Coach Tip Tuesday: What Can Be Measured Isn’t What is Most Important
Humans living in the 21st Century in the developed world tend to place value on what can be measured. In my opinion, this often skews what is actually valuable or important. Athletes (since they are human) fall into this, and it’s a behavior that I observe all the time.
Turning Workouts Green
One of the most common manifestations of this behavior that I see is when athletes alter their behavior based on the colors that workouts turn on training platforms like Final Surge. (Planned workouts on these training platforms will change colors based on the level of compliance the athlete has with the planned workout’s planned parameters; they will turn green for close (within 20%) compliance, yellow if the workout was completed but not in close (within 50%) compliance, and red if the workout wasn’t completed or if the athlete was far off (more than 50%) of the planned parameters.)
I have coached many athletes over the years who cannot handle if they have a yellow or red workout in Final Surge. I have seen athletes engage in a variety of behaviors to avoid yellow and red workouts, to include:
Deleting a workout that wasn’t completed so they don’t need to see the red
Moving the workout to a different day so they do complete it
Copying and deleting the workout so they can edit the planned parameters so it appears that the completed workout is in compliance
NONE of these things are good. On top of not training toughness (because the athlete is actively avoiding something that they are uncomfortable with, instead of facing something that is challenging for them), the athlete is demonstrating a clear lack of knowledge about what was actually most important about the workout.
Completing a workout isn’t the most important thing. Yes, Consistent Consistency is one of the most foundational and important elements of endurance sports. But there is also a method to the madness (meaning that the sequencing and timing of workouts matters) and sometimes [insert gasp of shock here] skipping a planned workout is the right call.
No Device = No Workout
I’ve also observed many athletes skipping or shortening workouts when their recording devices were not working properly. This is a clear example of prioritizing the measurement, not the work, associated with a workout. Contrary to what has become popular opinion, it did happen even if it’s not recorded, posted to Strava, or quantifiably sharable. When using a fitness device, always be sure that you are using it; don’t let it use you.
There isn’t a single endurance sport that requires a device. Is a device helpful, nice, and extremely useful? Yes. But a device is not necessary. It is much better to do something than it is to do nothing, even if that something isn’t recorded or doesn’t make use of a device you’ve purchased.
So if your device is not working as designed (or how you would like it to), it’s okay! Embrace the adversity that you are confronted with and find a way. The only thing certain in training and on race day is adversity. Welcome the opportunity to experience and manage adversity when it comes to you so you are that much more prepared for whatever adversity does come your way on race day.
What Really Matters
The athletes I coach all know that I like to have accurate data recorded as part of my working relationship with them. So, it may seem hypocritical that I’m writing this article. However, as much as I love data and as much as it does enable me to be a better coach for the athletes I coach remotely, data is not The Supreme Being in the world of endurance sports. As I’ve talked about before, the body only knows time and effort. The body doesn’t care if you record a workout or not. The Supreme Being in endurance sports is doing the work, whether you can quantify it intellectually or not. The body is always keeping score, and knows the work you did, even if you can’t translate that work into numbers.
“Character is who you are when no one is watching” has been one of my favorite quotes since I was a teenager. I think that this quote/idea can be applied to endurance sports by being slightly rewritten: “Who you are as an athlete is who you are when no data is recorded and no one knows what you did except you.”
Doing the work is what matters. Giving your best effort to complete a workout as it is planned and intended in your training is what matters. And no, you can’t necessarily measure those things. But they are what is most important in endurance sports. If you can learn this (really learn it), then you will find yourself feeling proud of your effort and the work you’re doing, even if you don’t hit an exact number or you don’t record something quantifiable. And truly, there’s no greater feeling than that.
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.