Monthly Archives: September 2016

Tracking and Analyzing (Part 2)

In Part 1, I have explained why/how tracking and analyzing exercise data is important and useful. I have also tried to guide you in choosing a relevant tool so you can get the most out of your collected data.

I am really passionate about tracking and analyzing data as I believe that with past data, one is able to forecast possible improvements and pave the road to higher limits.
In this Part 2, I am using my case as an example to show you the different set of tools I have been using in my training and how I use them on a weekly/yearly basis to improve my fitness and performance.

When I was rock climbing 10 years ago, I started using a journal/logbook for the first time. Back then, I was not recording much data but mainly my daily training (rock climbing gym session type & duration, number of pull-ups per day ….) along with the routes I had climbed (the route’s grade, location, how I felt, my failures/successes). I did so in order to have a “picture” of my training at any time and to build my own catalog of achievements. All that would give me motivation to improve as I could see the increase in route’s grades and/or number of pitches that I was climbing.

When I started running, I quickly acquired a watch (Suunto T6d) in order to record each of my run sessions and especially my heart rate data as I initially read that heart rate based training was the way to go.

From there, I needed a tool to store all this data but also to analyze it. Remember what was said in Part 1 : “Big Data Holds Great Power, But Only if You Know How to Mine It” A. Guess.

Initially using a simple excel spreadsheet (D. Hays’ running log spreadsheet) along with the Movescount‘s website providing basic analysis, I found myself juggling too much between several applications and still not getting the data interpretation I needed. I started looking for a software that would provide all those features and that would constitute a unique placeholder for all my training data. To do that, I looked at what other people were using but also laid down what I needed.

 

My needs

In Part 1, I came up with a set of questions to guide you towards the most appropriate solution.
Below are my own answers to those questions so that you can understand my needs/use of a tracking software :
  • What type of relationship do you hope to have with your log, digital or hard copy ?

Being a software engineer, I truly believe that a software application will go beyond a simple paper notepad. I need an application to store all my GPS tracks, heart rate data, etc…
Obviously, a digital logbook is the way to go !

  • What type of access do you need ?

When it comes to training data, I want to have full control over it and also keep my privacy. I want to decide which software and which version of it I use. Also, I want to be able to backup my entire data whenever and wherever I want.
When it comes to privacy, not only do I not want my data to leak but I also want to avoid my gear/bike to get stolen. It might be an extreme example but here is a true story of the possible risks when it comes to sharing training data on the internet.
While I don’t use any of the various cloud platforms for my training data, I like their monthly subscription models.

  • Is your watch format supported by the software you are looking into ?

Having owned Suunto watches since almost the very beginning, I only needed a software that could read the most popular file formats as Suunto does a good job providing one’s activities in different formats such gpx/tcx/fit etc… Of course, it’s always better to have a software supporting the native SML Suunto format.

  • What is/are your main sport(s) ?

I practice multi sports such as Running/Cycling/Hiking/Climbing. Hence, I needed a software being able to support all those and more !

  • what type of data and how much effort do you plan on putting ?

I needed more than just a simple software showing the annual mileage as Movescount already provides this basic information. I wanted a software being able to modelize my fitness, compare my runs…. I needed a program that would give me advanced analytics tools.

  • do you expect your coach to be able to interact with the software ?

Having never been coached yet, this was a feature that I didn’t need

 

My choice

Given those answers (Offline, Advanced, Multisport) and looking at the table listed in Part 1, the following software would fulfill my needs : SportTracks, Rubitrac, TrainingPeaks WKO+, MyTourbook.

I ended up choosing SportTracks (ST). At that time, it was the easiest to set up and use. It was free and moreover had the most advanced features thanks to its big list of plugins (100+ !!).

My intent here is not to show you how SportTracks works. You can go to the help center and the forum to get a lot of help/tips from other users but also read reviews of ST here and there as plenty of reviews have already been published. Instead, I want to show you how I use SportTracks to store and analyze my training data in order to improve my fitness/performance and reach my goals.

