Coach Tip Tuesday: Pay Attention to Mid-Workout Stop Time
It’s already time for the first Coach Tip Tuesday of September!
This week, I want to call your attention to a seemingly innocuous element of training: Mid-workout stop time.
As all of you probably know, the clock doesn’t stop on race day. How this impacts your race can vary, but no matter what the event is or who the athlete is, the clock doesn’t stop. So, if you stop, the clock keeps going. Embracing this truth is a pretty important piece of training and race day strategy.
I review the data from hundreds of Garmin/GPS files every single week. It’s one of the main parts of my job. And as such, I can anecdotally speak to trends in data that I’ve observed over my time as a coach.
Many, many athletes stop during workouts - for a variety of reasons. Maybe a bathroom stop is needed. Maybe the athlete was tired. Maybe the athlete got distracted by a text or phone call. Maybe they needed to fix something equipment-wise. No matter what the reason is, a stop is a stop.
While some athletes are aware of exactly how much time they stop and how it impacts the workout, many athletes are (rather blissfully) unaware of how this can impact their training and preparation for their goal race. Some athletes don’t pause their watches when they stop, but many athletes do. In my experience, the number one reason an athlete stops their watch is that they don’t want the stop time reflected in their average pace. No matter why they decide to stop the watch, the result is the same: the data is now skewed and is not accurate. While it may appear at face value to be “better” (since the averages don’t account for the stop time), moving time averages provide a false sense of what actually happened data-wise over the course of a workout.
Stop time matters, plain and simple. We may try to tell ourselves a story about how it doesn’t, but that’s a story that is not true. Stop time impacts not only our overall time (in terms of how long it takes to complete the workout or race) and average pacing, but it also impacts how we are able to execute a workout. I’ll give some examples:
If you stop after a hard interval, that recovery period is going to impact how you are able to execute subsequent components of the workout. While this may seem like a “good” thing, if it’s not how you will be executing your race, it’s a poor litmus test (and therefore an inaccurate gauge) for how you will perform come race day. Many times, this manifests faster-than-realistic times, which will give you a false sense of confidence about what paces you are able to sustain.
If you stop for a period of time without mindfully monitoring how long the stop actually is, it has the same effect as the aforementioned example. In extreme cases, enough stop time effectively breaks one workout into two workouts in terms of the training stimulus that is imposed on the body. A common example of this that I encounter happens in cycling; athletes will ride to a destination such as a coffee shop, hang out at the shop, and then ride back later on. This is not “one” workout; it’s two workouts, and the impact that it has on the body and how it plays into an athlete’s overall training plan is very different from one continuous workout.
Now, there are some cases where stop time is appropriate and is a good thing to incorporate into training, especially when it comes to longer-distance goals such as marathons or long-course triathlons. Stop time is often a necessary part of race day in both of these events due to the need to refill nutrition/hydration supplies and stop for bathroom breaks - all due to the length of time that these events take.
Additionally, there are some workouts where stopping is the recovery method of choice due to the goals of the workout. That being said, in a majority of cases, stop time is your enemy, not your friend.
I will often ask about longer bouts of stop time if I see them in their workout files. More often than not, the athlete who I bring this up with is completely unaware of how much time they actually spent stopped. It adds up quickly! What can feel like just a moment or two can quickly snowball into a high percentage of the total time of the workout.
My advice to all athletes (and therefore all of you reading this) is the following:
Be very aware of your stop time. Only stop for essential reasons - especially if you are training for a goal that is important to you - and track how much time you are stopped so you become aware of how long those stops are taking. This will allow you to incorporate it into your race day plan.
If you are training for a performance-based or pace-based goal, this is even more critical. Stop time is a very big enemy to athletes with these types of goals since their entire goal is set around, well, time. Stopping is the exact opposite of the very thing that the athlete has identified as being most important to them, and it will hinder their ability to adequately prepare for these time-based goals.
To my knowledge, all current GPS devices have the ability to record Elapsed Time and Moving Time, so you can compare both of those to see how much time you actually spend stopped in a workout. GPS devices do generally require you to hit the Start/Stop Button to record this accurately, but Strava actually calculates it based without needing to hit that button based on the data it reads from the file. With each passing year, technology is making this an easy metric to increase awareness of, and therefore to work on.
This week, start paying attention to your stop time in your workouts. Is it shorter or longer than you perceive? This is low-hanging fruit to go after in your training (and racing). Work on reducing it to the lowest amount possible, and that will set you up to build your fitness to levels that surpass even your own expectations. :)
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.