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How Do You Analyze a Training Diary?

Road bike rider logoQuestion:
You’ve mentioned that you’ve kept a training log for almost 37 years. I’m curious — what are your training totals for 2012, and how do you analyze your entries to help you plan ahead? — Mark N.

Coach Fred Matheny Replies:
Good question, Mark. Not many riders keep detailed training logs, which is a shame, 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. I’d like to see you and all RBR roadies start a cycling diary for 2012.

This task is easier now that computer-based diaries can be used instead of paper-and-pencil logs. (For an example, see www.cyclistats.com.) With electronic diaries you can pull out average miles, average heart rate, number of hours at or above lactate threshold, and much more 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 three decades, although I still find that turning all the data into actual improvement is more art than science.

You asked about my numbers. In 2011 I rode 670 hours, did 190 hours of hiking, running and snowshoeing, along with about 50 hours of weight training. That adds up to over 900 hours of exercise. My totals have been pretty consistent in the last 17 years, averaging 650-900 hours annually.

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 have used a power meter on a bike, I’m not always riding that bike when I go hard. So quite a few power profiles of hard rides weren’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.

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, conversely, 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 diary analysis.

During more than 30 years in cycling journalism, Fred Matheny has written hundreds of fitness & training articles for top bike magazines and websites. Many of his best eBooks and eArticles are on sale in the RBR eBookstore. As a rider, he has raced to medals in state and national championships, plus a senior world record in the Team Race Across America. As a coach, he has worked with hundreds of riders at PAC Tour Training Camps, Carpenter/Phinney Bike Camps, and Dirt Camp.

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