 

 My use

I have been using SportTracks 3.1 for more than 3 years now. Since then, I have acquired a lifetime license. I am mentioning this because a free version is available here. Certain features being limited, it is close enough to the full version to represent well the most important features.
  • General features

Like any other tracking software, SportTracks offers the basic features such as displaying for each activity the number of miles, average speed, total time, calories burnt…etc

As most of the tracking software have those basic features available, I won’t go over them. Instead, I will show the main advanced features that I use the most when analyzing my training data.

Heart Rate Zones

My main tools for training are my GPS watch and heart rate belt with which I record, during each session, the GPS data and heart rate data (among other data). After each activity, it is very important for me to be able to visualize the HR zone(s) I was exercising in to ensure that I correctly performed the workout I had planned to do or executed the race strategy I had set to follow. With ST, I can even define my own HR zones for each sport (For more information : I use Joe Friel’s HR zones).

Lactate Threshold workout : Reviewing my workout afterwards allows me to check that I was in the correct heart rate zone

Map Layers

Being a fan of exploring new places, I want to be able to see where I’ve been and visualize where I  was relative to any other landmark or even see where I got lost for example. Each type of activity typically requiring different map information, I need to be able to choose the most adequate type of map. For example, a run in the mountains will be best depicted with a topographic map  while a cycling ride will be best shown on a OpenStreetMap biking map.

As I need to be able to see my GPS tracks on different maps, I like that ST offers multiple map layers by default (Google Maps layers) and also additional map plugins. Below is an example of visualizing my Long’s Peak GPS track on top of multiple different map layers :

Example: Long’s Peak GPS track is best visualized over a USGS topographic map.

You can find the OpenStreetMap plugin here and Topo maps plugin here.

Multisports

As mentioned above, I practice various activities such as Running/Cycling/Hiking/Climbing and more. ST not only can store all those activities but also adapt to them. For example, when importing a bike ride, the speed unit will be in mph instead of min/mile as in running. Another example is the calories calculation that is adapted for each activity. Also, as seen below in the Advanced Reporting, it helps a lot when wanting to generate report where it is needed to differentiate the activity types.

One can create and configure as many activities as possible.

  • Advanced Reporting

ST has the ability to create custom reports which give me different “zooms” over my training data. By different zooms, I mean daily/weekly/monthly/yearly but also microcycle, mesoscycle and macrocycle.

I have to admit that even though I use a set of advanced software to analyze my training, I still use a hard copy paper for my annual training plan. SportTracks is very good when it comes to the nitty gritty details of my training & activities, however, it requires to be in front of the computer!

The Annual Training Plan spreadsheet (created by Joe friel) is a great way to see at anytime my season goals, training plan, upcoming workouts, last week’s training hours…etc. I use my own modified version as it seems that the original file was designed for triathletes.

My modified version of Joe Friel’s ATP spreadsheet

I have designed my own reports in order to fill this spreadsheet but also see the various metrics useful when analyzing my training data.

Below is an example of a report showing the  mileage, duration, total ascending and average feet/mile for any given week in 2016. This report gives me some of the numbers I need for my ATP spreadsheet.

Example of a custom report

  • Training Load

If I had to have one mandatory feature for any given training software, it would be the Training Load Chart. If you are not familiar with the concept of Training Load (or if you want a refresher!), I highly recommend that you dive into this article.

Training with heart rate is not to be analyzed just on each individual workout. Given a series of activities performed with a heart rate belt, one will be able to visualize its fitness or CTL (Chronic Training Load). Having this data is a must when it comes to ensure that my training is going in the right direction. It allows me to make sure I don’t overtrain but also that I don’t undertrain!

In a nutshell, the Training Load plugin (available here) calculates and displays CTL, TSB and ATL. For a given race in the future, it will tell you when to peak and when to taper. This plugin allows me to forecast a particular performance for any given race. Also, it will calculate TRIMP differently for each sport.

I find that this article explains the best how to configure, understand and use the Training Load plugin. In addition, in those articles, Joe Friel explains pretty well how to use CTL , TSS (or TRIMP) and TSB to optimize performance and minimize the risks of injury/overtraining.

Gradual uphill CTL with a correct peak and taper timing were the recipe for success in 2015

  • Athlete’s data

Another well designed area in ST is the Athlete’s section. This section helps tracking different data specific to each athlete. For example, I can track my weight but also my resting heart rate, injuries and also add notes, all that on a daily basis.

