When Chris Froome first came to prominence on the WorldTour and started dominating grand tours, all the talk was about how he was constantly looking at his stem. Was he staring at his power meter to gauge his effort? Entire websites were devoted to catching Froome in the act of looking at his head unit while racing his bike.
While Froome now claims he isn’t staring at his power and it has to do with breathing, the point deserves attention given the metronomic nature of some pro racing. If you did look at your numbers the whole time, would you be faster?
In this episode, we’re joined by TrainingPeaks co-founder Dirk Friel to discuss what numbers, if any, you should use to gauge your racing efforts. Of course, any discussion of how to race a bike naturally evolves into a broader conversation about strategy, tactics, psychology, and even equipment. So, you’ll gain plenty of insights into general race craft.
However, most of the discussion will be about the numbers: which numbers can help you, and in which race setting they’re most appropriate; and, just as importantly, which numbers can hurt your racing or at least your mindset. We’ll also discuss how you can use numbers to prepare for specific races, and even to plan out your race.
How’s that stem look? Let’s make you fast!
Chris Case 00:12
Hey everyone, welcome to Fast Talk, your source for the science of endurance performance. I’m your host Chris Case.
Introduction to Benefits and Negative Impacts of Focusing on the Numbers
Chris Case 00:19
When Chris Froome first came to prominence on the World Tour and started dominating Grand Tours, all the talk was about how he was constantly looking at his step. Was he staring at his power meter to gauge his effort? Entire websites were devoted to catching Froome in the act of looking at his head unit while racing his bike. Well, Froome now claims he isn’t staring at his power, and it has to do with breathing, the point deserves attention, given the metronomic nature of some pro racing. If you look at your numbers the whole time, would you be faster? Today we’re sitting down with TrainingPeaks co-founder Dirk Friel to discuss what numbers if any, you should use to gauge your racing efforts. Of course, any discussion of how to race a bike naturally evolves into a broader conversation about strategy, tactics, psychology, and even equipment. So, today, you’ll gain plenty of insights into general race craft. Most of the discussion, however, will be about the numbers, which numbers can help you, and in which race setting they’re most appropriate? Just as importantly, which numbers can hurt your racing, or at least your mindset? We’ll also discuss how you can use numbers to prepare for specific races and even to plan out your race. In addition to Dirk Friel, we’ll also hear from sports psychologist Simon Marshall, former World Tour Rider Svein Tuft, pro racer Shayna Powless, and athlete and coach Jen Sharp.
Ryan Kohler 01:57
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Chris Case 02:32
Welcome to Fast Talk, we’ve got the co-founder of TrainingPeaks, Dirk Friel in the studio today with us. Welcome to Fast Talk.
Dirk Friel 02:40
Yeah, super. Thanks for having me on, this is going to be fun.
Chris Case 02:44
Today we’re going to talk about racing by numbers, racing with numbers, what’s good about that? What’s bad about that? Dirk, it sounds like you had a little altercation with a Belgian car at some point by staring down at the stem. Can you tell us about that?
Stories of How Focusing on the Numbers Can Cause Negative Results
Dirk Friel 02:59
Yeah, the bad side of having computers in our handlebars, you know, is a heads up for cars, and yeah, back in like 1990 when I was in Belgium, and it wasn’t even interesting data, it was just distance and speed. I was looking down on my handlebars and went right into a parked car and ruined my bike had to get a new one. I got it a Moser out of it.
Chris Case 03:23
Dirk Friel 03:24
I upgraded to a Moser.
Chris Case 03:27
Maybe it was an intentional crash.
Dirk Friel 03:29
Hey, mom, I ruined my bike. Send some money to Belgium?
Chris Case 03:33
Trevor Connor 03:34
So, there’s your answer. Look at the numbers because you get a better bike out of it.
Dirk Friel 03:37
Chris Case 03:38
Sometimes. Like we said, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not so good.
Dirk Friel 03:42
Trevor Connor 03:43
A little bit of pain in the middle, but that’s okay.
Chris Case 03:45
Yeah, we start with a lighthearted story there, but obviously, we want to get into a little bit more of the nuances here of what the numbers can help us with and hurt us in a more serious way. So, Trevor, you have a recent story about your relationship with numbers, and data, and racing.
Trevor Connor 04:03
Yeah, I was just up at Steamboat Roubaix, a good race, hard race, I didn’t have the best day I finished 12th but it wasn’t a big field. It split up early on, and in the second half of the race, there were three pretty substantial climbs. The first time going up there was a guy just ahead of me, there was a guy behind me, I was on my own in between so I was trying to pace myself and looked at the numbers. I went, okay I’m going to try to push myself, I looked down it was high altitude, I was hurting so I was hitting about 300 watts and just went okay, I got to get this up to 323-25, and tried to hold it there, I went that wasn’t too bad, got to the top of the climb, we did a big loop came back around, and second time going up that climb, I was closer to the guy ahead of me, I had him in my sights, didn’t look at the numbers at all just chased him, caught him right near. So, we got to the top caught him right after that, but I probably didn’t go as hard this time because I wasn’t looking at anything. Then the final climb, I was with the guy and tried to see if I can get him off my wheel because I’d beaten him on the previous climb, so took that climb hard, couldn’t get him off my wheel. I left that race thinking that time when I was pushing the numbers, was probably my best climb of the race, and when I looked at my data afterward, it was my slowest climb. It was my worst climb, the second time when I had that guy in my sights on this same climb, I was just chasing him, I was significantly faster, I was like 20-30 seconds faster. Obviously, the final climb was a different climb, but that’s the one where I put out the biggest power. My actual slowest time was the time I was looking at the numbers and trying to push a number, which I thought was interesting.
Chris Case 05:53
It almost served as a governor to you, you’re like, I got to hit that number and I can’t go beyond it, because I’m trying to hit that number, and it’s all about that number. That limited you in a sense.
Trevor Connor 06:02
Dirk Friel 06:03
In the heat of the moment competition and adrenaline, gets you going when you’re chasing someone and you get that rabbit out there, why look at the numbers sometimes, you know?
Trevor Connor 06:14
Right. Well, exactly. I think what I thought about it, and as I was reading some of the research for this, looking back, when I was trying to target a number, the first thing that occurred to me is I looked down at my numbers, I was like, only doing 300 watts? It was discouraging, knowing what I feel like I should be able to do that was discouraging. So, I was targeting 323-325, but I was not optimistic. I wasn’t going, wow, I’m crushing it, it was like I have to force myself to do numbers that even those numbers wouldn’t write home about.
Dirk Friel 06:49
But then the altitude, are you going to sit there in the race and interpret the effect of altitude? You’re at 8000 feet, but you normally train to 5500 feet, and maybe it’s that 3%, and what’s 3% of 330? It’s like, don’t go there.
Trevor Connor 07:05
I wasn’t thinking about any of that. I was thinking I suck; I’ve got to make myself do 325 so I’m not embarrassed. So, it was very negative. The second time when I was chasing a guy was very positive because I’m catching this guy. I’m seeing this person in front of me, I’ve got a target, I’m reeling him in, and that really motivated me to chase him down. Certainly, I can’t remember exact power but chasing them down, I was averaging like 335-340.
Dirk Friel 07:30
Right. I mean, that’s what I love about road racing is the instinct, and just in the moment and going above and beyond what you think you can do, but you don’t know it at the time.
Trevor Connor 07:42
Dirk Friel 07:42
Trevor Connor 07:46
Shayna Powless, a Pro racer with Team TWENTY20, talked with us about when she uses numbers in racing. Let’s hear what she has to say.
