Saturday, November 6, 2010

San Diego

In the US, we have this expression, on the wrong side of the tracks, and you could say that here in San Diego I am staying on the wrong side of the freeway -the California equivalent of tracks. The Hampton Inn SeaWorld may be a convenient location for those visiting Sea World, or those waiting for their cruise ship, or those wanting to stay close the airport, but it is not in a nice part of town. On the other side of the freeway however is one of the nicest spots in San Diego, aka Old Town. Unfortunately, without car, Old Town is on the other side of the Universe.

I am attending a USAC power clinic, where I am learning all the ins-and-outs of cycling with power. What I have learned so far today was enough to tell me that my intuitions about power and power meters were essentially right and that I have been using my power meter correctly and for all it is worth. That is good but not unexpected. It is also not due to any special powers of mine. If there were secrets to the power meter that normal mortals could not divine one would have to seriously consider that the device was yet another form of snake-oil. It is  not.

Today I learned the origin and background behind such concepts as normalized power (NP), Intensity Factor (IF) and TSS, all of which are on my Ergomo display. I also found out I had used these values correctly and as intended by the developers -It turns out most of this is the work of Andy Coggan. Since Andy's presentations are on the web, I probably could have known about all this much earlier, but for some reason I never did. Firstly, because I was unaware of Andy's key role. Secondly, because I always assumed NP was a proprietary calculation done by Ergomo as is this is what their manual says.

A large part of the clinic is devoted to TrainingPeaks and WKO+, which is a nice piece of software but essentially a fancy form of Excel combined with some web and file transfer tools. WKO has now become the de facto standard for power users. The good side is that it has some very nice features and some dazzling displays. You can do all the same things in Excel (I do since WKO only runs on Windows). But it is easier to use WKO since all functions are built-in in menus and you don't need to think as you would in Excel. The big caveat is that -like any statistical visualization package- WKO teases people with many fancy-looking but otherwise meaningless graphics.

The danger of overanalyzing data is great. So great that it was readily apparent in the questions coming from the audience. Both coaches and their clients want to, and feel the need to, and are driven to, massage the data and derive conclusions that are often unwarranted.  It is something I often saw in medicine too but in medicine, reality often bites and then puts a stop to extreme fancifulness. In coaching no such hard stops are apparent and so the danger of misuse is much greater. The only stop athletes and coaches see is frustration after years of delusion and self-delusion. That is a hard price to pay. Fortunately most coaches have enough common sense to stop before that happens.

Stay tuned for more racing in Belgium next week.

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