The athlete’s graph helps me reach my racing weight right before entering the racing season.

  • Gear Tracking
SportTracks gives the ability to track any type of gear by associating a list of gear to any activity. By doing so, this helps me know all the gear I have owned, how many miles I have been running on a given pair of shoes, or how many hours a bike trainer was used for, etc…
Tand, for example, gives a quick view of which shoe is sturdy or not.

In the example below, the Salomon S-Lab Wings are estimated to cost $0.58/mile, not the best!

Gear tracking showing useful information such as the gear specifications, purchase date, price and especially the price/mile

  • Custom Data Fields
The  power of ST is how highly customizable and configurable it is. A perfect example is the possibility to create “Custom Data Fields” for each activity or in the Equipment section (see above the custom field I have created to track the cost per mile for each equipment).
Below example shows 3 custom data fields I have created :
  • Elevation change / mile
  • Carbohydrate calories
  • Percent of expenditure

 

The plugins I use :

As mentioned above, one of the specificity of ST is the number of plugins available : more than 100 ! This pushes further the boundaries of how customizable ST is !
On top of “Training Load”, “OpenStreetMap” and “Esri map providers”, below are the other plugins I use :

  • Elevation Correction

As I explain here, it has been shown that the most accurate elevation gain/loss profile is obtained using a GPS device with a barometric altimeter, coupled with data smoothing and elevation correction. To correct the elevation for each of my activities, I use this plugin.

  • Calculated Fields
As show above in the Custom Data Fields section, one can create custom fields and enter values manually. The Calculated Fields plugins offers the possibility to compute values based on a formula of your choice and assign it to a specific custom data field.
On the example below, you can see the formula I have created for the following custom data fields:  Elevation change / mile, Percent of expenditure

With this plugin, the custom data fields capabilities are endless!

  • Unique Routes

In my training, I have several “bread-n-butter” routes that I use as benchmarks. Running those routes gives me a quick glance on my current fitness. For any given activity, clicking on the menu “Unique Routes” will list each activity performed on the same route. In only one click, I can compare my current time with all the other activities and see if I have done my fastest time yet. See the example below :

  • Overlay

From time to time, I need to be able to compare the data of several activities on a given section of a route. The overlay plugin, as shown on the example below, allows me to compare my heart rate (among other data) and see if I have improved on a given section :

Comparing my pace at the Half-Cooper test between 2011 and 2014. In blue, my Half-Cooper test from 2011, in red, the one from 2014: what an improvement !
  • DotRacing

With DotRacing, one can simulate a ghost race between different activities held on the same course. This plugin plays a “race” where each activity is represented by a “racer”. Used more for fun that for extrapolating data, I can play ghost races and see my improvements over a specific route.

Me vs Me: reaching Gray Butte during the Smith Rock Ascent 2013 and 2016. I am quite ahead this year !

 

What ST lacks to be the”dream app”

While SportTracks is probably the most appropriate software today for what I need, it doesn’t meet exactly what I would like in a perfect world. Please be aware that my remarks below are based on my personal opinion only.
  • Multi-Platform Program

My main OS being Linux Debian, I have to use a Virtual Machine (Virtual Box) with a copy of Windows in order to be use ST.

Using SportTracks on my Virtual Machine with Windows 10

While I have considered Goldencheetah (GC) as it sounds like a very good software (opensource, present in the Debian repositories), it was initially designed for cycling and is too centered on cycling, at least as of today. However, I have been keeping an eye on GC as it looks like promising the version 3.3 has introduced running specific features.

Also, converting a whole Sporttracks lobgook being a slow and tedious process, I need a very valid reason to move my data from a software to another.
  • ST or a “STale” program
Since the release of ST 3.1 in 2011, ST hasn’t been improved/changed much and at this point, its development is pretty much dead. While training analysis doesn’t evolve all that much, it would be nice to have new features integrated regularly into ST such as a new GUI and other improvements (see my suggestions below).
Why has it become “stale“? Though they do a great job at maintaining the compatibility with hardware devices (see this example when they immediately fixed ST to work with the new Suunto SML format back in 08/2014), it seems to me that their focus is on their online mobi platform and therefore have considered ST to be their “legacy” product as more and more people are asking for cloud-based apps.
  • More advanced features

Aerobic efficiency

Best explained here by Joe Friel, this data can’t be analyzed yet in ST though it seems to be an important factor for training.