Shayna Powless: How She Uses Numbers in Racing
Shayna Powless 07:54
During your base for me, I typically don’t like to pay attention too much to my numbers, compared to how much I pay attention to them during training. When I have like, especially on structured days when I’m really trying to make sure I’m hitting like super specific, exact number windows, but then during races, I mean the only types of racing, where I really do make sure I’m paying attention to my numbers would be during time trials and team time trials, particularly on Zwift team time trial races, which our teams been doing quite a bit of lately. So, for those types of races, I mean, I would say it’s important to kind of make sure you’re monitoring your power numbers. Again, I never look at heart rate, pretty much just power just making sure I’m you know, not going too hard too soon, or you know if I feel like I’m drifting off a little bit, I always make sure I just kind of you know, monitor my numbers make sure I can slowly bring it back up to where it needs to be, but yeah, for time trials, team time trials, I feel like it is important to know what numbers to hit just so you know exactly what zone you’re trying to stay in for the duration of those races. In other words with you know, start races, you know, with gravel races, mountain bike races, road races, those are races I don’t typically tend to look at my power unless maybe I want to glance down if I’m, you know, trying to break away or if I’m riding solo and I want to make sure I’m you know, not like going too hard to where I’m going to just totally explode in the middle of a race then that would be a time where I would look at my power, but generally speaking, I really only pay attention to the numbers during time trials and team time trials.
Chris Case 10:04
Yeah, I think that story sets the stage well, it gets at some of these nuances of context in what’s right for one situation might not be right for another situation, one type of race and might not, it might be right for that, another type of race or race day might not be. You have altitude to consider, you got temperature to consider, you got dehydration to consider, you got all these things. So, sometimes numbers are good, sometimes they’re not so good. We’ll get into all of that. Shall we step back a second and set the stage with a little bit of what are the numbers that we’re referring to? What are the numbers we can use in racing?
Numbers To Use in Racing
Dirk Friel 10:42
Chris Case 10:44
All right. Dirk, would you like to give us an overview?
Dirk Friel 10:48
Yeah, we’ve been pounding power so far, and that’s kind of the big one, because that really shows the workload, you know, in the moment, the workload, the heart rate, obviously, heart rate is another one, but heart rate tends to be, you know, lags the effort. If you go out for two- minutes, you’re not really going to see that spike until after you’ve done that two-minute effort, but you know, heart rate can be good because it can kind of give you a gauge of a longer effort, you know, the first 20-minutes of the race, you know, what kind of heart rate are you seeing? Speed, I rarely ever look at speed. I mean, I don’t even think I have speed on one of my screens on my Garmin, and I rarely look at it, but that can go into it, I do have some thoughts around speed, though. So, I think we’ll get into that.
Trevor Connor 11:40
Yeah, I definitely want to discuss that one, because I think it’s undervalued. I will point out the simple fact that a race has never been won by somebody who didn’t average the highest average speed.
Dirk Friel 11:52
Trevor Connor 11:53
That is the by nature, a race, the speed is never irrelevant. It’s not the person that necessarily averaged the highest wattage, it was the person with the highest average speed. I do think there are cases, but we’ll get to this where speed is useful.
Dirk Friel 12:07
We have many others I mean, cadence, altitude, you know, the distance, you know, I threw down here, weather and wind, this is a little bit more about going into the race and what the forecast is, you’re not getting these live updates during the race per se, unless you have a race radio and you’re in the pro peloton, but, you know, forecasting the wind and weather can really affect how you attack the racecourse. Course profile, you know, you can certainly have that on your head unit.
Chris Case 12:39
Do you have a different screen on your head unit for race day versus training day? And if so, what do you have on that first screen on your head unit on a road race day?
Different Metrics To Track on Race Days vs. Training Days
Dirk Friel 12:52
Time, distance, power heart rate is really what I primarily look at. In training when I’m doing intervals, then we’ll have the last lap, you know, average heart rate power, current lap time, current lap, you know, normalized power, current lap average heart rate, then that will you know, it’s kind of neat, if you do a circuit you can put on auto lap, it’s kind of neat how it will auto lap for you within training, and that’s really cool stuff. So, I guess I go with minimal data on my handlebars when I’m racing.
Chris Case 13:35
Yeah. Trevor, I know that you pack stuff onto your Garmin screens for training, do you change it up for race day?
Data To Track on Race Day
Trevor Connor 13:44
I do have a race screen with data, but I find more and more, and I do think this is part of the numbers, this is part of the data. more and more what I use on my screen in a race that I care about is the course map, and particularly the course profile. I find it invaluable to see when’s the next climb coming up. How important is that? I’ll share another story I think of Nature Valley back in 2011, where not as many people back then had Garmin where you could have this on it, I had the course profile for one of the big road races on my screen, this course has these three kinds of one-mile climbs in a row and saw that we are coming up in the first climb. Chad Hago was our team leader; he was lounging at the back of the field. So, as we’re coming up, I went back and said something like, get off my wheels, probably a little more curse words than that, got him on my wheel, brought him to the front just in time for the climb, and then we hit the climb hard, I’m sitting I go oh my god this hurts. Came over the climb third wheel, what I didn’t realize I had a plan to attack that climb to catch UnitedHealthcare off guard, and they did and we accidentally got into the breakaway. Chad stayed in the breakaway, he ended up finishing, I think fifth overall in the race because of that because he was at the right place at the right time. I pulled the dumbest move in my life, which was I didn’t realize we had broken away. So, as we crested the top, I wanted to check on one of the other riders in our team, so I slipped back, and suddenly, I’m out of the breakaway going, what just happened?
Trevor Connor 15:32
Trevor Connor 15:32
Of the race, that goes back to having that, knowing when that climb was coming up, made all the difference. Chad would not have made that breakaway if I hadn’t had on the screen seen that and made sure he was in the right place at the right time.
Dirk Friel 15:49
Yeah, especially if you don’t know the course haven’t done it before, you know, knowing on your unit, you know how much further it is to the climb, the profile is coming up. Certainly, ideally, you’re reviewing that the night before too, but you don’t always know the distance to the next climb in the moment.
Trevor Connor 16:06
Chris Case 16:06
Right, right. Yep. Okay. So, both of you are using some amount of data in racing, certainly a lot in training. I wonder if the next question is, what can you not have on your head units screen that is important? Like what are the data points that can’t be put into a head unit at this point in time?
Data Not To Track on Race Day
Dirk Friel 16:34
More and more things are coming,
Chris Case 16:37
That’s what I’m alluding to, yes.
Dirk Friel 16:40
I’m thinking right now, this CGM’s, the continuous glucose monitors, and Supersapiens is making a lot of you know, headlines right now, and that’s going to be, you know, an app on the head unit, on all the head units, probably within the next six months, you know, probably already is in Europe, but it’s not approved in the United States yet. So, that’s something that’s coming that will play into your fueling strategy. Historically, we’ve had just, you know, try and consume whatever it is 75 grams of carbs an hour or 50, or whatever your targeting, you know, and kind of go off our schedule. Once we start to get some of this data it might become more individualized, and at the moment, and the strategy actually will affect your fueling as well, you can’t always predict how hard or slow the stage will be, you know, and what the tactics of the day will be, and so you might end up setting a new PR in the first 20-minutes of a three-and-a-half-hour road race. You didn’t foresee that coming, hence that’s going to dramatically affect your fueling strategy, and if you’re getting that data in the moment of I’m getting really low, heads up, you know, reminder, I need to get on top of my fueling when I can breathe, you know, that’s a metric we’re gonna be seeing coming out next year, I suspect that we don’t have on the head unit today.
Chris Case 18:08
Right, right. Trevor, I know that you have used the Leomo in the past. Is there anything on the Leomo that you wish you had all the time?
Trevor Connor 18:18
In a race? No. I think the Leomo is fantastic for training. I particularly like using it when I go out for a ride just to help me make sure I’m in the right position, focus on my pedal stroke. Once I’m in a race, I don’t want to be thinking about those things, I want to be thinking about the race.
Chris Case 18:35
Trevor Connor 18:36
I do like what you’re bringing up because I think there are different types of metrics. I brought up the race profile, you’re bringing up things telling you about your fueling status. I think metrics in a race that help you take actions are going to help, I would differentiate the metrics. I don’t put power heart rate necessarily in those categories, because if the fields going hard, your power and your heart rate is going to be what’s going to be, and you might look at it, I think all it’s going to do is either make you feel good or make you feel really bad. It’s not necessarily going to make you take much in the way of action, having something saying you are depleting your glycogen you need to be fueling or there’s a big climb coming up, you need to be at the front of the field that can be enormously helpful in a race.
