Sunday, April 29, 2012

Confessions of a Stravaddict (or how I briefly learned to live with perceived feel)

Hi my name is Richard and I'm a Strava addict.  Yesterday my computer crashed while transferring Garmin data and I lost my ride.  Everything was gone in a flash - heart rate, duration, elevation, GPS - all of it!  I'd just ridden a hard effort up Rt. 9 from Saratoga to Skyline and hoped to put down a baseline against which future rides could be compared.  Now it was gone and I felt like the ride never happened.  How on earth did I manage to get to this point of data addiction?  More importantly, could I pull myself back from the brink and live with a few Garmin-free workouts?  (photo evidence of my supposed ride below).

I wasn't always like this.  In fact, I went many, many years training without a heart rate monitor, GPS tracking or even a training log - but first, a little history.  My first taste of training with technology came in 1986 when I got a Polar Quantum XL while still a young aspiring cross country ski racer.  Used in conjunction with a training log and heart rate zones calculated with the Karvonen method, this device logged many miles of skiing, running, cycling and roller-skiing.  

Sprint racing in Kiruna, Sweden (1995)

For the next 12 years a succession of Polar heart rate monitors saw me through NCAA division 1 college ski racing, the World University Games and US Olympic Trials in 1992, 1994 and 1998.  My routine was highly structured - coaches, training plans, training logs, heart rate zones, resting heart rate logs, Max VO2 testing, blood lactate measurements - all recorded, analyzed and fed into the next training cycle.  When I retired from ski racing in 1998 I still had athletic ambitions (in running) but was eager to shed coaches, training logs and especially the infernal heart rate, I needed a job.

Me (105) getting smoked by 1995 World Champion Vladimir Smirnov (103)

For the next dozen years I trained almost exclusively by perceived feel and ran whatever type of workout I felt like doing upon waking up in the morning.  Admittedly, the years of structure had trained my body to know approximately what heart rate I was generating during a given workout.  However, when the workout ended the feedback loop was severed and there was no data to analyze, obsess over or use to plan my next move.  It was a relaxed and opportunistic approach to training and racing......and I enjoyed it.

This changed a year ago when I discovered Strava and the addictive qualities of "social fitness".  I first dabbled with Strava's iOS app but my data obsession didn't fully gestate until I got a Garmin.  The Garmin was a big step up from the mobile app; it delivered accurate locations, ran for 6 hours on one charge and more importantly, it never failed to deliver the data to Strava.  For the past 4 months I've been main-lining accumulated mileage, leader boards, KOM's, total elevation, heart rate distribution, comments and kudos.

All this came crashing down with yesterday's missing ride.  So distracted by this loss I forgot to bring the Garmin to my afternoon 6 mile run and had to run naked AGAIN.  Was this a sign from the lobster god, a blessing in disguise, an opportunity for personal growth and reflection or just a cruel twist of happenstance?  Whatever the cause, the resulting Garmin-free run was refreshing - a nice change from the same-old, same-old and by the end of the day I'd made it through all 5 stages of grief intact.

Back to my normal Garmin connected self, today I ran 7 miles (see below) up at Sanborn Skyline County Park outside Saratoga, CA.  With elevations up to 3200' this might be a good "high" elevation training site for the upcoming USA 1/2 Marathon Trail Championships in Bend, OR.  I'll have to record a few more runs up there and analyze the heart rate vs. elevation data.  Maybe someone will even give me a kudo.