Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Tyranny of Data

I started to write this as a comment to Matt's last post, but that thread is going in a different direction.  I am beginning to question the increasing role played by data in my training.  It plays into the natural OCD of runners, and may not be entirely healthy.

I started running in 1977 with a watch and a pair of running shoes.  I didn't keep a training log.  I just got up in the morning and ran.  I used my advanced math skills to compare my times.   I don't think I bought a running watch until 1997.  Then, at least during races, I could track my splits.  The watch held multiple runs, and since I was mostly doing the same routes, I could compare pace.  It was time only, until 2004, when I bought a heart rate monitor.  That was the beginning of the end, I think.   All of a sudden I could monitor comparative fitness levels, pace v. heart rate, workout zones.  I still didn't keep a log, though.  It was all pretty impressionistic.  Then, Christmas 2009, the Garmin . . .  No run was complete without uploading it to Garmin connect, looking at the splits, comparing with similar runs. . .   I now know that my heart rate average in the Brooklyn Marathon was 6 bpm slower than in the NYC Marathon the year before (and most of my recent marathons), even though I ran 13 minutes faster.  That's really interesting.  Why? weight? stride? training?  Help!!

Okay, I'm not getting rid of the data technology any time soon.  But it does exacerbate the relentless self comparison that goes along with endurance sports.  I now run with both a Garmin on my wrist and Nike+ on my phone.  I'm sure there is a reason I do this.  I'm not sure what it is.  The need to record miles leads to workout creep.  The need to do particular types of workouts interferes with runs with friends.  The lunatic part of it was driven home a month or so ago, when I forgot to toss the Garmin into my suitcase (or maybe it was just the charger).  My first thought was that I couldn't run because I wouldn't have data . . .  Okay, I got over it and went for a run anyway, and it was lovely, but since when is the watch/GPS/hrm equal to the running shoes in importance?

It seems there's only one appropriately OCD response to the tyranny of data.  I must force myself to run free of recording device at least once per week . . .


  1. This is very interesting because for a while I was a data freak, using Garmin, and loved tracking splits, comparing runs, HRs, even altitude...then with the PF injury I put it all aside and now when I look at my ancient Garmin 360 it looks so huge, and doesn't do a tenth of what the new stuff does...and yet I find myself strangely uninterested now. I think this is bc my performance is so risible right now and that when I am fully back I will be back at it, checking times and aiming to improve. The odd thing is that my improvement would benefit from that data focus now too, but I don't do it. Weird.

  2. Ted, I gather you have not yet gone with a power-meter of any sort on the bicycle. Beware that step! Garmin will produce a report for you of power, heart rate, speed, cadence, elevation change and rate of change, temperature, and, I'm sure, more. Absolutely unconscionable.