Monday, March 17, 2008

Where do you fit in?

I've gotten to know a couple of unique individuals well over the last few years. Interestingly, they are at opposite ends of a spectrum. So they don't get too upset with me, let's call them Mr X and Mr Z.

Mr X has a lot of bikes. Nobody knows for sure how many bikes Mr X has. I don't think Mr X even knows how many bikes he has, and several of them are very nice. His quiver of bikes include multiple mountain bikes, fixed gear bikes, and road bikes. There is one thing you will not find on any of Mr X's bikes, and that is electronics of any sort. Mr X does not give a hoot about how many miles or hours he rides. In fact, it annoys Mr X when other riders in the group start comparing ride metrics.

Now some of you may already know who I'm talking about here. But do you know that Mr X even placed tape over the clock in his vehicle? He doesn't want the pressure of time dictating his life. Working for "The Man" already interferes enough with our lives, and we don't need to compound that with self induced stress by the need to hurry against the clock. Now I can respect that in some ways, but there are times when knowing the time has value. Apparently tape over the clock bugs Mr X's significant other too.

Now consider Mr Z. Mr Z is just the opposite of Mr X in every regard, except Mr Z also likes to ride and ski. Electronics and metrics are a very important part of Mr Z's athletic experience. A bike ride cannot begin until all the electronic bits are fully operational. Yes, many a ride has come to a screeching halt due to a misbehaving cycle computer or HRM. Skiing is even worse, as you have HRM and ornery GPS gizmos to deal with. GPS's love to cut out or become temperamental in mountainous tree covered areas. You simply can't continue the ride or ski until the electronics is working properly. The activity simply won't count if you don't have metrics to substantiate it, or so Mr Z believes. Mr Z has been recording metrics for decades.

Now here is some irony. Mr X, with tape over the clock in his car, is nearly always punctual when meeting to go ski or ride. Mr Z on the other hand, is frequently late. I think Mr X might be on to something here. There must be some deeper thing going on.

I ride with quite a variety of other individuals, and all them fall well between Mr X and Mr Z. One rider gets bent out of shape whenever his PowerTap cuts out on a cold, wet ride. I'll tell him to put the silly CPU in his pocket so he'll stop bitching about it. I think he mainly wants to know how many kJ were produced to determine how many slices of pizza he can eat after the big ride. Other riders only care about how many hours they go out, and miles or average speed are irrelevant. Still others focus more on hill repeats or VOmax intervals with a watch.

Myself, I used to be a lot like Mr X when I was a pure mountain biker dude. Then I migrated over the evil roadie side and started to worry about grams, Watts, LT, vertical and such. When I met Mr Z, he convinced me I needed to keep all these metrics in an Excel spreadsheet. I've maintained a log for several years now. In 30 seconds, I can see what I did on March 17, 2003. Does this make me a stronger rider? Does it take away from the joy of cycling? It all depends on how you use the data. My training is free form. It has structure, but not a written plan, and certainly not mundane MxN interval sets on a trainer. I ride for what I need that day. Recovered? Do hilly loop with multiple 3-6 minute climbs at hard pace (a coach might call these VOmax intervals). Tired? Do 45 minute flat loop. I record perceived exertion for what I do each day. I benchmark myself on certain climbs or a 5km TT loop periodically. Total volume per week and month is captured and plotted. Trends appear. Last year was a good year for me, and looking over the log, there were distinct difference in training than in prior years. Recording workout data makes you think about what makes you stronger and is there for you to review if something is going wrong. It does not detract from the joy of cycling if you don't let metrics become your task master.

I would have to say I fit in more with Mr Z's "metrics" camp right now than Mr X's anti-metrics camp. I'm not afraid to estimate metrics though if an electronic trinket fails. I've recently thought about not recording miles on the bike or skis anymore. One of my worst competitive years recently was when I had a goal to ride over 10,000 miles. I logged way too many junk miles that year and achieved mediocre results at best. Quality over quantity wins the day, and choosing misguided metrics may be worse than no metrics at all. So where do you fit in this spectrum?

1 comment:

jason_ssc1 said...

I definitely fall more towards Mr. Z but only in regards to road cycling. I occasionally mountain bike and cross-country ski but don't record any data.

For road cycling, every ride is described in hand-written journal as well as recording on an Excel spreadsheet. Distance, time, average speed, elevation gain, route and max speed if notable.
This adds to my enjoyment of cycling. I'm not a slave to having to get a certain amount of miles though I do have a specific goal this year of 5000 miles.

I'm more interested in peak rides which get highlighted.