Category Archives: Tools

My digital GPS software tool box

Recently, I read Bike Mechanic, a very good book I recommend for anyone interested like me into fixing/maintaining a road bike and learning about the life of the big team mechanics on the job. One thing I enjoyed was the tools recommendation. This line particularly caught my attention : Cheap tools do cheap jobs.
While the author is fully right for when it comes to bike tools and tools in general, it doesn’t apply when it comes to software. In this post, I will illustrate this idea by listing the different software I use on a regular basis to perform everything I need when it comes to creating/modifying GPS files.

My digital GPS software Toolbox

Several months ago, I explained why and how I use GPS technologies. In this same post, I mentioned that for each adventure, I always try my best to use a GPS track generated on the actual trail as creating a manual track can lead to navigation errors when out in the field. Once I have finished establishing the route for any adventure/hike/run, I usually look for any existing activity for which the route is the same or similar enough to be reused. Typically, I rarely find the exact same route and in this case, I need to do some post-processing work in order to have my final route, composed of either several merged routes or past routes merged with manual sections. To do such work, I need tools and use different software to visualize/edit any given GPS track.

In a future post, I will show which platforms I use to find such routes but in this post, I aim to list the tools I use to transform multiple tracks into my final route, briefly describe them and explain what I mainly use them for.

Google Earth

It’s possible that you might not know some of the other software below. However, I am sure everyone knows Google Earth ! When I first discovered Google Earth (about 10+ years ago), though I didn’t have a GPS device, I loved that I was able to travel virtually. I call that the “couch explorer“. Since I acquired my GPS watch, I now use it to look at my previous tracks but also future tracks or just to “explore” any area. It helps me get familiar with a new area before even driving to it.

What I use it for : In the screenshot below, you can see an example of my use of Google Earth. In this case, I display all the trails I have ran/hikes/biked so far in the Rocky Mountain National Park and some of my future ones. While this screenshot displays my track on a satellite view, I have shown last year how to display other types of maps (see my article here).

My “coverage” of RMNP as of January 2017

Last but not least, Google Earth Pro is now free (since January 2015)! Download it here, use your email address and the key GEPFREE to sign in.


GPSVisualizer is an online tool that offers multiple possibilities when working with GPS tracks. Not only it can convert many different formats into gpx format, it also has numerous options such as changing the speed unit, reverse a track, merge tracks…etc.

What I use it for : I use the conversion tool mainly to add an accurate elevation data. GPSVisualizer has several elevation data available (see image below).

Adding accurate elevation data to a GPS track

Another feature I am fond of is the possibility to create a GPX track from a GoogleMaps route. Yes, one can create an itinerary in Google Maps, paste its URL address and a gpx track will be generated and ready to download and transfer onto your GPS device!

Converting a Google Maps itinerary into a gpx file

 


As mentioned above, though I mainly use the gpx format, it happens that I encounter other/weird file formats. GPSBabel supporting a multitude of supported formats (file format capabilities list), the day where I haven’t been able to convert a GPS track into gpx format hasn’t arrived yet.

What I use it for : Convert any GPS track into a gpx file when I find myself with odd GPS formats in hands.

GPSBabel

 

CalTopo

When it comes to create manually a route, I use Caltopo. This website has all the tools to create and modify GPS tracks : Import/Export, track modification (splitting, extending…) and multiple map layers to only name a few possibilities.

A GPS track loaded onto CalTopo

What I use it for : The main reason I use CalTopo is for the “auto routing” feature. Have you ever had to create manually a track and found yourself clicking 1 million times in order to draw a 5 mile route ? The “auto routing” tool eliminates all that. Instead, your cursor will automatically pick up an existing trail and draw the different turns between 2 points (see illustration below)

 

GpsPrune is an on-premises software that will allow editing GPS track(s) such as : delete points, range of points, concatenate/append multiple tracks, visualize exactly each recorded GPS point…

A GPS track loaded in GpsPrune

What I use it for : As GpsPrune displays each recorded GPS point (see image below), it allows me to quickly fix a track when erroneous points have been recorded. Also, I use it to easily split/merge/concatenate tracks .

Splitting a track at a specific point

 

Summary

You know now all about the different softwares I use to work with GPS files. You can find below a table that gives a quick access to each of those software along with useful information for each of them.

