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Drowning in data, gadgets & misinformation

There are so many distractions in today’s world.

Many have seeped into the world of triathlon where I see triathletes more and more distracted than ever before. The information age has done a lot to help athletes improve but I also believe it has done more to inhibit their progress. The reason being is because most triathletes have poor filter mechanisms for knowing what’s good or bad information.

Mobile phones apps, heart monitors, power-meters, sophisticated watches, have also become the norm. Certain kit seems to have become the gold standard, which says to the world ‘look I’m a triathlete’. Only last week I watched a triathlete looking at his watch every 25m during a time trial in the pool. What’s even more tragic is the reaction of many triathletes when Training Peaks or Strava goes down or god forbid the battery runs out on their watch. I know many who have discontinued sessions when this has happened. In races they would be completely lost.

In a way athlete are becoming slaves to these gadgets and the data they produce, losing all sight and sense of the sophisticated feedback mechanisms their mind and body is giving them. Athletes should be encouraged to get in tune with their senses from the earliest possible stages of their training. In doing so they start to develop crucial skills such as perception of effort, feel and intensity that are crucial when you are racing. The sooner this ‘brain training’ starts the quicker an athlete will be able to wield its power.

Many athletes are also highly reactive to numbers, usually not in a good way. If their numbers are down, inconsistent or they can’t hit a certain pace they immediately panic and think something is wrong. When in fact it could be as something as simple as just fatigue, life stress or work stress catching up with them. No two training sessions are ever the same and fluctuations from sessions to session and day to day can be huge. This often then plays on them mentally; they then carry this negative baggage forward into other sessions. The easy option is to just let it go as a bad day at the office and look forward to the next one knowing that tomorrow can be a different day entirely. It’s no surprise that many of these athletes are usually the most frustrated and confused about their training.

It’s usually these same athletes that are highly reactive to what other athletes say. This also extends to what they read and watch. It’s as if the are caught in a never ending cycle of jumping from one idea to the next, because surely if that person says this or that person says that surely I should be doing the same? In this information day and age it’s all too easy to stray from the path you set out on. Don’t be a follower, have conviction in what you originally set out to achieve.

The question as the whether this overuse of technology is a good thing or a bad thing will rage on depending what type of coach you are listening to. Some being extremely science based whereas others take a much more holistic approach, others sitting between the two.

But data means nothing without context. It’s just one of the many training and life variables you should look at to give show bigger picture of what you experience. I’ve always believed that feedback from my athletes through on going communication is the best training tool you can use. This tells me much more than any piece of technology could. A conversation and discussion can open up a whole new world which tells me more about what the athlete is experiencing from both a psychological and physiological point of view. I also get their bigger life picture. The numbers alone don’t always tell you the truth.

Am I suggesting using data and gadgets are a bad thing? Absolutely not, but they should be used sensibly to enhance an athletes psyche, rather than inhibit it. You should never let the numbers tell you how you are feeling because numbers and feelings don’t always correlate. Learn to pay attention to what your body is telling you as a priority and let your natural instinct evolve. I am constantly amazed at how intuitive many athletes are, but unfortunately a lot of the time they choose to ignore what they are feeling in favour of what technology tells them.

In all of this I feel many athletes are losing sight of what makes sport so beautiful in the first place; that’s the mind-body connection. The ability to connect your senses to what is happening inside you. Enabling you to get in tune with your rate of breathing, the exertion flowing through your muscles, combined with the natural rhythm and flow of your movement.

So the message is to get out there, enjoy your training and free up your mind. Do some sessions without gadgets and just enjoy the beauty and freedom of what you are able to do. Tape over your power-meter display, lose the watch or throw the tempo trainer aside. Then tap into the rich vain of information your body is giving you. You might find it truly liberating when you do.