Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tracking and Interpreting Race Progress

It's been a heck of a race season in terms of podiums and placings but that's not a very objective gauge since it depends on who shows up to race. I knew my bike and run paces had improved this year but I was less sure of my swim. It was time to stop guessing and time to finally collect ALL of my race splits and rankings in a spreadsheet for every race I have ever done. Spreadsheet! Yay!! Very fun!

It wasn't too hard considering my first ever race of any kind was just four years ago - a local 10K. I ran it in 53:26, but my mouth ran even faster. I talked a LOT in that race - to other runners, cops directing traffic, spectators. That sure isn't the case any more, I don't say a word (other than "on your left" on the bike course ;-)  It's amazing what I can remember from this and every race I've ever done.

After painstakingly gathering the data, it became apparent that it can only really be viewed at arm's length. There are so many modifiers - wetsuit or not; pool vs open water swim; bike courses that run long or short; hilly vs flat terrain; weather/time of year; stand-alone run vs tri run; state of health and injuries, and whether I was wearing a turkey costume (!).

Then there are the "outliers," like the run at the Patriot's Half, which was not so much a run as it was a mix of 'shuffling' and doubling over from full body muscle cramps.

So you see with all the caveats, it wouldn't make any sense to do something like graph all my 5K finishes over time. Of course I did! But I stopped short of running a linear regression model because that would just be nerdy! Suffice it to say the trend is heading in the desired direction.

The spreadsheet did provide some evidence of speed gains in all three sports...including swimming!
I discovered that my Nationals swims showed marked improvement. Coach Jim made some swim training changes back in June and it seems to be paying off - more frequent swimming, regular open water swimming, and tougher interval work. There's also been a shift in my mentality -- more determination and aggression.

If you are like me and fascinated by and motivated by numbers, I'd definitely recommend keeping some sort of race data history; is a great source for mining your data.

In the end, remember -- it's just data, just numbers -- we give it meaning. Collect it up, hold it at arm's length, and draw some general conclusions to motivate and guide your training.

Then look at the numbers AGAIN and recognize that EVERY number on there is a victory unto itself because it shows you got out there and did it!


  1. Thanks for this encouragement. I have been really discouraged of late because I have been struggling with injuries for a long time. I too started racing in mid-life, in 2004, and although I don't race nearly as often as you, nor am I even near as competitive, it did show me some surprising trends that have made me think it's probably worth trying one more time. Congratulations on the clear progress you have made. I always say if you manage to stay exactly the same, you have stopped the clock. Clearly you're headed back to your youth!

    1. I was so happy to read this that -- that a look back at your own data has encouraged you to keep going. I'd add too that you never know when a breakthrough is right around the corner...not necessarily in the form of speed, but maybe in terms of enjoyment or endurance, or confidence! Keep me posted!!

  2. That is kind of sick and awesome all at once. Spreadsheets make my brain hurt but now I want one just like that. Mine would be a LOT shorter though. I actually have all of my results written in sharpie on the back of a manilla envelope that has old race numbers in it. I have given up collecting race number so I may need to upgrade from the envelope soon. At this point, I am still seeing BIG gains so progress has been easy to see and as addicting as your average opiate. There will come a point, soon I am sure, when I will need to look to smaller details for evidence of progress. Then.. I am going to hire YOU!