NameDescriptionPlatform(s)License
Google EarthGeobrowser that accesses satellite and aerial imagery, ocean bathymetry, and other geographic data over the internet to represent the Earth as a three-dimensional globeWindows, Mac, LinuxFree
GPS VisualizerOnline utility that creates maps and profiles from geographic dataOnlineFree (GPL)
GPSBabelDoftware to transfer routes, tracks, and waypoint data to and from consumer GPS units, and to convert between over a hundred types of GPS data formatsWindows, MacFree
CalTopoPowerful trip planning tools and high quality mapsOnlineFree & Subscription
GpsPruneApplication for viewing, editing and converting coordinate data from GPS systemsWindows, Mac, LinuxFree (GPL)

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 ?

Where are we ?

“When someone’s knocked out unconscious, what’s the first thing they say when they come to ?”
“Where am I?” I answered without a second thought.
“Exactly” Tuck said. What’s more, he had the answer.
A life on the edge – Jim Whittaker

This excerpt, taken from Whittaker’s book, describes a discussion between J. Whittaker and Ed Tuck, the inventor of the first GPS device released more than 25 years ago. His device was created to answer the ultimate question anyone asks at some point: “Where am I?

Where Am I ?

Nowadays, a variety of tools and devices make the navigation easier. They provide a considerable additional layer of safety as one can use technology to find his/her given location at any time including the path back to the start/trailhead.

This is actually one of the main reason I acquired my first GPS device 3 years ago. On a winter day of December 2012, my wife and I decided to explore the rugged “Rock of Ages” hike in the Columbia River Gorge. A thin layer of snow prevented us seeing the trail (unmaintained trail) and when we found out we had only 1 hour before sunset, the only tools I could use to return to the trailhead were my memory of the way up, the 2 cliffs to avoid on each side of the ridge, the sound of the highway where the car was parked and our few snow tracks. We made it back safely but afterwards, I deeply wished I’d had a GPS device not only to be able to find our way back to the start (by using the “Trackback” function) but also to see where we wandered/got lost at the top of the ridge.

 

Where am I ? 

Since then, I have used my GPS device on all of my adventures and never got lost. When in doubt, I usually visualize my current location/direction in comparison to my created route which have prevented me multiple times from getting lost.

IMG_1654Using my Suunto Ambit 2 to ensure that I am on the”right track” while peakbagging in The Enchantments

While I usually carry a map and a compass on each of my runs (they are the two first recommended items in the 10 essentials), being able to navigate by just looking at my wrist is a considerable timesaver. It is especially useful during a race when every minute is counted.

What Ed Tuck didn’t realize is that not only a GPS device will tell me where I am at any given time, it will also tell my where I was and where I will be.

 

Where was I ?

As most modern GPS devices record one’s GPS location every given interval for several hours/days, it is possible to look at the track that is composed of all those recorded points. I find those tracks extremely useful to look at to visualize where I got off course for example or even share my course with another person.

NorthSister1Looking back at my GPS track. Using Google Earth to compare my GPS track with a correct one to study where my friend and I missed the summit of North Sister. In Blue: The track of Karl Helser who summited North Sister. In Red : our track. This is looking South East. We can see that we should have gone over the ridge towards the Bowling Alley.

 

Where will I be ?

The fact that I haven’t gotten lost since then doesn’t come just from having my GPS watch. It also comes from the fact that I’ve refined my trip preparation as I believe it’s important to study well a route and/or take it with you on your trip. By looking at maps, routes from previous trip reports, I typically create my prepared route and load it onto my watch. I use this route to visualize exactly where I will be going. All this time spent studying maps, looking at GPS tracks help me get familiar with the area and be at ease right from the start.

By “prepared route”, I mean that I usually prepare a GPS file of my intended trip, either by finding a file from another person that has already done the route (or part of the route) or by manually creating my own. However, I always try my best to use a track generated on the actual trail as creating a manual track can lead to navigation errors when out in the field.

Preparing my future adventure with the right tools : the 3 Sisters circumnavigation

Because I have benefited many times from other people’s tracks, I have decided it was time to share mines. My plan is to propose a set of GPS tracks that represent my main past adventures & explorations (climbs/hikes/runs/rides….etc) that I feel are worth sharing to be reused. You will find those GPS tracks on the page “MY TRACKS” for which the link is present at all time in the blog’s navigation bar located at the top of each page.

Any suggestions/critics are appreciated!

Tracking and Analyzing (Part 1)

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.

