribed to Training Peaks, but that would have been even more than WKO4. After reading about what others have used, I began screwing around with Golden Cheetah a bit. Thus far, am enjoying the power of this free software. This software allows me to take the basic dashboard and absolutely blow it apart to help track performance trends, training load, etc.

Training Stress Load
Training Stress Load
Critical Power Curve
Critical Power Curve
Workout Mix Detail
Workout Mix Detail
Activity Breakdown
Activity Breakdown
Swim Metrics
Swim Metrics
Run Metrics
Run Metrics

All the above trends are helpful in that some of the metrics continue to update “best efforts” like the power curve. Others, are great in that it allows you to add your events to the calendar and track a season. You can then compare work in one season to a different season.

As a recent example, here’s a recent interval bike session.

Performance Against Power Curve
Performance Against Power Curve
Ride Analysis
Ride Analysis
Interval Analysis
Interval Analysis
More Interval Analysis
More Interval Analysis
What Do You Learn?
What Do You Learn?

The last image above is one of the best parts of the ability to analyze like intervals. What’d I learn? Well, first off I felt like I was really close to nailing the intervals. Looking at the data, however, I see it took roughly 5-10 seconds to “ramp into” the interval. I also see that there is as much as a 60 watt gap between the highest output and lowest. Interestingly, the  lowest wasn’t always the last set. The point here is to work on keeping the intervals a bit “tighter.”

Using Strava for Outdoor Performance

All the tracking, analysis, power output, average heart rate, weight, etc. are great to track, but at the end of the day, it comes down to “Are you covering the same distance faster or slower than before?” The easiest tool I’ve found to answer this question is using Strava’s segments. The beauty of the segment tool is that a segment can be any stretch of road you want outdoors. You can track uphills, downhills, flats, and even full “courses” to track improvement. Two such examples are below. It is so simple to create these and with a relatively recent addition, Strava will automatically plot your performance on that segment together. Up and to the right is improvement.

A Strava Segment Hill
A Strava Segment Hill
A Strava Segment Course
A Strava Segment Course

As athletes, we always have our “go to” runs or rides. Why not make these a Strava segment and have it automatically plot whether you are completing it faster or slower? Segments can be made private if you don’t want it to show up on a public leaderboard. I have several of these made private around my  home. I have a 5 mile, 8 mile, and 10 mile segment which automatically tracks my performance.

It’s Still About Fun

With all the data at our disposal, ability to analyze performance, it’s still important to remember why we engage in the sport(s) in the first place. Personally, I just really enjoy the way I feel when I know I’m working out, enjoying fresh air, or seeing my body change. All the gizmos, charts, and graphs are great validation that your training is working, but I also strive to make sure I never forget to have fun. Have a crappy workout? Whatever. Couldn’t hit your HR or power target? Get more sleep and recover a bit more. Just don’t suffer from analysis paralysis.