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 ?

2 thoughts on “Tracking and Analyzing (Part 2)

  1. I like and use SportTracks 3.1, but I miss HRV analysis and other things too. The author has focused in the online version of SporTracks version to make money and money with the fee monthly and he has abandoned the SportTracks 3.1 users.

    There are a lot a things that SportTracks 3.1 could do natively and not across plugins.

    1. John,

      I share the same bitter opinion. Plugins extend the ST capabilities but, you’re right, I am sure ST could do most of them natively, especially when some plugins don’t integrate perfectly in ST and make their use awkward. Take the example of the plugin “Waypoint and Courses” where the map window is not perfectly integrated into ST. What a pain!

      Until a better software comes out, I will continue to use ST 3.1

      Frederic

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