HRV analysis

As I explain here, I use HRV (Heart Rate Variability) in order to avoid over-training. ST doesn’t offer ways to display/analyze HRV. To remedy that, I use KubiosHRV and my tool KubiosHRVDataFormatter to analyze my HRV data.

Miscellaneous improvements

On top of those main features, I could see more miscellaneous improvements such as a new/refreshed GUI, being able to see the cursor move dynamically on the map/GPS track when hovering over an elevation graph, have a nutrition tracking based on each activity….etc I could go on and on and as you can see here, here and here, I am not the only one inquiring about a ST 3.2 or even ST 4 !

 

Summary:

 You know now which tools I use to collect and interpret all my training data. As you can see, SportTracks is a “swiss army knife” when it comes to tracking and analyzing data. With ST, I have found the unique placeholder for my training data that I was looking for.

While it can be overwhelming to use ST at first, especially with how deep one can customize it, you will find with time that it will enable you to individualize and adapt ST specifically to your needs.

Some of you might think that it’s too much data analysis when it comes to training. However, as Joe Friel mentions very well in his book “Most athletes never ask themselves what are their limiters. They train absentmindedly, doing whatever is most enjoyable at the time“. Therefore, I take data seriously because I take my training seriously and analyzing it helps me improve my fitness and is now completely part of my training.

 

Suggestions/Critics?

Which training analysis software do you use ? Which data do you analyze ? Which features do you require from a training analysis software ?

Pot Pourri Videos (Part 3)

As in Part 1 and Part 2, I have gathered my favorite videos that I watched recently. Also, in this Part 3, I have included several training videos :

Running:

Wonderland FKT

 

The Crown Traverse

 

8,000m +E Hell in paradise: 3 men crossing Hawaii island from sea to sea

 

Mile for Mile: A Film About Trail Running and Conservation in Patagonia

 

Quechua – A story of Dawa Sherpa

 

The Lion & The Gazelle

 

Nolan’s 14 Anton Krupicka attempt on Nolan’s 14 (2013). See the episode 2 here and episode 3 here.

 

Training:

Better Trail Running Instructional Video

 

La fréquence cardiaque et son utilisation en course à pied et trail (FRENCH) – Training with a heart rate monitor

 

Bald Peak Challenge

To spin my legs after Volcanic 50, I rode on sunday the “Bald Peak Challenge” that I discovered several years ago.

The Bike at Bald Peak
The Bike at Bald Peak

This challenging ride offers a bit of everything including flat long stretches, hills, views of Mt Hood and the Portland area.

GPS Track available here (74 miles, 6,353 ft elevation gain/loss) **Data from Rubber to the Road

Note:

While Rubber to the road advises to go Right to stay on Bald Peak Rd after leaving Bald peak (when riding the course Counter-clockwise), I believe they did so at the time as NE Mountain Top Road was made out of gravel. Though I strictly followed the given route instructions, it seems to me that NE Mountain Top Road has been paved since. It might have been worth it to check out as I would have had better views

Volcanic 50K Race Report- La boucle est bouclée

Last saturday, I raced the second of my 2 A-races of 2016 : Volcanic 50.

When I moved to the Pacific NorthWest back in 2012, I joined the TrailFactor group run. Joking with Todd Janssen (from Go Beyond Racing Team) one night, he offered to open a registration spot just for me to their newly event called Volcanic 50. At the time, this race being only open for 50 people, the spots were long gone when I heard about it. The race would take place 3 days after his offer and even though my training was not consistent at the time, I immediately accepted.

Volcanic 50 : The first race circumnavigating an active volcano

Only 50 people were allowed to run at that time (200+ as of now) and 2 aid stations were present (4 as of now). One particularity of this trail is the different “BoulderRunning” sections. Also very rocky and sandy, some other parts make one feel like walking on the moon.

