Numbers vs. Perception
by on Thursday, October 15, 2015  (5 comments)

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Modern technology is amazing, isn't it?

We have devices these days that can measure all kinds of things. You can get a single device that can measure your heart rate, stride rate and a close approximation of your pace at any moment in your run.

While not running, it's not nearly as hard as it used to be to get a VO2max or lactate threshold test.

You can get an approximation of your body fat percentage in your own bathroom. You can easily track your sleep, your resting heart rate. I'm sure I'm leaving things out.

In short, we have no shortage of numbers that we can use to track everything about not just our training but also about how our bodies are responding to the training.

Is all of this useful, though? Does it make us better runners?

Back in the early 2000s, I got a heart rate monitor for myself. I'm a numbers guy and I believed the additional feedback with hard numbers that couldn't be refuted would make me train smarter.

What I quickly discovered and, over the intervening months, couldn't get past was that the numbers told me what I already knew and took longer to tell me those things. If I was beginning to run too hard, I could feel that before my heart rate began climbing. If I was slacking off, I could feel that before my heart rate dropped. If I was training too hard, I knew before I even saw that my morning heart rate was climbing.

The problem was that, with the heart rate monitor, I wasn't always paying attention. I began relying on the device instead of paying attention to my body. I ended up reacting more slowly to these errors because I wasn't listening to the early warning signals. So I stopped using the monitor. Today, I don't even know where it is. I think I gave it away but I'm not even sure. It could be in a box in my basement somewhere.

As it turns out, a recent study suggests my gut feeling on this was right.

Subjective measures reflected acute and chronic training loads with superior sensitivity and consistency than objective measures.



In other words, paying attention to things like perceived effort and changes in our mood worked better than using "objective" measures such as heart rate, oxygen consumption or blood hormone levels.

I'm not suggesting that we should ignore these objective, numerical measures. However, if they get in the way of paying attention to your body's responses, you might be better off either without them or finding ways to be less reliant on them in order to keep paying attention to how you actually feel.

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5 comments
cesar

Very spot on!! I see a lot of people obsessing about numbers in the hart rate, its just ridiculuous. Heart rate can be affected in many ways, outside of running. Effort and feel is the best way to train and race in my book!!

Having said that, not because you feel good, you should go out at 15k race pace in the first mile or 2 of a marathon.

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Ryan

I've seen people actually stop to walk up hills because their heart rate went too high. That's not effective use of the HRM. Similar with other things. What good is it to know your VO2max is 60 or 65? How does that make you a better runner? In fact, knowing that it's most effective to train at various paces around your LT pace, how useful is it to know your exact LT pace versus a reasonable approximation? In fact, how useful is it to know your exact LT pace on a treadmill on Monday morning if you're running workouts on Wednesday afternoons outdoors, in the weather, over varying terrain?

I'm not suggesting that these and various other technologies can't be useful. I just think it's far too easy to become overly reliant on them. For a numbers person like me, it's such an easy trap to fall into that I think some people like myself are better off not using certain tools.

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Ryan

Interesting sidenote. After I began writing this post, Steve Magness posted what I'd consider to be a related post. I like his term: Sciencyness. I didn't let his post change what I was writing here but I see a lot of parallels and I think his post is a great compliment to the issue I'm raising above.

For what it's worth, I wonder if the individual in the airplane turned away from him because, as a coach, Magness would be well prepared to call BS on what he does. I also suspect the individual had no idea he was sitting next to the guy who wrote the book titled Science of Running.

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Diane

I really love Magness' article! Ha ha. Pretty sure I've fallen prey to the shiny terms. But deep down I know I still don't have the functional knowledge of *why*. It's funny to me that his neighbor didn't pick up on the phrase, I coached one of the pro's who raced. That would've made me sit up and ask him a ton of questions!

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Ryan

It was one of my favorite posts of his and that's saying a lot because I like most of his posts a lot. I told him he should trademark sciencyness.

I like how he explains that we should cut through the "sciency" explanations of workouts and be able to explain the "why" in real world terms. I've always believed and I'm sure I've stated more than once around here that oftentimes those who use big words are doing so because they don't understand the concepts. If you understand the terms, you can break down their meaning to make sure the average person who shouldn't be expected to understand mitochondria density and cappilarization can understand what you're saying. if you don't understand the terms, you use them either because you don't understand how to break them down or because you think using them makes you sound smart. There's a time and place for big words but I try to avoid them as much as possible.

If you and I were sitting next to him, we'd be listeners. This guy obviously wasn't interested in learning. He was interested in self promotion.

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