Numbers: But What Do They Mean?

As runners and triathletes, we love to post our “Numbers” on social media and STRAVA. Why? For many reasons. To share our accomplishments, to hold ourselves accountable for our workouts, to commiserate when we have bad workouts and many others.

But today, I’d like for us to pull back the curtains and look behind the “Numbers”. What do they really say.

Now, your probable like, “What the hell is he taking about, numbers are numbers, right?”. Well, not always.

Think about this for a minute. When you look at someone’s post about a workout, be it a Swim Bike or a Run, what do you see? Usually you’ll see Distance, Time and Pace, like in the pic’s below. Depending on the device the athlete is using you may see other bits of data as well. But looking at just those three bits of information, many times will not tell the full story.

Be honest, how often do you actual take the time to drill down and look at the details of the workout or just take the extra 30 seconds and in your mind, try to figure out what was going on for the Athlete during that particular workout? Well if you’re like I was, probably not often I would think.

For a long time, I was guilty of just looking at those three data points and making an assumptions about the workout. “Wow, he had a fast bike ride”, or “Man, she had a really slow swim today”!

Judgment like that were common. But overtime, I started to realize that there is so much more behind the “Numbers” and we need to really take the time to understand what was doing at that point in time, to truly understand what the athlete was going through.

Take for example the three workout’s above.

Swim: Some may look at the swim and see, 3500 yards in 1:29:01 with a pace of 1:59/100 and think, “Wow, that’s pretty fast”! What you don’t know about this swim was that it was a “Strength Building Session”. I Used lots of Pool Toys, yep, that’s what my coach calls them. For over 2000 yards of this swim I used Fins and Hand Paddles. They are used in training to build strength in the legs and shoulders. They also tend to make you go faster in the water. So this was not rellay that fast of a swim. Don’t get me wrong. It was a great swim, and a very hard workout, but I can’t take full credit for the overall Pace.

Bike: The pic above was a recent bike ride. Again the numbers show, 63:21 miles, in a time of 3:35:11 and a pace of 17.6 mph. Now you may look at that and think, “Wow, only 17 mph, I thought he was faster than that?”

But if you look at the pic below, you will see what the actual workout was. During this ride, I had to do a number of “Hard” effort intervals to simulate “Race” conditions. The hard efforts might represent a “Hill to climb”, or the shorter hard efforts might simulate “Passing another rider” during a race.

Now lets also talk about Terrain and Weather. While this ride only had about 500 feet of elevation, it was super hot that morning and on about half of the ride there was a huge head wind hat reduced the overall speed of this ride.

So hopefully, you are seeing that there is usually, so much more going on behind an athletes workout than just the three data points.

Lastly, the run above. 1.88 distance, 20:08 minutes and a 10:42 pace. Thoughts? Why 1.88 miles? Why only 20 minutes. Why only a 10:42 pace?

So this was what they call a “Brick Run“. Triathletes use them to train their body’s to what it’s like to have to finish a hard bike ride and go right into a hard run.

My training plan for this day called for a 3 hour and 30 minute bike ride (the 63.21 ride above) with Hard Efforts and a 20 minute run with a short Transition.

So after I parked my bike, I took about 4 minutes to change shoes and grab my water bottle before I started my run. My legs were extremely fatigued from the wind and intervals on the bike ride and it was super hot and humid, because by this time is was midday.

So that helps us to understand what this run was all about. But again, just looking a the three data points, you would not know what the backstory was.

So to recap. Just looking at Distance, Pace and Time are not always a good indicator of the Effort that went into a particular workout.

So please take the time to really try to understand what’s behind the “Numbers” before passing judgement or making assumptions about any workout.

Until next time….

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