If you have landed on my website, chances are that you like to run, hike, bike or enjoy some sort of exercising for pleasure or performance. I also suspect that you own a device to track data associated to your activity (power meter, GPS watch, heart rate belt….etc). Actually, even if you don’t practice any of those activities, you probably wear a step-tracker, don’t you ?
Nowadays, more and more people track any type of data and often times use those tools to attain a goal such as losing weight or participating into a sporting event. This new phenomenon even has a name : “Quantified Self”
In this post series, I aim to explain and show why and how tracking and analyzing exercise data is important and useful. I also try to guide you in choosing a relevant tool so you can get the most out of your collected data.
Data tracking: Because “what gets measured gets managed” (Peter Drucker)
As the British scientist Lord Kelvin stated: “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it”. Hence, tracking and analyzing data is very useful to attain a goal. Indeed, with past data, one is able to forecast possible improvements and pave the road to higher limits.
Back in 2008, I obtained my Master of Science in Computer Engineering. In my thesis, I aimed to show that improving “Branch Predictions” would lead to reduced power consumption. In a nutshell, in a computer processor, because a branch’s current behavior is often correlated to its past behavior, prediction of a successful branch is possible (see a branch as the different possible ways a program can execute). I took the same approach when I started most of my sports (climbing, running): I used tools to track my fitness in order for my training to keep going in the right direction and make improvements and better performance happen.
Athletes generally keep a log of their activities. If you don’t, I highly recommend to do so. Keeping a log/journal of your running will help you have a better representation of your current fitness as well as being able to read and compare past feelings. It will give you the ability to reflect and be aware on what works and what does not. It will give you a perspective of your training as well as different views and levels of zooming on your accomplishments.
Actually, the idea of keeping a running log goes back to 100+ years ago as Alfred Schrubb is known to having kept detailed notes about his workouts and even published a book on hist training methods (source : “The Runner’s diary”)
Personally, I use a running log not only to evaluate and forecast my fitness but also to keep a record of all my activities. I like being able to look back and see what type of training I did on a particular year of just look at a route I have explored several months ago.
Looking back at a previous activity : Mt Hood climb
What you need to write down and track on a regular basis is very personal and dependent on your activity, training plan, goals…etc. Below is an example of info I log for most of my running workouts. I have come up with this structure that seems to hold most of my relevant information.
Example of a log entry
Compared to other endurance sports such as triathlon or cycling, I have noticed in UltraRunning that only a few people seem to track any data and even less people pay attention to analyze it. When I say people, I am not talking just about athletes but also about coaches! How delighted was I when I listened/read that CTS coach Jason Koop is an advocate of using technology and tools such as Training Load (rTSS, TRIMPS). It was refreshing and certainly helpful to read literature about UltraRunning that is incorporating such an important parameter for training. If you have not grabbed a copy of Jason Koop’s book yet, I urge you to do so. You can read a good review here.
I am not trying to convince everyone to use gadgets and I have read/heard multiple athletes that just want to be able to lace up their shoes and go out for a run without a watch, heart rate belt and other fancy electronics. Don’t get me wrong, if that’s what you’re looking for, to feel free and just go at the speed you want, distance you want without, I completely respect that and as a matter of fact, one can certainly perform with such an approach as this is not necessarily a limiter. However, as I personally always try to improve my performance as much as I possibly can, I strongly believe that technology can help us to do so. Afterall, we use electronics and computers in our cars, fridges, TVs, phones…. why not for our athletic activities?
What to track ?
Ok, you have a GPS watch, a power meter or a steptracker. Great! But what now ? Do you know what you bought it for ? What data your device is tracking and what data you need to track/analyze are two different things.
I will speak mainly for running as it is my main sport and I will even divide running into 2 categories : road running and trail running.
If you’re a road runner, a gps watch or a non-GPS watch combined with a foot pod will mainly be enough and allow you to track mileage/pace/training time.
I made a point to differentiate road runners from trail runners because a typical trail runner will often incorporate elevation and/or different terrain types into some, if not all, runs and therefore makes the pace/speed data difficult to analyze. To work around this limiting factor, I would recommend to use a heart rate belt. It will allow you to work in the correct training zone while also avoid overtraining.
Looking at my Heart Rate graph after my run to confirm that I actually did an easy run regarding of the type of terrain. And I did: 100% of my run was spent in Zone1 (Recovery).
While I was about to recommend a power meter, this technology is very new as of today. To my knowledge, there are only two power meters available for running : Stryd (review here) and rpm2. Also, only a few software have the ability to analyze power data and few literature is available. However, I definitely see myself owning one in the next 5 years as it has shown over the past decades to be the most useful training tool in cycling.
