Jul 21 – Data

Training / Racing Update

Hi all. The last few weeks have been all about steady, consistent training. There have been no races, but there are a couple on the horizon. Whilst most of the country have been absorbed in England’s progress through the Euro’s, I’ve been following Mark Cavendish’s remarkable comeback in the Tour de France.

My 2021 goals have had to be reviewed and adjusted. The World Championships in Canada will not be taking place, and travel to Spain for the European Championships is in doubt. Even if travel to Spain is allowed, there’s a possibility they might not let me in. I’ve had the other ‘Indian Variant’, a batch of the Indian produced AstraZeneca vaccine that Europe seems to not like.

So, it looks like I’ll be carrying over my World and European Championship places into 2022. As a consequence, Coach Ali and I agreed we’d adjust my training to take a longer term approach and build for 2022 rather than this year.  

With half of the year gone I thought I’d take a quick look at my trusted spreadsheet on which I track all my training. I do like my spreadsheet and update it regularly. It’s pretty rudimentary but it works for me. Bearing in mind the limited time I have for training, here’s my stats for the year so far:

  • Total training time – 202hrs (7.8hrs per week)
  • Run Distance – 650km
  • Cycling Distance – 2,800km
  • Swim Distance 110,000m, or 4,400 lengths (Pools have only been open since mid-April)

My target is 8hrs per week and allowing for a couple of weeks inactivity due to a back injury, I’m happy with these numbers. If I can continue this then I should be well placed going into 2022.

Focus on Triathlon

This brings us neatly on to this month’s theme – Data. Since getting back into endurance sports in 2013 there has been an explosion in that data available to anyone who has a smart phone or watch. My beloved Garmin watch, which I rely on so much, provides me with a mind-boggling array of data, available at the touch of a button. During and after a run I can check my heart rate, run pace, average stride length, and even my foot contact time with the floor. In the pool it will count lengths for me, tell me how many arm strokes I’ve taken per length, and lots of other metrics.

I love my watch and I’m never without it, but it can occasionally be quite annoying. At about 5 minutes into a run it will provide me with its opinion on my “performance condition”. It reckons it knows how I’m feeling based on its assessment of my heart rate against my pace. Receiving the message “Performance Condition – Poor” is not always what you want to see just as you’re starting out. I’ve learned over the years how to use it for what I need, and to ignore the annoying or off-putting alerts.

It’s recognised that too many are reliant on data and forget to read or understand the messages their bodies are giving them. For example, cyclists use ‘Power meters’ that measure how much power you are exerting through the pedals and provide a constantly updated feed on average power output. By knowing what average power you can maintain for a period of time you can manage your effort levels.

In a recent article a triathlete describes how he entered a local bike race for a bit of training and experience. The race was faster than he’d expected. His bike computer was telling him that his heart rate and power output were higher than they should be, and this caused him some stress. Should he be guided by the data and slow down, or should he just hang on in there and race? If it was me, I wouldn’t have looked at the computer. In these cases they provide no help whatsoever. My best performances have been where I haven’t looked at my watch at all, going purely on feel.

With increasing frequency, new tools and gadgets come out that promise to provide you with data that will give you that competitive edge. The latest must have gadget are goggles that feature a display of various swim metrics within the eye piece in real time. They’re not for me. Coach Ali tells us off if we look at our watches in a swim training session and has threatened to ban them. He sees them as limiters to our performance.

One thing to manage carefully is how you respond to the data after a training session? There’s nothing more demoralising than to look at your data after what felt like a great session, only to see a disappointing set of stats. The watch can give you raw data, but it doesn’t take into account all of the other factors. A coach recently talked about the use of data. He said that it should be ‘Context first, content second’. However rich the data is, it can’t take into account how you were feeling, how tired or stressed you might be, or what you ate or drank the night before. In conclusion – data is great but must be used wisely and effectively.

In the world of change we need to use that combination of data and feel. We’ve all experienced that situation where data is captured and reported but does not correlate to what is really going on. In all roles across a project there’s a need to be able to work from both, and act upon it. The mark of a good sponsor, in my view, is one that has the experience to check their ‘feel’ for what is going on against the data they are provided with, and to call it out where the two are not aligned.

Within the project team we all have to use the data effectively to help identify issues early on that we haven’t spotted through other means. It’s a constant balance.

I value the relationship between the PM and PMO/EPMO, and how the two roles come together to manage the change. Dare I say that one of the roles of PMO/EPMO is to act as that trusted Garmin watch. The Project Manager is constantly scanning across the different work-streams, keeping things moving using a combination of feel and data to manage matters. PMO will be scanning across the controls and data and helping all involved to manage the change effectively.  ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Something that Project Managers should possess is that ability to know when something is not right. A former colleague of mine once referred to this as having a ‘Sixth sense’ – note that this is not the ability to see dead people 😊

I mentioned the principle of “Context before content”, and I feel this is equally important in the world of change. Ensuring all have an understanding of the context of what is happening within a project helps the effective interpretation and application of the available data. This can be as simple as the PowerPoint slide accompanying the PPC submission, or the update to a key stakeholder that clearly articulates the challenges, and therefore helps explain the data.  

Ideas for getting active

When trying to improve our health and well-being, data can be a real positive. But it can also be distracting and add to our stress. Back in 2013, when starting out on my journey to be more active, access to data was a huge motivator. Whether it was tracking steps, or how far I’d cycled, seeing the data was satisfying and spurred me on to new challenges.

Setting yourself simple targets and tracking progress is a great way to improve our fitness and I’d encourage it. Gamification is rife. Many use Strava to track their progress and enjoy receiving ‘kudos’ from their friends. Step challenges on FitBits are another great motivator.

However, there can be a point where data has the opposite effect. I recently heard that mediation apps such as Calm use gamification to keep you encouraged, sending you reminders if you haven’t meditated that day. A reminder to meditate might not be what you need to help calm the stress on a day when you simply don’t have time. The personal pressure we can bring upon ourselves can be counterproductive. It might be hitting a target, moving up a leader board, or going faster and/or further than a friend. As Louisa Pickles wisely said, we can put ourselves in danger of suffering from OCD – ‘Obsessive Comparing Disorder’.  

Personally, I’ve reduced my use of data. It helped me get healthier, but now it’s just a useful tool to help check I’m on track. There’s no better feeling than completing an activity, and enjoying that post exercise positive state of mind………… after I’ve quickly updated the training spreadsheet and checked my watch to see how it went 😊

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