Dirk Friel 19:24
Yeah, agreed. I mean, that being smart enough to make them take the right decisions with the data that’s coming in, or you just had to bridge some gap and you know that one-mile climb is coming up, my heart rate is through the roof, how do I calm things down at least for the next minute?
Trevor Connor 19:42
Dirk Friel 19:42
So, I can recapture some of that energy and you know, and use it on the next one-mile climb.
Chris Case 19:50
Yeah, I think that’s a good segue into maybe where we are head next, which is putting this into context how the numbers can help in racing in certain race situations. How does it help? How do the numbers help? Which numbers help when it comes to perhaps a TTF or pacing?
Dirk Friel 20:09
Yes, you know, time trials are dramatically different than road races, and we’ve been talking about road racing being very instinctual, and you can’t always predict what’s going to happen. In a time trial, you want to try and set that tone and set that strategy for yourself, and so that means data can play a large part in how you go after that course. Ideally, you’ve looked at that course many times, if you haven’t actually ridden it, but you have it virtually, you have the profile, you can then analyze it. Ideally, let’s break it down into a few simple segments, you know, where are you going to make the most time and or lose the most time? You probably aren’t looking at a 12% descent with a tailwind for the next two miles.
Dirk Friel 21:00
To make up your shot, you know, exponential, you know, just equations don’t work out there. So, is that the area where you’re going to try and maintain? Well, is that the first two miles or the last two miles? Likewise, a 12% two-mile climb, you know, where is that in the race? Do we need to enter? Ideally, we’re entering that climb, going ready to pound it out all out, if that’s the major objective of the day, and that might be in the first half of the race. That’s a much different strategy than if it’s in the second half of the race. So, given that example, what might you target on that two-mile climb? How long do you think it’s going to take you? Therefore, what kind of power should I be targeting on that climb? I think if it’s at that, in the first third of the race, you might need to put some more, I’d say limits, but more pacing strategy around it. If it’s the final two miles of the climb, throw the numbers away, and hopefully, you’ve gotten to that point with enough energy reserves to really just pound it out and set a new personal record. So, really kind of depends on where the obstacle of the course is, that determines how much of the data you leverage or not, in my view.
Chris Case 21:00
Chris Case 22:23
Trevor, we just had Kristin Armstrong on the program not too long ago, and she had a particular, yeah, describe that to recap, for people that didn’t catch that show and give us your thoughts on the data to be used during time trialing?
Trevor Connor 22:39
Well, the thing that really came to mind from that interview is she said, the data can be great for pacing, especially getting those time markers, but she said there’s always a point in a time trial where you are going to not hit the pacing you expect. So, be ready for that, and that is one of the dangers if you say, I want to hit this point by this time, this point by this time, this point by this time, one of those points, you’re not going to hit it at that target time. How are you going to deal with that? That is going to demotivate you, maybe you don’t do that and just focus on race in your best time trial. You could tell she is just a mentally tough woman, and she basically said, Yeah, I have those points where I’m off the markers, and then I have to start figuring out where do I make up time?
Dirk Friel 23:29
Yeah, I actually chatted with Ryan Cooper about this a little bit too. He’s the chief scientist at TrainingPeaks and founder of Best Bike Split. So, he really comes from mathematics modeling background, and just a simple rule of thumb, even if you don’t have power on your bike, but you have speed can be you know, 20 kilometers an hour, is kind of a determiner, if you will, of should I stay in the aero bars or come out and you know, be up on the hoods on a climb? So, if it’s calm, and you are on a climb over 12 miles an hour, you know, try and stay in the aero position. If it drops below that, you know, it’s more appropriate if, especially if you’re dropping power to come out and be able to have a more comfortable position and pound out the climb. However, if there’s a headwind on that climb, he states try and stay in Aero position for as long as possible until you really start to drop power then you need to change your up your position, but you know, that 12 mile an hour, 20k an hour kind of,
Chris Case 24:34
That’s the threshold, yes.
Dirk Friel 24:36
Kind of an aerodynamic kind of rule of thumb to be thinking about. So, that’s one piece of data that might come into play in a time trial or even you know, in a road race, you know, being in the drops or the or the hoods.
Trevor Connor 24:48
I loved your hill example. That hill that’s several miles, you know, saving it and then pushing that last mile or two. I think one of the values that numbers, particularly power can help you with pacing is actually limiting yourself, knowing when to limit yourself. So, let’s say you’re on a 20-minute climb, you’re right at the base of it, and you’re putting out 400 watts and you know, your 20-minute powers around 300 watts. You know, you can’t sustain that, you know, this is a bad idea. So, you need to bring it down. Control yourself, what are the biggest mistakes that athletes make and time trialing? Or whether it’s flat time trial, or hill time trial, is starting out too hard, coming out of the gates and just killing it. And again, looking down at the power and going, okay, this is a 45-minute time trial, and I’m doing power that I could sustain for five-minutes.
Chris Case 25:45
Right, not going to work out.
Trevor Connor 25:49
That said, you do have to be careful about trying, if you’re doing a time trial and saying I am targeting particular power, I would caution against that. I would say be very careful, and there’s actually a great study, I could find it if you need me to, where they took athletes had them do time trials, they had them first just do a time trial where they couldn’t see any numbers just self-pacing, do the best time trial they could. They figured out what their average wattage was for that time trial, and then they had them repeat the time trial, where they had to target the wattage, they had sustained. The previous time it was something like 60 or 70% of them couldn’t do it, even though they’d already demonstrated they could average that wattage, when they tried to average that wattage, they couldn’t do it.
Trevor Connor 26:45
Back in 2016, I did an interview with Svein Tuft, an ex-Pro cyclist and second-place finisher at the World Championships time trial. The interview told a lot about how one of the best things about racing in numbers. I’ve been hanging on to this interview for just the right episode, let’s hear what he has to say.
Trevor Connor 27:03
How do you determine where your threshold is? When you’re doing a time trial or when you’re racing, are you looking at numbers? Is it measured or is it a feel thing? How do you go about it?
Svein Tuft: Looking at Numbers in a Race Setting
Svein Tuft 27:15
Yeah, unfortunately, our lives have all been come bombarded with this, this power output, and there’s not a lot of guys that can go by feel anymore, it’s especially apparent when you’re doing a team time trial. Guys will live and die by the SRM or whatever your chosen devices are, and I think it can be very detrimental to base everything we do off of this, the set number that we did in some physiology lab and, and I really believe that, okay, these things are important, and they are definitely a huge help in what we do, but at the same time, they really disconnect you from the reality of where you, you might be at that given moment. It’s more important to understand your body and understand where you’re at that moment than to try and live up to some impossible expectation on yourself, like I said, it’s very fresh in my mind because of team time trialing, all the work we’ve done in the last in a while. I see young guys just trying to push this incredible number that they all believe is necessary to win the World Championships, but it’s not sustainable, right? So, I think a lot of times these things when you don’t understand your body and you don’t understand what’s working behind the scenes there, you really run into trouble, I’ve seen it many times. So, for myself, it’s more about understanding where you are at that moment, and what you’re actually capable of. So, in the case of like, you know, we must ride the front full to bring a break back, okay, I’ll have a look at the power here and there, but really, I’m going by a feeling that I know I can sustain, if it’s necessary, I might have to chase for 20k. If I have to ride for 50k, is a totally different feeling, and that’s just lucky from years of experience, but I think more than anything, you need to find your own n=1 type of magical number instead of trying to push some imaginary perfect number. I see so many guys trying to you know, in a time trial or whatever trying to hold this power output, and it’s never really the case, the time trial is all about picking your battles and understanding the course and yourself. Yeah, the numbers are great, but they don’t win all the bike races.
Trevor Connor 30:09
So, when you’re in a time trial, do you have a computer at all? Or are you going completely by feel?
