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Training: I've got a feeling...
Posted by: Simon Ward
Posted on: Tuesday 26th November 2013


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Are you a slave to your stopwatch, GPS, powermeter or other training 'gadget'? Coach Simon Ward (www.thetriathloncoach.com) takes a look at training by feel and stresses the importance of not becoming a slave to your digital feedback.

He's no Luddite either, and is open to the idea of adding a GPS to his own training arsenal... but suggests that simply "getting the training done" is more important than measuring every aspect, every session. As with most things, balance is key. Here are his thoughts and approach.


I recently read an article by Chris McCormack where he talked about training by feel. I definitely have some affinity with his comments because this is how I do most of my training.

I don't have a Garmin and I'm not really that bothered about how far I've cycled, how many metres we climbed or what my average speed was. I tend to measure only the duration of a session and then I try to rank how hard it was by how quickly I recover, compared to other sessions.

I have one swim session per week, where we have a coach who times key sets and I do take note of my times and how they compare to previous efforts.

I also use my CompuTrainer regularly and pay particular attention to my power output and my heart rate. However this is more about learning how my body responds to certain intensities. Knowing that a 60 minute sustained effort at 220 watts results, currently, in an average heart rate of around 125-130 (approx 75% max cycling heart rate). During this effort I'm also paying attention to how my legs feel and my breathing. As it turns out my breathing is under control and I could easily hold a conversation and breathe in for three pedal strokes and then out for three pedal strokes (whereas at threshold its a very definite 2/2 breathing pattern).

Having worked all of this out on the CompuTrainer, I know that when I'm riding outdoors that I'm roughly at threshold when breathing is 2/2 and above threshold when it gets ragged.

The same can be said for running. 12km/h is my current 80% effort on the treadmill and on the canal towpath where we have 1/4 mile markers I can pass those every two minutes which is roughly the same effort level. Why am I not that bothered about all the data I could be acquiring?

Firstly, I think that there are 2-3 sessions per week where it's important to monitor the quality and to do so you need to be mentally and physically ready. As I mentioned earlier, I do pay attention to the numbers here.

Secondly, I have seen many athletes attend my sessions who are such absolute slaves to their gadgets that its almost painful. Sessions get interrupted because this athlete doesn't press the watch at the right time or worse still they forget to press it or the damn thing stops working. The tales of woe that I have to listen to or read about when a GPS device has stopped functioning mid ride or run would make you think that there has been a death in the family. It seems a workout has to stop because the athlete is no longer capable of gauging the intensity by feel. This can also happen during a race and I have known athletes whose race plans have been completely blown apart because they have no digital feedback. I like to be able to judge my efforts on feel and the only way to do this is to learn how in training

Third. Apart from those key sessions, and at this time of year, I think it important just to be getting the training done. I feel that as long as I'm in roughly the right zone (which can be judged by rate of perceived exertion), then I'll be doing OK. When combined with breathing I can pretty much get into the right ball park for intensity. Sometimes when I'm tired that might be slightly slower than the target pace/wattage but thats what happens when you listen to your body. You adjust accordingly.

Having said all that... I must confess that I am tempted to acquire one of these gadgets to analyse certain aspects of my training!

Firstly, I use Training Peaks to deliver all of the programmes for my athletes and I do the same for my own programme. Recently I have been using the Performance Management Chart to calculate the Training Stress Scores for each workout and then to indicate how much load I can cope with each week. A lot of the GPS and HR devices now calculate this for you and I'm quite interested in how I can use this to assess which recovery methods work best or which combination of hard days, easy days leads to the most improvement.

I'd also like to start using something to assess how accurate my own RPE (rate of percieved exertion) method is. To do this I would run or ride as normal but have the monitor in my back pocket so that I could see how accurate my own internal pacing and effort meter is.

Ultimately, my result in Lanzarote is measured against other athletes. Sure, I might hit my target time in the race but if I miss out on a spot by a few minutes I'll be gutted. I'll be aiming to go by feel for much of the race and my mantra is this.

If the pace feels just right it's probably too hard
If the pace feels too easy then its probably just right

If you've got any thoughts on this then I'd like to hear them - please just post them in the comments area below, or email me directly simon@thetriathloncoach.com

Until next time, stay healthy & have fun

Simon Ward

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Simon Ward About the Author

Simon Ward is the founder of TheTriathlonCoach.com, the most experienced group of coaches in the UK. You can contact him on 08700 418131, by e-mailing simon@TheTriathlonCoach.com or by visiting www.TheTriathlonCoach.com


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