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The Role of Technology in Endurance Sports

article by Taylor Thomas 

With the recent Garmin outage behind us, it’s an opportunity to think about how we approach our training, our motivators, and our process in a world where technology is inexorably linked to most everything we do. We must remember to use these things as tools and not crutches. Where we derive our value and our athletic identity is as important as what our FTP or VO2 Max is. How you responded to the outage may provide some insight into the relationship you have with your data. Let’s take a closer look. 

What Motivates You? 

Let me start by saying that I believe wholeheartedly in technology’s place in endurance sports. TEC is founded on the science-backed principles of coaching that implement a data-driven approach to training designed to provide every athlete with the most up to date tools and knowledge available. However, I’ll also be the first to admit that data is only one piece of the puzzle. The nuances of physiological adaptation can’t always be captured in hard numbers and metrics. When we look at our computer screens for all of the answers, we may very well be doing ourselves a disservice. So often during a workout, we look at our watch or our computer for validation, losing sight of how we feel during the workout, or the value that the simple act of executing a solid training session can bring. Many athletes go through the motions of completing a workout only so that they can produce the resulting data file that gets sent to various platforms, to which they then look for validation, support, and motivation after the fact. If the computer goes away, and there’s no data at the finish, then what’s the point? That’s the attitude some athletes found themselves slipping into amidst the outage. If this was you, then it’s time to look inwards to examine what it is that motivates and drives you to pursue your full potential. 

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic

Where does your motivation come from? If you’re like nearly every other athlete, it comes from a variety of places. It can also change with the seasons, your goals, discipline focus, and so much more. It’s good to have extrinsic goals. These are the outward-facing motivators like races, podiums, Strava KOM’s, peak power numbers, PR’s, etc. Often these are the data-driven motivators that we look for as soon as we hit save after a workout, and our data is sent out to tools like TrainingPeaks, Strava, and Garmin Connect. We then sit back and wait for external validation from friends, coaches, peak powers, and mile splits. While these are great motivators and can be clear signs of fitness, it’s also easy to see now how fragile these things can be. Races can get canceled, data can go away, computers might not work, and then what’s left? Intrinsic motivators, that’s what. These are the things that are often not so apparent or are the “softer” skills that drive us. Our desire to be better, our “why”, the inherent value of pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, these are the things that we need to continue to sharpen and keep at the forefront of our athletic pursuits. These will always be the things that are important, despite what your watch, power meter, or computer say. These must be the foundation of your motivation, then you can layer in the extrinsic motivators when the time is right. 

What Metrics Matter?

So, how do we rectify our natural need for external validation, and use it correctly, while also keeping our intrinsic motivators in sight? Like with most things, it depends. What’s important is taking the time to have answers to the right questions. At TEC we work to identify intrinsic motivators and how each athlete defines success before we ever discuss performance or outcome goals. This approach ensures that the foundation is strong and in place before adding in the variability (ie. completely out of our control) that comes with strictly outcome-driven goals. Use data-driven metrics to help validate your intrinsic motivations. The data should support what you already know is true about your training. If you get a KOM or set a new peak power, that should back up the internal dialogue you’ve already established. Those external validations are merely the result of the process you’ve put in place to enable you to achieve your goals. The data doesn’t validate the process, the process validates the data! So, with this in mind, it’s easy to see how when a race is canceled, or there’s a Garmin outage, the process is what motivates, regardless of whether the external metrics are there or not.

We’re in an exciting time for endurance sports. The data that’s available at our fingertips now, was once reserved for the top sports science laboratories. It allows us to gain individualized insight into every athlete, and prescribe training that’s perfectly aligned with an athlete’s strengths and limiters. These are all amazing advancements. However, we can’t allow these things to become too linked to our athletic identity. We’re athletes whether our computers are syncing or not.  

 

Taylor Thomas is the founder and head coach of TEC. He’s a dedicated endurance athlete with over a decade of experience as a competitive cyclist. He’s been involved in all facets of the sport, from working professionally with top brands like Trek and Specialized, founding race teams, organizing events, and personally competing at all levels. His racing background includes road, cyclocross, triathlon and ultra endurance events that push both the mind and body to the limit.

As a USAC certified and Training Peaks level 2 coach he enjoys sharing what he’s learned with his athletes to help them achieve their goals. As a professional mountain biker and coach he’s intimately aquatinted with what it takes to be successful at any level. He knows what it’s like to balance family, work, life, and training. Taylor works closely with all of his athletes to ensure that the training they receive is designed to fit into their life.

Data is very powerful! Whether it’s TrainingPeaks, WKO4, or others, he uses a variety of tools to analyze each athlete’s progress individually. By understanding the data, and knowing how to apply it, every athlete receives a truly individualized approach to their training. These insights are also applied to writing customized workouts, training blocks and developing comprehensive race strategies for every athlete. Coach Taylor believes that understanding the science of coaching is vital in helping athletes of all levels achieve their goals.

 

TEC 

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