Svein Tuft 30:15
Yeah, of course, I like I said, I’m still a fan of the technology and the numbers, I’ve always been interested, but I find it can be very close, become very obsessive about it. So, for me in a time trial, like, if I’m on a good one, I will have a look, kind of from the start, I’m always careful to make sure I’m not like punching way above my own limit, and so I really take a controlled start, and then once I’m into it, I am on a really good one, then my mind is very focused, so I don’t need to, I know the feeling, and I’ll just check every now and then to make sure I’m more on the mark, and not like over it or struggling under it, and once I know the feeling, then I just focus on staying on that feeling instead of constantly looking down and having that funny little communication with the computer.
Trevor Connor 31:23
So, is that the same thing when you’re having a bad day? Or do you start looking more for external cues on a bad day?
Svein Tuft 31:29
Yeah, I mean, always on a bad day, that’s my first indicator of a bad day is I’m not confident in what I’m doing, so I need constant reassurance, and that’s when you know, you’re focusing too much on the wrong things. like I said, haven’t had a lot of, you know, like, a ton of great TT rides in my life, but the ones that I have had, it’s been nothing to do with numbers, and paying attention to that, you know, it’s been about tapping into that other side of you that just seems to deal with that, and keep pushing, and that’s the most important.
Trevor Connor 32:12
So, but it does sound like you’d know your own numbers. How do you determine them as this you go into the lab? And you get that number? Or is it more you look at what you’re doing and races and how your intervals are going and really base it off that?
Svein Tuft 32:28
Yeah, I mean, now we’re part of, you know, like in our, in our team, we all have massive data from every race and every training session, and so the numbers are all there, they fluctuate throughout the season, obviously, as your form gets better compared to you know, what I will be in a month from now, which will be probably my lowest end, and it changes but ever so slightly. We all know what those numbers should be, and roughly where we can get to, but after you’ve been doing it this long, you know, it’s not going to change that much.
Targeting the Intensity Factor
Dirk Friel 33:16
The more variables there are in the course, the ups and downs and headwind, etc., power is going to jump all over the place, you know, you hit a little climb, and hit over 600 watts on the backside, you might end up coasting in the very aero position for the next 10 seconds, then back on it 350 or something, right? So, that’s all over the map, the average of that, you switch to the average for that?
Chris Case 33:42
Dirk Friel 33:43
Like, no, you have to race the race, the course. I would say, however, in like Ironman, it can become a very big advantage if you’ve modeled it out, you know, for example, on Best Bike Split, if it’s a very simple course, and out and back or something, you have that on your head unit, sort of this virtual rabbit is pacing you because you are setting up for a marathon, you can lose a lot of time on the marathon. So, targeting that intensity factor on the bike, and sort of having a virtual rabbit to keep you in check could be a big advantage in a half or full Ironman.
Chris Case 34:24
I could see that. Absolutely. Let’s jump away from time trials for a second and get into other aspects of racing. How do you pace yourself for example, in a breakaway?
Pacing in a Breakaway
Dirk Friel 34:34
Speed can become a metric there, you might look at certain situations, you know, if we’re on a constant wind, with a constant gradient, you don’t expect speeds to just change because of the course in front of you. Let’s say you’re in a breakaway, what I always try to do in a breakaway if I wanted to succeed is you want it to be smooth, like these smooth transitions, and yes, get to the front when it’s your turn. The way to ruin a breakaway is dramatically increasing the speed on the front. So, even in team time trials, this is the case, you don’t want the strongest guy to up it by three miles per hour every time he or she gets in the front
Chris Case 35:21
Can destroy everything, yes.
Trevor Connor 35:23
Or do you want to slow it down?
Dirk Friel 35:24
Right, you would want the strongest person to stay on the front for the longest, and try and maintain that speed, and that’s a better use of the energy is to stay on the front longer rather than pick it up. However, the inverse I would also do, I would sometimes in breakaways, when I knew the finish line is, you know, in reach, and I might end up having to solo this and attack, I might royally mess up the person that just pulled and they’re coming off, they’re going towards the back, I will ramp it up because I want them to take effectively a second to pull,
Chris Case 36:03
Just hang on.
The Psychological Game
Dirk Friel 36:04
Just waste all kinds of energy, if I knew I was stronger than them, I could really disrupt their rhythm, I might do the very same poll amount of time on the front that they did, I would pull off, and they’re still trying to recover while I’m on, you know, I’m more recovered than they are, right? So, it can go either way, but it’s a psychological game, and that’s a lot of what I loved about, I call it shots on wheels, you know, in this psychological game and strategy. So, you know, do I want this to succeed and be as smooth as possible even though I don’t have teammates in the break? Or is this a time for me to really mess other guys up?
Chris Case 36:42
Trevor Connor 36:43
I love it, you’re getting into the subtleties, and that’s one of my favorites is if you’re in a breakaway, identify the strongest rider and get ahead or behind them, and then there are these little things that you can do to really wear them down and make them hurt.
Dirk Friel 36:56
You’re like, time your pull, so they must enter the headwind.
Trevor Connor 37:00
Dirk Friel 37:01
Take a turn and push them into the headwind.
Chris Case 37:03
Dirk Friel 37:04
Yeah. Oftentimes, you know, being on the front of the tailwind, across tailwind, being on the back is the worst place to be, you know?
Trevor Connor 37:11
Dirk Friel 37:12
So, the timing of where you’re going to be in that paceline is such a big part of the strategy of racing, which I just fell in love with. I think that’s why I fell in love with road racing more than triathlon.
Trevor Connor 37:25
Yep. It’s just, all those little games that you can play. But yes, if I’m in a breakaway with other riders, I immediately go to a screen where I can see cadence and speed because if you are trying to work effectively with them, it’s exactly that. When you take your pull, you don’t want to speed it up, you don’t want to slow down either. So, when I am the second wheel, and it’s about to be my turn to pull, I look at what’s my cadence? What’s my speed? As soon as that person pulls off, and you get hit by the wind, it’s actually very hard for you to gauge if you’re maintaining speed or not. So, I will look at those and make sure I’m keeping the same pace, make sure I’m keeping the same cadence.
Dirk Friel 38:05
Right, and don’t be the person that pulls off the front and stays at the front.
Trevor Connor 38:10
Dirk Friel 38:11
And then now it’s your turn to pull, but you’re somehow fighting for the front, like, if you’re pulling off the front, get to the back and recover.
Chris Case 38:21
Yeah, there’s just a rhythm to it that some people don’t get.
Dirk Friel 38:24
Yeah, back to power, I just had a kind of flashback, I tend to, like try and read from my numbers, what are other people doing up the road? If I am by myself chasing someone else, and we’re maintaining this gap, you know, I bet they’re at or above the threshold that whatever my watts per kilo is currently, right? So, am I, therefore, fitter or not? I’ll go to that place, which I know is not always the best place to be, but I’ll be like, I doubt they can do five watts a kilo for the next 10-minutes.
Chris Case 39:04
All those calculations, yeah.
Dirk Friel 39:05
I’ll be like, yeah, so if I sit at 320 you know, I bet they’ll come back, or if they’re behind me, I bet I’ll crack them there on my wheel. If I up it by 10-15 watts here, I bet it’s just enough over it’s only going to take me four-minutes to get rid of them, you know? But sometimes I need that in my head to just go to a place where I can separate from the pain, and that helps me sometimes to think in the numbers, you know if it’s simple math, right? That’s a personal place I go to which I actually get joy out of you know, that strategy of like, what’s their threshold versus mine? Am I going to be just above it? Crack them.
Trevor Connor 39:49
I tried to find some research in this, found a little bit. We actually talked about one of them in that episode with Kristin Armstrong about time trialing. Something that when I was reviewing the research last night that kept coming up that I think is really important here, and this is where I’m going to correct something I’ve said many times on the episode. I’ve always said you have three metrics for intensity, power, heart rate, and RPE. I’ve always said your rate of perceived exertion is the most important. But, these couple studies I read, kind of took it a step further and said, there’s something that’s even more important than the rate of perceived exertion, which is the affective state. So, that’s essential, if you want to simplify it, it’s your mood. So, if you’re feeling competent, you’re feeling strong, that’s the positive affective state. If you don’t feel like you’re capable, you’re angry, those are negative affective states, and they can have a big influence on what you’re able to do. So, a couple of studies, one of them that was really interesting was the influence of mid-event deception, and psychophysiological status in pacing, that’s actually half the name, I’ll give you the rest.
