I have a reputation, perhaps deservingly so, a scientific coach. The irony, is that while I use principles and blend knowledge and science into my coaching practices, it’s not like we’re sitting here measuring VO2max, or even caring about it honestly. As a person, I love crunching the numbers and the data that comes with it, but as a runner and coach, I kind of despise wearing a GPS watch and wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a HR monitor. These two inner self’s battle each other a lot, but the practical one generally wins out.
Which brings me to my point. Although I love all of the gadgets, there are only a few that make it into my mainstay, like RunScribe described previously. The ones that make it give me actionable data that is easy to track and measure.
The problem with most data is that it’s not actionable or its a pain to get people to use it. My goal is always to find ways to better my own coaching practice and understand things that might influence my athletes performance. Instead of hooking my athletes up to machines and making them lab rats (okay…we do that too…but only for research purposes!), I like finding ways of answering questions with data that is easy to take and understand.
This year, I wanted to answer the question of: What actually matters and how does it change?
I preach recovery and living the lifestyle of a runner to my team, and we know it makes a difference. But what I wanted to get at is how do those markers change over the course of a collegiate season. With college athletes, you are dealing with a wide range of stressors, so it’s not simply go do the workout and then wait until they come the next day to practice.
What I wanted to get at is how does that change and can it give me a better understanding of how to modulate the workouts.
Over the next few paragraphs, I’m going to give you a sneak peak of the data that we collected. Why? Because I think it’s really cool. And secondly, I like sharing things. Coaches who don’t share and think they have a secret are ignorant to the process of coaching. I haven’t had a chance yet to go back and do a comparison with workload, workout type, races and so forth, which is the next step.
So what we did was simply create a nice little app where athletes could rate a variety of measures on a 1-5 likert scale. Yes, it was all self-reported data, but again we are talking about something that college kids will fill out. Secondly, my college team is awesome. I don’t have to worry about them filling out fake data or worrying about their coach seeing their sleeping habits. There’s a level of trust. I had kids put 3hrs of sleep down and although that might not have been optimal, it was refreshing to see that they were honest about it and then tried to get better at it.
We tracked a range of things including:
- RPE (Physical exertion of workout)
- MPE (Mental exertion of workout)
- Stress level
- Energy level
- Pop (springyness/how the legs felt)
- Sleep quality
- sleep hours
- Overall performance (1-3 simple scale…below avg. average, and above average)
Stress and Sleep:
This is one of my favorite graphs because it almost looks like a mirror image of each other. There is a clear trend to see reduced sleep correlating with increased stress levels. Now we can’t make inferences based on causes, but since the stress levels increased the same day as the sleep decrease, we can assume that it was the sleep most likely playing a role in impacting the stress instead of vice versa. Why? Because the kids were reporting the previous nights sleep and tracking their current days stress. If the stress was causing reduced sleep, we’d see a one day delay, which we tend not to.
While it’s not profound, it’s still fascinating to see the relationship between sleep and stress.
Pop and Performance
I like talking about this idea of muscle tension that Marius Bakken first introduced me to. To quantify a subjective feeling of what that is like, we tracked the idea of “pop”. We see pretty clearly that pop relates to how they graded their overall performance that day. It makes intuitive sense, but what this indicates to us is that at least how they feel about their “pop” in their legs seems to impact how the workout goes.
It’s good reinforcement for understanding that we need to get the athletes legs feeling right on race day.
The ultimate goal is to go back and look at what workouts did to “pop” to see if we can notice a trend and see if we can further refine our idea of getting athletes to feel good on the right day.
Physical versus Mentally Demanding Workouts
Here we have a tracking of their physical exertion versus their mental exertion for runs and workouts.
The first thing to notice is the modulation, you can clearly see the delineation between hard workouts and easy runs. Additionally, you can see variation in how demanding different workouts were. It’s not simply hard and easy. There’s a spectrum of physical and mental efforts.
The other thing to notice is that while the mental an physical effort of the workouts are synced for the most part, there are differences. There are workouts that are entirely more physically demanding then mentally demanding. It will be interesting to see which ones these are and whether athletes tend to think a particular workout is hard or easy.
You can also get an idea of periodizing efforts throughout. The two major increases correspond to two of our bigger races
Ultimately, I’m going to track our main workout types and see how they fluctuate across the season.
Sleep Hours, Quality, and Energy Levels