In 2012, I was happy to finish in 6th place, 2rd Age Group and a time of 7h26min but the most important thing was that it is at that moment that I had the confirmation Mountain Running as my main appeal (my first mountain race being the Kilian’s classic 2011)

When planning my season calendar last winter, I decided to register for the 2016 edition of Volcanic 50. While I typically don’t run anything twice, I knew I would make an exception for my favorite races for their unique course but also to measure my overall improvements. Volcanic 50 would be one of these exceptions.

What I didn’t know was that it would be my last race in the Pacific NW. This being one of the first race I have done after arriving in the PNW and also the one that brought me to Mountain Running, I realize now that this was really the best way to end the season but also to end my “Pacific NW chapter”. As we say in French, “La boucle est bouclée“. This means “to end the loop”. The race circumnavigating a volcano, Volcanic 50 is really a metaphor for my “PNW Chapter” . I actually read recently an article written by Nick Triolo that expresses very well this circumnavigation metaphor.

The race

Coming up to the race, I was aiming to run around the volcano in 6h45 min. Knowing the course well by now, I knew I would not make the mistake again to get lost and was sure to save at least 20 min off my previous time. Combined with all my improvements since then, I was hoping to gain a total of 45 min. That being said, the weather forecasting low temperatures and showers, I knew at the start that I might be able to go below that.

The start being a bottleneck as the trail is pretty narrow, I put myself in the front pack and settled in the Top 10, making sure to follow my race strategy.

Sting or bee stung

Right before reaching the first boulder field, I got attacked by a yellow jacket and it didn’t missed me, OUCH! Yes, bee aware that this race has many of them!

Arriving at Aid Station 2, I was happy to be greeted and refueled by my friend and volunteer Jeremy Long. In 3rd place after having passed a bunch of runners in the long downhill (1,490 ft loss in 1.8 miles, average slope of 16%), I crossed the Toutle River and headed towards the beautiful trail going up the Canyon.

Crossing the Toutle River (Photo courtesy of Paul Nelson Photography)

I knew the next section would be pretty flat and I was happy to have passed so many people in the previous downhill as I knew they would perform better than me on the next long and flat section : the blast zone.

This blast zone is unique to run in and I was gladly welcomed by 2 mountain goats standing on the NW side of the Loowit Falls. Having been passed by a train of 3 runners, I was now 6th trying to lose as less ground as possible in this flat section.

Coming up the  3rd Aid Station, I felt even more like walking on the moon when I saw Yassine and other volunteers in NASA costume ! The perfect way to put back my feet on the ground during all this racing rush.

See for yourself !!

 

Catching up to the 5th runner, I tagged him up Windy Pass, seeing that his flat speed was not translated in the uphills. Was he experiencing some difficulties? I was hoping to pass him near the Aid station 4 as it becomes more hilly and technical afterwards. Sure enough he was running scared as he blasted through the aid station 4 where I had to stop to refuel. More time for me to catch up!

My friend Juliano & Veronica helped me perform a fast pit stop and I immediately focused on getting back to the 5th runner. After almost a mile, he was on my radar and I was hanging along. I proceeded on passing him through one of the last technical descent and knew I would get some ground on the last boulder field until the last descent where I would have to run scared to be sure that he doesn’t catch up.

After running 5 hours on tough terrain, there is nothing like adding the pressure of being chased! (Photo courtesy of Teri Photography)
After running 5 hours on tough terrain, there is nothing like adding the pressure of being chased! (Photo courtesy of Teri Photography)

I realized I had secured my 5th place spot when I was within several hundred feet of the Start/Finish altitude . Not only I was in 5th place but I was within less than 6hrs! Incredible as I had never imagined to be able to run that fast.

Knowing it was going to be my last race here in the PNW, I was planning on giving all my best and achieve my goal to run around Mt St Helens in 6h45 min. With a consistent training, a well executed race plan and good competition, I made it in 5h49min, a time that puts me in top 10 performance of the race, only 28 min shy of the course record and especially 1h37min faster than my 2012 time !

Volcanic 50 being my 2nd A-race after the BeaverHead 55K, I am really happy of both of my results as well as my overall 2016 racing season. The Pacific NW chapter is officially terminated. Time to move on our next adventure, Colorado !!!!