Chris Case 41:06
I love how they just take a simple concept and turn it into such a formal structured thing that, yeah, go ahead.
Trevor Connor 41:12
You can’t write a study and have a clear understandable title; they just won’t accept it. So, basically, this was actually a triathlon study, but it was quite neat, where they had people repeat a sprint triathlon three times. So, the first time they just did it for the best time. Then the second time, they had them do the bike leg 5% faster, or harder. So, power was 5% higher than in their completely self-paced effort. They did that in both next two, but in one case, after they finished the bike, they informed them that they had gone harder in the bike, than their self-pacing. In the other one, they had them go 5% faster, harder again but lied to them.
Chris Case 42:06
They told him they went slower?
Trevor Connor 42:07
They told them they went the same pace.
Chris Case 42:09
The same pace, okay.
Trevor Connor 42:10
It also actually set it up so that the power was reading wrong. So, it looked like they were doing the same. What you saw was the best performance, now it wasn’t significant, because they didn’t have enough numbers, but it was a 17-second difference. When they lied to that was the condition where they performed the best, where they were told they went 5% faster, they’re kind of like oh, no, and they slow down the run, because they believe they have been over pacing themselves, and they didn’t have anything left for the run. When they were lied to, they went faster in the bike, obviously, but then went the same speed as the self-paced in the run, because they believe they could. So, that’s an indicator of the effect, and that effect outweighed their sense of the RP, their sense that they had been going harder, and there were some indicators that they could sense that yeah, this hurts more than when I was self-pacing.
Dirk Friel 43:05
Yeah, self-interpretation is so critical, like, are you on the positive side of this equation on the negative side? If you’re on the negative side, that just seeps in and tends to make it worse and worse. I was thinking that when I was riding the trainer yesterday, hating the numbers I’m looking at, I’m like, if this was an indoor test, right now, I wish I wouldn’t see these numbers, I just want to do this RAMP test, with no numbers at all in front of me, you know? Because I could probably go farther if I didn’t even know what watts I was at. So, sometimes I think, like, I’ve done too many RAMP tests where I knew the numbers, and that was probably not a good thing.
Trevor Connor 43:49
That was kind of the gist of the other study that I read, they had athletes do three-time trials in a row and show that the previous performances affected their effective state in subsequent performances. So, if you’re doing those intervals and going, oh, I kind of suck, the next time you do those intervals you’re going to expect yourself to suck. Likewise, if you start seeing certain numbers you expect, that’s the numbers I can do, and you don’t push yourself. So, these are the dangers. There are many cases where numbers can be beneficial, you have to ask yourself that honest question, are the numbers putting me in a more positive affective state or a less positive one? I don’t mind looking at numbers in a race, because when I look down and see 450 watts, I’m like, that’s cool, I get really excited. I know other people look at it and go, I can’t do this and slow down, and it has a very different effective influence on them. So, you have to kind of look at which am I? If they’re mostly putting you in a negative affective state, that’s going to affect your performance more than anything, stop looking at them.
Dirk Friel 44:58
Yeah. Can you prescribe intervals off your RPE, and say go 10-minutes at eight out of 10? Sometimes it’s a good way to go.
Trevor Connor 45:13
Dirk Friel 45:13
See the data afterward.
Trevor Connor 45:14
Yes, absolutely. Certainly, my athlete if I told him to do something by RPE, and then they will go, you told me to do it by RPE, so I didn’t record it.
Dirk Friel 45:23
Trevor Connor 45:25
How can I help you? So, definitely record it?
Working With Athletes and Interpreting Data
Chris Case 45:28
Do you ever work with athletes who are kind of not into seeing the data, don’t really care to look at it? You want it as a coach, you want to look at it, you want to check in on all those things, but they’re not really interested in it.
Trevor Connor 45:41
Chris, I have worked with you.
Chris Case 45:43
I know. So, you’ve got an athlete like that, who doesn’t really look at the training data, but would you still encourage them to key off of certain things in racing in terms of the data?
Trevor Connor 45:57
Well, Chris already knows my answer to that. So, Dirk, why don’t you take this one?
Dirk Friel 46:01
No, I mean, each athlete is unique and different, and you don’t need to overburden an athlete with the numbers if they don’t care for it. So, if we can set that internal pacing, RPE, and their own self-regulated, you know, that’s kind of the best right there. They can manage their energy reserves, their lactate levels, etc., internally, you know, and that’s a great way to race. Although, if it’s a newer athlete, and you put a power meter on their bike, and they do a time trial, and they horribly mess it up and just didn’t do the pacing you had talked about doing ahead of time, then we might pull out the data and show what could have gone better in that time trial.
Chris Case 46:48
Dirk Friel 46:49
There might be a case of okay, we’re going to have you look at this, but make it simple. I don’t want you to go over 250 watts for the first 10-minutes, whatever it might be, you know? So, that’s a very simple case where numbers can be a benefit, but don’t overburden the athlete with the numbers. Other athletes absolutely dig it and love all the numbers, and you almost have to hold them back, right? So, don’t get into numbers too much now. So, I think it can kind of go either way, you need to work with that individual athlete because each person is different.
Trevor Connor 47:23
Numbers can have a big impact on us mentally, both positive and negative. We asked sports psychologist and co-author of the book The brave Athlete, Simon Marshall, his take on how numbers affect mental states.
Simon Marshall: How Numbers Impact Us Mentally
Simon Marshall 47:36
Some people it makes them go faster for others; it makes them go slower. It’s interesting, isn’t it? When you start to formalize the competition part, that’s one way pinning a number on really is one of the most overt signs of direct, you know, head-to-head competition that you can get. For some people, they seem to sort of buckle under it and other people rise to the challenge, and often one of the reasons for the differences really about the architecture or the brand of your chimp brain, right? So, folks who are worried about being a bit imposterish, or they might worry about social approval, might have more anxiety. Other people who are the way that shows dominance is by everything’s a competition, I can’t wait to put on a number and so on and it helps them perform. We do know that competing with other people makes you faster. The literature is almost universally consistent, whether it’s from time to exhaust on a treadmill or a bike, the speed at which you can wind a fishing reel in how far you can throw things when you’re around other people and they’re doing the same thing as you and you’re being competing compared to them, you get better. Now, the challenge, of course for athletes is trying to convince them that you will be better even though that you’re terrified and you hate this, you will be better. So, that really is where the psychological piece comes in. I just said that we could talk for an hour just on this topic. So, one of the big issues is what we call a participant versus a competitor mindset, and the way that materializes in sort of everyday normal person world is the athlete who says, I just want to enjoy it, I just want to have a good time, no one is saying that that’s a bad thing. When you put on a number, and many people don’t feel as though that they have though I’m not competitive, or I’m just going to somehow if I can give every reason ahead of time about why the outcome is the way it is, I can never truly my talent or abilities or however they’re interpreting them can never truly be measured, right? This is what we often call self-sabotaging, and self-sabotaging for the folks who number pinning, they get nervous is the default strategy for them. So, we try and unpick the self- sabotaging. So, in other words, if you remove all the obstacles to why you couldn’t have performed, so in other words, I just did this It’s just a training day, I didn’t sleep that well it was raining, all the reasons that we give. Of course, the real reason for all of these things is because the worst thing that you can do to your chimp, is to say, there were no barriers, no excuses for why you are here. Do you know what the actual answer is after you’ve done this? You’re just not good enough, you don’t have what it takes, your chimp will shit the bed. So, what the human brain does is it implants little things along the way, so it never has to say everything went according to plan, and you know what I still came up short. So, the strategy is to undo some of the self-sabotaging mechanisms, learn how to evaluate, change people’s fundamental relationship with failure, which is we talk about effort and attitude versus performance and goals and podiums, and so on. When you can do that, your performance takes dramatically, Leslie was a mid-pack pro for much of her early, she was an ITU athlete, from 19 to 21, left the sport because of all those reasons. So, I’m not taking credit for it, but I work together on it, she got more confident in the sport, she got to a point where she literally has no more left in the suitcase, she doesn’t care. She does a local cross country in San Diego, there’s a target on her back, everyone wants to be her, and she’s just done 40 hours of training, she’s tired, she’s already done a session in the morning, and she’s turned up to this race that for most people’s chimps is like, oh my god, every race has to be my A race. So, if you can get to the point where you can run unshackled or race I mean, you don’t care about this, it’s all process-focused, but still be competitive, that competitive mindset. Now, that’s the sweet spot. If you can manage that and develop that, the world opens up to you athletically, it really does, we’ve seen it time and time again.
