Question: In the past you mentioned that you’ve kept a training log for something like 40 years. I’m curious — what were your training totals for a particular year, for instance, and how do you analyze your entries to help you plan for the next year? — Mark N.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: Good question, Mark. Not many riders keep detailed training logs (or pay much attention to all the data collected by their various cycling computers and smart phone apps).
And even fewer know what to do with a year’s worth of information. Analyzing a training log is crucial to learning from your mistakes, understanding your successes and getting better each year.
This task certainly became easier with computer-based diaries instead of paper-and-pencil logs. And, again, now we typically collect more data from our devices than we can shake a stick at. With electronic diaries — in whatever form — you can typically pull out average miles, average heart rate, watts (if you use a power meter), number of hours at or above lactate threshold and much other potentially useful data.
But having said that, I admit to still using an old-school paper diary. I’ve gotten comfortable with this type during four decades, although I still find that turning all the data into actual improvement is more art than science.
You asked about my numbers. Last year I did 470 hours on the bike, 170 hours of other aerobic exercise (mainly hiking and snowshoeing) and about 40 hours of weight training. That adds up to around 680 hours of exercise. My totals have varied little in the last 25 years, averaging 600-700 hours each year.
Quality is More Important Than Quantity
But lump-sum hours aren’t as meaningful as the hours spent near or above lactate threshold. In other words, quality is more important than quantity. And in this area my ability to analyze my training falls short.
It’s difficult to pull that information from a handwritten log. I rarely wear a heart monitor, and although I do have a power meter on a bike, I’m not always riding that one when I go hard. So quite a few power profiles of hard rides aren’t recorded.
Periodically through the year, I read back over my diary to make a subjective analysis. I check the number of interval sessions I’ve done and their spacing. I look for rides that were hard even though no formal intervals were scheduled. Examples are spirited group rides, races and courses with lots of climbing.
I also check my body weight, looking for fluctuations that could indicate dehydration or overtraining.
Well-Being is More Important than Intensity or Hours
But more important to me than intensity or hours is a subjective rating of my well-being. I find my mental state to be the best indicator that I’m on the right track or doing too much.
Do I feel vigorous or flat? Am I eager to ride or am I going through the motions? Do rides feel so good that I extend them longer than I’d planned, or do I plod through a lackluster hour and head home?
Hard training doesn’t, by itself, lead to improvement. Rest and recovery are the essential catalysts. If I don’t rest enough, everything goes downhill. So for me, charting my mood against the objective numbers produced by my training is the most useful aspect of training analysis.