NamePlatformSupported FormatsSupported sportsCapabilities (Basic or Advanced)Coach InteractionLicense
D. Hays running log's spreadsheet (Download)Microsoft ExcelN/ARunningBasicNoFree
SportTracks
(Review)
Windows & Online AppOfficial listMulti sportsAdvancedYes (online app only)One-time fee (PC App) / monthly fee (Online App)
Strava
(Review)
Online (Mobile App)Official listRunning/CyclingAdvancedNo *Free & Premium membership
Runner's Studio (Review)WindowsOfficial listRunningBasicNoOne-time fee
RubiTrac (Review)MacOfficial listMulti sportsAdvancedNoOne-time fee
Movescount (Review)Online (Mobile App)Suunto devicesMulti sportsBasicNoFree
Garmin Connect (Review)Online (iOS & Android)Garmin devicesMulti sportsBasicNoFree
GoldenCheetah (Review)Windows, Mac & LinuxOfficial listCycling/RunningAdvancedNoFree
TrainingPeaks (Review)OnlineOfficial listCycling/Running/SwimmingAdvancedYesFree & Premium membership
TrainingPeaks WKO+ (Review)Windows & MacOfficial listCycling/Running/SwimmingAdvancedNoOne-time fee
Trail runner (Review)MacOfficial listMulti sportsBasicNoFree
MyTourbook (Review)Windows & LinuxOfficial listMulti sportsAdvancedNoFree

 

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.

 

Appendix:

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:

Pytrainer
Xhale
Final Surge
AddAero
Turtlesports
Ascent
Endomondo
MapMyRun
RunKeeper
DailyMile
LogYourRun
SmartRunner
SmashRun
SportsTracker
SportWatcher
Runtastic
iSmoothRun.com
NikePlus
OpenRunLog

Elevation Gain/Loss

All the GPS tracks on this website have been created with a GPS watch (Suunto Ambit 2).

Unless otherwise noted, all the elevation gain/loss numbers given on this website have been corrected within SportTracks 3.1 with a data smoothing of 30sec and the plugin “Elevation Correction” configured to use the SRTM 1 database (Shuttle Radar Topography Mission).

 

I use such a combination because 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. All this leads to the least amount of error when computing elevation figures (source: La face cachée du calcul du dénivelé cumulé (D+), Author: Florent Sourbier. This document is under the “Creative Commons” license)

 

Example of a GPS track for which the elevation has been corrected. In this case, the discrepency is about 160 ft for a distance of 4 miles (40ft/mile)

Google Earth Topographic Layers

I have been using Google Earth for 10+ years now. Having access to a software to visualize the world in 3D offers a lot of useful possibilities such as checking-out/planning/reviewing a GPS route.

Below is an example of how I use Google Earth where I compare my GPS track with a correct one to study where my friend and I missed the summit of North Sister.

NorthSister1
In Blue: The track of Karl Helser who summited North Sister. In Red : our track. This is looking South East. We can see that we should have gone over the ridge towards the Bowling Alley.

While Google Earth offers a lot of nice features, it only gives by default a satellite map view. For outdoor activities such as running/hiking, it can be quickly limited, especially when trying to create a route in an area where the satellite view won’t help much to navigate through the trails system.

 

The example below shows that the satellite view is not helping much as most of the view is trees!

Dog Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge (Washington).

Within the last years, I have searched and found several layers that will integrate within Google Earth to offer additional maps such as Terrain or USGS quads.

I have compiled them into one kmz file that you can open in Google Earth. This file contains the following map layers:

–        Google Terrain maps

–        NGS Topographic 2D maps (While some users complain that it doesn’t work, I have found that unzooming as much as possible and zooming in back slowly appears to work for me)

–        USGS Topographic maps

–        OpenStreetMap maps (Mapnik, CycleMap, HikeBikeMap & Komoot)

 

The Dog Mountain route now with the 4 additional layers.

 

To use those maps, download my file here and follow the below instructions :

–        Open it in Google Earth (File-> Open)

–        To display a layer, check off the desired one and wait that Google Earth downloads and displays the map.

–        Move the different layers from the Temporary places to “My Places” so that you can reuse the maps next time you open Google Earth

*For the USGS Topo Maps, you will have to click on the “View Map” button to make the tile appear in Google Earth

 

Note: As far as I know, it is only possible to use those layers with an internet connection as Google Earth does not have the ability to cache the downloaded maps. I suppose for copyright reasons ?

 

Bonus: By the way, do you know that Google Earth Pro is now free (since January 2015) ? Download it here, use your email address and the key GEPFREE to sign in.

To know if you will benefit from using Google Earth pro, you can look at the main differences between Google Earth and Google Earth Pro here