Result: 5th place, 2rd Age Group and a time of 5h49min.

GPS Track available here (32 miles, 7,400 ft elevation gain/loss)

Nutrition: Water, GLUKOS SportsDrink, HoneyStinger Gingersnap Waffles, HoneyStinger Chocolate Caffeinated Energy Gel, miscellaneous food from their well stocked aid stations.

Walking

For every walk is a sort of crusade […]. We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return, prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms“. Henry David Thoreau – Walking.

The Lucky Number (Beaverhead 55K Race Report)

On July 9th, I raced the first of my 2 A-races of 2016 : the BeaverHead 55K.

I originally heard of this race via Eric Lubell after he ran the 100K in 2014 (first year of the event). Talking with Eric and further research convinced me that it was exactly the type of race that suits me : a Point-to-Point course in the mountains on a remote and technical trail including a 18 mile section on the Continental Divide Trail.

Continental Divide Trail Logo (Photo Courtesy of : The BeaverHead Endurance Runs)
BeaverHead55K

 

 

I headed to Salmon, Idaho on Thursday and enjoyed a beautiful drive through the Sawtooth Mountains.

When picking up my race bib, I realized that this year I am drawn to the lucky number 7. The same number than my Smith Rock Ascent race’s place.

As usual for those types of mountains races, I regularly checked the weather forecast during the several days prior to the event. Confirmed by the Race Directors at the briefing, thunderstorms were likely to appear in the afternoon as well as highly possible lightning, snow….etc All the good stuff! What the RD’s told us that a typical weather forecast app would not tell is that the bad weather typically comes from West of the divide.

Multiple times in past races, I have been lucky that the forecast was wrong (2011 Kilian’s Classic 45K, 2015 Standhope 60K) or that I was fast enough to finish before the bad weather kicked in (2015 San Juan Solstice 50M). However, I have always thought my time would come one day and that I would “pay” for all those missed times. I thought that this might be the day and my gear was set up accordingly : jacket, gloves and beanie (extra weight for sure but being in the mountains with such a forecast should be taken seriously).

 

The race

The start being a long uphill, we were all warmed up in no time! As usual, I made sure to run my race and follow my strategy.

The difficulties I had forecasted were the altitude (most of the race is spent around 9,000ft! Pretty high for me that lives at 300ft. Even though I usually respond to altitude pretty well, I know it affects my speed) and the second part that is reputed to be very technical.

It turned out I was 100% right and there were the main factors that influenced my performance : The altitude slowed me down as well as the scree field. I found it to be as hard as everybody had been describing it (race reports, RD’s briefing…) and it really felt like jogging on knives.

Arriving to the scree field (23.5 miles), my internal compass was set to look out for the West side of the divide and sure enough a storm was moving in. Time to pay my due !!! Once again, I was lucky that it held off and didn’t rage on all of us. I only experienced lower temperatures and a few water drops. Pfeww!!!!

A storm forming over the Divide during the race (Photo courtesy of : Ryan Kunz)

However, the same night would see storms with snow ! Once again I avoid the bad weather but it’s only a matter of time before I experience the forecasted raged weather during a race.

Snow on the course the day after (Photo Courtesy of : The BeaverHead Endurance Runs)
Snow on the course the day after (Photo Courtesy of : The BeaverHead Endurance Runs)

The scree part made me lose quite some time on my estimated split and I knew it was going to be hard to catch up the lost time on the last part. Of course I tried my best and even though I was faster than expected on my last split, I didn’t succeed on making up for the lost time on the scree and fell out of my goal by 15 mins.

In the end, a beautiful and tough mountain race just as I like them on new trails I have never explored before. My race was well executed and though I misjudged the scree section, I am happy to finish in 7th place (YES! The same number as my last race’s place) with a time that puts me in the top 10 performance of the race, only 30 min shy of the course record.

Result: 7th place, 3rd Age Group and a time of 6h32min.

 

Nutrition: Water, Tailwind SportsDrink, HoneyStinger Gingersnap Waffles, HoneyStinger Chocolate Waffles, misc food from their well stocked aid stations.