Predicting Performance with Data and Feel

Trying to predict your performance can be nerve-wracking but in this era of training metrics and numbers, data can tell you a lot.

Sarah Kurig on Unsplash

Trying to predict your performance before your first event of the year can be a nerve-wracking endeavor. Often, you’re left asking “Have I done enough work? Have I done the right type of work?” If you’re going by feel alone, it can be a guessing game. In this era of training metrics and number-crunching, data can tell you a lot about what to expect when that first attack comes. 

Performance Testing

In preparation for the race, it’s likely that you’ve done either interval work or group training rides. If you’ve done formal testing sessions where you repeat the same route or segment, that’s even better.  Comparing data from those sessions will allow you to gauge progress. Of the many data points available, the most important are the durations that target either the energy systems you have been focusing on or the demands of your upcoming event.  

Long-Term Training Trends

To go deeper than comparing individual sessions or effort durations, there are multiple services such as Xert, Wahoo’s 4DP, and INSCYD which create a profile by harnessing a larger set of data. These services can give more insight into your fitness and better predict your performance than limited data sets.  

Regardless of how much data you are comparing, you want those numbers trend upward. However, be careful not to overemphasize differences. If your numbers are lower than previous years, is there a clear reason why? A different approach to your training or perhaps a new power-meter? 

Additionally, when comparing week to week, understand that even as our fitness improves it is common to take one step back after two steps forward. As athletes we never march straight to our goal. Finally, remember that your training from one week to the next shouldn’t be viewed alone but in relation to your greater season plan that changes focus to prepare you for different priorities.  

Data + Intuition

Because focusing on data alone can either tell an incomplete or misleading story, Frank Overton, owner of FasCat Coaching, suggests the best way to gauge your form is with a combination of feeling and data. “Data is only part of it,” Overton says. “I want to hear from the athlete that they’re feeling better and better. That they’re feeling more powerful. And you obviously want to see a power increase that correlates with those sensations… are they hanging longer on the Saturday group ride, or feeling better after a set of intervals.” 

Overton will also use algorithms like the Training Stress Balance (TSB) in TrainingPeaks software to gain insight into an athlete’s form. Form is, in a phrase, race readiness. More specifically, this proprietary metric is the result of subtracting today’s fatigue from today’s fitness. The remainder is your form and the higher the number the better.

The first thing I tell my athletes is to be confident in your training.

Coach frank overton

“For the athlete that’s been crushing it and has been hitting big numbers, I’ll tell them to try and hang with the group as long as they can. Don’t worry about blowing up in the third or fourth hour. I’m the glass-half-full coach. It’s good to find out your limit. Everyone finishes in ‘death-march territory’ so just see how good of a group you can get in by going deep, just not necessarily throwing caution to the wind.”