Chris Case 52:29
Longtime listeners know that we often discuss training data on Fast Talk, so we’re excited to announce a new pathway at Fast Talk Labs, the Basic Performance Data Analysis Pathway. Pathways are like a masterclass on endurance sports topics. In our new pathway on Basic Data Analysis, we tap experts like Tim Kusik, Dirk Friel, my co-host Trevor Connor, or Head Coach Ryan Kohler, Coach Julie Young, and sports scientist Dr. Stephen Seiler, to explore ways that athletes can cut through the noise and focus on the performance numbers that matter most. To know your data is to know yourself. Follow our new pathways at fasttalklabs.com/pathways.
Chris Case 53:13
So, Trevor, we haven’t talked a lot about heart rate, I know you use it a lot in training in certain situations, how do you use it in a race, if at all?
Using Heart Rate in Training
Trevor Connor 53:23
I do think heart rate as long as, again, it’s not going to have a big negative impact on your effective state, I think heart rate can actually be very valuable. We’ve talked about before, power is an external measure, heart rate as an internal measure. So, the danger with power again, is you don’t know where your legs are at that day. So, you might say, oh, my FTP is 320, but if you’re in a race where you’re feeling amazing, and that day, you could do 343-350, but you’re looking down and seeing 320 and go, I can’t go above this, you got to limit yourself. Likewise, you’re going to get very discouraged if you’re just not having a great day, and you’re closer to 300. Like the race I had this weekend, where, as Dirk pointed out, we were at 8000 feet, and I wasn’t in the moment of the race going, I’m at high altitude, I can’t put out the same power. So, that’s the danger of power. Heart rate tends to be heart rate, and it tells you how your body is feeling. If you are in a group, or something’s going on in a race, where you’re looking down and saying, my threshold heart rates 170, I’m at 180, you know very clearly, this is not sustainable, I’m going to crack at some point. The thing is not to get discouraged, the thing is then to strategize, can I get back into the field? Are there ways I can rest? Can I prevent myself from getting into the wind? Try to get that heart rate down. Likewise, if I’m in a four- or five-hour race, and I know there’s going to be some big moments later on and nothing’s going on, I actually play a little game where I sit in the field, I’m like, how can I get my heart rate? I want to see if I can get it down to around 120, which is my easy training pace so that I can save energy for later. So, it just tells you a little bit about how your body’s responding.
Dirk Friel 55:12
That’s funny, I made a note, think like a runner. Cyclists tend to think, max, max, max, max, push, push, more and more watts, and a runner thinks like, okay, economy, economy, economy, economy, how fast can I go with the least amount of energy? That’s what we’re getting out here. I’ve looked in stage races at two different athletes, and how do they conserve energy leading into the final big climb of the day, and a younger athlete with less ability to manage the wind, ride in the group, get on the good wheels, they will, you know, waste a lot of TSS, you know, higher intensity factor, hence more glucose, etc., and they enter the climb in a bad state. Whereas another rider just knows how to conserve energy. So, this is where it’s not always about pushing more and more and more, there are many opportunities in races to sit back and conserve, and the best riders coast the most.
Trevor Connor 56:18
Chris Case 56:19
Dirk Friel 56:20
This gives me goosebumps, they coast the most, you know, and it’s not about pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing, you got to find many, thousands of moments in the race to coast.
Chris Case 56:33
To float there, just coast. Use people, actually.
Trevor Connor 56:38
So, here’s a little game that I used to play with that you can use numbers for, and it’s a really good practice to use. So, we had this Wednesday night training race in Fort Collins that I used to go to, at that time, my threshold heart rate was about 175. So, I set a rule for myself that, the race is about an hour and a half, I could not break a 155 heart rate until the last 10- minutes of the race, and you had to get very good at learning how to surf wheels be at the right place at the right time, being at the front before you hit these little climbs, in order to make sure you could stay with the field but not break that heart rate. It taught me how to conserve when it’s not important.
Dirk Friel 57:24
Yeah. An example of where I’ve used heart rate is a very long race like six and a half hours, and let’s say it’s a mountain bike race, the first hour is going to be climbing draft does not take effect. I get to the top with who I’m at the top with, and I need to manage for the final hour of the race, like the meat of this race is how much energy do you have for the final 90-minute climb of the six and a half hour race, the last 90-minutes is a climb. Again, dropping does not take effect, especially you know, in like a mountain bike race. So, that’s where I will use heart rate, for me, my threshold is lower probably 165, I’m trying to keep it around under 156 or so on this first climb because I know if I can have more energy at the end of the race, I’ve had years where I’ve lost 20-minutes, you know, on that final climb, where I was against my best years, I know it came down to fueling strategy pacing, the first half of the race, and that really set me up well for the second half of the race. That’s where heart rate really, really helped me out.
Chris Case 58:43
Very good. So, let’s wrap this section up a little bit, how numbers can help in racing? Dirk, do you have a take-home message?
Benefits of Using Numbers
Dirk Friel 58:51
Chris Case 58:52
In racing? Yeah.
Dirk Friel 58:54
Oh, man, there’s no one simple answer. I think we determined you know, I mean, can come down to the athlete, the race, the course, and time trial versus road race and, but certainly to be able to take in the data and make those decisions, as Trevor mentioned, then that’s the best course of action. But yeah, getting that feedback, the heart rate we just mentioned, and I guess it’s a psychological game, you don’t always want too many numbers. So, in road races, I would love to just go more on instinct, you know, in road races, that’s my go-to. In time trials, leverage the data to give you some feedback, but it’s still an absolute all our effort, still time trial, but there are moments in the race where you just need to not go too hard. So, that’s, I think, big value in time trials. Overall, though, I think race data is for training. It shows your true form if you did it all out, very hard, difficult race, that’s your true form at the moment. It might your weaknesses that you didn’t know about, and how can we work on those weaknesses in training, and they may set new personal bests, which you can now possibly target in training and pushing the envelope a bit more.
Trevor Connor 1:00:13
Something we didn’t bring up that I just want to quickly add to that, if you are using power in a time trial or an event to pace yourself, I highly recommend using 10 second or 30 seconds averaging.
Dirk Friel 1:00:25
Trevor Connor 1:00:26
Because think about when you’re doing a hard effort when you’re really hurting, or you’re in a really good rhythm, you’re not looking down at your computer, you tend to look down when you’ve eased off. So, if you’re looking at instantaneous power, you’re going to tend to look down see a lower number, and go, I’m not going hard enough, which is both going to demotivate you, and make you over pace yourself. If you use that 10 second or 30 seconds averaging, you’re going to see something more representative of what you’ve actually been doing.
Chris Case 1:00:55
Trevor, you mentioned that study that we also described in the Kristin Armstrong episode. What’s your take-home from that? Or what’s the tale that you’d like to end with from that point?
Trevor Connor 1:01:07
Well, first of all, they actually got away with a good title for this one.
Chris Case 1:01:10
Trevor Connor 1:01:11
It’s just called, Less is More.
Chris Case 1:01:12
Trevor Connor 1:01:14
Is that impressive for a study? I don’t know how they got it published. Yeah, we talked about this one on a previous episode, so I’ll just give you the 30-second summary, but it’s worth knowing. This is where they took time trialist and had them repeat a time trial, so again, I think it was three times once just as a baseline. Then once they hadn’t done it with a single metric, just time. That’s all they can see how long they have been going. The second time or third time they had them do it with multiple metrics. So, they had cadence, power, heart rate, all the standard metrics you would look at, and universally, they did worse when they had all the metrics. The explanation in this study is they called it cognitive fatigue, right? That looking at all these numbers actually kind of,
Chris Case 1:02:04
Trevor Connor 1:02:06
So, this goes back to Dr. Noakes and this whole central versus peripheral fatigue and saying that actually fatigue, the source of fatigue is in our brain. So, even though you think well, why is looking at a bunch of numbers fatiguing me on the bike, your body doesn’t necessarily differentiate the fatigue. So, if you’re looking at all these numbers and trying to process them, that’s a load on your brain that fatigues your brain, and then that expresses physically and will actually fatigue you a little on the bike. They used this gear where they could watch the athlete’s eyes, where their eyes were looking, and notice that as the athletes got more and more tired, they stopped looking at all the metrics. So, they were even somehow subconsciously aware that looking at these numbers was fatiguing them.
Chris Case 1:02:50
This makes me think of what I like to call the never-ending math problem. I’ve done what used to be called Dirty Kanza twice now Unbound, and I feel like the second half of that race, which is approximately six hours if you’re going at my pace, I’m calculating the entire time. When is this going to end? When it’s going to end? I’m going this speed, I’ve got this many miles left, when is it going to end? When is it going to end? I’m going this speed, this many miles left, when is it going to end? Repeatedly, and I can’t say that my math skills are very good in the second half of a race like that, and it’s just this constant struggle. After hearing what you just said, I’m wondering how much longer did I make myself go out there because I was fatiguing my brain even more by trying to do this math problem?
Trevor Connor 1:03:45
There is another side to that, which was you’re probably doing some of that just to distract yourself from the pain. Which probably helped.
Chris Case 1:03:53
What else could I do out there? It’s a straight road that goes for five miles, it’s a headwind, I got to do something with my brain.
Trevor Connor 1:04:01
The lesson I got from this study is if you’re going to have a race screen, don’t have a race screen with 20 different metrics on it, probably pick one or two that you value, and keep it simple.
Chris Case 1:04:12
Trevor Connor 1:04:15
We asked Jen sharp, a racer and coach with Sharp Coaching, her opinion on whether racing with numbers helps or hurts us.
Chris Case 1:04:22
Do you prefer to have your athlete’s race looking at the numbers or not? If you have them look at numbers while they’re racing, which numbers do you want them to key off of?
Jen Sharp: Does Racing With Numbers Help or Hurt Us?
Jen Sharp 1:04:35
Great question. So, it depends on the athlete, and it depends on the type of race. If it is an athlete that gets obsessed with numbers, then absolutely not. Yeah, don’t do it because you go down this pitfall of, I’m not good enough, I’m not hitting my numbers, or I’m going too high, it just creates anxiety. However, if you have an athlete that is good with numbers and motivated by that, and able to keep things in check, then I would apply it to a time trial situation, and I actually use bike split to help them figure out okay, what is our step by step goal for power for those races, and you see how well you can execute a race based on that power plan, and that can be helpful. But in a road race or in a crit, no way, don’t look. You can’t look like you’re going to crash.
Chris Case 1:05:29
Do you ever tape over people’s head units? Or have them tape over it? Do you go that far?
Jen Sharp 1:05:34
Yeah, or switch it to a different field where they’re just seeing as time elapsed. Yeah, absolutely.
Chris Case 1:05:43
Let’s turn our attention to using numbers to prepare for a race, and you’ve already mentioned sort of some modeling and Best Bike Split. Dirk, could you go into a little bit more detail about how somebody does that? What it involves? How it’s used, etc.?
Best Bike Split
Dirk Friel 1:06:01
Yeah, certainly, I mean, that Best Bike Split takes as much data as possible into account, you know, we’re asking, obviously, the simple math of bodyweight, functional threshold power, we get into even wheel selection, the depth of your wheel, the width of your tire, do you have an aero helmet? Yes or no. It pulls all this in to try and figure out your CDA, right? If you know your CDA from a wind tunnel, you can plop it in there, but we’re trying to do as best of a guess as possible to get at your CDA. Then pull in the racecourse, you know? Pull in that racecourse file that you can get from the race organizer, and then you actually put it on the road surface. So, rough, smooth, effectively, then the time and date, because then we’re going to start pulling in the weather models, and as you get closer to the race, that modeling in Best Bike Split will become more accurate. I remember, every year in Hawaii, Ironman, people are coming to our booth, and they’re like refreshing their model, you know, at our Best Bike Split TrainingPeaks booth, just to see what the weather pattern is for the next day and if that changed anything in their pacing. You have that model, obviously, it’s going to break it up into depending on the length of time trial, they do all kinds of segments, hundreds of segments, possibly, you can’t just memorize them all, but if you stand back, you can see this pacing strategy of this course just by eyeballing it, but then you can take it quite a few steps further from there, and you can import it into your head unit, and you can make it a virtual rabbit on race day, or you can actually practice and kind of recon the course indoors, you know, on your smart trainer and import that and actually raced that indoors. So, you can get that rhythm of the course and where you need to kind of hold back and where you really need to push it. So, that’s really all kind of comes out of the modeling of Best Bike Split, and Ryan Cooper, who’s the genius behind it all. You can set up different bikes, different courses, you can play around with the equipment, you can play around with the intensity factor. So, if you want to push the envelope farther and go 10% above threshold, you know, what will that do for your time? Or if you want to, you’re doing this eight months out, what if I lost, you know, eight pounds of body fat? What might that do to my finish time? So, there are all kinds of different scenarios you can play and save, these scenarios can be saved and re-modeled. So, you can really geek out on it as much as you want.
Chris Case 1:08:58
Yeah, Trevor and I did something similar to this when I was preparing for the hour record. The hour record is very, I don’t want to say it’s totally controlled, but it’s far fewer variables than an open course with wind, and surface changes, and all of that. Plugging in that information is able to spit out you will go this far type thing, and then you can cue off of that, and it’s kind of amazing how accurate it can be.
Dirk Friel 1:09:31
Actually, it started out when he was predicting time trial finishes in the Tour de France by under like five seconds, and he would actually be predicting like the winner because you would take data that they’ve posted publicly and then just plug that data in and get the model pretty damn accurate. When we saw that we’re like, wow, that’s pretty darn cool, and we need to bring this to everybody. So, that was pretty awesome how he was doing that in his basement, and like publicly putting it on a blog post and like workout the next day.
Chris Case 1:10:05
Dirk Friel 1:10:06
That was really neat.
Trevor Connor 1:10:07
The only thing I would add to this is when you’re talking about an athlete like Kristin Armstrong, it is interesting we’ve been talking about the value of numbers we keep going to time trial, but when you were talking about a top-level athlete performing a time trial, they have done enough of this, they have learned how to hurt, meaning they can show up on the start line, and put out their best performance. They’ve just learned how to do that; they can rely on that. I don’t think when Kristin Armstrong went to the last Olympics, she was sitting there worrying about, am I going to be able to put out the power in this one? She knew she could. So, once you’re at that level, and know that you can put out the performance, then this becomes remarkably valuable to doing this analysis of where are the best places to put in those extra efforts and how to pace it specifically. The only thing I could say is if any of our listeners, if you’re fairly new to this, you’ve never done a time trial before you’ve only done a few, you should really just be focusing on learning how to push that effort, how to hurt, learn how to do that first before you get into the modeling too much. Once you can pretty consistently go out go, yep, I can put out whatever your 20-minute power, you’re doing 20-minute time trial, you know, 20-minute powers around 280, you know, you can do that every time than a tool like this modeling beforehand can be really valuable.
Dirk Friel 1:11:32
Yeah, before you get to that level of you know, every five seconds to different power, it is more about the eyeballing, the course, and the strategy to attack it with. Not per se the exact wattage, but the RPE, we should not be at an RPE 10 on this descent, we should be at an RPE 10 on this climb, you know, so think in those terms of the rhythm of the time trial and where the places are to make up the most time.
Chris Case 1:12:05
One thing that I don’t think has been extremely clearly stated here, but I think it’s very important, for people that are new to the sport or new to data coming in and just immediately buying all the stuff to give them the data is probably not the right approach. I think that RPE, and an internal sense of how hard is hard how hard you can go for a certain amount of time, on a certain climb, whatever the case may be, is a critical skill that needs to be learned and acquired over time. I don’t know how long it necessarily takes, it’s probably different for everybody, some people might have an athletic background that they can tap into when they come to the sport of cycling, which has perhaps more data than a lot of other sports, but anyways, that internal sense, is very useful, I would hate to see people immediately go to the numbers and habits serve as a bit of a crutch for them, and mask that internal sense that is useful and can be tapped into. For instance, in a race setting when you have to work off of instinct, you cannot look at a number and know how hard you can or cannot go or something like that. So, I just want to note that.
Dirk Friel 1:13:28
Right. Racing is instinctual and strategic first, and it overrides numbers, it sets the tone of what should be done next or at the moment, that internal pain management you have to experience and learn to deal with, but you need to also see the limits of that independent of any number, just the pain that you have to absorb and deal with and learn to manage and push through. That dictates whatever the numbers are saying. So, you are in a crosswind in the gutter, no draft, but you know the next corner is coming up in 300 meters, you got to last 300 meters. That’s the number.
Chris Case 1:14:23
That’s the only thing that matters.
Dirk Friel 1:14:24
The number is the next quarter.
Chris Case 1:14:26
Dirk Friel 1:14:26
And you turn that, and then oh, now we have a headwind, oh, strategy is different, we’ve all bunched up. This is this time I get my reprieve, yes, okay, I get this for the next mile, that needs to be absorbed first before really having any numbers dictate your next move.
Trevor Connor 1:14:47
I’m a big believer that every race comes down to a couple of critical moments. There are these just moments in races where you are either there or you’re not, and if you fall off of that wheel whatever that moment happens to be, it’s over, and numbers aren’t going to get you through that moment. As a matter of fact, if you’re looking at your numbers in that moment, you’re probably already losing. So, learn what those moments are. You just brought up one is that being in the crosswind weather, trying to string out the field. They’re trying to pop people, they’re trying to discourage people, and that’s one of those moments where it’s just absolute suffering. You’re wondering if you’re going to last the next five seconds, and you got to last another minute and just kind of keep yourself going and surviving until they finally ease up. Numbers aren’t going to really help you with that. The only other thing that I’ll add, I love your point about instinct, road racing is instinctual. You have to learn how to read a field, and numbers aren’t going to help you with that, and you have to get good enough at reading a field that becomes instinctual you just know when something’s about to happen, you know when you can break away, you know when you can’t. And again, if your face is buried in a bike computer, looking at the numbers, you’re not going to learn those.
Dirk Friel 1:16:03
I mentioned before I raced in Belgium when I first went over, you know, we’re doing amateur races that 150 guys in the field, the director was like, you’re not racing, unless you’re in the top 15-20% of that field. If you’re not in the top 15% of that field, you’re simply not racing. Can you maintain your position? So, that example of being in the crosswind gutter by yourself, lesson learned there was I needed to be farther up, you know, so next lap, I need to be in the top 10 and fight for a wheel. How do I fight for a wheel? Well, that’s experience, you know, you have to learn that.
Trevor Connor 1:16:47
We used to say that on some of the teams I was on if you’re 100th wheel in the field, you’re not in the race, you’re watching the race.
Chris Case 1:16:55
One thing I want to touch upon again, you mentioned some of the things you can do with the data that you collect during a race after the fact to inform training. I wonder if we might add to that a bit of I don’t know if your cautionary tale is necessary, but what shouldn’t you do with race numbers after the fact to inform training?
Race Numbers and Informing Training
Dirk Friel 1:17:21
It’s not always replicable. You can’t always set a new personal best, and if you did that in the race, you know, that’s where you should do it on race day, right? Not in training. But don’t expect to be able to replicate that in training, this is why we do intervals, we break it down, we know you can’t do your personal best every single day or every Wednesday when you do the same workout. So, therefore we’re going to break it down into chunks, and we’re going to take whatever your max 20-minute and we’re going to break it down into eight-minute efforts, you know, three by eight-minutes at your 20-minute pace, right? You still may not be able to exactly hit the number even at that but be comfortable knowing that that’s okay. It’s more about the trend over time, it’s more important to have consistency than to overanalyze any one training workout. My analogy that I like to bring up is that you know, you’re building your own personal self-portrait, and every single day is just a little dab of the paintbrush, today’s yellow, tomorrow’s red, a little blue, little green, and that consistency really builds what you’ve built over time, it’s more about the consistency over time, that builds your self-portrait. If you didn’t like how the nose turned out, at the end of this year, you know you need to work on the nose, you know, and going into next year, we’re going to concentrate on the nose, we’re going to have a little bit more effort on having a perfect nose in our self-portrait. So, but you can’t have the perfect training day every single day and you have to be comfortable with that. That’s the mental side of consistency and just knowing that consistency will win out in the end.
Chris Case 1:19:22
We now close every episode with a take-home message. We give you 60 seconds to encapsulate everything we’ve spoken about, your life’s work in fact. We want to know what would you give people out there that they should take away from this episode?
Dirk Friel 1:19:35
Capture the data.
Chris Case 1:19:38
Says the man who co-founded TrainingPeaks.
Dirk Friel Takeaway Message
Dirk Friel 1:19:40
Yeah, once you enter your two with the data, it becomes infinitely more powerful because you can’t really do much with just the one-year worth of data, but once you can start to compare contrast year over year, again my example of a self-portrait, what went wrong? Let’s try and improve upon it. What went right? Let’s try and repeat. That’s in the data. Now there’s more than just data, and psychology, and nutrition, and all kinds of other stuff, but you know, capture the data, don’t always race to it, don’t have to overdrive your instinct, and the strategy of the day. I think my takeaway but capture it and then leverage that data in training.
Chris Case 1:20:25
Trevor Connor Takeaway Message
Trevor Connor 1:20:25
At one point, we talked about the importance of your affective state. That kind of trumps everything, if you have that positive mood, and that belief, you’re going to do better than if you’re feeling very negative, and numbers can have an impact on that. So, my take-home is A, know that about yourself, whether they’re going to help you or hurt you. But then, if you’re going to use numbers in racing, pick numbers that are going to lead to effective actions. So, that’s why I use the profile of the course because I know there’s big climbing coming up that I need to get to the front of the field to be in the right place for the climb, which leads to an affective state. Don’t use numbers that are just going to put you into a negative mood and hurt that affective state. If you’re looking at power, and it’s just always making any grouchy, don’t use it. There’s no value, it’s not helping you take any actions. Chris?
Chris Case Takeaway Message
Chris Case 1:21:21
The numbers are not, sorry Dirk, they’re just not forming, right? But I think that context is really, really important. If you’re cyclocross, I don’t even know if you need a head unit on your bike, it’s just going as hard as you can, stay upright, etc., etc. So, in that sense, numbers are almost irrelevant. In a time trial, I think they can serve as a bit of a roadmap or check-in or something, it depends on the person, it depends on the course, depends on the day, there’s value in them. In road races, there’s value in them sometimes, and then at other times, you should totally disregard them. So, I think that my overarching point here would be that context really matters, the situation really matters, and you have to use your best judgment when to use them and when not to use them.
Chris Case 1:22:15
That was another episode of Fast Talk. Subscribe to Fast Talk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcast and be sure to leave us a rating and a review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk are those of the individual. As always, we love your feedback. Join the conversation at forums.fasttalklabs.com to discuss each episode. Become a member of Fast Talk Laboratories at fasttalklabs.com/join and become a part of our education and coaching community. For Dirk Friel, Simon Marshall, Svein Tuft, Shayna Powless, Jen Sharp, Trevor Connor, I’m Chris Case. Thanks for listening.