Data analyzing : “Big Data Holds Great Power, But Only if You Know How to Mine It” (A. Guess)
Ok, you have a watch or a steptracker and are ready to start collecting data on each of your run. But what to use to collect all of this data and how do you get advantage of all it ?
One day, a friend of mine started running and asked me to recommend software to analyze his GPS data that he was tracking with his phone. If you ask yourself the same question as my friend did, read on, this post will also give you the answer.
The good news is that they are a multitude of tools available that will allow you to analyze/store all of your athletic data. You just need to find the one that suits you/your activity/your goals. It can range from a simple notepad to a fancy set of multiple softwares (that’s me 🙂 !)
To help you find the most appropriate tool to track and analyze all your collected data, I have compiled below a list of questions that will guide you in the end to one or several software. Once you have answered each of the questions, refer to the table below to see the potential available tools:
- What type of relationship do you hope to have with your log, digital or hard copy ?
If your answer is “hard copy”, you can skip the rest of this post and go to your favorite grocery store to buy a notepad.
- What type of access do you need ?
If you intend to use an app from your smartphone/computer, I would recommend to use a cloud-based application. It will enable you to access your data from anywhere as well as sharing it with your friends.
If you want to keep your data private, you will beneficiate greatly from using a standalone software.
- Is your watch format supported by the software you are looking into ?
This question is really important as you want to make sure that the software you pick can read the data from your device. Some software offer direct synchronization from a given device while others require to import manually each data file.
Also, you want to make sure that the software includes tools that can analyze the type of data you intend to use. For example, if you run with a power meter, you want to make sure that the tool you are going to use can read and analyze such data.
- What is/are your main sport(s) ?
It’s important to know that some software are specialized into one or multiple sports. For example, GoldenCheetah has been mainly designed for cyclists, while SportTracks supports multi sports.
- what type of data and how much effort do you plan on putting ?
Simply put, are you just wanting to see a “big picture” of your weekly/yearly mileage & training time or do you intend to micro-manage your data and look at every details ? example : do you expect the tool to modelize training load ? do you expect to analyze NGP (Normalized Graded Pace) for specific splits ? If so, you will need to pick a software that offers such advance features.
- do you expect your coach to be able to interact with the software ?
If you have a coach, it can be really useful to have the ability for him/her to interact with your training instead of having to send power or heart rate files via countless infinite email threads.
Based on the above questions, I have compiled a table below containing the most reknown “Tracking & Analyzing” software where you will find the corresponding tool that corresponds to your needs:
For each software, I made sure to include a review of it so you can quickly see what the software/app looks like as well as what other people have liked/disliked.
|Name||Platform||Supported Formats||Supported sports||Capabilities (Basic or Advanced)||Coach Interaction||License|
|D. Hays running log's spreadsheet (Download)||Microsoft Excel||N/A||Running||Basic||No||Free|
|Windows & Online App||Official list||Multi sports||Advanced||Yes (online app only)||One-time fee (PC App) / monthly fee (Online App)|
|Online (Mobile App)||Official list||Running/Cycling||Advanced||No *||Free & Premium membership|
|Runner's Studio (Review)||Windows||Official list||Running||Basic||No||One-time fee|
|RubiTrac (Review)||Mac||Official list||Multi sports||Advanced||No||One-time fee|
|Movescount (Review)||Online (Mobile App)||Suunto devices||Multi sports||Basic||No||Free|
|Garmin Connect (Review)||Online (iOS & Android)||Garmin devices||Multi sports||Basic||No||Free|
|GoldenCheetah (Review)||Windows, Mac & Linux||Official list||Cycling/Running||Advanced||No||Free|
|TrainingPeaks (Review)||Online||Official list||Cycling/Running/Swimming||Advanced||Yes||Free & Premium membership|
|TrainingPeaks WKO+ (Review)||Windows & Mac||Official list||Cycling/Running/Swimming||Advanced||No||One-time fee|
|Trail runner (Review)||Mac||Official list||Multi sports||Basic||No||Free|
|MyTourbook (Review)||Windows & Linux||Official list||Multi sports||Advanced||No||Free|
In Part 2, I will use my case as an example and show the different set of tools I use, how I use them and what I use them for.
You didn’t find the software that suits you ? Below is a non-exhaustive of software that might fit your needs. I consider them as good software but they don’t compete with the major ones in the table below either because they are outdated, contain annoying bugs or just don’t offer enough features to be considered useful enough: